18 August 2007

natlang scripts that seem conlangy, part 1

There are some writing systems used by natural languages which, to my eyes, look very much like they were consciously planned by a single person with good taste. (Some scripts which actually were designed by a single person look like they evolved in a helter-skelter haphazard way, e.g. Cherokee.)

Some of these scripts have such a strong appeal to me that I am tempted, oh so tempted, to create a conlang optimized for using the script, possibly with its original phonetic values, or possibly with a new phonemic inventory altogether. So far I have resisted the temptation to do this because it doesn't seem like the most worthwhile use of time, but on the other hand, borrowing an existing writing system for which fonts are available would certainly be quicker than designing a new script and trying to create fonts for it.

One of the natlang scripts that has a strong aesthetic appeal to me is Lontara a.k.a. Bugis, a syllabary used to write Buginese and other languages spoken on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. This script is not used by many people in modern times but naturally there are some who want to revive it. (This is true of any script or language that is dying out.) The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems says the script has some deficiencies, such as lacking any way to write the glottal stop and geminate consonants which are phonemes in the associated languages.

You can read a description of the Bugis writing system at ancientscripts.com

A freeware TrueType font designed by Andi Malarangeng and Jim Henry is available (with good instructions) at seasite.niu.edu. A font optimized for Mac OS X can be purchased for $19 from XenoType Technologies (whose website is fun to browse, by the way).

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Cherokee syllabary as used today is actually the work of more than one person. In the original system designed by Sequoiya, the symbols all had many curlicues and seem quite consistent. None of the symbols were similar to the Latin alphabet. Missionaries wanted to use the syllabary to print materials in Cherokee, so they pressured Sequoiya to allow them to substitute Latinate symbols for the more complicated symbols in the syllabary, thus making it easier to have printing type made.

--Ph. D.

Rick said...

I didn't know that about the Cherokee syllabary. Where can I learn more? Can you point me to a book or website?

KateGladstone said...

There is a picture (of the original syllabary in Sequoyah's own handwriting) here — http://www.intertribal.net/NAT/Cherokee/WebPgCC1/Original.htm