Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
 
Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics

TK has just pointed out to me the existence of a rather beautiful script: Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics. According to Agfamonotype:
The core of the script now known as “Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics” was first conceived in the mind of one James Evans in the early 1800s. . . .Today, it supports a broad range of languages belonging to the Algonquian, Athabascan, and Inuit families. . . As originally devised, the Cree Syllabary was extremely frugal in its use of symbols. The system consisted mainly of symbols representing open syllables, i.e. consonant-vowel pairs. In addition, there are distinct symbols for word-initial – also known as “independent” – vowels, as well as syllable-final consonants. In total, the symbols numbered 76. Evans’ minimalist approach is well demonstrated by the symbols for the independent vowels. The four vowels [e], [i], [o], [a] are all represented by the same geometric form (a triangle) rotated in each case to a distinct orientation. This same paradigm of identical shapes in varying orientations made the syllabary easy to learn, resulting in a high rate of literacy among the Cree people. [emphasis mine.]
The entire syllabary is visible here, along with a list of languages its used in. Looking for information on Cree was a useful reminder that the Alongonquin are a people, not just a mere hotel in Manhattan. According to Native Languages of the Americas, 45,000 people speak Cree in Southern Canada and Montana. (They also make a case that these syllabaries were not invented by missionaries but are native: isn't it strange that in the many native tribes with no such traditions, the missionaries sensibly provided alphabets based on their own, while for the natives with literary traditions they inexplicably provided weird pictographs and rotating syllabaries unlike anything they'd ever seen before? Isn't it more likely that the Indians are telling the truth and they had these scripts to start with? Not deeply convincing, but an interesting idea.)

Some resources on making the web accessible to people reading and writing in this script.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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