Sunday, October 02, 2005

Rotations or Reflections

I have been thinking about whether rotations or reflections is a more productive principle in letter formation. Some day I would like to think about how these transformations came about.

It all started with Meditations on Utopia. The transformations that the letters undergo in the Utopian alphabet are certainly rotations. However looking at Phags-pa, I realized that I was also looking at transformations, but of another kind, reflections or reversals.

I haven't been able yet to figure out what the rational is to these reversals or if there is one. No doubt I just need to read further. In the meantime I have decided to post this to record and share these inconclusive observations.

I am also wondering if there was a two dimensional layout for the Phags-pa script that I have not yet come across, as there is for Devanagari.

Unfortunately, I have not used a phonetic transcription for these letters so I wouldn't put to much stock in these Ascii transcriptions. Maybe tomorrow I will work on the phonology.


Explanation for reversed letters is found near the bottom of this page. The reversed letters correspond to Tibetan letters and represent retroflex consonants used for transcribing Sanskrit loan words.


Anonymous Andrew West said...

All the reflections in Phags-pa that you show are derived from Tibetan, but there is one more pair of reflected letters (QA and GGA) that are peculiar to Phags-pa, though they probably derive from the Tibetan letters KHA and GA.

My feeling is that rotation as a mechanism for creating new letters is linked to printing with movable type. It is easy to rotate individual lead type pieces to print rotated versions of letters, and may thus explain the prevalence of rotated letters in IPA. But when you are writing by hand, it is more natural to write mirrored letters than it is to write rotated letters (to my brain at least, it seems that rotated letters are harder to identify than mirrored letters), which may explain why mirroring is a more common way of creating new letters in scripts that predate the invention or adoption of printing with movable type.

BTW, could you explain what you mean by a "two dimensional layout" for the Phags-pa script ?

4:41 AM  
Anonymous Suz said...

Hi Andrew,

I have been thinking about movable type myself ever since seeing that the Utopian alphabet first used rotations in 1529. However, I am also thinking of the process or block printing which you shared with me.

Now that I see how close Phags-pa is to Tibetan I will be looking at Tibetan more closely. Thanks for all the detail on your website.


11:32 PM  

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