Friday, July 08, 2005

Vai Unicode Proposal

A conversation has begun on Language Hat about the Proposal to add the Vai script to the BMP of the UCS. I feel I am lagging behind: this was posted a few days ago. But I have been lost in the Middle Ages for a brief interim. More about that later. Here are a few comments on the Vai Proposal. First, Tim May made a comment about one minority script being used to describe another.

What I don't understand about the Vai Proposal is this line in the second paragraph of page 2.

"(Strictly speaking, the writing system is based on the mora, as a syllable may be written with up to two characters.)"

I have commented on this before and I am simply sitting on the sidelines for a bit to see how this use of the term mora plays out. I had understood that a mora was "a suprasegmental unit of length, smaller than or coincidental with a syllable, that is studied as a part of the stress pattern of the language." (Google)


The structure of the Vai glyphs as traditionally given in syllabary charts shows a vertical glyph relation between many characters; accordingly, a visual sort which preserves this relationship makes sense for assisting readers in finding characters in lists. In this “column-based” sort, for each rhyme, the full run of consonants from Ø to ny- is given for the [e] vowel, then the next column of consonants from Ø to ny- is given for the [i] vowel, and so on to the [E] vowel. The order of the vowel series in Vai seems to be based on the names of the corresponding transliteration vowel in English; compare [e i a o u O E] with [eê i: aê oÜ ju] + [O E]. This order is sung in alphabet chants in Liberia, however, which is why we have chosen it in the absence of a “standard” Vai ordering. Other ordering systems exist. A “row-based” order based on the Latin transliteration of Vai characters is found; others are “column-based” as though with the vowel orders sorted as in Latin [a E e i O o u] or [a e E i o O u]; a “linguists’ order” [i a u E e o O] is sometimes found, as in Dalby 1967." page 4

This is an unusual ordering for any script, by rime rather than onset. Has anyone seen this before? I have not. Can you imagine flipping through a Vai dictionary.

Next, there is the question of the extended character set of Massaquoi. page 2. Surely this will make it harder to search in Vai, (if anybody ever would) One would have to guess at the spelling decisions that were made about each word in the first place as it is doubtful that everyone already uses the extended set.

Altogether this is a very complex proposal with many interesting issues. I need to get back to reading the articles on Vai that were recently sent to me.


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