During its long history the problem of reducing language to writing, and Florian Coulmas presents detailed descriptions of the world’s writing systems and. This book is an account of the writing systems of the world from earliest times to the Writing, Coulmas contends, is not only the guide or garment of spoken. o Florian Coulmas This book is in . Sign system to writing system: changing semiotic P. T. Daniels and W. Bright, The World’s Writing Systems.

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LINGUIST List Writing Systems: Coulmas ()

Editor for this issue: Coulmas Editor for this issue: Peter Daniels, Writing Systems Message 1: An Introduction to Their Linguistic Analysis. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Collins to repeat his remark on a work by Edmund Gosse some sixscore years on Cohen Florian Coulmas is a sociolinguist who from time to time addresses writing systems, and his work on the place of writing in society is always insightful and rewarding. Unfortunately, however, his attention to detail in this volume has not met Cambridge’s wonted standard.

Using it in a scholarly book amounts to a distortion and to underestimating the importance of media” xviii. While this is true to an extent for his example of Linear B where no one uses such fonts, because the transliteration is straightforwardit is most emphatically not true for Egyptian hieroglyphs — any philological treatment of the language uses typeset hieroglyphs to a very great extent, because it is virtually impossible to transliterate the signs with sufficient clarity to support the discussion, and because transcriptions of ancient Egyptian remain speculative as to the vowels and as to the values of some consonants.

As it happens, even for contemporary scripts, Coulmas uses very, very few script examples within the text and some of those few are quite mistaken; see below. Chinese tradition that still accords the written sign pride of place; he finds in I. But this is a distortion of Gelb’s position; Gelb, unlike Coulmas, carefully distinguished synchronic description from diachronic explanation. Meaning and Sound Coulmas’s second chapter concerns visible representations of meaning that are not writing what Gelb called “forerunners” of writing, although none of them actually “foreran” writing; DeFrancisand also iconic representations of speech such as Korean hangul and Bell’s Visible Speech.

It culminates with lists of four “assumptions” and three “principles” Writing and speech are distinct systems. They are related in a variety of complex ways. Speech and writing have both shared and distinct functions.

The bio-mechanics of the production and reception of speech and writing are different. The chapter concludes with a “Note on terminology and notation. Signs of Words Seven chapters follow that treat the various ways units of writing are paired with units of language.

Writing Systems (Florian Coulmas) – book review

Writingg begins with an attempt to define the unit in question linguistically and follows with a description of one or sysrems writing systems operating at that level — in chapter 3, Sumerian and Chinese exemplify logographic writing. Signs of Syllables A number of writing systems, modern and ancient, are exhibited to represent syllabographic writing, but none is presented in detail.

Signs of Segments The roman alphabet, primarily as used for English but also as supplemented with systemw and with additional forms as in the International Phonetic Alphabetis the topic of this chapter. Vowel Incorporation Several scripts of South and Southeast Asia, in which vowels are represented by alterations of basic consonant symbols, are presented. Analysis sytsems Interpretation The principal example here is Korean hangul, in which letters of the alphabet were originally intended to iconically represent the contours of the vocal tract used in producing their sounds, additional strokes on letters represent phonetic features, and the letters are combined into syllable units.

History of Writing A highly compressed history is presented. Psycholinguistics of Writing Chapter Sociolinguistics of Writing Brief surveys of reading and writing, and of literacy, standardization, and spelling reform round out the volume. Universal Declaration of Wriring Rights, article 1 Although this appendix is referred to nowhere in the book, it offers its passage in 21 languages, 10 in roman alphabets, 5 of the others without transliteration, and none with analysis to suggest how they represent the meaning of the text.

A bibliography and indexes of names and subjects follow. The first might assess factual accuracy, the second systemx organization of information, and the third the analytic understanding of writing.


The book fails on all three counts.

This book is syxtems, as Humpty Dumpty once said, from beginning to end. The very first indisputable factual mistake is both inexcusable and prototypical: This cavalier attitude toward proper names is pervasive. Unger listed separately from J[ames] Marshall Unger.

This treatment of data that are so easily checked does not bode well for treatment of less familiar materials, such as details of writing systems and their history. I will begin my catalog of errors in the areas with which I am most familiar, writing systems for Semitic languages, following these with examples that are so egregious as to be evident to the non-specialist. To baldly assert that when using “Semitic consonantal alphabets” vowels “are indicated optionally” is a vast systms.

In Phoenician writing, vowels are never indicated.

The vowel-indication systems that were introduced during the first millennium CE for Syriac, Hebrew, and Arabic are of course optional, but they are not the only device for notating vowels. C seems unaware that he echoes the consensus of scholars in rejecting Gelb’s claim that the Semitic consonantaries represent “syllables with indeterminate vowel,” since he puts it as “Following O’Connor [i. In discussing the absence of V-letters he adduces the non-existence of vowel-initial words in West Semitic languages, but fails to take into account the probable inspiration for the West Semitic signary from the consonant-only Egyptian writing system; but when he goes on to inquire, “What if V-initial words Where C does allude to an Egyptian-Semitic connection, in discussing “Proto-Sinaitic”he offers as a reference a article rather than the revised edition of the work of W.

Albright, which perhaps ought not to be cited at all in an elementary textbook in view of its refutation in the next work cited in the same footnote, Sass C commits his share of the common confusions of Hebrew letters: He chose to transliterate the subphonemic lenition of stops, but failed to indicate several of its occurrences He refers to the epenthetic [a] inserted between a non-low vowel and a final laryngeal “furtive Patach” as a “glide” His explanations of the realization of the vowel points known as Shwa and Metheg may represent attempts to condense accounts in some grammar-book, but they bear little relation to reality.

C alternates between “gimmel”and “giimel” for the name of the third letter, which is in fact “gimel” or “giml”. To the practiced eye, Arabic writing is not “quite different” from the Nabataean script from which it emerged in the two or three pre-Islamic centuries Gruendler In the example of its use where the correct form appearsthe letters of the example words are bizarrely spaced apart Diphthongs are wrongly claimed to be written by combining Waaw, Yaa’, and ‘Alif C states both that endings case inflections, specifically “are only pronounced in connected speech” and that they are “omitted in connected speech”in adjacent sentences ; in fact they are omitted phrase- or breath-group- finally.

The East Semitic branch of Semitic is not “sometimes called North Semitic” ; that term has been used by a minority of scholars who wish to avoid the notion of a stark divide between East and West Semitic languages.

C has badly misinterpreted the table he reprints 76 from WWS: It is not, as C says, the “basic grid of cuneiform ‘Syllabary A’. Syllabary A was not, as C says, “widely used as a basic standard” What it is, as explained by Cooper WWS: Cooper clearly states 47 that “scribes writing Akkadian in most periods had a working repertoire of between two and three hundred signs,” though scholars would be familiar with two to three times as many.

C has badly misunderstood the relation between the Sumerian and Akkadian writing systems.

Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics: Writing Systems: An Introduction to Their Linguistic Analysis

He believesthat Sumerograms represent culmas in the Akkadian language. All they are, though, is logograms, which happen to be transliterated by modern scholars with the Sumerian readings of the signs, just as logograms in Linear Coulmmas or Luvian happen to be transliterated with Latin words. Sumerograms were read in Akkadian only. We don’t, in fact, know the pronunciation of a few very common words in Hittite cf.

In Akkadian, a CV sign can be followed by an echo V sign. Rather, CV-V optionally indicates a long vowel, as he also says. Since the middle of the reign of King Ezana of Axum, ca. C makes quite a hash of his description of it. C seems to be hung up on a notion that there is something special about a left-to-right sequence, even within a graphic unit, since he draws attention to the fact that some of the vowel-attachments are on the left of the letters and some are on the right.


Yet C describes this as to the right! Egyptian While the counts of 26 monoconsonantal and ca. Perhaps C interpreted Ritner’s statement “Exclusively logographic writing is relatively rare in Egyptian” 74 to mean that “only few [sic] Egyptian signs are logograms”but of the or so signs used in Middle Egyptian, fewer than writijg accounted for by the phonetics and the nearly semantic determinatives.

I can find no warrant e. GardinerLoprieno for C’s assertion that “more than signs were rarely needed at any one time” C claims that “The relative shortage of V letters, characteristic of the alphabets of many other European languages as well, testifies to the descent of the Graeco-Latin alphabet [the what? One wonders how this testimony writinv elicited, given that at least one vowel letter, Omega, was added to the Greek alphabet quite independent of the Phoenician forebear.

It is not at all clear why C offers Hebrew letter names and words as if they underlie the Greek letter names ; the Phoenician originals are either known or easily reconstructed Noeldeke In the footnote to this discussion, C fails to mention the standard reference on the development and varieties of the Greek alphabet, Jeffery Roman In discussing what to call the writing system in which, for instance, this review is composed, C mentions that the term “Latin alphabet” is ambiguous between “the writing system of the Latin language” and “a set of 26 letters serving the writing systems of a great number of languages, But whence this number 26?

That’s the number of letters in the English writing system, writng the Latin or roman: Latin has 23, roman an indefinite number of letters, since different writing systems have made additions and subtractions over the ages. In what phonemic scil. In what dialect of English is there a word [ju: Coulmaas charts of English consonants and vowels contain mistakes: In the discussion of spelling reform, unconscionable space and attention f. The chart of the Africa Alphabet which was promulgated innot is missing its letter for the bilabial continuant International Institute The additional letters for vowels — consonant letters are disregarded — are mistakenly said to be coulmass letters with diacritics that, of course, is what they look like, but they are by any analysis separate lettersand they are misprinted as such properly printed Vietnamese can be seen in the appendixleading to the incorrect statement that “there are several graphemes consisting of a letter sytems and double accents”with more examples of typographic improvisation.

The wrriting that “The romanization of Coulmaas was a reform of the writing system, as Chinese characters, a completely different system, were abolished and a new system was specially designed for Vietnamese” reveals ignorance of history. The romanization was devised in the mid 17th century, systeme the Chinese-based script continued to be used for over two more centuries, and the romanization was not officially adopted until Nguyen Dinh-Hoa, WWS: The pinyin diacritic for the Systeks Tone is correctly given on p.

One coin with such a text has been found, where the punch engraver simply forgot to incise the inscription backward so that when the coin was stamped out, the legend would read properly. Marathi should not be listed among the modern Indo-Aryan languages with scripts of their own The suggestion that the use of two writiny, a Perso-Arabic one and an Indic one, played a greater part in the divergence of Urdu and Hindi than the aystems Muslim coulmae.

Hindu cultural background is astonishing. Because C consistently fails to distinguish between synchrony and diachrony, he unnecessarily confuses himself and the discussion of tone in Tibetan and Thai In both these languages, which involve even more extreme cases of historical spelling than English does, tonogenesis occurred after literacy was achieved; Tibetan tone is not systematically derivable from the orthography, while in Thai the inherited graphic material does serve in an elaborate way to indicate tone MillerBrown