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 consonantsound followed by a vowelsound.
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 Chinaand the Nü Shusyllabary 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 languageuses two syllabaries together called kana, namely hiraganaand 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 languageshave a type of alphabetcalled 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 graphemetypically 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
English languageallows 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 codawas 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.
* List of syllabaries
Other types of writing systems
* [http://www.omniglot.com/writing/syllabaries.htm Syllabaries] - [http://www.omniglot.com/ Omniglot's] list of syllabaries and abugidas, including examples of various writing systems.
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