Re: letters that "complete the rectangle" in Indic scripts

From: Philippe Verdy <>
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2013 04:38:05 +0200

Don't know what you mean here really, but the Indic scripts work at a core
syllabic C-V level, and in order to fit with real languages, it was
effectively necessary to fill the holes by inventing the implicit concept
of null consonnants that combine with vowels, even of these compound are
not breakable in the common sense (so we have now combining vowels, and
plain vowel "letters").

It is in fact very intrigatin that scripts invented to model the phonology
(instead of representing the semantic or using simplifications of icons
showing the some concrete objects). have all started by isolating first the
consonnants, even though they are much less heard than vowels. However they
are easier to sort and have less variations in a given language, than
vowels which can be altered with great flexibility. Vowels have always been
late to be représented, they were felt to be too much "animal", where
cononants with their articulations are more specififcally "humane" (at
least if we just consider those consonnants we can distnguish with our
humane ears, because animals certainely also have articulated "speech" and
that are more distinctinve than the oral vowels we hear from them.

Only some more recent alphabets have clearly separated consonants and
vowels, trying to give them equal importance (but with lots of problems,
that's why we have wide variations between languages about how vowels are
represented, even within the same script, or with the same language with
changes rapidly being adopted in orthographies in a short language
history). But other scripts are more pragmatic ad in order to more closely
the patterns of use in their phonology, vowels are gven second degree of
importance (true for all Semitic abjads and Indic abugidas). Things have
been complicated because only a few vowels have evolved to be very
discrimant in the phonology. This caused them to become plain letters and
being interpreted as "consonnants" (or as "half-vowels") withe the concept
of matres lectionis (visible in Semitic abjads and being applied more
systematically to become what we have in Alphabets derived from old Greek,
or that have borrowed some concepts from alphabetic scripts).

Beside all this, the graphical forms of scripts does not really matter and
is not something that will limit the evolutions (even in "ideographic"
scripts, like sinograms, things are much less radical than what their basic
concept may suggest). I would avoid smply to make any normative reference
to any rectangular form (for the visible shape, or for the form of the
theoretical tabular C-V combinations, as if there was two orthogonal axis,
we've seen that the distinction between consonnants and vowels is very
fuzzy anf highly dependant on the phoyonoly and statistical distribution of
usages in a 'language" made of lots of dialects more or less mutually
intelligible abd more or less specifalized by domain of humane activity,
but also very influenced by social interactions with other languages or
other domains).

Scripts and languages are not like natural species : they don't follow
absolute rules for living and for diversifying themselves (they are not
evolutions based on birth and death, or massive accidents or under
unexpected and unpredictable mutations). They evolve even if there were
strong rules set by some other people and nobody can block these evolutions
(mutations are much more rapid than in nature, because every humane will
try to mutate their languages themselves many times during his life). So
scripts and laguages are both copying themselves, reinventing the same
things, and all tend to be specialized and innovate everywhere.

It's then difficult to create an universal standard that will not also
evolve ar the same time, notably when trying to encode them, because
scripts and languages are evoluting simultaneously under contradicting
directions : convergence on some aspects and divergence on some others (or
frequently on the same aspects !). Even if we thnk that many languages and
scripts are endangered (they are!), lots of them are also being created
evey day, and will also disappear even faster, the only strong resistance
beng those set by "standards" trading practices, moreor less protected by
laws (such as corporate logos, trademarks, and "most valued" artistic
creations generating revenues, but also being the most "abused" ones with
many derivatives).

2013/9/18 Stephan Stiller <>

> I have been told that Devanagari contains letters (or a letter) that were
> invented merely to complete the rectangular C-V table; not sure to what
> extent they (or it) were used subsequently.
> Wiki
> tells me about the letter ॡ (signifying "ḹ", I assume this means a
> syllabic long "l"). Are there other examples? What about other Indic
> scripts?
> Stephan
Received on Tue Sep 17 2013 - 21:40:19 CDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Tue Sep 17 2013 - 21:40:20 CDT