Vol. 4:1 (2001) ► pp.1–14
What do “phonemic” writing systems represent?
Arabic Huruuf, Japanese Kana, and the Moraic Principle
The traditional classification of phonemic writing systems into three types — syllabaries, consonantal scripts, and alphabets — is based on a phonological theory which recognizes only the syllable and the segment as potential units of representation. It is argued here that an accurate typology of phonemic writing systems requires recognition of two further dimensions of phonological structure: phonological time, and the sonority hierarchy. The analysis focuses on two “typical” non-alphabetic systems — Japanese kana and the Arabic script, the former traditionally classed as a syllabary, the latter as a consonantal script. It is argued that the two scripts in fact share a common organizational principle, namely the iconic representation of phonological time.
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