Thursday, October 06, 2005

No Rotation Operator

Richard Sproat carries out a lot of research on writing systems and aproaches it in a very organized way. I asked him last spring about Syllabics and orientation as a factor in reading.

"I don't have a good story for Cree. Given the current calculus I would have to say that it's basically a CV syllabary like kana. This is because I do not have a rotation operator, which is what I would need to express important aspects of the compositionality of the system. The superscript dot for the long "o" and "i" is easy enough,but I have no way to handle the fact that orientation is a significant component of the system. This is actually a pretty unusual device and indeed the only systems that make any systematic use of it that I know of are Evans' Cree/Ojibwe and Bell's Visible speech. The latter is of course was a purely scientific notation (though Bell did intend it as a script to replace normal English orthography). So that just leaves Cree and Ojibwe as systems that make systematic use of rotation. I could add such a device to the formal calculus of the system, but I am reluctant to do it just for two writing systems."

So there you have it. I cannot find any further research on orientation as a factor in the readability of a script. In the meantime I have spent long enough working on Mandombé, over the last few days, that I can indeed say that for me, at least, it is significantly easier to learn how to read than Arabic or Chinese, very much so. (I don't really want to admit how long I have been working on Arabic.)

I realize that the layperson may remain unconvinced and simply, based on pure supposition, insist that Mandombé is hard to read, but I haven't got the research to back that up and I have, in fact, looked for it.

Of course, after Tamil, Phags-pa, Cree, Vai, etc. it is possible that my expectations of how a script works are a little different from others'. It is not an alphabet.

Many thanks to Denis Jacquerye for posting enough detail about Mandombé that I can actually figure out how to read it, even if the article is still in progress.

I have used this page and this text to work on learning this script.

PS Personal emails are quoted with permission. Otherwise they are treated as confidential.


Blogger Denis said...

Hi Suzanne,

There's one thing I do not understand in Mandombe. An anonymous contributor modified, or corrected, what I had written about the 4 families of characters and their transformations. I had written that each character was on from family 1 with a rotation of 180 degrees, for family 2; with a reversal for family 3; and with a rotation of 180 degree and a reversal for family 4. This made sense to me, especially since I had found a comment indicating this in a forum (look for "mandombe" and "font" on google, it's on the High-Logic site).
The anonymous contributor fixed this, stating that it was a 45 degree rotation of the yikamu and so on, adding that the 5th family is a rotation of 180 degrees of the yikamu. but that this family wasn't usable in Mandombe.

I have no idea what this means. If I'm not wrong the yikamu is the little bit that differs from class to class. But I don't see how it is making a 45, 90 or 135 degrees rotation. Maybe you have some insight on this.

4:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering the same thing myself. In Canadian Syllabics some of the transformations appear to be rotations but most are flips on the vertical and horizontal axis, similar to b,d,p.q They are sometimes described as the north, south, east, west syllables and the north-east, south-east, north-west, south-west characters.

So some people describe these transformations differently.

I think that the 45 degrees must describe the relationship between the consonant and the vowel. The C is at a 45 degree angle, so it appears, to the vowel. However, this reference to the 5th family is strange. There are 5 vowels but I don't think he means that.

Basically I have no idea what is intended but I will follow up on the other link. I find the script relatively readable although this was not my first impression.

9:57 AM  

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