An alphasyllabary or abugida (a term coined by Peter T. Daniels) is a writing system whose basic signs denote consonants with an inherent vowel and where consistent modifications of the basic sign indicate other following vowels than the inherent one (or, in some cases, the lack of a vowel, for example as the final consonant in a CVC syllable or in consonant clusters). As the term alphasyllabary suggests, they are considered an intermediate step between alphabets and syllabaries. Some abugidas, notably the Brahmic scripts, are thought to have evolved from alphabetic scripts.
Thus, in an abugida there is no sign for "k", but instead one for "ka" (if "a" is the inherent vowel), and "ke" is written by modifying the "ka" sign in a way that is consistent with how one would modify "la" to get "le". In many abugidas the modification is the addition of a vowel sign, but other possibilities are imaginable (and used), such as rotation of the basic sign, addition of diacritical marks, and so on.
Some abugidas, especially those in the Brahmic family of scripts, feature a mark called a halant or (in Sanskrit) virama, which suppresses a character's inherent vowel, reducing it to a lone consonant. This is used in consonant clusters and for syllable-final consonants.
The obvious contrast is with syllabaries, which have one distinct symbol per possible syllable, and the signs for each syllable have no systematic graphic similarity.
The name is derived from the first four characters of an order of the Ethiopic script used in some religious contexts (this order seems to correspond to the ancestral semitic character order (aleph, beth, gimel, daleth / ABCD / ...). The Ethiopic script is an abugida, although the vowel modifications in Ethiopic are not entirely systematic. Many North American Indian scripts, such as Cree syllabics, can be considered abugidas as well, although they are more often referred to as syllabaries. The largest single group of abugidas is the Brahmic family of scripts, however, which includes nearly all the scripts used in India and Southeast Asia.
List of abugidas
- Syllabaries http://www.omniglot.com/writing/syllabaries.htm - Omniglot's http://www.omniglot.com/ list of syllabaries and abugidas, including examples of various writing systems
Last updated: 02-07-2005 02:27:34
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01