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The Briefscript Project

BrScB & other Roman letter syllabaries
(Prior to 2005)


As a teenager in the 1950s, it occurred to me that we read strings of characters such as BBC, USA, USSR, UK, TNT, BA, MA etc. by just reading the letters. If all one had to do was to learn the names of letters in order to read, it would surely save a lot of time and make reading very easy. The same idea apparently occurred to Fuishiki Okamoto quite independently, for in his 1962 publication of Universal Auxiliary Language BABM he wrote: "The respective utterance is the same as the name of letters in Babm....". No doubt in his case he was influenced also by his native hiragana and katakana syllabaries.

Also, of course, using the Roman letters to represent syllables rather than single phonemes would both help produce a briefscript and take care of the problem of the pronunciation of single letter morphemes. It would also have a restricted range of phonemes that would cause little or no problems for most people. In other words, the Roman letters could be used as a syllabary. Such a syllabary meets the Design Principles 1, 2, 4, 5 and 11.

In my late teens and early twenties, I experimented with different schemes for using Roman letters as a syllabary. In 1962 I discovered that Fuishiki Okamoto had also used Roman letters this way for his Babm. However, I could not, and still cannot, find any obvious scheme in the Babm syllabary; all my own attempts had been organized so that there was a symbol for all possible CV and V combinations and the pre-2005 BrScB version of this is shown below.

Also below I give an alternative method of using the Roman letters to represent syllables. This was prompted by a scheme suggested by Dirk Elzinga on Langdev, a group I once belonged to, in an email dated 5th May, 1999. Dirk's scheme allowed the consonants to denote three possible syllables, the exact vowel being determined by a rule of vowel harmony


A possible Roman letter syllabary

Below is the version of my proposed syllsabary for a briefscript; which was current before the Piashi phonology and orthography were adopted in February 2005. I have also shown the Babm syllabary for comparison.

A. Proposed briefscript syllabary
consonant +
/l/ or /r/lr
B. The Babm syllabary
consonant +
zero iea ou


A. Proposed briefscript syllabary:

  • Syllables ending in -i are liable to palatalization; thus both */ti/ and */ki/ become /ci/ (written c and pronounced [ci], [ʧi] or [ʨi]).
  • Similarly j is pronounced [çi], [ʃi] or [ɕi], and g is [ɲi] or [nji], the symbol 'g' being suggested by Italian 'gni'.
  • x may be [xa]., [χa] or [ha]; and f may be [χu], [φu] or even [fu].
  • The odd use of v for /mu/ is due to the fact that in the modern Brittonic and Gaelic languages /v/ is the 'soft mutation' of /m/.
  • The odd use of h for /nu/ is due to the fact that lower case <h> resembles <n>, and upper case <H> is identical to the Cyrillic symbol for /n/.

B. The Babm syllabary:

  • For some reason, Okamoto gives his vowel phonemes the actual phonetic values: [i], [e], [ɑ], [ɔ], [u] respectively.
  • According to Okamoto, the vowels following consonants are to be pronounced "exceedingly short", but when they occur with no (zero) leading consonant (i.e. the letters: i, e, a, o, u) the vowel is to be pronounced long.
  • It will be noticed that the Babm grid is full of gaps. I must confess I see no coherent system there.

The proposed briefscript syllabary gives us a maximum possibility of 28 one-letter morphemes, 784 (28 x 28) two-letter morphemes and 21 952 three-letter morphemes. As far as I know, Okamoto did not attempt to achieve self-segregating morphemes. But this is required for us by Design Principle 3. It would have to be achieved in writing by using hyphens, dot or 'decimal point', white space or some other divider. If words are stressed regularly on either the first syllable or final syllable, the segregation could be maintained in speech also if all morphemes were polysyllabic. The problem arises in speech with one-syllable morphemes.


An alternative Roman letter syllabary

In Dirk Elzinga's scheme, each consonant letter represented three different CV syllables, where each syllable had the same consonant but varied in the vowel quality. As in the syllabary above, Dirk's scheme has no distinction between voiceless and voiced obstruents. Instead, he used the letters which traditionally denote voiced or lenis obstruents to signify that the following vowel is a low vowel, and the letters that traditionally signify voiceless or fortis obstruents are followed by high vowels, e.g.

p  =  /pi//pɨ/ /pu/(High vowels)
b   =  /pe//pa/ /po/(Low vowels)

I like the neatness of Dirk's two series of vowels; but, although I have no problem with the high, central unrounded [ɨ], many people will find it difficult. I had considered allowing the mid, central unrounded [ə] as an alternative; but I feel that neither are acceptable in a constructed IAL as these sounds are absent from so many of the world's languages. So, after due consideration, the version given below will have just four vowels, with no central vowel.

There are also some other differences of detail between the the syllabary proposed here and Dirk's scheme, which I need not eleborate upon here.

consonant +
High vowelsLow vowels
bilabial plosivep = /pi/ or /pu/ b = /pɛ/ or /pɔ/
dental/ alveolar
t = /ti/ or /tu/ d = /tɛ/ or /tɔ/
velar plosivek = /ki/ or /ku/ g = /kɛ/ or /kɔ/
labiodental fricativef = /fi/ or /fu/ v = /fɛ/ or /fɔ/
s = /si/ or /su/ z = /sɛ/ or /sɔ/
alveolar (lateral)
l = /li/ or /lu/ r = /lɛ/ or /lɔ/
bilabial nasalµ = /mi/ or /mu/ m = /mɛ/ or /mɔ/
dental/ alveolar
9 = /ni/ or /nu/ n = /nɛ/ or /nɔ/
palatal approximanty = /(j)i/ or /ju/ j = /(j)ɛ/ or /jɔ/
labio-velar approximantw = /wi/ or /(w)u/ q = /wɛ/ or /(w)ɔ/

Obviously there will need to be some way of indicating whether the vowels are front or back, i.e. whether, say, nfr is /nɛfilɛ/ or /nɔfulɔ/. There will also be a need to distinguish by compounding of lexical morphemes and suffixing of functional morphemes. These two needs can be combined thus:

  1. traditional vowel symbols are used to combine lexical morphemes thus, e.g.:
    i between front-vowel and front-vowel morphemes;
    e between front-vowel and back-vowel morphemes;
    o between back-vowel and front-vowel morphemes;
    u between back-vowel and back-vowel morphemes.
  2. the following symbols indicate that the consonants to their right are single syllable suffixes thus:
    ' (apostrophe) appended to a front-vowel lexical morpheme
    - (hyphen) appended to back-vowel lexical morpheme

Those who know of R. Srikanth's language Lin, may find the above reminiscent of Lin's external and internal "cements" which are used to disambiguate Lin's enneasemant words (words having nine meanings). There is, indeed, a similarity and the fact that /nɛfilɛ/ and /nɔfulɔ/ will have different meanings makes nfr disemant. Although Lin's enneasemy does allow the language to have a high degree of compactness, it also adds complications. Disemy is, I think, as far as I venture down the road of polysemy.