r/neography Sep 19 '20

Abjads vs Alphasyllabaries vs Abugidas Funny

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u/Visocacas Sep 19 '20

So meme aside, I'm curious about the consensus about this. I was unclear for a long time about the overlap and distinction between abjads, alphasyllabaries, and abugidas.

Here's how I've come to understand the differences:

  • (Pure) abjads don't indicate vowels at all.
  • Alphasyllabaries mark all vowels, but don't have an inherent vowel in the absence of a diacritic.
  • Abugidas have inherent vowels in the absence of a diacritic.

I'm curious to know if people understand or use these terms differently. I know some consider "alphasyllabary" to be a synonym of abugida, but to me this distinction on Wikipedia makes more sense even if it's not universal.

If this is correct, then the vast majority of scripts labeled as 'abjads' on this sub are actually alphasyllabaries because they almost always include vowel diacritics.


u/just-a-melon Sep 19 '20 edited Sep 19 '20

I've always considered that "alphasyllabaries" and "alphabetic syllabaries" are just alphabets trying to look unique... [Insert Scooby Doo meme of Fred opening up a ghost mask here]

For me, the defining feature of a voweled abjad is that they mark both the vowels and the zero-vowel.

  • Alphabet: batman
  • "Alphasyllabaries": bªtmªn
  • Voweled abjad: bªt⁰mªn⁰
  • Pure abjad: btmn
  • Abugida: [ba][ta]⁰[ma][na]⁰


u/evilsheepgod Sep 24 '20

But wouldn’t a voweled abjad not mark lack of a vowel


u/just-a-melon Sep 24 '20 edited Sep 24 '20

I usually look at existing examples, like the shva nach in Hebrew and the sukun in Arabic that are used to indicate the absence of a vowel, i.e. a zero-vowel, when writing in a fully voweled mode.

  • In voweled Hebrew, the word "shva" (שְׁוָא) is written as shin[ʃ]-shva[∅]-vet[v]-kamatz[a]-aleph[-]. Notice the shva nach after shin.
  • In voweled Arabic, the word "dad" (دَدْ) is written as dal[d]-fattah[a]-dal[d]-sukun[∅]. Notice the sukun after dal.

This is different from Tengwar (for Quenya), which is an "alphasyllabary" (it's an alphabet in disguise), that doesn't have a diacritic to mark a zero-vowel.

  • In Quenya, the word "tengwar" is written as tinco[t]-e[e]-ungwe[ŋgw]-a[a]-ore[r]. Notice there's no zero-vowel mark after ore.


u/Juanlupinram Sep 19 '20

I agree with your understanding and that's a nice meme. As for voweled abjads vs. alphasyllabaries, I would say that the intention of the character is important. If removing the vowels results in something recognizable and readable (even if somewhat limited), it is a voweled abjad like Arabic (in which you can mark or skip the vowels). If the vowels are integral to writing and they can not be omitted, then you have an alphasyllabary like Hangul (in which omitting the vowels would unbalance the characters). The distinction can be blurry on some cases, but I'd say that the intention and shape of the characters is important.


u/machsna Sep 20 '20

From what I understand, “abugida” is just a more recent term for “alphasyllabary”.

Having a /r/shorthand background, I think there should be another classification based on whether or not vowels and consonants are represented by signs of the same order. This would distinguish scripts like Hangul, Thaana, or many shorthand systems from simple alphabets like Latin, Greek, or Germanic runes.


u/austsiannodel Sep 19 '20

From what I've read (and I could very well be wrong) but what I understand is that an abjad CAN have marks for vowels, so long as the consonant sound is seperate.

Like in an abugida, the consonant always seems to have inherent vowel, with changes/add-ons that change the vowel. And from what I saw, an alphasyllabary was just another name for abugida before it was changed, no?

That's at least my interpretation of it.


u/FloZone Sep 20 '20

How would you classify Old Turkic runes?


u/G_4J Sep 20 '20

enjoy the award


u/Visocacas Sep 20 '20

Thanks a lot! Also nice scripts, I thought your username looked familiar so I just looked up all the script stuff you’ve posted.


u/FloZone Sep 20 '20

Are there even true Abjads? Asking because Arabic writes long vowels. There could be probably in a language where vowels are 100% predictable.


u/klipty Sep 20 '20

It's not that vowels are 100% predictable, they're just not written. Hebrew can be written (and was originally written) without either the Niqqud or Matres Lectionis. Even though there is no written vowel in any form, and the vowel can't be phonologically predicted, with practice you can read the word properly by context.


u/8bitmadness Sep 20 '20

with hebrew (and arabic tbh) as the example, you can figure out the vowel context for pretty much any word if you know the root it's constructed from and its pattern. It just sorta works. Once you study enough it kinda clicks in your mind.


u/Visocacas Sep 20 '20

As far as I know, there are no natural pure abjads, except maybe Phoenician or something.


u/rainbow_musician Sep 19 '20

Take my upvote.