RE: Precomposed Ethiopic (Was: Precomposed Tibetan)

From: Marco Cimarosti (
Date: Wed Dec 18 2002 - 05:11:12 EST

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    John Hudson wrote:
    > The Ethiopic script is *not* made up of sub-syllabic units:
    > the syllable is
    > the minimum unit of writing. The same is true to Yi and the Canadian
    > Aboriginal Syllabics. The fact that Ethiopic has recently been input
    > phonetically should not lead to confusion about the inherent
    > nature of the
    > script, which is not generative.

    I beg to differ here.

    Ethiopic is a typical "syllabic alphabet" as Indic scripts are. Better said:
    Ethiopic is the MOST typical of ALL syllabic alphabets. Basically, it is a
    consonantal alphabet (historically, the southern Arabic alphabet) with
    mandatory vowel marks added.

    Some of the vowel marks have graphically merged with the base letter in such
    a way that, today, it is hard to take them apart. However, this also is true
    for many Indic scripts (e.g., see the complex ligatures formed between Tamil
    consonants and matras), but did not impede to encode consonant and vowels as
    separate abstract characters.

    I said above that Ethiopic is the most typical of all syllabic alphabets
    because most scholars use the name of the first four Ethiopic *consonants*
    (a-bu-gi-da) as their term for "syllabic alphabet".

    Canadian syllabics is a strange and unique system but, however, it is more
    resembling an abugida than a pure syllabary: the peculiar fact is that vowel
    "marks" are represented by the rotation of consonant letters, and that the
    "virama" is represented by a change in size.

    Of the three scripts you mentioned, only (modern) Yi is a genuine syllabary,
    in the same sense as Japanese kana or Linear B are.

    Notice that I am only commenting on the graphological nature of Ethiopic.
    Whether it was more appropriate to encode Ethiopic in the form of
    precomposed syllables or in the form of consonants plus vocalic modifiers,
    is an engineering choice about which I don't have a definite opinion. Both
    approaches have their pros and cons.

    _ Marco

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