Sora Sompeng — 1936 AD, India

Sora Sompeng “ih”

In the history of writing systems, it is not uncommon for people create writing systems based on dreams or visions.  It is also not uncommon for writing systems to have particular religious significance.  It *is* somewhat rare for people to worship a writing systems, but Sora Sompeng shows there is at least one.

Before 1936 AD, the Sora language — an Austro-Asian language spoken in east central India –was written with either the Oriya, Latin, or Telugu scripts.  In 1936 AD, Mangei Gomango, the son-in-law of a charismatic community leader, had a vision of the 24 characters of the Sora Sompeng script.  From there, he founded a religious group to worship “Akshara Brahma”, the Alphabetic Image of God.  Nowadays, the script is mostly used for religious works, adult education, and ceremonial uses (e.g. wedding invitations), but it isn’t used much; Sora is principally a spoken language.

The 24 characters are named after the 24 gods in the Sora pantheon.  There is not a strict one-to-one correspondence between sounds and characters in the script; there are more sounds than characters.  Perhaps if there had been more gods in the Sora pantheon, there might be enough characters for each sound.

Sora Sompeng is an abugida that has abjad elements (not always showing vowels) and  some alphabetic elements (showing vowels with separate characters instead of diacritics).  There is a default vowel attached to every consonant, but there is no vowel-killing symbol like the virama, nor vowel-killing consonant clusters; the reader has to figure out from context if there is a vowel there or not.  To get a different vowel than the default, a vowel character is written.

Links: Wikipedia, Omniglot, Unicode proposal

Posted in Abugida, inventor known, now ceremonial, Rating: 4 "Huh, interesting!", revealed in a dream | Leave a comment

Gondi — 1928 AD, India

Gondi "ve"

Gondi was developed by a gentleman named Munshi Mangal Singh Masaram, to be used in central India to write the Gondi language.  (In India, it almost appears that people don’t take a spoken language (and hence ethnicity) seriously unless it has its own writing system.)

Gondi is an abuguida, and all the consonant glyphs have a short horizontal line on the right-hand side, looking sort of like a hyphen.  The vowel diacritics all sit sort of “on top of” this hyphen.  When the consonant participates in a consonant cluster, the hyphen is omitted.

Links: Unicode proposal, Omniglot

Posted in Abugida, inventor known, National pride, Rating: 3 "I did not know that" | 1 Comment

Thanna — 1700 AD, Maldives

Thaana "toa"

Thaana, used in the island chain of the Maldives off of the Indian coast, is one of the very very few alphabetic or abugida writing systems whose glyphs (apparently) are not ultimately derived from Proto-Sinaitic.  Like most blanket statements on this blog, there are some heavy hedges here.

I said “apparently” because there might have been some influence.  It is clear that nine glyphs took their shape from Arabic numerals, and nine from Indic numerals.  (Yes, numerals.  No, I don’t know why.)  The glyphs for those numerals don’t have any obvious relation to the glyphs of the writing systems around them, but it is always possible.

Glyphs for other characters than the base 18 — mostly for loan words — are made by adding diacritics to those base glyphs.  Finally, there is a “y” character, and nobody knows what glyph, if any, was its inspiration.

Thaana is an abuguida, where vowels must always be attached to a preceding consonant with diacritics.  There is a special character, the alif, which is a “null consonant”, existing only to hang solo vowels upon.  Interestingly, the diacritics are derived from Arabic vowel points, not from any of the Indic diacritics.

Thaana displaced Dhives Akuru gradually in a period when the Maldives were becoming more Islamic.  It was originally used to write magical incantations, which might be why numbers were used for letters — perhaps it would be better understood as a code.

In the 1970s, telex machines were installed in government offices, and the new communications technology was seen as highly beneficial.  However, the telex machines only used Latin script.  A Latin transliteration script was developed, and (despite it not fitting the language well) was popularized.  Thaana almost died out then, but it was reinstated in 1978; both Thaana and Latin are now used.

Links: Wikipedia, Omniglot

Posted in Abugida, Numbers, Rating: 4 "Huh, interesting!", spiritual or supernatural | Leave a comment

Tulu — 1500 AD, India

Tulu "ka"

There are arguments about whether the Tulu script descended from the Malayalam script or whether Malayalam descended from Tulu.  I tend to believe the camp which posits that there was a single script, derived from Grantha, which diverged into Tulu and Malayalam at some point.

Unfortunately for Tulu speakers, when German missionaries showed up in the 1800s and printed tracts in the Tulu language, they chose to use the Kannada script instead of the Tulu script.  They already had a press for Kannada (and hence already had Kannada metal type), and almost all Tulu speakers also spoke Kannada.

We in the 21st century tend to think of printing as being something cheap and easy to do; it is difficult to remember how expensive and difficult it was to create a new typeface for a new language.  As I mentioned in my Khojki post, it took Mr. Laljibhi Devraj a trip to Germany and three months of his time to get metal type cut for Kohjki.  Thus, given that type existed for Kannada and it worked well enough for Tulu, it is not surprising that the Tulu script would lose popularity.

Links: Wikipedia, Boloji, brief Unicode page, All About Tulu

Posted in Abugida, Rating: 2 "Not all that interesting" | Leave a comment

Telugu – 1300 AD, India

Telugu "tha"

The Telugu script, like the Kannada script, derived from the Old Kannada script. In fact, the demarcation between Kannada and Old Kannada is when Telugu and Kannada started to diverge.  If there hadn’t been the Telugu branch, scholars would probably just talk about “Kannada”, and maybe talk about differences between earlier and later Kannada.  Kannada and Telugu still look very similar.

Telugu has a very distinctive checkmark-shaped line at the top of many of its glyphs, in the places that most Indic scripts have a horizontal line (and Oriya has an arc).

Links: Wikipedia, Ancient Scripts, Omniglot

Posted in Abugida, Rating: 2 "Not all that interesting", Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Kannada — 1300 AD, India

Kannada "rka"

Not surprisingly, Kannada evolved gradually from Old Kannada.  As such, it is tricky to specify a date when Kannada split from Old Kannada; I’ve seen dates between 1100 AD (when the first differences appeared) to 1800 AD (when, under the influence of Christian missionaries, the script was standardized).

Kannada, like most Indian scripts, is an abugida, with glyphs representing consonant+vowel “a”, with an extra diacritic decorating the consonant to change or omit the vowel.  Kannada also has a large number of ligatures of consonant clusters, i.e. there are a lot of glyphs for a set of consonants with no intervening vowels.  (“Stri” would be a consonant cluster in Latin script, for example.  These ligatures  are usually made in Kannada with what look like subscripts, as seen in the example glyph.

Links: Wikipedia, Ancient Scripts, Omniglot

Posted in Abugida, Rating: 2 "Not all that interesting" | 1 Comment

Old Kannada — 1100 AD, India

Old Kannada "rra"

Old Kannada, also called Halegannada, Proto-Kannada, and Old Karanese, developed from Kadamba.  It has evolved into present-day Kannada and Telugu, but has a couple of characters which are no longer used, including “rra” (shown illustrating this posting).

Links: Wikipedia, Ancient Scripts, Omniglot

Posted in Abugida, Rating: 1 "Dull, only here for completeness" | 1 Comment

Kadamba — 400 AD, India

Kadamba "cha"

Kadamba derived from Bhattiprolu script, and was the ancestor of two more modern scripts, Kannada and Telugu.  There is very little information about the script.  It is even sometimes called “Pre-Old-Kannada script”, which just goes to show how little of an independent identity it has.

Kadamba and Old Kannada glyphs are quite similar, so the line between the two is somewhat blurred.

Links: Wikipedia, Ancient Scripts

Posted in Abugida, Rating: 1 "Dull, only here for completeness" | 1 Comment

Bhattiprolu — 100 BC, India

Bhattiprolu "ka"

Bhattiprolu is a very close variant of Brahmi script.  Some inscriptions were found at a site in Andhra Pradesh — on the Eastern coast of India, a bit south of the north-south center line but not yet at the southern tip of India — in 1870 AD.

The site was a stupa, which originally was a monument to house remains of the Buddha.  Nine inscriptions in the Bhattiprolu script were found in the original excavation and a later (1969 AD) excavation, with an important set of glyphs on the Buddha’s urn.  Most were in Prakrit, which is a vernacular form of Sanskrit, but three had some words in the Telugu language.

Links: Wikipedia

Posted in Abugida, Rating: 1 "Dull, only here for completeness" | 4 Comments

Dhivas Akuru — 1200 AD, Maldives

Dhives Akuru "aa"

The Maldives, despite being a chain of really tiny islands ~400km off the coast of India, was literate enough to develop its own script no later than the 12th century AD.  This script was a evolutionary derivative of Grantha.  In around 1600 AD, another script started being used, and pushed out Dhivas Akuru.

Note that Dhivas Akuru was around long enough to evolve; the earlier form is called Evela Akuru.  There were a few characters that were added in order to cope with loan words from Arabic, which was becoming more common while the islands converted to Islam.  Otherwise, the changes were merely minor cosmetic changes in the shapes of the glyphs.  I did not feel they were different enough to warrant separate blog postings, but others might disagree.

Links: Wikipedia, Omniglot, Ancient Scripts, Unicode Proposal, Wikipedia on writing systems of the Maldives

Posted in Abugida, Rating: 1 "Dull, only here for completeness" | 1 Comment