A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent (or approximate) syllables, which make up words. A symbol in a syllabary typically represents an optional consonant sound followed by a vowel sound.

Languages using syllabaries

Languages that use syllabic writing include Mycenaean Greek (Linear B), the Native American language Cherokee, the African language Vai, the English-based creole language Ndyuka (the Afaka script), Yi language in China and the Nü Shu syllabary for Yao people, China. The Chinese, Cuneiform, and Maya scripts are largely syllabic in nature, although based on logograms. They are therefore sometimes referred to as "logosyllabic". The Japanese language uses two syllabaries together called kana, namely hiragana and katakana (developed around 700 AD). They are mainly used to write some native words and grammatical elements, as well as foreign words, e.g. hotel is written with three kana, ホテル ("ho-te-ru"), in Japanese. Because Japanese uses many CV (consonant + vowel) syllables, a syllabary is well suited to write the language. As in many syllabaries, however, vowel sequences and final consonants are written with separate glyphs, so that both "atta" and "kaita" are written with three kana: あった ("a-t-ta") and かいた ("ka-i-ta"). It is therefore sometimes called a "moraic" writing system.

Difference between an abugida and a syllabary

Indian languages and Ethiopian languages have a type of alphabet called an "abugida" or "alphasyllabary". These are sometimes mistaken for syllabaries, but unlike in syllabaries, all syllables starting with the same consonant are based on the same symbol, and generally more than one symbol is needed to represent a syllable. In the 19th century these systems were called "syllabics", a term which has survived in the name of Canadian Aboriginal syllabics (also an abugida). In a true syllabary there is no systematic graphic similarity between phonetically related characters (though some do have graphic similarity for the vowels). That is, the characters for 'ke', 'ka', and 'ko' have no similarity to indicate their common "k" sound (e.g. hiragana け, か, こ). Compare abugida, where each grapheme typically represents a syllable but where characters representing related sounds are similar graphically (typically, a common consonantal base is annotated in a more or less consistent manner to represent the vowel in the syllable). For example, in "Devanagari", an abugida, the same characters for 'ke', 'ka' and 'ko' are के, का and को respectively, with क indicating their common "k" sound.

Comparison to English alphabet

The English language allows complex syllable structures, making it cumbersome to write English words with a syllabary. A "pure" syllabary would require a separate glyph for every syllable in English. Thus one would need separate symbols for "bag", "beg", "big", "bog", "bug"; "bad", "bed", "bid", "bod", "bud", etc. However, such pure systems are rare. A work-around to this problem, common to several syllabaries around the world (including English loanwords in Japanese), is to write an echo vowel, as if the syllable coda was a second syllable: "ba-gu" for "bag", etc. Another common approach is to simply ignore the coda, so that "bag" would be written "ba". This obviously would not work well for English, but was done in Mycenean Greek when the root word was two or three syllables long and the syllable coda was a weak consonant such as "n" or "s" (example: "chrysos" written as "ku-ru-so").

A separate solution would be that used by the Mayan script, that of a substractive nature. For example, Bag would be written "ba-ga", where the second vowel is ignored if it's the same as the first. To write the word "baga", one would either still write "ba-ga" as the mayans did, leaving it unclear as to whether "bag" or "baga" is meant, or write "ba-ga-a", so that the second a is subtracted but the third left over.

ee also

* List of syllabaries

Other types of writing systems


External links

* [ Syllabaries] - [ Omniglot's] list of syllabaries and abugidas, including examples of various writing systems.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Syllabary — Syl la*ba*ry, n. A table of syllables; more especially, a table of the indivisible syllabic symbols used in certain languages, as the Japanese and Cherokee, instead of letters. S. W. Williams. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • syllabary — [sil′ə ber΄ē] n. pl. syllabaries [ModL syllabarium < L syllaba: see SYLLABLE] 1. a set or table of syllables 2. a set of written signs or characters representing the syllables that are the units in a language that uses syllabic, rather than… …   English World dictionary

  • syllabary — /sil euh ber ee/, n., pl. syllabaries. 1. a list or catalog of syllables. 2. a set of written symbols, each of which represents a syllable, used to write a given language: the Japanese syllabary. [1580 90; < NL syllabarium. See SYLLABLE, ARY] * * …   Universalium

  • syllabary — Силлабическое письмо (Syllabary)     То же, что и слоговое письмо [тип письма, в котором знак передает отдельный слог]. Слоговое письмо, Силлабическое письмо, Силлабарий (Syllabary)     Тип письма, в котором каждый знак передает отдельный слог.… …   Шрифтовая терминология

  • syllabary — noun (plural baries) Etymology: New Latin syllabarium, from Latin syllaba syllable Date: 1586 a table or listing of syllables; specifically a series or set of written characters each one of which is used to represent a syllable …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • syllabary — noun a) A table or list of syllabic letters or syllables b) A writing system where each character represents a complete syllable See Also: syllable …   Wiktionary

  • syllabary — Synonyms and related words: IPA, ITA, Initial Teaching Alphabet, International Phonetic Alphabet, alphabet, alphabetics, art, blueprint, charactering, characterization, chart, choreography, conventional representation, dance notation, delineation …   Moby Thesaurus

  • syllabary — syl·la·bar·y || sɪlÉ™bÉ™rɪ / brɪ n. set of characters that represents syllables, syllabic script …   English contemporary dictionary

  • syllabary — [ sɪləb(ə)ri] noun (plural syllabaries) a set of written characters representing syllables, serving the purpose of an alphabet. Origin C19: from mod. L. syllabarium, from L. syllaba syllable …   English new terms dictionary

  • syllabary — noun (C) a list of syllables, sometimes represented as symbols …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”