Indic Syllabic Categories

Philippe Verdy verdy_p at
Sun May 11 22:22:36 CDT 2014

My opinion is that unlike Consonants, the Vowel_Independent are generally
not needing an extra Dependant_Vowel to alter them (only vowel modifiers
for tone, stress, nasalisation, or newer distinguished phonetic variants
needed to represent words borrowed from other languages...), and also
generally don't need a Virama-like character to remove their inherent vowel
sign. These Vowel_Independent also generally don't take the additional
diacritics used to modofy Consonants.

So the Vowel_Independent can be viewed as if they were already precombining
the same "null" Consonant (not encoded, though some phonologies may render
it with a true plain phonetic consonnant like a glottal stop, later added
to the abugida as a true Consonant with its own inherent vowel; something
also occuring in Semitic adjads) with their associated Dependant_Vowel.

Now if you analyze the existing independant vowel A, it is by itself the
representation of this null consonnant associated with the inherent vowel.
That vowel A followed by a virama then makes sense to represent a non-null
consonnant like the glotal stop. This independant vowel A is different from
other independant vowels, and is more like other consonnants (this can be
said too about the Semetic Alef perceived as this null consonnant with its
inherent vowel dropped). This is the only case where the distinction
between indepedant vowel and consonnant is really fuzzy (unless we analyze
it like the vowel A in western alphabets).

And there are some transforms (or orthographic evolutions) where pairs of
combining Dependant_Vowels could become a single Dependant_Vowel followed
by a Vowel_Independent (or could also evolve to an abjad or a plain
alphabet like Hangul), which affect things like collation and transcription.

In the history of scripts, the separation line may become dofficult to draw
when abugidas, alphabets are evolutions (in opposite directions) of Semitic
abjads which initially did not separate phonemes but only syllables (like
today's syllabaries, largely kept in sinograms and even graphically in the
Hangul alphabet). It is with western alphabets that the syllabic
separations have become almost invisible (so much that hyphenation rules in
Western alphabets have become difficult and they incorporated spaces and
punctuation to separate words, but their origin comes in fact from Semitc
abjads at a time where vowels where not written and had to be guessed)

2014-05-10 3:32 GMT+02:00 Shriramana Sharma <samjnaa at>:

> Dear Richard,
> It is true that Vowel_Independent can behave like Consonant
> characters. Given that consonant letters also have an inherent vowel
> in these scripts, IMO there is not really much to distinguish
> *technically*. At least in *Indian* Indic scripts we don't have
> Vowel_Independent letters participating in a cluster via a virama
> unlike the consonant letter, but possibly in the South East Asian
> scripts this is not guaranteed. Hence IIUC it is merely the
> traditional classification based on the sound value of these letters
> that is reflected here.
> And that classification (which you probably know but just putting into
> writing) is: The consonant letters all denote the same inherent vowel
> preceded by one (or, rarely, more) consonant sounds. The independent
> vowel letters OTOH all denote different vowel sounds without (for the
> most part) any consonant sounds.
> HTH,
> Shriramana Sharma.
> --
> Shriramana Sharma ஶ்ரீரமணஶர்மா श्रीरमणशर्मा
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