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The Briefscript Project

Piashi Quasi-Syllabary (2005 - 2009)

The modern Roman alphabet is used, but in a way that is different from its normal use. In effect you read simply by uttering the names of each letter, i.e. the Roman script is used basically as a syllabary.

But it is a rather odd syllabary in that 7 symbols are used to denote stressed vowels and the remaining nineteen represent a consonant followed by an unstressed vowel. Moreover, under certain conditions the short vowel may become a semi-vowel or disappear completely. That is, the writing system is not a proper syllabary. It will be seen to be a compromise between the Classical Briefscript system and the proposed Roman letter syllabaries of BrScB. The resultant rules for vowels in hiatus are somewhat kludgey,


1. Stressed vowels:

These are the vowels that occur in prominent syllables. This prominence may be produced by increase loudness and/or pitch with an increase in duration of the vowel. In Piashi, however, there is no phonemic difference between long and short vowel; also stress should not be the heavy stress of English or Russian, but rather a lighter stress as in Spanish.

The stressed vowels are the only vowels which have their own written symbols; there a five pure vowels and two diphthongs They are:

  • Five pure vowels:
    a - IPA [a]
    e - Mid front unrounded vowel - IPA [e] or, if preferred, IPA [ɛ].
    This is a pure vowel; there should be no trace of any final [j] sound as in many varieties of English.
    i - IPA [i]
    o - Mid back rounded vowel - IPA [o] or, if preferred, IPA [ɔ].
    This is a pure vowel; there should be no trace of any final [w] sound as in many varieties of English.
    u - IPA [u]
  • Two diphthongs:
    w - IPA [au] or [aʊ]
    y - IPA [ai] or [aɪ]


  • The names of the letters themselves are those of the vowels they designate.
  • In our broad quasi-phonemic rendering, the stressed vowels will be marked with an acute accent, thus, e.g. [á], [é], [í] etc. (The reason for this will become clearer when we discuss 'hiatus' below).
  • The diphthongs w and y will be rendered [áj] and [áw] respectively.

2. Unstressed vowels:

There are only three unstressed vowels: [i], [a], [u]; Some speakers will 'naturally' give them the cardinal values [i], [a] and [u] respectively, while others will use a more retracted pronunciation, namely [ɪ], [ɐ] or [ə] and [ʊ] respectively. Either variety of pronunciation is acceptable. They do not have symbols of their own; they are always accompanied by a preceding consonant, as shown in the next section.



The remaining 19 letters represent consonants with its own specifc unstressed vowel, as shown in the table below.

consonant +
 [i]  [a]  [u] 
bilabial plosive b
dental/ alveolar plosive c
velar plosive k
sibilant fricative x
'vowel colored' fricative h
nasal g
(lateral) approximant j

It will be seen that in case of the dental/alveolar and velar plosives, palatalization has caused the -i grade to fall together. A similar things has happened with the fricatives.


1. Letter names
The names of these 19 letters are the same as the sounds the letters denote; if it is necessary to emphasize the letter name, then the appropriate stressed vowel is added thus: bi, pa, vu, ci, ta, du etc.
2. Pronunciation: the pronunciations above are the 'basic' ones. The following variants may occur:
  • The plosives may receive apiration (as in English pea, pah and poo) when in the syllable before the stressed vowel; the vowel the sounds may be voiced if they occur between unstressed vowels. English speakers should not pronounce medial /t/ as a glottal stop.
  • Of the palatals, instead of [ci] one may say [ʧi] or [ʨi]; similarly [çi] may be [ʃi] or [ɕi], [ɲi] may be [nji] if preferred, and [ʎi] may, if preferred, be [lji] (or ɺji] or [ɾji] - see below).
  • The sibilants may be voiced if desired.
  • Of the other fricatives, [χa] may be [xa] or [ha], and [fu] may be [ɸu].
  • The preferred approximant is the lateral approximant: palatal [ʎ] before [i], and alveolar [l] before [a] and [u]; but the non-lateral alveolar approximant [ɺ] or even the alveolar flap [ɾ] may be used before [a] and [u], and palatalized variants of these before [i] (see above).
3. Problems with a phonemic rendering of the consonants:
A strictly phonemic rendering of the consonants would cause the following problems:
  1. There is only one nasal phoneme in Piashi; while rendering [ɲi] and [na] as /ni/ and /na/ might be acceptable, it was thought that rendering [mu] as /nu/ would be misleading.
  2. Similarly there is only one 'vowel colored' fricative phoneme and while rendering [χa] as /ha/ is acceptable, rendering [çi] and [fu] as /hi/ and /hu/ would not be helpful.
  3. Indeed, what is the phonemic status of [çi]? Is it /hi/ or /si/? It is, of course, both. Similarly, the phonemic status of [ci] Is both /ki/ and /ti/. So any phonemic rendering of these two sounds would necessarily be arbitrarily chosen and would obscure the actual pronunciation.
Therefore, our broad phonetic transcription will use the symbols given in the table above.


All morphemes conform to the following five rules:

  1. Three letter morphemes with the written shape CVC, that is an unaccented-vowel syllable, followed by a stressed vowel or diphthong, followed by an unaccented-vowel syllable. They are always lexical morphemes.
  2. Two letter morphemes with the written shape CV, that is an unstressed syllable followed by an stressed vowel or diphthong. They may occur only:
    • with functional value at the end of clauses, or
    • independently as exclamations (e.g. cw! "ciao!").
    In writing they must be followed by a punctuation mark, while in speech they will naturally be followed by a pause
  3. Two letter morphemes with the written shape VC, that is an stressed vowel or diphthong followed by an unstressed syllable. They may occur only:
    • with functional value at the beginning of a clause, preceded in writing by 'white space' & in speech by a pause, or
    • as a bound, formative element after a CVC morpheme (thus the combination CVCVC is analyzable only as CVC-VC).
  4. One letter morphemes with the written shape C, that is an unaccented-vowel syllable. These morphemes are functional morphemes or 'particles'.
  5. One letter morphemes with the written shape V, that is a single stressed vowel or diphthong. They may occur only as interjections (a!, y!, o! etc).

There are no exceptions to the five rules above So, for example. ekratflunipjtxw must be: ek-rat-f-lun-ip-j-t-xw. No other analysis is possible.


Vowels: Initial & in hiatus

1. Initial vowels.

The onset of the vowel beginning the VC and V morphemes may be:

  • either zero (i.e. the transition from silence to sound is breathed);
  • or a glottal stop (the vowel is preceded by the closure of the glottis and released plosively);
  • or, in the case of high and mid vowels, a semivowel:
    [j] (palatal approximant) before /i/ or /e/;
    [w] (labiovelar approximant) or [ʋ] (labiodental approximant) before /u/ and /o/.

This in our example above, ek-rat-f-lun-ip-j-t-xw, both ek and ip may either have no onset, or be preceded by [ʔ] (the glottal stop), or have the semivocalic [j] onset. None of the onsets, of course, have phonemic status.

2. Vowels in hiatus

Hiatus is the separate pronunciation of two adjacent vowels as in the English word 'react'. Some languages, such as standard* English, are tolerant of hiatus and others, e.g. Italian, are not; compare, for example, the disyllabic Italian 'piano' ['pjano] and trisyllabic English [pi'ænoʊ].

* Some varieties of English also avoid hiatus and insert [j] between the initial two vowels of 'piano'.

Hiatus may occur in Piashi in two different situations:

a. within a single morpheme:
In the CVC and CV morphemes, the possible hiatus occurs in the morpheme itself. The vowels here will bind more closely than across a morpheme boundary and we shall italicize the unstressed vowel in our broad quasi-phonemic transcription since, under certain conditions the unstressed vowel may become semivocalic or, indeed, disappear entirely (it is for those reasons also that the stressed vowel is marked with the acute accent as, e.g. [pi'a] might not readily suggest it could be prounced [[pja]; therefore [piá] seems a more satisfactory transcription.

Generally in verse and song and in formal speech the two vowels will be maintained. It wiill, of course, always be permissible to retain hiatus. However hiatus may be avoided after unstressed [a] by beginning the stressed vowel with a glottal stop onset or an approraiate semivocalic onset (see above under 'Initial vowels'), or after unstressed [i] by inserting the glide [j] before the stressed vowel and after unstressed [u] by inserting the glide [w] (or [ʋ]) before the stessed vowel.

In normal everyday speech, however, the following contractions may take place:

  • unstressed [a] may be lost before stressed [á], e.g.
    pa [paá]) - [pa'a:] may contract to ['pa:]
    pw [paáw] - [pa'au] may contract to ['pau]
    py [paáj] - [pa'ai] may contract to ['pai]
    No contractions are permitted before stressed mid and high vowels; so, e.g.
    pe [paéj] - [pa'e:] must remain [pa'(j)e:]
  • unstressed [i] may become a semivowel before any stressed vowel, e.g.
    ba [piá] - [pi'a:] may contract to ['pja:]
    bo [pió] - [pi'o:] may contract to ['pjo:]
    The semivowel may be lost entirely before stressed [í], thus
    bi [pií] - [pi'i:] may contract to ['pji:] or simply ['pi:]
  • unstressed [u] may become a semivowel before any stressed vowel, e.g.
    va [puá] - [pu'a:] may contract to ['pwa:] or [pʋa:]
    vi [puí] - [pu'i:] may contract to ['pwi:] or ['pʋi:]
    The semivowel may be lost entirely before stressed [ú], thus
    vu [puú] - [pu'u:] may contract to ['pwu:]/ ['pʋu:] or simply ['pu:]
b. across a morpheme boundary:
In the example ek-rat-f-lun-ip-j-t-xw there is potential hiatius at the junction lun-ip. Here n retains its own pronunciation /na/, with unstressed /a/, and ip has one of the optional onsets given above in the section: 'Initial vowels' (the 'zero' onset maintains hiatus, the other two options resolve hiatus). This ensures that:
  • the transparency of the morphemes is maintained;
  • we avoid having two adjacent stressed syllables.
In our broad phonetic transcription we will put a stop (the sign used in IPA to show syllabic division) between the two vowels, thus, e.g. lunip [laúna.ípa]

Metrics & morae

Piashi verse is measured in morae. As far as verse metrics are concerned, all sounds denoted by the nineteen consonant+unstressed-vowel letters are monomoraic ( ˘ ), and the stressed vowels & diphthongs are bimoraic ( ̄ ). There are no exceptions: the optional reduction of short vowels to semi-vowels in allegro speech is discounted and there are normally no elided syllables.

At present there is no original Piashi verse. However, we can illustrate morae by reciting the alphabet. If we retain the traditional order, it will be found that it can be arranged metrically in five lines: the first two of 5 morae each, the next two of 7 morae and the last of 9, thus:

abcd [ápicitu] ̄˘˘˘ 5 morae
efgh [éfuɲiχa] ̄˘˘˘ 5 morae
ijklmn [íʎikalamuna] ̄˘˘˘˘˘ 7 morae
opqrst [ópakulusata] ̄˘˘˘˘˘ 7 morae
uvwxyz [úpu.áwçi.ájsu] ̄˘ ̄˘ ̄˘ 9 morae