Vol. 11:1 (2008) ► pp.73–89
It all hinges on the vowels
Reconsidering the Alphasyllabary Classification
I argue that formal and ethnographic studies of written language could benefit from greater reciprocal engagement. Recent work on formal aspects of written language has made plain that orthographic typology can help us to understand readers’ phonological awareness as well as inform and shape pedagogical strategies. However, much work on orthographic typologies has not examined actual use of writing systems. Peter Daniels stated that writing can be “adapted … at will” (1996a:2). This notion of adaptability of writing poses problems for studies of writing systems that do not look at its actual usage. Through a cross-orthographic study of writing adaptability, I suggest that an ethnographic examination of writing systems challenges the definition of the term alphasyllabary proposed in Bright (1999). I offer that a focus on the relative independence of vowels and consonants provides a solid typological classification system that accounts for changes and current variability in writing system usage.