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Studies in 
The Linguistic Sciences 

(SPRING 2000) 


30 : i 
Spr 2000 








Writing Systems 

in Asia 

Department of linguistics j ■ | 

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(ISSN 0049-2388) 

publication of the department of linguistics 

with support of the humanities council in the 

College of liberal arts and Sciences of the 

universrty of illinois at urbana-champaign 

MANAGING EDITOR: Elmer H. Antonsen 

EDrrORIAL BOARD: Elabbas Benmamoun, Eyamba G. Bokamba, Chin-Chuan 
Cheng, Jennifer S. Cole, Adele Goldberg, Georgia M. Green. Hans Henrich Hock, 
Braj B. Kachru, Yamuna Kachru, Chin-W. Kim, Charles W. Kisseberth, Peter 
Lasersohn, Molly Mack, Howard Maclay, Jerry L. Morgan, Rajeshwari Pandhari- 
pande, Daniel Silverman, James H. Yoon, and Ladislav Zgusta. 

AIM: SLS is intended as a forum for the presentation of the latest original re- 
search by the faculty and students of the Department of Linguistics, University of 
Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Scholars outside the Department and from other 
institutions are also cordially invited to submit original linguistic research for 
consideration. In all cases, articles submitted for publication will be reviewed by 
a panel of at least two experts in the appropriate field to determine suitability for 
publication. Copyright remains with the individual authors. Authors of articles 
will receive one copy of the particular issue and 10 offprints of their individual 

SLS appears twice a year, and one issue is traditionally devoted to restricted, 
specialized topics. A complete list of available back issues is on the last page of 
this issue. 

BOOKS FOR REVIEW: Review copies of books may be sent to: 
Editor, Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Department of Linguistics, 4088 For. Lang. Bldg., 
University of Illinois 
707 S. Mathews, 
Urbana, IL 61801, USA 

SUBSCRIPTION: Requests for subscriptions should be addressed to SLS Sub- 
scriptions, Department of Linguistics, 4088 Foreign Languages Building. Univer 
sity of Illinois, 707 South Mathews, Urbana, Illinois 61801. 

Price: $10.00 per single issue. 

e-mail address: 

Telephone: (217) 333-3563 

Fax: (217) 333-3466 



Literacy and Writing Systems in Asia 

Chin W. Kim 


Elmer H. Antonsen 
William Bright 
Braj B. Kachru 


Lori Coulter 
Yuancheng Tu 

(SPRING 2000) 



Professor Choi Hyonbai 
who loved and lived Itangul 

*1# ^"lUi^YHI 


PREFACE: Braj B. Kachru vii 

FOREWORD: Chin W. Kim ix 


CHIN W. KIM: The legacy of King Sejong the Great 3 

YOUNG-KEY KIM-REN AUD: Sejong' s theory of literacy and writing 1 3 

FLORI AN COULMAS : The nationalization of writing 4 7 


WILLIAM BRIGHT: A matter of typology: Alphasyllabaries and 

abugidas 63 

PETER T. DANIELS: On writing syllabaries: Three episodes of transfer 73 

RICHARD G. SALOMON: Typological observations on the Indie script 

group and its relationship to other alphasyllabaries 87 


CHIN-CHUAN CHENG: Frequently-used Chinese characters and 

language cognition 107 

HWAWEI KO and OVID J. L. TZENG: The role of phonological 

awareness in a phonetically opaque script 119 


PETER LOWENBERG: Writing and literacy in Indonesia 1 35 

KAMAL K. SRIDHAR and YAMUNA KACHRU: Literacy, minority 

languages, and multilingual India 149 


LARRY E. SMITH and JESSE R. LONG: Literacy, writing systems, 

and development in the Pacific 169 

STANLEY YUNICK, JR.: Linguistics, TESL, and language planning 

in Micronesia 183 


MA. LOURDES S. BAUTISTA: Bridging research and practice in liter- 
acy work among minority language groups in the Philippines 203 

YUKIO TSUDA: The maintenance of the Korean language and identity 

in Japan 219 

ZHIWEI FENG and BINYONG YIN: The Chinese digraphia problem 

in the Information Age 229 



1. WANJIN KIM: A dual theory in the creation of the Korean script 237 

2. PUNG-HYUN NAM: The role of Chinese characters in representing 
Korean and in the formation of a writing system 239 

3. SOO-HEE TOH: Decipherment of loan characters in Korean personal 
and place names 241 


4. Urbana symposium, May 1-2, 1998 243 

5. Seoul symposium, July 13-14, 1998 245 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


The two-part symposium on Literacy and Writing Systems was organized 
by the Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in 
conjunction with the International Society for Korean Studies, Osaka, Japan, and 
the Institute of Language and Information, Korea University, Seoul, on May 1-2, 
1998 in Urbana, and in Korea on July 13-14, 1998. 

This international symposium was a celebration of Korean King Sejong's vi- 
sion of liberation and of his aspirations to establish a linguistic identity for his so- 
ciety and people. And underlying King Sejong's provocative and socially revolu- 
tionary initiative was an effort to develop an alphabet for the empowerment of his 
Korean subjects. The goal was to provide the Koreans a distinct linguistic tool for 
articulating their liberation and preserving their culture. In some form — in many 
parts of Asia and the world — that concern and grave need continue to be with 
us, over 600 years since King Sejong's initiative. 

The present symposium is also a celebration of the deeply ingrained cultural 
tradition of what the Indians call guru-shishya parampara — the lineage of 
teacher and students. The guru-shishya connection is deeply embedded in Asia's 
traditions of scholarship, music, dance, literature, and other art forms. And when 
Chin-Woo Kim, during my Directorship of the Center for Advanced Study, pro- 
posed this symposium I naturally reacted to it in the same spirit — the spirit of 
reverence for the initiator of a great cultural tradition — King Sejong of Korea 
and his splendid achievements. 

And, speaking of the guru and shishya, the teacher and student, I am de- 
lighted that an active coordinator of the symposium was Professor William Bright. 
Bill's guru-shishya parampara is not limited to the USA, but extends much be- 
yond it, to India, where several of us present at this symposium had been Bill's 
students in his superbly taught classes on Phonemics and Field Methods in Poona 
(now Pune), and Mysore. Of course, I won't mention what year that was! 

In the history of the Center for Advanced Study, there was yet another rea- 
son for celebration. This symposium was the culmination of an initiative started at 
the Center in 1997, when a new instructional dimension was introduced into the 
Center's activities, with the aim of including students in the cross-disciplinary fer- 
tilization for which the Center is deservedly well recognized on our campus and 
beyond. The University of Illinois's Graduate College approved an advanced 
course (CAS 487) as an on-going interdisciplinary seminar for academic credit, 
with multiple sections. In the spring semester, the Center had two such seminars 
open to students: one on Literacy and Writing Systems in Asia, and the other on 
Mind, Brain, and Language. The selected papers included in this volume were 
presented at the symposium in which all the students and faculty participants of 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

the semester- long seminar were present and actively contributed to the discus- 

This symposium was thus an occasion to welcome partners in the Center's 
initiatives beyond the campus, in the USA and Asia. These included, among oth- 
ers, Larry Smith, who was then the Dean at the East- West Center, Honolulu, USA, 
and Yukio Tsuda from the University of Nagoya, Japan. 

The semester-long seminar and this symposium were a collective effort to 
which many individuals and academic units contributed. It was, however, Chin- 
Woo Kim, who, in his gentle, persuasive, and effective way, made both these ini- 
tiatives possible. And we are grateful to Chin for that. The collaboration of the 
heads of various academic units at the University of Illinois and in Korea and Ja- 
pan made it possible to provide pan-Asian perspectives in the symposium. In 
these negotiations, Chin, again, demonstrated his skills of persuasion on this cam- 
pus and beyond it, in Japan and Korea. 

It is, however, patience and friendly reminders of the Managing Editor of 
Studies in the Linguistic Sciences, Professor Elmer H. Antonsen, that finally has 
resulted in the publication of this volume. We are grateful to him for his enthusi- 
asm and support. The Center for Advanced Study joined in subsidizing the pro- 
duction of the volume, and the Center's delightful staff made the celebration pos- 
sible in many ways and always with a smile. They deserve our applause and grati- 

Urbana, IL Braj B. Kachru 

September 15, 2000 Director, Center for Advanced Study 

June 1994-January 2000 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


I was in Seoul, Korea, in the spring pf 1996 to spend a part of my sabbatical leave. 
As I was about to return to Illinois, I asked myself: If I took one sightseeing trip 
before I left, what would I see? It occurred to me then that I had not been to the 
mausoleum of King Sejong, a fifteenth century Korean monarch who invented 
the native script called Hangul. I am a linguist with twin interests in Korean lin- 
guistics and phonetics/phonology, and I thought it was a shame that I had not 
paid my respect to this great linguist-monarch. So I went to see his tomb, about 
50 miles southeast of Seoul. In the main exhibition hall, where they posted a short 
vita of King Sejong, I noticed that he was born on May 15, 1397. I said to myself, 
'Next year is his 600 th birthday! I should do something to commemorate it.' 

Plans took shape slowly. Before I departed Seoul, I consulted and discussed 
the idea with a few colleagues, notably, Professor Soo-Hee Toh of Chungnam Na- 
tional University, Professor Kwang Chung of Korea University, and Professor 
Hwan-Mook Lee of Chonnam National University. Everyone was enthusiastic 
and supportive. By the end of the summer, I had a tentative list of session themes, 
participants, possible funding sources, dates, and places. My plan was to have 
two international symposia on writing systems, one on the University of Illinois's 
Urbana-Champaign campus and another in Kwangju, Korea, the cite of Chonnam 
National University, where significant studies of the original script had been car- 
ried out, and which offered financial support. 

On returning to Illinois that fall, I proposed and discussed my idea with Pro- 
fessor Braj B. Kachru, an old and close friend. He was very eager, and offered the 
Center for Advanced Study, of which he was then Director, as the host of the Ur- 
bana symposium. He also made a suggestion that the theme of the symposium in- 
1 elude literacy and its relation to writing systems. I readily agreed, for after all, King 
I Sejong invented a native script in order to promote literacy among his people. 

I also sought the advice of Professor William Bright. He was my mentor at 
the University of California at Los Angeles, is co-editor (with Peter T. Daniels) of 
The World's Writing Systems (Oxford University Press, 1996), and is the founder 
and editor of a new journal, Written Language and Literacy. There was no better 
person to invite to be a member of the Organizing Committee. He graciously ac- 
cepted our invitation, and together with Braj Kachru, played a key role in identi- 
fying and selecting the participants in the symposium. Without these two people, 
the project would not have come off the ground. I owe them a thousand thanks. 

The Center for Advanced Study, the Center for East Asian and Pacific 
Studies, the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and the Depart- 
ment of Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gave gen- 
erous financial support to make the Urbana symposium possible. I thank sincerely 
Professor Braj B. Kachru, Professor George T. Yu, Professor Ronald Toby, and 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Professor Jerry Morgan, directors and heads of the above mentioned units, for 
their ready support, both moral and monetary. 

However, plans for the Seoul symposium took an unexpected bad turn. A 
sudden economic collapse in Korea in the fall of 1997, which necessitated a bail- 
out by the International Monetary Fund, forced sponsoring organizations, in- 
cluding Chonnam University, to withdraw the promised financial and logistical 
support. As I was about to cancel the Kwangju meeting, the Research Institute of 
Language and Information of Korea University in Seoul and the International So- 
ciety of Korean Studies in Osaka, Japan, came to the rescue. The Institute offered (j 
to make all local arrangements and pay for logistic and administrative costs, while ~ 
the Society graciously came forward to cover the travel and lodging expenses for 
all the participants. Without their support, the Seoul symposium would not have 
been held. I cannot find adequate words to express my gratitude to Professor 
Kwang Chung, Director of RILI of Korea University and to Professor Hideki 
Takizawa, President, and Professor Nam-Sun Song, Secretary-General, of ISKS. 

There were many others who helped to make the symposia successful, but 
one person stands out. Ms. Liesel Wildhagen, a staff associate in the Center for 
Advanced Study assisted the symposium in all phases from the designing of the 
program and the poster to the running of the sessions and the farewell dinner. It 
was a pure delight to work with her. Many thanks, Liesel. 

I also had a great deal of help in preparing the present volume for publica- 
tion. My first thanks go to Peter Daniels, who mercifully provided us with a me- 
ticulously prepared camera-ready copy of his contribution with all the exotic 
characters and diacritics in perfect shapes in perfect places. Thanks are also due 
to Professor James H.-S.Yoon, a colleague in the Department, who helped im- 
measurably in the complicated matter of formatting Professor Young-Key Kim- 
Renaud's paper. Most of all, I want to offer thanks to Professor Elmer H. Anton- 
sen, Managing Editor of Studies in the Linguistic Sciences, for scrutinizing all 
the manuscripts and putting them into proper shape for publication. Last, but not 
least, I want to thank sincerely all those who helped to make the two symposia 
the great successes that they were: presenters, session chairs, discussants, and 
graduate volunteers. 

I regret very much that two Urbana papers, by Professor Dennis Baron (on 
literacy and new technologies of writing) and Dr. Kim Aisworth-Darnell (on the 
processing of Kanji and Hiragana in Japanese) are not included in this volume. I 
also regret that three papers presented in Seoul, those by Professors Wanjin Kim 
Pung-Hyun Nahm, and Soo-Hee Toh, could not be included in their entirety due I 
to difficulty in translating and printing their papers. Their English abstracts appear 
in Appendix A. 

Urbana. IL Chin W. Kim 

September 15. 2000 Head, Department of Linguistics 

A Tribute to King Sejong 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Chin W. Kim 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

King Sejong was a 15th-century Korean monarch who invented 
the native script called Hangul. 1 Although he is best remembered for 
this feat, he was also the chief architect of a shining cultural monu- 
ment, achieving remarkable successes in many cultural and scientific 
fields from arts to astronomy, from music to medicine, and from print- 
ing to technology. His compassion, as manifested in the reformation 
of criminal justice, is briefly reviewed here before the merits of Hangul 
as a created, not an evolved, script are discussed. 

1. Sejong made crown prince 

King Sejong was born on May 15 (April 10 in the lunar calendar), 1397, as the 
third son of King T'aejong, the son of the founder of the Chosun dynasty (1392- 
1910). As the third son, Sejong was not in line to ascend the throne, but he was a 
favorite son because of his high intelligence and studiousness. The crown prince, 
Sejong' s oldest brother, liked to indulge in sporting and recreational activities 
(e.g., hunting, dallying with courtesans), which his father frowned upon. He had 
little interest in government affairs, and when he realized that his father and court 
officials wished that Sejong be made the crown prince, he feigned, like Hamlet, to 
be insane. An unconfirmed popular story has it that he advised his next brother, 
the second son, not to harbor any ambition for the throne, upon which he (the 
second son) left the palace to become a Buddhist monk, thus paving the way and 
giving a rationale for the third son to be appointed the new crown prince. Histo- 
rians still debate whether this uneventful (i.e, bloodless, compared to power strug- 
gles in Imperial Rome) transfer of the crown princeship was as peaceful and inno- 
cent as it appears or whether there was a secretly planned conspiracy. Whichever 
is the case, the nation is forever fortunate and grateful that Sejong became the 
fourth Chosun monarch. It is difficult, indeed almost frightening, to imagine what 
the nation would have become had Sejong lived his life merely as a king's bother 
and had not had the royal authority to implement his policies and visions. 

2. Sejong\s nonlinguistic achievements 

Today, King Sejong is primarily remembered as the inventor of the native script 
called Hangul. Indeed, it is in and by itself his greatest achievement, unprece- 
dented in the annals of cultural and intellectual history of mankind, not just of 
Korea. We will look at his invention in a later section in more detail and see why 
his work evokes such universal accolades and admiration. But we are ahead of 

4 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

ourselves. Let us first look at his 'other' achievements, which are as great a part 
of his legacy as the invention of the national script. 

Sejong's reign, which lasted thirty-one and one-half years until his death on 
April 18 (February 17 in the lunar calendar), 1450, at the age of 52 began in 
August 1418 at the young and tender age of 21 when his father ceded the throne 
to him. During his reign, he brought a renaissance to Korea in the true sense of 
the word and established a firm foundation for the young state to last five centu- 
ries. Sejong's Annals, royal chronicles, written by contemporary historians, con- 
sist of 163 volumes with over 1 1,000 pages. They are the only Annals in the half- 
millennium history of the Chosun dynasty that contain 'external volumes' or 
'appendices'. These consist of 36 volumes (vols. 128-163), classified according to 
subject areas, e.g., rites and rituals, music, geography, astronomy, medicine, etc. 
Other Annals are only chronological. This alone indicates Sejong's accomplish- 
ments in wide areas of the humanities and science. Kim-Renaud 1992 contains 
articles written by a dozen or so experts who introduce Sejong's remarkable 
achievements in their respective fields from arts to agriculture and from music to 
medicine. It is worth quoting here a passage from her Introduction to the mono- 
graph (Kim-Renaud 1992:1): 

The first half of the fifteenth century in Korea was marked by an ex- 
traordinary level of cultural and scientific creation for which there are 
very few parallels elsewhere in the world. It can indeed be considered 
the golden age of Korean history. Korea in this period ... was ruled 
by a sage king endowed with high intelligence, creative energy, good 
judgement, and compassion who also worked unusually hard to free 
the people from poverty, ignorance, and injustice. 

Limitations of space do not allow me to go into details about Sejong's great 
accomplishments in nonlinguistic areas. Suffice it to say with Ledyard (1997:32) 
that King Sejong 

reformed the national music, organized the kingdom's ritual and pro- 
tocol, laid out and equipped an observatory, corrected the calendar, 
built a great clock, 2 standardized weights and measures, invented a 
rain gauge, 3 ordered the country mapped, set the guidelines for the 
compilation and preservation of history, 4 investigated agronomy, 5 
medicine, 6 and pharmacy, improved printing, 7 and established direc- 
tions for the moral instruction of his subjects. 

Impressive as Ledyard' s enumeration of King Sejong's seemingly superhu- 
man work is, it does not include his achievements and contributions in other ar- 
eas, such as literature, fine and ceramic arts, improvements in the manufacture of 
musical instruments 8 and firearms, renovation of the legal and taxation systems, 
improvements on the economic, military, and diplomatic fronts, 9 etc. See Kim- 
Renaud 1992 for detailed descriptions of some of these areas. 

Chin W. Kim: The legacy of King Sejong the Great 5 

3. A compassionate king 

Kings are called 'the Great' for various reasons, e.g., for great military conquests 
and victories, for gaining independence of a colonial state from its masters, for 
ushering in a golden age of cultural renaissance, etc. Sejong's greatness does not 
derive from the expansion of the nation's territories with military might, nor from 
freeing the nation from subjugation — politically, Korea remained as China's vas- 
sal state. It derives from his being the architect and engineer behind the glittering 
cultural and scientific achievements, and from his being a humanitarian and com- 
passionate monarch. I cannot refrain from citing a few instances that attest to the 
royal compassion and Sejong's sense of justice before moving on to the topic of 
the invention of the script. 

In criminal justice. King Sejong ordered improvements in the management of 
prisons. He ordered that prisons should be clean so that prisoners will not be in- 
fected with diseases, that they should not suffer from severe cold or heat, that 
they should be fed three meals a day, etc. King Sejong also forbade imprisonment 
of anyone over 70 or under 15 years of age, and those over 80 and under 10 were 
not to be imprisoned, even in cases of capital offenses. Those who had aged par- 
ents were allowed to serve their sentences near their parents, regardless of where 
the violation of the law had occurred. Those accused of capital crimes had the 
right to make three appeals all the way to the king. For those who wanted to ap- 
peal an injustice directly, he installed three drums in the city, one near the palace, 
for people to beat to obtain a royal hearing (Park 1992). When the king had 
scaph sundials made and distributed them among the army and government of- 
fices, he also set two in the streets for the common people (Yi and Jeon 1992). 
When the king heard of a patricide, he said he was to blame for it. He then com- 
piled a book called Samgang haengsil — illustrated stories of the practice of 
three virtues: filial piety, loyalty, and faithfulness — and had it distributed to the 
people for education in ethics. His remark on this occasion is revealing (Ledyard 

Let everyone, in the capital and out, exert themselves in the arts of 
teaching and instruction ... let us seek out people of learning and ex- 
perience, without regard to class status, strongly urging them to gloss 
and repeat the text, even to women of all ages . . . May the hearts of 
the people profit by morning and advance by evening; let there be 
none who do not feel an opening of their natural goodness. Then will 
our sons think of carrying their filiality to the utmost, our subjects 
think of pursuing loyalty to the utmost, and our husbands and wives 
carry the way of marriage to the utmost. . . . You of the Board of Rites, 
put into effect my heartfelt wishes! Enlighten and instruct, in the capi- 
tal and out. 

In an age of feudalism, in which the elite and ruling class wants to maintain 
the status quo by leaving the masses ignorant, and in a male-dominated neo-Con- 
fucian society that early Chosun was, Sejong's policy of enlightenment of the 
people, regardless of class and gender, is truly remarkable. He is my personal hero. 

6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

not because I am a linguist and he was the greatest linguist Korea has ever pro- 
duced, but because he was a compassionate egalitarian at a time and place in 
which he could have easily been imperial and maleficent. It is also in this vein that 
King Sejong devised a new script. 

4. Invention of a new script 

To give the reader a historical perspective, when King Sejong reigned, Europe 
was at the dawn of the age of exploration and reformation. Christopher Colum- 4 
bus, Nicolaus Copernicus, Vasco da Gama, and Martin Luther were all born dur- ™ 
ing the latter half of the 15th century after King Sejong' s death in 1450. 

For more than a millenium, Chinese and Chinese characters had been a part 
of Korean writing ever since it was declared the official script in the 5th century 
by a Shilla king, who saw that proper governance of the state and effective com- 
munication with local administrators required a written medium. 

If Chinese and Korean were sibling languages belonging to the same lan- 
guage family, they may not have remained as strange bedfellows whose consum- 
mation was tortuously difficult. But they belong to two different linguistic stocks. 
One is Sino-Tibetan, the other is Altaic; one is a very isolating language with little 
morphology, the other a highly agglutinative language with rich affixational mor- 
phology. One contemporary court scholar expressed the mismatch well when he 
said that trying to write Korean with Chinese characters is like trying to fit a 
square pole into a round hole. 

So King Sejong set out to invent a native script. But inventing the script 
was not a parlor game, nor an intellectual exercise, nor a flash thought, nor even a 
scheme concocted with a soothsayer and etched leaves in the palace garden on 
one autumnal morning, as a popular textbook for introductory linguistics would 
have it. 10 It was years in the making. Like Beethoven, who often forgot to eat or 
empty the chamber pot while composing, Sejong was preoccupied with the script 
and drove his court scholars hard. He pondered, he inquired, he quizzed his chil- 
dren, he ruminated. He sent a scholar to China (Liaotung, Manchuria) no fewer 
than 13 times to consult a Chinese phonologist (Huang Tsan), at a time when the 
only mode of travel was either on foot or on horseback. Even during the trips to 
hot springs to soothe his failing health, Sejong immersed himself on the royal pal- 
anquin in notes and books about the new script." 

Aside from the formidable intellectual challenge, he also had to fight a politi- a 
cal battle. Almost the entire cabinet opposed his project. Mind you that they lived \ 
in the age of a Sino-centric world. The culture and politics of Korea were inextri- 
cably tied to China, and Chinese writing was the identity-badge of the ruling elite 
class. It was their exclusive privilege and enjoyment. Civil services and all accom- 
panying amenities derived from the very knowledge of Chinese. Heaven forbid 
that the masses became literate! A petition from no less a figure than a vice direc- 
tor of the Royal Academy on behalf of a band of Sinophiles is informative. It 
reads in part: 

Chin W. Kim: The legacy of King Sejong the Great 7 

The nine provinces of the Chinese Hemisphere may differ in customs 
and local speeches but not in the script. Only such barbaric nations as 
Mongolia, Tangut, Jurchen, Japan, and Tibet have their graphs. 
Through the succession of ages, China has regarded us as a civilized 
nation whose culture, literary material, rituals, and music were mod- 
eled after China. Discarding Chinese now in favor of a vernacular 
script would be identifying ourselves with the barbarians, and this 
would be like turning away from the fragrance of storax to choose 
the bullet of the preying mantis. This is certainly a matter of great im- 
plication for our civilization! 12 

What drove King Sejong? Why was he so obsessed? His motivation is 
clearly stated in his introduction to Hunmin chong 'um [The Correct Sounds for 
the Instruction of the People], as it was originally called when the new script was 
promulgated in 1446: 

The sounds of our nation's language are so different from those of 
China that they cannot be represented adequately with Chinese char- 
acters. Thus, among the ignorant people, there have been many who 
cannot express themselves when they want to put their feelings into 
writing. I have been very distressed by this, so I have newly devised 
twenty-eight letters, which I hope everyone will learn easily and use 

It is unequivocally clear what the king was striving for: a simple writing sys- 
tem for mass literacy. What Sejong devised in the process was more a revolution 
than an evolution. I think it is safe to say that, except for Hangul, all writing sys- 
tems in the world today are evolutionary products. The history of writing is in 
general a story of borrowing a neighbor's writing system and adapting it to a 
new language. But Hangul is a true invention. Of course, inventing a script is not 
a very proud or significant feat in itself. A Tibetan lama named hP'ags-pa devised 
the 'New Mongol Script', now known as the hP'ags-pa script, in 1269 for Em- 
peror Khubilai Khan of the new Mongol Empire, the Yuan dynasty. This script 
was mainly based on the Tibetan script, which in turn was an adaptation from the 
Uighur alphabet. More recently, a Cherokee chief called Sequoyah devised a 
syllabary for the Cherokee language in 1820, borrowing heavily from the Roman 

This is not the place to delve into Hangul' s origin, possible or probable for- 
eign input in its making and/or designing of the letter shapes, the principles of its 
graphic structure, the aesthetics of its letter shapes, or the degree of the match be- 
tween the script and the language it represents. (Those interested should consult 
Kim 1988b and 1997, Kim-Renaud 1997, King 1996, Ledyard 1966 and 1997, 
Sampson 1985.) A short list of Hangul's virtues in a summary form is in order, 

1. It is the world's first and only invented phonemic alphabet. 

2. The alphabet reflects in its graphic shapes the interrelationship among 

consonants. At a glance, one can tell, for example, that a consonant is a 

8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

sibilant — for only sibilants contain slanting strokes, or that it is an aspi- 
rated obstruent — a stroke is added to an unaspirated homorganic con- 
sonant, or that it is a tense consonant — a letter is doubled or gemi- 
nated, etc. 

3. Similarly with vowel letters. The shapes reflect vowel harmony in Ko- 

rean; one can tell whether the vowel is 'bright' or 'dark' from its shape. 

4. Visual distinction between the vocalic and consonantal letters is appar- ^ 

ent — vowels are represented with long bars, vertical or horizontal, and ■ 
consonants with more complex geometric figures. 

5. The composite character of diphthongs, both rising and falling, is also 

represented with complex vowel letters simply by sequentializing the 
two within a syllable block, much as Daniel Jones transcribes English 
diphthongs, e.g., [ai], [ei], [ou], etc. A sequence of two vowels compris- 
ing two syllables, not a diphthong, would be written in two separate 
syllable blocks. 

6. Similarly with contour tones, i.e., a rising tone is represented with a se- 

quence of a low and a high. 

7. The above points (from 2 to 6) suggest that Sejong discerned subpho- 

nemic phonetic features, and furthermore, designed phonemic letters 
that reflected them. Since the letters were combined and written in syl- 
lable blocks, Hangul is the only writing system containing all three pro- 
sodic components: distinctive phonetic features, phonemes, and sylla- 

It is for this truly remarkable and unprecedented feat that King Sejong' s genius is 
admired today. 

5. Hymns of praise for the script 

The genius of King Sejong does not lie in the possible, but improbable, fact that 
he alone invented a new script in total isolation. No one creates something out of 
nothing. Sejong would have been unwise if he had ignored available knowledge 
about the phonologies and writing systems of neighbor languages. His genius lies 
in the fact that he did not just imitate or adapt, but created something totally dif- 
ferent and, more importantly, much better in its graphic structures, and in its sim- 
plicity and elegance than any other existing writing system known at the time, 
and indeed in the entire annals of writing systems. To borrow Ledyard's words 1 

Foreign alphabets have been copied and adapted to other languages 
on numerous occasions in world history and in every corner of the 
globe, but in no other instance has the adaption of a few alien letters 
been accompanied by so much intellectual inquiry and such a revolu- 
tionary alphabetic theory as in the Korean case. 

Chin W. Kim: The legacy of King Sejong the Great 9 

Chung Inji, director of the Royal Academy, who assisted the monarch in the 
script project, wrote in the postscript to Hunmin chong'um haerye [Explanations 
and Examples for the Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People], published 
in 1446 at the time of the royal proclamation of the new script: 

These twenty-eight letters are so simple and precise that a smart man 
can master them in one morning and even a simpleton can learn them 
in ten days. With these letters, writings can be understood, legal ap- 
peals can be made, and melodies can be given verses. Even the sound 
of the wind, the cry of a crane, the flutter of a rooster, and the barking 
of a dog can all be written down. 

This is obviously a loyal subject's praise of his lord in flowery language. But 
let us give credit where it is due. King Sejong broke away from the long and en- 
trenched bondage of Chinese logography and devised not just an alphabetic 
script, but a script based on phonetic features that still preserved syllabic unity in 
its graphic representation, with all the advantages intact that such syllabaries give 
to readers. With truly remarkable insight, he perceived the internal relations 
among segments, and discerned consonantal hierarchy, vowel harmony, the com- 
posite nature of diphthongs and contour tones. He then devised a graphic system 
that reflected these internal relations in a simple and systematic way (see Kim 
1988b and 1997, Sampson 1985). 

Chung Inji concludes his postscript: 

His Majesty is a godsend, and his wisdom exceeds that of one hun- 
dred kings . . . Though the East has seen many nations come and go, 
no monarch wiser than His Majesty has existed until today. 

A hyperbole by a smitten subject, perhaps. But the extolling chorus reverberates 
today nearly six centuries later outside the bounds of the Korean peninsula. To 
cite just a few (chronologically): 

The Korean script is a true alphabet in the Greek sense; the simplest 
and most perfectly systematic of all alphabets (Hope 1959:158). 

No other alphabet in the world is so beautifully and sensibly rational 
... It is impossible to withhold admiration for it. There is nothing like it 
in all the long varied history of writing (Ledyard 1966:202). 

The transition from syllable to phoneme is a[n] enormous feat of ab- 
straction which may have been accomplished only once in history 
(Gleitman & Rozin 1973, as cited in Hannas 1997:57). 

Hangul must unquestionably rank as one of the great intellectual 
achievements of humankind (Sampson 1985:144). 

[Hangul is] simple, elegant and more systematically structured than 
any other writing system (Coulmas 1996:458). 

These are testimonials, not nationalistic, but scholarly testimonials of the 
greatness of King Sejong. A man of vision and compassion, and a man of wisdom 
and renaissance, not only was he the chief architect leading the young nation to 

1 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

an unprecedented height of cultural and scientific achievements, but also his ac- 
complishments have become the source and foundation of creative energy and 
high intellect that have made Korea what it is today. And this is the legacy he be- 
queathed us and this is why we continue to pay our humble homage today. 


1 Hangul is not the original name, but was given to the script at the beginning of m 
the 20th century by a linguist named Chu Si-Gyong. While gul in Hangul means I 
'letters, writing', the meaning of han is ambiguous. It could mean either 'great' or 
'Korean'. The original name given to the new script is Hunmin chong'um mean- 
ing 'the correct sounds for the instruction of the people'. 

The system of romanization used in this article is a simplified McCune- 
Reischauer system without a breve on vowels o and u. The omission of the dia- 
critic is not crucial for this article, and should not distract the reader. 

2 See Joseph Needham, et al, 1986. The Hall of Heavenly Records: Korean As- 
tronomical Instruments and Clocks, 1380-1780. Cambridge: Cambrige Univer- 
sity Press. 

3 The rain gauges made during the reign of King Sejong were almost all destroyed 
or lost. The only known extant specimen is in London's Science Museum (Yi & 
Jeon 1992:99). 

4 King Sejong ordered four national archives built, one in the capital, and three 
others in the provinces in secret places. It was a lucky move, for during the Japa- 
nese invasion in the 1590s, three archives were burnt and destroyed. Only the 
Chonju archive survived and with it the only copy of the Annals of Chosun. 

5 King Sejong distributed rain gauges throughout the country and ordered the 
local officials to report the amount of rainfall in order to estimate accurately the 
crop yield as a function of water. He also improved cultivation and fertilizing 
techniques, and built reservoirs and irrigation systems. The result was that 'culti- 
vators were reaping forty times what they sowed under King Sejong' (Yi & Jeon 

6 King Sejong showed his concern for the health of the people by ordering the 
complication of medical books. A 365-volume compendium on medicine, com- 
pleted in 1433, contains 10706 prescriptions and 1477 items on acupunctural 
therapy. The only remaining version of this encyclopedia is in an imperial library ^ 
in Japan, a booty from the Hideyoshi invasions in the 1590s (Hong & Kim 1992). ■ 

7 King Sejong felt it was necessary to improve typography (movable metal type) 
to meet the demand for a greater number of printed texts. So in 1420 he had his 
craftsmen produce an improved font that could be more firmly attached to the 
printing plate and thus could be used to print 100 copies a day. 'That was a five- 
fold improvement in efficiency' (Sohn 1992:53). 

8 In 1424, King Sejong established Akki togam [Office of Musical Instruments] 
and supervised the construction of new and improved instruments for the ritual 

Chin W. Kim: The legacy of King Sejong the Great 1 1 

music, such as 7-string zithers, 17-pipe mouth organs, panpipes, various flutes, 
and stone chimes and bronze bells each consisting of 16 pre-tuned pieces. He also 
developed a uniquely Korean system of musical notation representing pitch, 
rhythm, drumbeats, ornaments, etc. in a matrix form with 32 squares. A note an 
octave lower was written in red, the only case in all Annals of Chosun where red 
ink was used. (Provine 1992) 

9 In foreign relations, King Sejong took strong measures against the Jurchen 
tribes and quelled the Jurchen invasion in 1434, restoring the territory on the 
northern borders in 1443. He also contained Japanese skirmishes in the south, and 
eventually opened three trade ports to the Japanese. 

10 Victoria Fromkin & Robert Redman 1983. An Introduction to Language, 3rd 

ed., 152. New York: Holt, Reinhart & Winston. 

11 Lee (1997:28) concludes his article with the following wistful description: 

As the king's procession left for Ch'ongju [a spa site], the royal pal- 
anquin must have been filled with the papers on which Sejong had 
jotted down his notes about the invention of the alphabet and the 
subsequent alphabetic projects. In writing this essay, as I dug at the 
traces of what remains today, from time to time I dreamed of what it 
might be like if I could but see the notes he had with him on that oc- 

12 Unless specifically cited, translation of the 15th century text is my own from 
the Korean translation of the original Chinese text by Hong 1946. Translations by 
Ledyard 1966 were also consulted, but any mistranslation is my responsibility. 


Coulmas, Florian. 1996. Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. Oxford: Basil Black- 
well Ltd. 

Gleitman, Lila A., & Rozin, Paul. 1973. Teaching reading by use of a syllabary. 
Reading Research Quarterly 8:4.447-83. 

Hannas, William C. 1997. Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. Honolulu, HI: Univer- 
sity of Hawai'i Press. 

Hong, Ki-Moon. 1946. Chong'um Paltal-sa [A History of the Development of 
Correct Sounds]. Seoul: Seoul Shinmun-sa. 

Hong, Won Sik, & Kim, Quae Jung. 1992. King Sejong's contribution to medi- 
cine. In Kim-Renaud 1992, 103-10. 

Hope, E. R.1959. Letter shapes in the Korean Onmun and Mongol hP'ags-pa al- 
phabets. Oriens 10.150-9. 

Kim, Chin W. 1988a. Sojourns in Language. Seoul, Korea: Tower Press. 

. 1988b. On the origin and structure of the Korean script. In Kim 1988a, 721- 


. 1997. The structure of phonological units in Han'gul. In Kim-Renaud 1997, 


1 2 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Kim-Renaud, Young-Key (ed.). 1992. King Sejong the Great: The Light of Fif- 
teenth Century Korea. Washington, DC: The International Circle of Korean 

(ed.). 1997. The Korean Alphabet: Its History and Structure. Honolulu, HI: 

University of Hawai'i Press. 

King, Ross. 1996. Korean writing. The World's Writing Systems, Peter T. 
Daniels & William Bright, 218-27. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Ledyard, Gari. 1966. The Korean Language Reform of 1446: The origin, the g 
background, the early history of the Korean alphabet. University of Cali- f 
fornia at Berkeley, Ph. D. dissertation,. 

. 1997. The international linguistic background of the Correct Sounds for the 

Instruction of the People. In Kim-Renaud 1997, 31-87. 

Lee, Ki-Moon. 1997. The inventor of the Korean alphabet. In Kim-Renaud 1997, 

Park, Byoung-ho. 1992. King Sejong' s contributions to the development of legal 
institutions. In Kim-Renaud 1992, 111-6. 

Provine, Robert C. 1992. King Sejong and music. In Kim-Renaud 1992, 71-8. 

Sampson, Geoffrey. 1985. Writing Systems. Stanford, CA: Stanford University 

Sohn, Pokee. 1992. King Sejong's innovations in printing. In Kim-Renaud 1992, 

Yi, Tae-jin, & Jeon, Sang-woon. 1992. Science, technology, and agriculture in fif- 
teenth century Korea. In Kim-Reneaud 1992, 95-101. 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Young-Key Kim-Renaud 

The George Washington University 

King Sejong's language planning was a great human experiment 
that achieved success because it was based on a sound theory of liter- 
acy and writing. Sejong's theory of 'good linguistic fit' had both scien- 
tific and humanistic motivations. Sejong wanted to provide all Kore- 
ans with a simple tool to record and read their own language, be it Ko- 
rean or Sino-Korean. He hoped to alter the very concept of literacy 
from the ability to read (and to a lesser extent to write) literary Chinese 
to the ability to write and read Korean. Compared to the passive and 
reading-oriented literacy of the time, Sejong's vision was of a univer- 
sal creative literacy, in which expressing one's ideas in writing was the 
central issue: Literacy is not only for the purpose of reading and com- 
posing high literature, but for daily use and for all communicative 
needs. Sejong believed that universal literacy results from the simplic- 
ity and easy learnability of the writing system. Simplicity does not 
mean superficial economy. What makes sense because it is relatable to 
something already known, consciously or subconsciously, is what is 
simple. Such a system must consist of a minimal number of motivated, 
distinctive signs. Sejong's own writings observe his morphophonemic 
orthographic principle that if meaningful units show consistent shapes, 
they are easier to read. The Korean writing system reflects phonologi- 
cal features that are psychologically salient for Korean speakers, ex- 
actly because it was invented with a goal of universal literacy and so- 
phisticated understanding of Korean linguistic structures. 

1. Introduction 

The reign of King Sejong the Great (1397-1450, r. 1418-1450), the fourth mon- 
arch and exemplary Confucian sovereign of the Choson kingdom or Yi dynasty 
(1392-1910), was characterized by an extraordinary level of cultural and scientific 
creation (Kim-Renaud 1992/97a). Sejong has long been Korea's cultural hero, but 
in recent years, the international community — albeit a small minority — has be- 
gun to recognize and embrace Sejong as a historical figure who advanced the hu- 
man condition. Today, the word Sejong evokes high intellectual and cultural stan- 
dards, and is widely chosen as a name for everything from a simple tea room and a 
beauty parlor to a major cultural center, a scientific research institute, and a univer- 
sity in Korea, and in the international arena, from weekend schools for ethnic Ko- 
reans, to an endowed chair at Columbia University, and a multinational music en- 
semble formed by Juilliard graduates. 


14 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Of all of Sejong's achievements, the Korean alphabet, known as Han 'gul 
[The Han (Korean/Great/Unique) Script] today, has received the most serious at- 
tention and even praise from the world. 2 The Korean alphabet stands out not only 
because of the certain historical identification of its inventor and the time of inven- 
tion, but also because of the recording of the theoretical underpinnings behind its 
invention. The alphabet, originally called Hunmin Chong'um [Correct Sounds for 
the Instruction of the People], suddenly announced in the 12 th month of Sejong's 
25 th year (December 1443/January 1444) with no prior mention, was officially pro- 
claimed in 1446. The proclamation document, also called Hunmin chong'um 3 was 
a kind of handbook for learning the alphabet, as well, with explanatory treatises 
and examples called Hunmin chong'um haerye [Explanations and Examples of the 
Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People, Haerye hereinafter]. Sejong's 
theory of literacy, which is linguistically and sociolinguistically motivated, is sim- 
ply but clearly laid out in these two texts. 

However, the original proclamation document was missing for a long time. 
Its miraculous recovery in 1940 was indeed one of the most significant events in 
recent Korean — and human — history. In 1997 UNESCO voted to include this 
document in its Memory of the World register 4 Almost a decade before then, in 
1989, UNESCO had established the King Sejong Literacy Prize, to be awarded to 
organizations that have helped fight illiteracy. The conference at the distinguished 
University of Illinois, which brought together so many eminent scholars of writing 
systems or grammatology (Gelb 1952, Daniels 1996:3) to commemorate the 600th 
anniversary of Sejong's birth, is another testimony to the tribute the global aca- 
demic world is paying him for his linguistic and humanistic contribution. 

In his monumental 1966 doctoral dissertation — published as a book in 1998 

— Professor Ledyard discusses two opposing positions on Sejong's motives for 
inventing the alphabet taken by leading Korean scholars (all titles are dropped 
hereinafter) : 

(1) a. Popular Literacy in Korean (Ch'oe Hyonbae 1940/71) 

Alphabet as a tool for writing and reading in Korean for every Korean; 

b. Literacy in Chinese (Yi Sungnyong 1958) 

Alphabet as a device to teach Korean people Literary Chinese. 

Ledyard concludes that Sejong may have had both purposes in mind (Ledyard 
1998:169). There certainly was 'a growing consciousness of the national language 
in the first four decades of the 15' century', and its need was felt for popular edu- ■ 
cation projects including agricultural and medical books (Ledyard 1998:127-8). 
However, Ledyard (1998:131) and many other scholars (e.g., Ramsey 1992/97:49, 
Finch 1999:94) have claimed that, although one incentive for the invention of the 
alphabet may have been the encouragement of widespread literacy, the ultimate 
goal would have been moral education of the people rather than reading itself. 
When the Chinese classics became accessible to commoners, women, and children 
with the help of an easy writing system, thought Sejong, the basic moral principles 
of the Three Bonds (samgang) — filial piety, loyalty to king, and wifely constancy 

— would be upheld and everyone could live in harmony with the 'natural' order of 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 15 

the Confucian universe. In fact, one of the first translation projects for which Se- 
jong wanted to use the new alphabet was Samgang haengsil to [Illustrated True 
Stories of the Practice of the Three Bonds], a primer on the three Confucian virtues 
(Ledyard 1997a:34-5). 

In recent essays (Ledyard 1997a:35, 1997b:34), Ledyard notes that, in Se- 
jong's time and for quite a while thereafter, the concept of illiteracy in the strict 
sense applied only to the ability to read hanmim or classical literary Chinese. 5 As a 
compelling piece of evidence, Ledyard mentions an inscription written in Korean 
on the narrow side of a tombstone dating from 1536, whose main text is in Chi- 
nese. The text in han gul is addressed to kul morunun saram 'people who do not 
know writing' and threatens severe punishment to anyone who violates the stone 
(Ledyard 1997b:34). 

It is claimed in this paper that Sejong's purpose in devising a new script was 
to provide all Koreans with new, simple marks and a tool to record their oral lan- 
guage, be it Korean or Sino-Korean, as well as to read what was to be recorded us- 
ing the new tool. Therefore, Sejong was hoping to alter the very concept of literacy 
from the ability to read (and to write to a lesser extent) literary Chinese, THE writ- 
ing for Koreans at the time of the invention of the alphabet, to the ability to write 
and read transcription by means of the new script of what was actually spoken by 
Koreans. Compared to the rather passive, reading-oriented literacy of before, Se- 
jong's vision was of a much more active and creative literacy, in which expressing 
one's ideas in writing was the central benchmark. 6 

Sejong thus was the first known advocate of onmun ilch'i [Unification of the 
Spoken and Written Language], which was picked up again only at the end of the 
19th century as it became a slogan of an enlightenment movement among patriotic 
Koreans, following a similar one in Japan, read gembun itchi in Sino-Japanese for 
the same Chinese characters (Coulmas 1988:198). In this sense, the new language 
policy may be considered more than a 'reform' as indicated in the title of Led- 
yard's book ( 1998). It was a linguistic coup d'etat. 7 

My hypothesis about Sejong's motives for the invention of the alphabet, 
therefore, has some commonality with both models of thinking presented in (1), 
but departs from each of them in important ways. I also adopt the 'universal liter- 
acy' hypothesis, but with one crucial difference: For Sejong, Sino-Korean words 
and phrases were also Korean, assimilated into the Korean language even if they 
were of Chinese origin, and as long as they were used and could be read in Korean. 
Sino-Korean words could be written in the newly invented alphabet just like any 
other 'pure' Korean expressions. In fact, even the very name of the new alphabet, 
Hunmin Chong'um, was not 'pure Korean', but Sino-Korean. 

The King thus did not try to eliminate all existing Sino-Korean words and 
phrases, as did some fervently nationalistic linguists engaged in the 'purification' 
movement centuries later, during the Japanese occupation and afterwards — and 
quite recently in North Korea, which has been furiously practicing the philosophy 
of 'self-reliance' {Chuch'e ideology) (H. Sohn 1997:194-5). For example, Ch'oe's 
seminal book (1940/71) has two titles, one in pure Korean Han'gulgal, and the 

16 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

other in Sino-Korean Chong'umhak, both meaning 'The Study of the Korean Lan- 
guage'. The special word han 'gill has now become part of modern vocabulary, but 
today — six decades after it was coined — almost no one has adopted the 'pure 
Korean' morpheme -gal (<-/kalf), which was ostensibly proposed to replace the 
Sino-Korean bound morpheme -hak 'learning'. In fact, most similar attempts to 
replace Sino-Korean words with pure Korean have proven to be futile. People have 
rather opted for the Sino-Korean terms, which became much too familiar to their 
ears to abandon them for the newly introduced long-lost vocabulary, even if such , 
specific expressions ever existed. 8 

On the other hand, I do not think Sejong's ultimate goal in the invention of 
the alphabet would have been to help people become literate in classical Chinese. 
If anything, literary Chinese, as the only written communication medium that ex- 
isted at that time, was used to explain the new script. At least initially, instruction 
in the new script was in literary Chinese for those who had been literate in the 
Chinese writing system, which was used to explain the new script. Though instruc- 
tion was in literary Chinese for those already literate in the Chinese writing system, 
ironically as a result of this program Chinese was to become a true foreign lan- 
guage — though, for various reasons, not immediately. Thus, the new writing sys- 
tem was not just for 'illiterate people', but for all Koreans. It was a kind of tran- 
scription system supplied to those who did not know Chinese characters to write 
down, in Korean, Sino-Korean expressions which they knew when given in Ko- 
rean pronunciation. 

The new writing system, it would naturally have been thought, could be used 
for teaching Chinese as well. This conviction was explicit in the Preface to Haerye 
by Chong Inji (sometimes called Postface because it appears at the end of the 

(2) The Korean alphabet for teaching Chinese according to Haerye 

... Using these in understanding books, one can know the meaning. 
Using them in hearing litigation, one can get the circumstances 
right ... (Tr. Ledyard 1998:320). 

In this paper I draw evidence supporting the hypothesis just presented from 
three main sources: Sejong's preface to Hunmin chong'um, the description and ra- 
tionale of the Korean alphabet as explained in Haerye, and samples of early publi- 
cations using the new alphabet by Sejong himself or by others who wrote under 
Sejong's close supervision. , 

2. Sejong's preface to Hunmin chong'um 

Sejong's theory of literacy and writing is simply but eloquently summarized in his 
Preface to Hunmin chong'um, a concise and direct message, simple, but filled with 
humanity and dignity. For Ledyard (1998:170) and many others, it is 'of a great- 
ness commensurate with the alphabet itself. The hypotheses laid out in the intro- 
ductory remarks are further developed by the main text of Hunmin chong 'urn, 
which clearly demonstrates how a limited set of simple symbols can have a genera- 
tive power to express the whole language. Explanations of linguistic principles and 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 1 7 

specific examples also follow to introduce the new writing system in a way that 
made sense to 15 th -century Koreans, and does to other readers, including today's 
Koreans with a little help. The frequently quoted preface to Hunmin chong'um, 
which is recited by every schoolchild in Korea, reads as follows: 

(3) Preface to Hunmin chong 'urn 

The sounds of our country's language are different from those of the 
Middle Kingdom and are not smoothly communicable with literary 
(Chinese) characters. Therefore, among my people, there are many 
who, though they have something they wish to tell, are never able to 
express their feelings [in writing]. Commiserating with this, I have 
newly designed twenty-eight letters. I desire only that everyone ac- 
quire them easily, to make them convenient and comfortable for daily 
use. [Tr. my own] 

Sejong's motive for inventing the alphabet thus was clearly universal liter- 
acy. His theory of literacy and that of the relationship between literacy and writing 
were basically as follows: 

(4) a. Literacy is for everyone, and a matter of human rights, necessary for 

basic comfort. Those without it are to be pitied and helped; 

b. Literacy is being able to EXPRESS one's own feelings in writing; 

c. Literacy is enhanced by a writing system with a good linguistic fit; 9 

d. Literacy is enhanced by a sound-based writing system; 

e. A simple writing system enhances literacy. 

Sejong, an exemplary Confucian ruler with a true concern for his subjects, 
held a concept of literacy quite different from what was understood or expected in 
his day and for a long time afterwards. As Ramsey (1992/97:49) points out, in Se- 
jong's time, universal literacy was generally not only considered unnecessary, but 
also inappropriate and undesirable. Many in power even considered it politically 
dangerous to give the general populace the empowerment of reading, and espe- 
cially writing. But Sejong believed that illiteracy causes discomfort and inconven- 
ience, and that, for the harmony and order of the nation, all his subjects should be- 
come literate. 10 That is why the customary term chosen for Hunmin Chong urn was 
onmun, {W.~$C) 'vernacular script' or the 'script for everyone'. This word is often 
translated as 'vulgar' script, e.g., by DeFrancis (1989:189), Hannas (1997: 304), 
Cho (MS), and Choi 1999, relying on the initial translation by Ledyard 1966. 

However, as the name of the organization for the alphabet-related work es- 
tablished shortly after the promulgation of the alphabet was Onmunch'ong [Ver- 
nacular Script Commission], it must be understood that there was no derogatory 
meaning associated with the term, at least in the beginning. 1 ' The word, of course, 
has since gained a pejorative connotation from the general perception of its being 
too simple and used by those who were illiterate in literary Chinese. However, in 
most cases it was simply a term to refer to Korean writing in contrast to Chinese, 
as shown in the title of Onmun chi [Treatise on the Korean Alphabet], a famous 
linguistic work by Yu Hui (1773-1837). It is probably for this reason that Ledyard 

18 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

linguistic work by Yu Hui (1773-1837). It is probably for this reason that Ledyard 
revised his translation of the name of the organization, Onmunch'ong, from 'Vul- 
gar Script Headquarters' (1966:102) to 'Vernacular Script Commission' (1998: 

Many scholars have claimed that Sejong invented the new alphabet only for 
those 'illiterate' people who did not know Chinese characters. The word umin 
(MR) in the Preface has been translated as 'stupid people' (Ledyard 1966:224), 
'simple people' (Ledyard 1998:277) or 'ignorant people' (Ramsey 1992/97:49) A 
who do not know Chinese characters, in agreement with the interpretation by the ^ 
majority of Korean scholars, including Kim Min-su (1957:3), Kang Sinhang 
(1987/90:89). and Ho Ung (1997:17). However, I agree with Yu Chang-gyun 
(1978:9) who thinks that umin refers to all subjects of the king. It also seems il- 
logical to say, 'Among the illiterate people, there are many who cannot write down 
what they want to say'. Only if we interpret the word umin to mean something like 
'my dear/poor people' would the sentence in the Preface make sense. 12 

The cause of rampant illiteracy — or at best extreme inconvenience and dis- 
comfort experienced even by those who were literate — Sejong claimed, was the 
lack of linguistic fit between the vernacular and written (classical literary Chinese) 
languages. Although Korea is geographically contiguous to China, the Korean lan- 
guage is very different from Chinese, not only genetically, but also typologically. 
In the 2000 years or more since Chinese writing was introduced to Korea, Koreans 
have developed various ways to smooth the reading of Chinese classics as well as 
the recording of Korean vernacular. It was clumsy, even painful to use Chinese 
characters to write down Korean, a polysyllabic, agglutinative language with many 
grammatical affixes, with a canonical word order of Subject-Object- Verb — so 
unlike Chinese, an isolating language with the Subject-Object- Verb word order, in 
which many words consist of monosyllables and the syntactic relationships be- 
tween words are shown by their order or by means of free-standing particles. Se- 
jong clearly understood that writing systems are language-related and that typo- 
logical differences of such a magnitude demand completely different systems. 
Chinese characters are probably more fitting for isolating and predominantly 
monosyllabic languages like Chinese, as noted by Coulmas (1997:26), but ex- 
tremely cumbersome for agglutinative and polysyllabic languages like Korean and 

Sejong realized that not only the syntactic structures but, perhaps more im- i 
portantly, the phonological structures of Chinese and Korean differed. Although V 
equally unrelated typologically and genetically to Chinese, the Japanese language 
could be written by modifying a few Chinese characters, but Korean could not. 
Crucial here is the fact that Japanese syllable structure was so simple that, with a 
mere 50 signs derived from Chinese characters, all Japanese syllables could be 
covered. Korean syllable structure, on the other hand, was so complex that 1000 
symbols would not have sufficed (K. Yi 1975:30— l). 13 Many Korean scholars 
think that this problem was a blessing in disguise, as it forced Koreans to keep 
searching for a system that would work better for them. 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 19 

After various experiments to overcome the dilemma, especially in the forms 
of three different, but related systems, called Hyangch'al 'Local Letters', Kugyol 
'Oral Formulae', and Idu 'Clerk Readings', many Koreans finally found it simpler 
just to write in classical written Chinese, a kind of translated equivalent of what 
they wanted to say in Korean. 14 Thus they were living in a special kind of diglos- 
sia, speaking Korean, but writing in written Chinese translation (K. Yi 1975:22, 

| So, when Sejong said in his Preface, '... among my people, there are many 

who, though they have something they wish to tell, are never able to express their 
feelings [in writing],' he might have included among those 'poor' people even 
some presumably literate ones, because of the inherent difficulty of being a special 
sort of bilinguals. In fact, more than a century earlier, Ch'oe Hae (1287-1340) la- 
mented the linguistic obstacle Koreans encountered in writing, if with a little pride 
for having overcome it valiantly, as he wrote in Tongmun son, a collection of Ko- 
rean writings written in Chinese (cited in Cho MS): 

(5) As writing by necessity bases itself on speech, Chinese scholars do 
not waste their energy because their writing is based on the native 
foundation. On the other hand, Koreans with their spoken language so 
distinct from Chinese, need to exert efforts a thousand-fold, even 
though the innate talents might be great. However, since the universal 
principles apply everywhere, a Korean masterpiece cannot be com- 
pared less favorably to a Chinese classic. 

The situation of Sejong's time is well expressed, of course, in the famous 
Preface of Chong Inji to Haerye: 

(6) The need for a new national script according to Haerye: 

... Since the languages of the outer kingdoms have their own speech 
sounds but lack characters for them, they have borrowed the charac- 
ters of the Middle Kingdom to take care of their needs. This has 
been like a haft that ill fits its socket; how could they have been ap- 
plied without difficulties? (Tr. Ledyard 1998:318) 

Coulmas (1988:196) also lets us hear the voice of frustration over a similar 
situation of diglossia in Japan and a similar call for reform expressed by Nishi 
Amane in the first issue of the journal Meiroku zasshi, which played a central role 
. in the enlightenment movement of the early Meiji period: 

r (7) ... in our letters at present ... it is improper for us to write as we 
speak, as well as improper to speak as we write, since the grammars 
of speech and writing in our language are different. (Nishi 1875?/ 

It is clear then that Sejong's new writing system was a direct attempt to sever 
the long-held, uneasy liaison between spoken Korean and written Chinese. By in- 
sisting on the necessity of a close fit between the spoken and written language, Se- 
jong was putting forth his theory of writing and literacy. Even if Chinese charac- 
ters were not so complicated, 'there is wide agreement that one's first language is 

20 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

an easier starting point for literacy learning than a second language' (Coulmas 
1997:27). But, then, the Chinese writing system had two further points posing fun- 
damental problems for literacy. First, it is not sound-based, and even for various 
speakers of Chinese, a certain amount of diglossia was created. Second, Chinese 
characters are in fact complex, and often open to different interpretations. What 
Sejong is saying in his Preface, then, is that writing in Chinese is a stumbling block 
for literacy in Korea, not only because it is a writing system for a foreign language, 
but also because of its inherently 'undesirable' character as a script. ^ 

What are then the characteristics of an optimal writing system for literacy? * 
First of all, Sejong claimed, a sound-based system has a better linguistic fit. Sec- 
ond, the writing system should be simple and easy to learn and use. Sejong dared 
to design such a system within a vision for a civilized society, where everyone was 
literate. In the history of writing, it is rare that a totally new writing system is in- 
vented by a known individual and establishes itself as the written language of a na- 
tion. Such a feat is even considered unthinkable according to some experts on writ- 
ing systems (e.g., DeFrancis 1989:215 and Coulmas 1989:3). 15 But it is exactly 
what Sejong achieved (K. Lee 1997). 

Some have misunderstood the statement by Ledyard (1997a:61-2) that some 
of the most 'cogent and ingenious' discussions on the design features of consonant 
letter shapes such as depictions of speech organs and cosmological explanations of 
vowel shapes are 'ex post facto rationalization', as saying that some randomly cho- 
sen shapes were made to look systematic or scientific by some forced justification 
later (e.g., Finch 1999:93). The Korean alphabet, however, does not consist of 
symbols that are arbitrarily selected to signify specific sounds, as is the case with 
nearly all other alphabets. The iconic relationship between the letters and the 
sounds they represent is consciously constructed, and it is clearly explained in 
Haerye accompanying the original proclamation document. In the next section 
some of the linguistic units represented in the Korean writing system are briefly 

3. Literacy and the linguistic fit 

The hypothesis underlying the invention of the Korean alphabet was this: If sys- 
tems are both cogent and relatable, they are easy to learn and use. Sejong also be- 
lieved that native speakers have subconscious knowledge of linguistic units, and a 
writing system that represents various phonological aspects of the language iconi- 
cally is easier to learn and use. There is no better source than Haerye for under- m 
standing Sejong's linguistic analyses supporting his theory of writing and literacy. ^ 
Details concerning the principles behind the invention, accompanied by explana- 
tions and examples, are provided in this official commentary by the royal commis- 
sion headed by Chong Inji. In fact it is this document that leads linguists to say that 
'even if the inspiration for the letter shapes were to be found elsewhere than the 
articulatory gesture alone — and that is far from being proved — the genius of 
analysis that the alphabet represents remains undiminished' (Ramsey 1992/ 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 


The first and most important event that led to the invention of the alphabet 
was the discovery that a syllable could be divided into three major parts, Initial 
(onset), Medial (vowel nucleus), and Final (coda), and that the same sound oc- 
curred in the Initial and Final positions of a syllable (Kim-Renaud 1997b: 161-2). 
Thus was born the alphabetic system. This is clearly mentioned in Haerye. With 
the understanding of the Medial's distinctness from the Initial or Final, the first 
broad categorization of sounds was made, vowels vs. consonants. As Smith, Mere- 
dith, Pattison, & Sterling (1984:109) point out, 'the consonant/vowel distinction is 
central to most theories of speech perception, where the syllable (a vowel sur- 
rounded by consonants) is a good candidate for the smallest unit that exhibits 
acoustic invariance across different phonetic contexts'. Han 'giii written in syllable 
blocks with visually very different consonant and vowel letters, then seems to re- 
flect this important aspect of speech perception. 

Han 'gul is the only alphabet which has clearly recognizable, distinct shapes 
for the two major categories of letters: Consonants are represented by very geomet- 
ric shapes, while vowel letters consist of symbols made of either a horizontal or 
vertical line and a dot (a short line now). The following inventory of the Korean 
alphabet as used today will clearly show this: 

(8) Han 'gul symbols currently in use 17 

a. Consonants 

Tense Obst. hu /pp/ 

Asp. Obst. s /p7 
Lax Obst. u /p/ 

A / s / 


t» /m/ 

L- /n/ 


s l\l 


Vowels 18 




°1 III 

£} Id 

<H1 Id 

$} 161 

°B /ae/ 

Coronal Palatal Velar 
rx ltd *x led ti /kk/ 

M /ss/ 

E /t7 * /c7 =i /k7 

c hi x /ch/ n /k/ 

o /ng/ 


-er /h/ 

Unrounded Rounded 

9l 111 -f /u/ 

<H 16/ SL lol 

°f Id 

In Haerye, the design principles of all letter shapes and their usage are clearly 
presented. Consonantal forms are iconic, or ' motivated' (Haas 1976), as they are 
either a depiction of articulatory activity, or the symbolic representation of the 
place of articulation in the case of consonants (C. W. Kim 1980/88, 1997, 
Sampson 1985, Kim-Renaud 1997b). For example, all apical sounds (sounds pro- 

22 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

nounced at the tip of the tongue) contain the basic graphic shape i— , representing 
the tongue touching the alveolar ridge, as can be seen in the letters, i_ (n), c (t), 
E(t'), rx (tt), and s (r/1). 

Once the basic letterform was designed, shapes for related sounds were cre- 
ated, again by a clearly defined system of modification. It is generally held that a 
given distinctive feature can be represented in a sound with varying degrees of 
strength (Stevens & Keyser 1989:81), and the Korean writing system seems to cap- 
ture this fact nicely. For example, the principle of kahoek 'stroke addition' is ex- < 
plained in Haerye. The five basic letters, chosen from the gentlest/softest series 
among the consonants, were expanded with a set of systematically added strokes to 
create related, but phonologically stronger consonants. 19 Haerye's description and 
explanation of how this system works, rightly called 'the crown jewel of Sejong's 
alphabetic theory' by Ledyard (1997a:40), is given in (9). 

(9) Explanation of the design of the letters 20 

For the initial consonants there are seventeen letters in all. 

The molar sound n [k] depicts the outline of the root of the tongue 
blocking the throat. 

The lingual sound ^- [n] depicts the outline of the tongue touching 
the upper palate. 

The labial sound o [m] depicts the outline of the mouth. 

The incisor sound A [s] depicts the outline of the incisor. 

The laryngeal sound o [fi] depicts the outline of the throat. 

The pronunciation of ^ [k'] is a little more severe than that of ~l 
[k], therefore a stroke is added. 


then xz [t], 



e [t']; 

o [m] 

then t) [p], 



st Dp']; 

A[ S ] 

then X [ch], 



* [C]; 


then o [?], 



The principle of adding strokes in accordance with the pronuncia- 
tion is in all cases the same; only 6 [ng] constitutes an exception. 
The semilingual sound 5 [1] and the semi-incisor sound A [z] like- 
wise depict the outline of the tongue and the incisor, only the form 
is altered; in these cases the principle of adding strokes does not 
apply. (Tr. Ledyard 1997a:39-40) 

Vowel forms, on the other hand, are designed with obviously contrasting 
shapes to represent contrasting groups of sounds, which are crucial in some of the 
most salient phonological phenomena in Korean, such as vowel harmony and 
sound symbolism. Vowel symbols are therefore formed out of various combina- 
tions of three basic symbols in East Asian cosmology: a dot (•) representing 
Heaven, a horizontal line ( — ) Earth, a vertical line ( | ) Man. Vowel symbols thus 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 23 

created pair off neatly the groups of vowels distinguished by vowel -harmony 
rules. Different classes of sounds are categorized with terms from age-old East- 
Asian cosmology, such as yin and ycrng (see Kim-Renaud 1997b for details on this 
and other phonological phenomena represented in the alphabet). 

Some linguists, e.g., Finch (1999:93) and W. Kim 1983, have rightfully 
posed the question as to why different principles were applied to creating the 
vowel letterforms from those for consonantal forms. For example, why was the 
speech organ theory applied to designing consonants, and not vowels? Why did the 
principle of adding strokes (kcthoek) apply to consonantal letterforms, and why did 
a different combinatory principle — rather than the kahoek principle — apply to 

It seems to me that these differences again reflect some crucial knowledge of 
the phonological behavior of both consonantal and vowel sounds. Consonantal 
points of articulation are in general easier to identify, because of the oral contact, 
and to describe them in terms of speech organs is much easier than it is for vowels. 
Modern phonological studies have shown that there is usually a different phono- 
logical 'strength' scale among consonants, but not among vowels — at least not as 
transparently as in consonants. In han gul the consonantal strength scale plays a 
crucial role in very important language-specific phonological alternations, such as 
sound symbolism and various tensification phenomena (Kim-Renaud 1974/95). In 
han 'gill, the stronger a consonant, the more strokes it has (Kim-Renaud 

On the other hand, in vowel phonology, vowels are divided into different 
harmonic groups, crucial in such phonological alternations as sound symbolism 
and affix alternations (Kim-Renaud 1976). Even here, the symbols are not just ar- 
bitrary choices, but iconically reflect their phonological contrasts by contrasting 
mirror-image letter shapes. Thus the bright vowels, explained by the philosophical 
term, yang, have a shape representing the sky/heaven above the earth or to the 
right of the human being, and the dark vowels by the shapes showing the 
sky/heaven under the earth or to the left of the human being (for further details, see 
Kim-Renaud 1997b). 

The semivowels Av/ and lyl were shown to be essentially vowels, forming an 
integral part of the nuclei. Their shapes vary depending on their relative position 
within a syllable, and again there is a certain degree of iconicity in their form and 
size, representing their phonological status. Structural differences between the two 
vowels are also well represented in the writing system, as shown by C. W. Kim 

In explaining various phonological relationships that hold among different 
sounds, which are reflected in different groups of graphemes. Chinese cosmologi- 
cal references are brought in to facilitate teaching the populace. From today's point 
of view, some of the explanations might look difficult, unnatural, and even pedan- 
tic. But, for 15th-century Koreans and for all learners of the new alphabet, these 
were readily understood concepts for which no clarification was needed, regardless 
of learners' social or gender status. 

24 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

In han 'gul, as in all East Asian scripts, and unlike other alphabets, letters are 
assembled in syllable blocks of equal sizes. For example, the name of the alphabet 
Han 'gul (/han-kul/) is written as ~sY ^ , not linearly (rendered 'on-line') as -©■ 
(h) } (a) i— (n) ~~l (k/g) — (u) S (r/1). When the syllable nucleus (a simple vowel 
or a diphthong) has a vertical long line as in the syllable ~&\; , the initial consonant 
is placed at the left side of it. When the nucleus has a horizontal long line, as in 
the syllable -^ , or consists of just a dot, the initial consonant is placed above it. 
Consonants in the coda position appear below the nucleus in all cases. The follow- 
ing schema demonstrates how the two different vowel nuclei call for different spa- 
tial arrangements for the consonants within the syllable: 

(10) Han 'giil (/han-kul/) in Korean writing 

a. /han/ 'Han [Korea/great/one and only]' 

initial consonant /h/ vowel nucleus /a/ 

final consonant /n/ 
b. /kul/ 'writing' 

initial consonant /k/ 

vowel nucleus /u7 

final consonant l\l 

The fact that han 'gul is written in syllable blocks is often given as evidence 
that Korean writing has been influenced by Chinese characters and cannot be con- 
sidered completely original. Koreans have indeed formed some kind of aesthetic 
preconception of what written language should look like, and their familiarity with 
and appreciation of Chinese characters certainly should have played an important 
role, even when a totally different system was being devised. For example, just as 
in Chinese, depending on the number of components within a syllable, the size and 
shape of each element within it are adjusted so that the resulting form is always 
more or less of the same size; thus each syllable is harmonious with others in ap- 
pearance. The stroke order of various elements within the syllable also follows 
conventional practice in writing Chinese characters. However, the 'influence' 
stops there, for the Korean syllable is different in most fundamental ways from any 
Chinese character in every structural aspect. 

Before examining syllabic writing in Korean, an important premise needs to 
be understood. Although han 'gul is written in syllable blocks, it is not a syllabary, 
as it has been labeled by some scholars, e.g., Taylor 1980. Any number of syllables 
could be generated based on the alphabetic inventory and the prescribed combina- 
tory order. Just because modern Korean writing convention requires separation of 
words by spaces, Taylor 1980 also adds that han'gul is even a 'logography in a 
limited sense'. The perception is based on such monosyllabic words as ^ <hulk> 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 25 

'earth, dirt'. But any number of such examples can occur in any language and can- 
not be cited as evidence for the existence of a 'system'. Hannas (1997:58) also 
notes Martin's observation on Korean orthography that it 'incorporates representa- 
tion of phoneme components, phonemes, morphophonemes, syllables and — to the 
extent that certain morphophonemic shapes (such as -^ 'flower') are unique 
shapes — morphemes' (1972:83). However, these matters of orthographic conven- 
tions should not be confused with the basic structure of the writing system. 21 

What distinguishes han 'gill from all other kinds of alphabetic writing 
wherein letters are assembled into syllabic units is that in a Korean syllable the 
vowel nucleus is the central element and consonants are placed around it. In most 
other systems using a spatial arrangement of letters into syllable blocks or syllable- 
like assemblage, the vowels are subordinate to the consonants in 'graphic weight' 
(Finch 1999:80). For example, in what Daniels calls abugidas (1990, 1996:4), such 
as the Ethiopic script of Amharic and the Devanagari script of Sanskrit and Hindi, 
each consonantal letter represents the consonant sound followed by an unmarked 
vowel, most commonly /a/, and combinations of that consonant with other vowels 
are represented by graphic elements added onto that consonantal letter (McCawley 
1997:5-6). 22 As McCawley notes, an important difference between han'gul and 
abugidas such as Devanagari is that, in han 'gul, not only does the individual con- 
sonantal letter not represent a corresponding consonantal sound with an unmarked 
vowel, as it does in abugidas, but consonantal letters in han 'gul are not even al- 
lowed to stand by themselves, except in special cases where an individual symbol 
is discussed or used as part of a kind of number system — as in English a, b, c, d, 
... to order things; a han gul consonantal letter only appears together with a spe- 
cific vowel letter (McCawley 1997:6). 

Han 'gul clearly shows that a vowel can form a syllable by itself, and there- 
fore can stand by itself, but the fact that consonants cannot be pronounced easily 
without the support of a vowel is reflected in the writing in which no consonant 
forms a full syllable by itself. However, Sejong thought that the basic syllable has 
a CV structure, considered by the majority of linguists today as the most unmarked 
or natural syllable shape. And, in han 'gul, when there is no initial consonant, an 
empty symbol (a circle) is inserted in the consonantal slot, as the examples in (8b) 
show. Of course, aesthetic consideration is important in this case, as the syllables 
filling both of the slots of C and V are more balanced with just enough complexity 
in them than they would have been, had they consisted of vowels only. 

Another crucial — although often missed — characteristic is that there is a 
linear order among different elements within the syllable. Thus, even though the 
whole syllable comes into a visual field as a block, there is a clear indication as to 
what sound comes first and what next, etc. Certainly, when Taylor (1980:72) says, 
'there are virtually no "disabled" readers in Korea,' she is exaggerating. I have 
discussed elsewhere some acquisition data in which the writing mistakes involve 
the wrong ordering of letters within a syllable. For example, a six-year-old wrote 
^ n|<m6ng-ma> for ^ nj- <6m-ma>, interchanging the first and last letters of the 
first syllable (Kim-Renaud 1997b: 1 81). 23 This is a kind of mistake that occurs in 
linearized writing, of course. 

26 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

There have been many attempts in recent times to deblock or linearize (ren- 
der 'on-line') Korean writing both in and outside Korea (King 1997), probably un- 
der the assumption that only then would han 'gul be a true alphabet, just like the 
Western alphabet. However, many adherents of the linearization movement did not 
realize that, within the syllable block, the placement of different letters of the al- 
phabet was not random and arbitrary. 

There is also an a priori notion that syllable blocks make writing more com- 
plex and hard to decipher. However, as Coulmas (1989, 1997) has noted, a super- 
ficial appearance of simplicity may not be directly related to efficiency in reading. 
C.W. Kim (1997:151) agrees, pointing out that extra distinguishing 'landmarks' 
and 'perceptually salient visual cues', which at first glance might look like compli- 
cation, seem to aid reading. In an experiment he carried out with a colleague, com- 
paring two modes of han 'gul writing — one conventional (in syllable blocks) and 
the other 'deblocked' and linearized (rendered 'on-line') — they found that re- 
spondents (students learning Korean as a foreign language) took as much as two 
and a half times as long to read linearized script as to read han'gul in syllable 
blocks (Kim & Sohn 1986). 

In fact, M. E. Wrolstad (1980:5). like many writing theorists, finds han 'gill's 
'use of spatial units (or letters) of varying visual/syllabic complexity' its most in- 
teresting aspect as a system of writing. Taylor (1980:71) discusses psycholinguistic 
advantages of syllables over phonemes, as they are thought to be 'easier to develop 
and to learn than an alphabet'. 24 Taylor also directs our attention to other psycho- 
linguistic findings, such as how young children find it easier to segment words into 
syllables than into phonemes (Liberman, Shankweiler, Fisher, & Carter 1974) and 
the espousal by some psychologists (e.g., Gleitman & Rozin 1973) of the use of 
some form of a syllabary in teaching reading to English-speaking children. 

Sejong wanted to invent a writing system first of all for Koreans, as expli- 
cated in his Preface to Hunmin chong'um. However, every effort was made to 
make the system universally applicable. The alphabet and suprasegmental markers 
were devised as a transcription system that could be used to cover Chinese as well, 
the language of the country that represented the entire civilized outside world for 
Koreans at the time. Sejong devised special symbols to accommodate the transcrip- 
tion of Chinese sounds not present in Korean (Ledyard 1997a:39). Such an idea 
was, of course, incomprehensible at best — but more likely considered a heresy — 
to intellectuals of Sejong's time. This attitude is clearly noticeable in the infamous 
anti-alphabet memorial of Ch'oe Malli. Ch'oe, who — as Ledyard (1998:137) 
notes — held the highest purely academic rank in the College [of Assembled Wor- 
thies] in early 1444, said: 

(11) ... Although from ancient times customs and local usages have dif- 
fered within the Nine Lands, there has never been a case of separately 
making a script based on the local speech. Only types like the Mon- 
gols, Tanguts, Jurchens, Japanese and Tibetans have their own 
graphs. But these are matters of the barbarians, and not worth talking 
about. ... To now separately make the Vernacular Script is to abandon 



Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 27 

China and identify ourselves with barbarians. This would be what 
they call forsaking the perfume of storax for the dungball pushed by 
the beetle. How can this fail to have great implications for our civili- 
zation! (Tr. Ledyard 1998:141) 

Ch'oe Malli's memorial did not impress Sejong, who was firm in his conviction 
and his new vision of a civilized society, a vision based on his competence, hu- 
manity, and hard work. He continued to pursue his alphabet project with utmost 
k seriousness and determination. He was the first to want to put his theory of writing 
" and literacy into practice. Immediately after the promulgation of the alphabet, Se- 
jong put his own talented princes and scholars of the College of Assembled Wor- 
thies to work on various alphabet projects, while continuing to work on it himself. 

4. Early alphabet projects and orthographic conventions 

King Sejong, with his broad interest and concern for the people, was engaged in 
multiple publishing projects. A number of significant works published during his 
reign covered a wide range of fields encompassing agriculture, law, medicine, ge- 
ography, history, calendrical mathematics, linguistics, literature, music, the Confu- 
cian classics, and Buddhist literature. 25 And many of them were closely connected 
to his alphabetic work. 26 In all these endeavors — whether new compositions, 
translation projects, or transliteration projects — the new alphabet provided a cru- 
cial tool for transcribing the Korean pronunciation of the texts in question. 

The first orthographic decision the new alphabet users had to make was on 
the degree of abstractness of the alphabet in writing. Should they transcribe what is 
actually pronounced and heard? If not, how deep should the underlying representa- 
tions be? This is an issue that certainly would have been heatedly debated at the 
early stage of field-testing of the new alphabet, but unfortunately there is no record 
of what kinds of issues and theories the king and his scholar-officials would have 
discussed with each other. There is one place, however, where an orthographic rule 
is clearly noted. It is again in Haerye's section on the 'Explanation of the Final 
Consonants,' given in (12): 

(12) Coda consonantal constraint according to Haerye will suffice to use [only] the eight letters 1 k, 6 ng, n t, aa n, 
tip, a m, As, and H 1 for the terminal [phonemes]. (Tr. Ledyard 

> According to Haerye, eight Final consonants are said to be 'sufficient'. The 

number of consonants appearing in a syllable-final position, therefore, is much 
smaller than the number of consonantal phonemes in the inventory. Other conso- 
nants are not prohibited from appearing there, but it is said that they are not 
needed. What this means is that the authors of Haerye were fully aware of a par- 
ticular phonological constraint concerning syllable-final consonants in Korean. It 
is by now well known that no coda consonant is released unless there is a vowel 
following it. This is a direct cause for neutralization of various syllable-final con- 
sonants (cf. Kim-Renaud 1974/95, 1978). The authors of Haerye knew, therefore, 
that the three consonants ~~l /k/, ~n /k7, and ^ /kh/, for example, are all pro- 

28 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

nounced the same — as an unreleased [k=] in syllable-final position, because unre- 
leasing erases/neutralizes all cues for aspiration and tenseness of the consonants. 

The symbol for /s/, A , which would have been pronounced as an unreleased 
[t=], just as today, thus represented as many as ten underlying phonemes, A /s/, 
M /s7, A ItJ. c ft/, rx /tV, E /th/, A Id, x* /cV, ^ /ch/, and ■§■ MP This 
is exactly what the Haerye authors understood. And it is no wonder that they 
wanted to make it a rule to write down what was actually pronounced, rather than 
different basic underlying forms. So, the number of consonants appearing in coda 
position has been drastically reduced. By doing so, they thought they were follow- 
ing their King's idea of making writing as close to spoken language as possible. 
This perception of the new alphabet as one which could transcribe any sound is 
well expressed in Chong Inji's Preface, as shown in (13): 

(13) Chong Inji's preface on the alphabet as a transcription system 

Insofar as the phonology of characters is concerned, clear and muddy 
can be distinguished. In matters of music and singing, the twelve 
semitones may be successfully harmonized. There is no application 
not provided for, no destination they do not reach. Even the sound of 
the winds, the cry of the crane, the crackle of fowl and the barking of 
dogs — all may be put into writing. (Tr. Ledyard 1998:320) 

However, what the king had in mind was clearly different from what his scholar- 
officials understood. Two creative works in which the king was directly involved, 
one written by him and the other written under his close supervision, are particu- 
larly significant from the point of view of orthography. The very first work written 
in the new alphabet was a literary piece, a dynastic hymn called Yongbioch 'on ka 
[Song of the Dragons Flying to Heaven, between 1445 and 1447], often abbrevi- 
ated as Yongga [Dragon Song] in Korean. Yongga is a monumental work of a cy- 
cle of 125 cantos comprising 248 poems, which was compiled on King Sejong's 
order to eulogize his ancestors, including his grandfather and the founder of the 
Choson dynasty (1392-1910). It is a rare piece of art, epic prose poetry that is sung 
and danced, filled with history and historical allusion (P. Lee 1975). Written both 
in Korean and Chinese, this work is frequently seen as a kind of field test of the 
newly invented alphabet. Ledyard even finds it possible that the Yongbioch 'on ka 
'itself was the final and decisive stimulus to the invention of the alphabet' 
(1997a:35). In Yongga, the Korean text appears first, followed by an elaborate an- 
notation in Chinese; finally a Chinese translation of the Korean text appears as a 
kind of clarification. 28 

From a linguistic point of view, it is also an epoch-making piece of literature, 
in which for the first time the written language gives a direct clue as to the spoken 
language of the time. It was also the first practical application of the newly in- 
vented alphabet, which was expected to follow a particular set of orthographic 
principles laid out in Haerye. Curiously, however, Yongga did not follow a shal- 
low or phonemic transcription as instructed in Haerye, but a morphophonemic 
principles very much like today's. 29 In Yongga, syllables with final consonants not 
indicated in Haerye abound, as examples (14) and (15) show (from K. Lee 


Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 29 

1997:21-2). Vowel forms in (14) and (15) have been slightly modified, dots having 
been replaced by short lines as in Modern Korean. 

(14) -g- <koc> 'flower' 

Z <1caz> 'edge' 

t^i-f <pichna-> 'to shine' 

||- <coch-> 'to follow' 

^ <choz> 'first' 

This orthographic practice is very much like today's. Such unusual syllable shapes 
for Sejong's time also occur in another important work called Worin ch'on'gang 
chi kok [Songs of a Moon Shining on a Thousand Rivers, 1448]. Again some ex- 
amples from Ki-Moon Lee (1997:22) are given in (15) 


-g- <koc> 


1 <kAZ> 


^ <nac> 


^ <nath> 


^i~f <machna-> 

'to meet' 

-& <uz-> 

'to laugh 

^ <choz> 


Worin ch 'on 'gang chi kok is generally thought to provide the most valuable 
material for the study of language and literature along with Yongga. It is well 
known that Sejong composed Worin ch 'on 'gang chi kok. This collection of more 
than 500 epic poems praising the greatness of Sakyamuni, was based on Sokpo 
sangjol [Episodes from the Life of the Buddha, 1447], composed by Prince Suyang 
(later King Sejo) upon Sejong's command in memory of his Queen, who had died 
a year earlier. In Worin ch on 'gang chi kok, the main text is written completely in 
han 'gul, including Sino-Korean words and morphemes. As if clarifying the mean- 
ing, Chinese characters in small size are attached like footnotes. 

Ki-Moon Lee (1997:22) notes that, out of many early texts written in han 'gul 
only these two works which have had Sejong's greatest attention did not follow the 
orthographic principle described in Haerye. It is noteworthy, as Lee says, that all 
other writings of the period followed the shallow orthographic rules prescribed by 
Haerye, including Sokpo sangjol, which inspired Sejong to write his Worin 
ch 'on gang chi kok. 

What Sejong knew, and others did not, was that the letters of the alphabet 
could be used at different levels of abstractness. The symbols could be used as 
phonetic transcriptions, like the IPA, or as a kind of morphophonemic writing, as 
with English spelling. Sejong's theory of writing and literacy was that if meaning- 
ful units show consistent shapes they are easier to read. So, no matter how many 
variant forms a morpheme would take, the constant shape would make its recogni- 
tion much easier than reading all kinds of different symbols representing various 
actual phonetic realizations. Because native speakers would have applied appropri- 

30 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

ate morphophonemic rules without even thinking, the resulting forms would have 
been very close to the actual pronunciation. And this is exactly what Sejong must 
have meant when he said the spoken and written language should be unified. 30 

In an agglutinative language, morpheme boundaries are often not as clearly 
marked as in isolating languages. Modern Korean orthography does include spaces 
between phonological words, but a word can consist of various morphemes, usu- 
ally one major lexical class plus affixes. Writing in syllables is one way of marking 
the boundary, and writing underlying representations rather than surface forms i 
make such boundaries clearer. It is for this reason that many older people who ^ 
have learned a substantial number of Chinese characters and grew up using them 
find it easier, in fact, to read mixed script, rather than pure han 'gul. 

In both Yongga and Worin ch 'on 'gang chi kok such an effort to make the 
meaning clearer can be found. The two texts take a radically different approach in 
this. Yongga mixes Chinese characters freely in the Korean text. Whenever a lexi- 
cal item is Sino-Korean, Chinese characters are written in and there is no han 'gul 
anywhere to help their reading. Worin ch 'on 'gang chi kok, on the other hand, is 
written completely in Korean, but every Sino-Korean morpheme written in a 
han 'gul syllable has just below it a Chinese character in reduced size, as if a back- 
stage prompt. Both cases manifest a belief that giving some visual prominence to 
major lexical items enhances reading. Worin ch 'on 'gang chi kok, written by King 
Sejong, is bolder in indicating that Chinese may be helpful as clarification, but is 
not essential for Korean literary life. In Yongga, the practice seems to imply that 
using both systems may be not only a nice compromise, but also something totally 
feasible. So, in Sejong's own composition only, the whole text is written com- 
pletely in Korean script. Although Sejong probably acknowledged the need for 
continued use of some Chinese characters for enhanced comprehension, it is possi- 
ble to see that his ultimate goal was for Koreans to write only in Korean. Chinese 
would still need to be learned to be part of the civilized world, but only as a for- 
eign language, as English is for Koreans today. 

Indeed, the newly invented alphabet was put to use as an aid for learning 
Chinese. Immediately after the proclamation of the alphabet in 1443/4, a commis- 
sion was appointed to transliterate the sound glosses of a Yuan-dynasty rhyming 
dictionary. The first publication by the Commission was Tongguk chong 'un [The 
Correct Rhymes of the Eastern Country], a rhyming dictionary of Chinese charac- 
ters used by Koreans, which was compiled at Sejong's command by Sin Sukchu, 
Ch'oe Hang, and Song Sammun in 1447 and printed in 1448. The book was dis- m 
tributed to schools throughout the country. 

The Chinese character readings in Tongguk chong 'un realize Sejong's idea of 
standardizing Sino-Korean. However, they are based on a compromise between 
what he thought were the ideal Chinese readings of the characters and the actual 
readings used in Korea. Ledyard (1997a:41) says the work is today considered k an 
artificial and theoretical reform that failed to accommodate the actual pronuncia- 
tions of the time'. Martin (1997:264) disagrees, however. 'The king was not seek- 
ing so much to supplant the popular pronunciations given by Koreans to the Chi- 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 31 

nese words that were in common use as to inform them of the richer system of dis- 
tinctions that were appropriate to the characters used in Chinese texts: in effect, a 
reconstruction of Middle Chinese phonology in terms of the Korean sound system 
as represented by the hankul [han 'gut] symbols, and quite pronounceable by Kore- 
ans of his day. (It was three centuries later that Bernhard Karlgren did something 
similar in terms of the phonetic symbols of the Swedish Alphabet Society)'. 

Finally, the new alphabet was used in translating Buddhist books and Chi- 
. nese classics. According to Ledyard (1998:338), no fewer than 17 Buddhist - 
) some of them truly major — works were written or translated between 1447 and 
1496. Han'gul in these works increasingly abandoned phonemic writing and 
showed more morphophonemic spellings 31 Also, the shapes of the letters of the 
alphabet were becoming less and less geometrical and increasingly rounded due to 
the use of brush in writing. 

One of the most important works in translation at another popular level was 
Tusi onhae [Vernacular Translation of Tu's Poems], a compilation of Tu Fu's po- 
ems by Cho Wi in 1481, at King Songjong's command, and revised and reprinted 
in 1632. This literary publication for the general public is important from the lin- 
guistic and orthographical points of view, because the Korean text reflects various 
historical changes that have occurred in Korean, such as the loss of certain pho- 
nemes, some changes in the accentual system. Here Chinese characters are also 
mixed in Korean writing, and as in Yongga, none of the characters are given Ko- 
rean readings. Slowly the mixed writing was accepted as the most convenient and 
comfortable system for use by the educated class. However, little by little the irre- 
sistible comfort and convenience of han 'giil in daily use, illuminated by national 
consciousness, would make writing completely in han gul not only acceptable, but 
also desirable. 

5. Conclusion 

The foremost requirement for literacy expressed by King Sejong is proper 
linguistic Fit between the spoken language and the writing system representing the 
language. Sejong points out in the Preface of the proclamation document of the 
newly invented alphabet that the mismatch between the spoken language and the 
written language is the cause of rampant illiteracy among the people of his time. 
Second, a writing system that is sound-based makes a better linguistic Fit. Third, 
literacy is for all people, not just a chosen few. King Sejong regards literacy as part 
. of the human-rights issue, and he commiserates with people who are unable to ex- 
I press themselves in writing. Fourth, true literacy is achieved only when one can 
express oneself in writing actively and creatively, and not with passive recognition 
or guessing of the meaning of characters. Universal literacy is directly related to 
the simplicity and easy learnability of the writing system. Simplicity does not mean 
superficial economy. Things that make sense, because they are relatable to some- 
thing already known, consciously or subconsciously, are what is simple. Such a 
system must consist of a minimal number of distinctive signs, which again are 
'motivated'. Finally, literacy is not only for the lofty purpose of reading and com- 
posing high literature, but for daily use and for all communicative needs. 

32 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Because the Korean writing system is phonetically and semantically moti- 
vated, and because the system reflects some important phonological alternations, 
the alphabet is easy for Korean speakers to learn and to use. Sejong's orthographic 
principle, which modern orthography follows both in North and South Korea, was 
that han 'gul letters are to represent what Chomsky (1964:68) called the 'systematic 
phonemic level'. As morphemes are transparent in Korean orthography, it is easy 
to read. Korean morphophonemics is complex, and morphophonemic writing, 
showing consistent shapes for morphemes, seems to facilitate computer treatment 
of written Korean, as well. Writing in syllable blocks has helped make morpheme 
boundaries clearer, and therefore is a way of facilitating readability. 32 

Sejong viewed the alphabet he invented essentially as a broad transcription 
system to record the Korean language or the Korean pronunciation of another 
tongue. The phonetic basis of the newly invented writing system is a natural con- 
sequence of several different but converging factors. Kang (1987/90) sees four im- 
portant issues that concerned Sejong — adding (16d) to the similar list by Yu 
(1978) — as the king embarked on a major language reform: 

(16) a. Creation of a national writing system 

b. Standardization of Sino-Korean pronunciation 

c. Correct understanding of Chinese pronunciation 

d. Study of other foreign languages 

In order to fulfill all these requirements, what they needed was a kind of tran- 
scription system that would be most natural to a Korean ear and tongue. 

Sejong's dream of completely replacing Chinese with the Korean alphabet 
might not have met with immediate response, especially among the conservative 
elite. And he may have allowed a transition period of mixing in Chinese characters 
to clarify many Sino-Korean-based vocabulary items. 

A profoundly scientific scholar, Sejong believed in testing his theory by put- 
ting his ideas to work. Sejong was personally involved in various publishing pro- 
jects, including creative work, translation, and transliteration projects in which the 
new alphabet was used. Sejong was a sage king who discovered talented people 
and nurtured them to perform great works at his side. Even then, he was so far 
ahead of his time that even the most loyal subjects did not always share his true 

It took 500 years, until they were at the point of losing their sovereignty, for 
the Korean people to realize at the official level what a precious gift the wise king 
had bestowed upon them. However, already in his time, those illiterate people (kul 
morunun saram) mentioned by Ledyard (1997b:34), and cited at the beginning of 
this paper, to whom the tomb inscription in han 'gul was addressed, were literate. 
It's just that neither they nor the so-called literati knew it. In this sense, Sejong's 
theory of writing and literacy was proving itself to be correct even in earlier times. 
In fact, soon enough even the literati, in addition to women and monks, began 
writing in han 'gul whenever their true feelings needed to be put down in writing. 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 33 

The most eloquent approval of Sejong's theory of writing and literacy is found, of 
course, in today's universal literacy. 

In spite of the existence of the document explaining the linguistic theory be- 
hind the invention of the alphabet, some scholars are less than sanguine about 
many of the recent analyses, which they believe are theorizing after the fact. One 
of the most recent and strident voices is that of Finch (1999:94): 

(17) ... It is more likely, then, that the theory grew out of the resemblance 
that the shapes of certain letters suggested to articulator/ gestures than 
that there was a preconceived notion from what was perceived, ab- 
stractly in most instances, as the general geometrical form of certain 
speech organs and articulatory gestures, of what the letters should look 
like. If there had been such a preexisting theory about the shapes of 
speech organs and articulatory gestures, there should be evidence for it 
in the Chinese phonological literature that King Sejong and the com- 
piler of the Haerye were familiar with. 

It is remarkable that Finch should believe his rather random 'derivation' of 
han'gul consonantal letterforms from 'Phags-pa letters by impressionistic 'simpli- 
fication' methods — absolutely bereft of any consideration of Korean phonology 
- should be more plausible. Exactly because there had never been any theory 
about the shapes of speech organs and articulatory gestures in the Chinese phono- 
logical literature or anywhere else, King Sejong's creation was a true invention 
based on his genius. 

Coulmas (1997:20-1) also agrees with Olson 1993, who states that the con- 
cept of writing as transcription is critically flawed, because 'it assumes that the in- 
ventors of writing knew what they were doing, that is, that they were aware of the 
structural units of language — words, syllables, moras, phonemes and the like — 
which needed to be represented in writing'. And. again, these are exactly the kinds 
of things Sejong was aware of when designing the new script, and that fact is well 

Coulmas (1997:21ff), very much in agreement with Olson 1993, tries to carry 
linguistic relativism to writing, suggesting that different writing systems make us 
see linguistic structure differently. Writing thus provides a conceptual model for 
speech, beyond being an ancillary means of transcription of speech. As an exam- 
ple, Coulmas mentions that many Germans are convinced that the word-final ob- 
struents in German such as Tag [ta:k] and Hand [hant] are voiced. He thinks they 
are led to this belief by the orthography, which uses letters for voiced stops (Coul- 
mas 1997:21). This again seems to me to put the cart before the horse. Those spell- 
ings were chosen, to begin with, because native speakers know the final conso- 
nants of the underlying forms are voiced. In fact, they do not even know that they 
are devoiced in that environment, so automatic and spontaneous is the phonologi- 
cal alternation. That is exactly the kind of subconscious knowledge of which King 
Sejong wanted to take advantage in inventing the system. This is what I meant 
when I said the Korean writing system reflects phonological features that are psy- 
chologically salient for Korean speakers (see comments by Martin 1997: 268 on 

34 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Kim-Renaud 1997b). Research conducted in English, Serbo-Croatian, and Hebrew 
discussed in Frost 1992 and others also suggests that 'orthographic depth indeed 
has a strong psychological reality' (Frost 1992:272). 

Finally, it is difficult not to notice that the kinds of writing systems and liter- 
acy rate in different societies do not seem to indicate that there is a close relation- 
ship between the two. Coulmas (1997:28-29) notes that literacy in Taiwan is much 
higher than in China, where abbreviated characters are taught, and that Japan en- 
joys near universal literacy, although its system is so involved, compared to some 
other countries with very simple writing systems. 

The typological fit between writing and spoken language could also be at is- 
sue. For example, Lindsey Eck (personal communication) notes, as does Hannas 
(1997:75-9), that Vietnamese shares many typological characteristics with Chi- 
nese. Like Chinese, it is an isolating language whose forms are not inflected and 
whose grammar is based largely on the order in which morphemes appear in sen- 
tences. It is also a tonal language with monosyllabic morphology, in which the syl- 
lable plays a crucial role as a basic phonological and morphological unit, like Chi- 
nese. Vietnamese syllables are almost always morphemes, presumably good candi- 
dates for writing in Chinese characters (Hannas 1997:79). However, Vietnamese 
saw its literacy so impeded by the unsuitability of Chinese-based writing that liter- 
acy waited till European missionaries introduced the Latin alphabet. 33 

Clearly many factors beyond the choice of writing system lead to a high liter- 
acy rate. Things like respect for knowledge, degree of learning, and economic and 
political systems that call for a fully literate society will play a crucial role, as 
Coulmas (1977:29) points out. On the other hand, it would be absurd to say that 
writing and literacy have little to do with each other. Jaffre (1997b:33) also ques- 
tions whether the complexity of the writing system is really not a significant vari- 
able in the literacy equation. He notes that even among Romance languages, 
French children encounter many more problems in mastering writing than, say, 
Spanish or Italian children do. In fact, in another article, Coulmas (1988:194) 
himself quotes a Japanese linguist Kindaichi Haruhiko (1957:5), who said: 'Euro- 
pean children generally learn how to read and write their own language in two 
years in Italy, three years in Germany, and in Great Britain, where it takes longest, 
five years. In Japan, even after six years in elementary school and three years in 
junior high school, a pupil cannot adequately understand the newspaper', Unger 
1987 goes so far as to say that 'what masquerades as universal literacy in Japan is a 
facade ...' [quoted in Hannas 1997:285]. The Vietnamese and Turkish 'success' in 
literacy with a radical experimentation with the Latin alphabet must say something 
about the alphabetic system of writing, and its linguistic fit. 34 

In comparison. Korean children really take very little time to learn to read 
and write. Nowadays, almost all Korean children know how to read before even 
getting to school (Taylor & Taylor 1983:86). 35 How easy han'gul is to learn was 
already mentioned in Chong Inji's Preface to Haerye: 

(18) Chong Inji's Preface on the easy learnability of Han 'gill 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 35 

Although only twenty-eight letters are used, their functional applica- 
tions are endless. They are simple and fine, reduced to the minimum, 
yet universally applicable. Therefore intelligent people can understand 
them before the morning is over, and even the simple can learn them in 
a decade of [ten] days. (Tr. Ledyard 1998:319 20) 

This passage depresses some of my students, but even foreigners appreciate 
the simplicity of the writing system, as they try to learn Korean, and thank its crea- 

Some Koreans, e.g., Hyun-Bok Lee (1992), have advocated that han' gul 
should become a kind of international phonetic alphabet with a modification of let- 
ters in its inventoiy. It certainly is feasible to create what may very well be a more 
logical and easier system than the one by the IPA. However, just as King Sejong 
said at the outset, a good linguistic fit between written and spoken languages is 
most crucial for literacy and writing. Newly created symbols to accommodate all 
kinds of foreign sounds certainly would have no meaning to Korean speakers and 
readers. It certainly is not a good idea to learn a foreign language using the Korean 
alphabet, even if it could be fine-tuned, as a heavy Korean accent will be guaran- 
teed. An early attempt to make the Korean alphabet a true phonetic transcription 
system for international use was not very successful and thus was quickly aban- 
doned. Han 'gul is a system for the Korean language. And only as Korean writing 
will its qualities be fully appreciated. 

King Sejong's coup of bold language planning was a great human experi- 
ment, which culminated in tremendous success, exactly because it was based on a 
sound theory of literacy and writing. Sejong's theory of 'good linguistic fit' had 
both scientific and humanistic motivation. Today, with han 'gul, Koreans are fully 
enjoying a comfortable literary life, just as Sejong wished and his theory predicted. 
The classless concern by this man of a distant era in a very class-conscious society 
for improving everyone's daily life through effective science and good government 
is still powerfully relevant today; Sejong's vision of a civilized society in which 
everyone is literate is now shared by the world, with the establishment of the Se- 
jong Literacy Award at UNESCO. 

There are two broad concerns about the future of han 'gul. One frequently 
asked question these days is, in this globalizing world in which the internet and 
other communication channels make English a language of choice, will Koreans 
eventually abandon han 'gul (Cho MS)? Most likely not. Again, linguistic fit will 

I be a major issue here. Koreans might opt for true bilingualism. Korean + a foreign 
language, but would not go back to the painful days of digraphia. Even in e-mail 
messages, people rarely romanize Korean, but just write in English when they use 
a computer not equipped with Korean-language software. Romanization is not 
one-to-one in any commonly used system (see Appendix 4 in Kim-Renaud 1997a). 
and Koreans find it very cumbersome to use any of those available now. 

Another issue concerns whether language change will cause separation be- 
tween spoken and written languages in Korean. Han 'gill has proven to be re- 
markably good in this respect. For example, even with great changes, such as mo- 

36 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

nophthongization, the script adjusted sound values of letterforms very well to fit 
the new phonemic inventory, and a rich array of new front vowels has been effort- 
lessly accommodated by the writing system. Some ongoing changes, such as the 
merger of mid and low front vowels (Hong 1991) and bi-syllabification of front 
round vowels, may create distance between the spoken and written languages. At 
the same time written forms also influence pronunciation, as is well known. For 
han'gul to maintain its good linguistic fit, periodic orthographic reforms will be 
necessary, like the ones Koreans have had during the last century. Here again, Se- 
jong's scholarly approach backed by strong empirical work should serve as a 
model. If necessary, data from various forms of the vernacular language are col- 
lected in a systematic manner and scientifically analyzed before applying the in- 
formation to orthographic renovations, then han 'gill can be expected to keep its 
linguistic fit. 


1 A revised version of the paper presented under the title 'King Sejong's Theory of 
Literacy' at the Symposium on Literacy and Writing Systems in Asia Commemo- 
rating the 600th Anniversary of the Birth of King Sejong of Korea, The Center for 
Advanced Study, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, May 1-2, 1998. 

The McCune-Reischauer system of romanization is used in this paper. I am 
indebted to Victor H. Mair for drawing my attention to the recent publication by 
Roger Finch 1999. I also thank Lindsey Eck for his most helpful comments and 
suggestions on the first draft of this paper. 

2 The word han'gul is supposed to have been first used by Chu Si-gy6ng in 1910. 
Ch'oe (1940/71:52) offers three different meanings — 'one [and only] or unique', 
'great,' and 'correct' — for the syllable han in han 'gul. The rather unusual inter- 
pretation of 'correct' for han is an effort to relate it to the syllable chong (correct) 
of the original name Hunmin Chong'um. 

3 However, in English translation, following Ledyard's (1966), the two are distin- 
guished. The book has only one initial letter capitalized, while the name of the al- 
phabet has two capitalized letters. The Korean writing system in general, regard- 
less of the period, will also be called han 'gul throughout the paper. 

4 Also so voted was Choson wangjo sillok [Veritable Records of the Choson dy- 
nasty], a result of long tradition inspired by Confucian historiography of keeping a 
faithful record of the actions of the rulers, officials, and the people, and the actions 
of man and nature (Peterson 1992:15). 

5 Many Korean- and Japanese-studies specialists share this view, as well. Indeed, 
'true writing' (tRU) in traditional East Asia meant literary Chinese (Jones 
1999:175). As Hannas (1997:51) says, han'gul 'for most of its history was re- 
garded as a poor person's substitute for real writing, which was either classical 
Chinese (hanmun) written in characters or stilted Korean written in Chinese char- 
acters used — as in Japanese — to represent Korean sounds or as symbols for Ko- 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 37 

rean synonyms' (51). Finch (1999:85) even translates Hunmin Chong'um as 'The 
Correct Sounds for Teaching the People to Pronounce Chinese Characters' (85), 
with an interpolation of 'to Pronounce Chinese Characters," certainly due to a simi- 
lar idea. 

6 Coulmas (1997:25) thinks that the title of the new script, Hunmin Chong'um 
[Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People], has the 'reading' perspective 
rather than writing, but does not offer any specific argument for or discussion on 
this view. 

7 Along with most writing theorists of today (Gelb 1952, Vacheck 1973, Sampson 
1985, Catach 1988a), I regard written language as a form of language, departing 
from the Saussurian and structuralist tradition of considering only the spoken 
forms as true language (Saussure 1972, Bloomfield 1933). Note, however, the na- 
ture of the relationship between written and spoken languages as well as the possi- 
bility of recognition of their coequal status with respect to language varies depend- 
ing on scholars (Catach 1988b, Jaffre 1997a, Hannas 1997:231-40). 

8 Hannas (1997:51) describes a continued practice of neologism based on Sino- 
Korean roots as follows: ' ... the availability of rules of redundancy allows [Chi- 
nese] character-literate Koreans to go on borrowing and inventing new Sinitic 
terms, digging the hole even deeper'. Clearly Hannas joins the 'purification' 
school, which refuses to recognize that the use of Sino-Korean roots is not a con- 
tinued borrowing, but rather important evidence for their nativization, just as some 
Latin roots have become very productive in neologism in English and other lan- 

9 The expression 'linguistic fit', as used in Kim-Renaud (1997a:ix) and Coulmas 
(1997:20), is based on the premise that the constituents of writing systems repre- 
sent units of the language rather than conceptual elements. 

10 Ahn (1997b), after carefully examining the original text, reinterprets the expres- 
sion p'yonoiryong {&.W; ffl) in the Preface of Hunmin chong'um as 'comfort- 
able/convenient for daily use", with more emphasis on 'comfort' than 'conven- 
ience'. Ahn notes that Sejong believed that being literate gave a person a true feel- 
ing of 'comfort'. Thus this expression refers to more psychological COMFORT and 
peace of mind rather than just physical CONVENIENCE. 

11 Of course the word 'vulgar', especially in talking about a kind of language, 
originally had the meaning of 'vernacular', as in Vulgar Latin and Vulgar Arabic 

I (Mitchell 1982:124). However, in translating onmun, the word 'vulgar' has been 
invariably given a pejorative meaning in recent literature, and therefore should be 

12 In traditional East Asia, referring to people close to one as 'stupid* or 'medio- 
cre' in a self-deprecating way is not unusual. Such expressions as 'my stupid son' 
or 'my ignorant wife' were very much part of the polite language. 

38 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

13 Actual figures are different depending on linguists who count the number of syl- 
lables differently, e.g., about 1,100 for Hannas 1997, 2,000 for Taylor 1980, but 
1 1,000 for Kim-Renaud 1997, and 10,250 for Martin 1972. 

14 For more detailed descriptions of these systems, see Ledyard 1998:31 83 and 
Fabre 1980. In these writings, existing Chinese characters were applied phoneti- 
cally to represent Korean sounds, particularly those for grammatical particles and 
phrases, as well as proper nouns. 

15 However, Coulmas (1989:1 18) notes elsewhere in his book that Sejong 'is cred-« 
ited with providing his people with what is probably the most remarkable writing 
system ever INVENTED [emphasis mine]'. 

16 Evaluating various 'inspiration' hypotheses is beyond the scope of this paper. 
See Ahn 1997a, Ledyard 1998, W. Kim 1983, H. Yi 1990, Song 1998, and Finch 
1999 for some interesting hypotheses and discussions on the topic. 

17 In this inventory of the alphabet, symbols appearing in / / are phonemic repre- 
sentations, /CjCj/ representing a fortis consonant, /C7 a heavily aspirated conso- 
nant, /ng/ a velar nasal consonant, and til a high back unrounded vowel. The pho- 
nological analysis of the Korean language is basically the same as the one found in 
Kim-Renaud 1974/95, but the symbols used there are slightly different. Obst. 
stands for 'Obstruent' and Asp. for 'Aspirated'. 

18 Vowel letters are represented next to circles occupying an empty consonantal 
slot to show their relative position vis-a-vis consonants within a syllable. The short 
lines in the vowel forms were originally small dots. They soon evolved into short 
strokes, clearly as a consequence of writing in brush, the medium of calligraphy in 
East Asian tradition. Some of the many forced arguments made by Finch for his 
hypothesis of a 'Phags-pa origin of han gul suffer from the fact that he is not 
aware of the original shapes, such as the dots in vowel letters. For example, he 
says, '... the Korean letter u, a horizontal stroke with a shorter perpendicular 
stroke written down from the middle of it is very much like the hP'ags-pa ['Phags- 
pa] letter for initial o- without the two diagonal strokes'. (Finch 1999: 91) 

19 There exist in han 'giil some apparent anomalies and unusual phonetic character- 
istics in certain letter shapes. Even the Haerye authors were aware of some of 
these, as seen in the last part of the text given in (9). Other hypotheses (S. Lee 
1997), including the aesthetic consideration, have been proposed. Phonological 
behaviors of graphically related symbols, such as the ones in the ' throat sounds' ^ 
also offer possible explanations (e.g., Kim-Renaud 1997b: 166-8). Finch (1999: 92) m 
rightly says that bilabial position 'can hardly be called «square»' and the sym- 
bol for <s> 'should be an upright «V», not an inverted «V»' if it were de- 
picting the actual articulation. Indeed, because of the difficulty of creating unam- 
biguous symbols depicting the actual articulation of these consonants, Sejong 
chose instead symbolic representations for the speech organ that is involved in the 
articulation of each of the sounds. In doing so Sejong chose as basic shapes from 
two familiar Chinese characters: the square for the mouth (P) and the inverted 'V 
within the character meaning 'teeth' (jHf ). 

Kim-Renaud: Sejong's theory of literacy and writing 39 

20 For different interpretations and discussions on specific sounds and variations, 
see articles in Kim-Renaud 1997a, including Ledyard 1997a. 

21 Various scholars, e.g., Wrolstad 1976, Olson 1982, and Hannas 1997, have 
pointed out the word as a visible and not oral linguistic concept. Writing specialists 
such as Jaffre 1988 also inform us of the linguistic significance of phonetically in- 
distinguishable written (or unwritten) devices, such as the French feminine marker 
e, capitalization, and blank space in writing, but I regard the question of the degree 
of abstractness in the phonological representation, such as the case of the French 
feminine marker e, as belonging to the domain of orthography. 

22 Dividing consonantal scripts into two groups, Daniels (1990, 1996:4, 2000) has 
named the consonant-only type abjad (a name derived from the first four letters of 
the Arabic script) and the other, such as the Ethiopic script of Amharic and Deva- 
nagari script of Sanskrit and Hindi, abugidas (a name derived from the first four 
consonants of the Ethiopic script). 

23 In contemporary Korean, the symbol V represents [ng] in syllable-final position 
and nothing in syllable-initial position, but the two were distinct at the time of the 
invention of the alphabet. The nasal had a short vertical stroke above the circle. 

24 Unfortunately, Taylor constantly confuses the word 'syllable' with 'syllabary'. 
That han 'gul is not a syllabary was pointed out earlier. 

25 Sejong's projects included improving printing techniques, both in xylography 
(wood blocks) and typography using movable metal type. See P. Sohn 1992/1997 
for various innovations in this area during Sejong's reign. 

26 For an extensive discussion on the early history of the Korean alphabet, which 
includes various alphabet projects, see Ledyard (1998:323 99). 

27 The letter A Izl fell into disuse in the course of history, as IzJ has been lost as a 
distinctive sound in Korean. 

28 There is no consensus as to which one of the Korean and Chinese texts was 
written first or to whether they were written simultaneously. Whatever is the case, 
the actual publication puts the Korean text first. 

29 Strictly speaking, han' gul orthography today represents what Chomsky (1964: 
68) called the 'systematic phonemic level,' not unlike what Aronoff 1978 termed 
'lexical representation'. In both North and South Korea, therefore, a string is writ- 
ten phonemically, except when it is further analyzable into smaller morphological 

tunits, in which case the underlying forms are given (H. Sohn 1997:194). 

30 A similar notion must have been behind what is often considered a shocking 
claim by Chomsky & Halle (1968:49) that English is an 'ideal' representation of 
the underlying structure of the English language (cf. DeFrancis 1989:205, Hannas 

31 Ledyard (1998:338) considers morphophoncmic orthography more 'practical', 
but not as 'theoretical'. The prevalent idea of the period when Ledyard wrote his 
dissertation (Ledyard 1966) was that phonemic writing was an ideal type. Ki-Moon 

40 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Lee, one of the authorities Ledyard consulted, also held this view at the time, but 
changed his stance soon afterwards (K. Lee, personal communication). 

32 Research by Hulme, Snowling, & Quinlan 1991 (reported in Ainsworth-Darnell 
1998:104) shows that the children who learn to read the fastest are those that are 
conscious of symbol-sound relationships at the letter, rime, and whole- word levels. 
Iksop Lee 1985 also discusses how semantic decoding is aided by writing in sylla- 
ble blocks. 

33 DeFrancis (1977:54 cited in Hannas 1997:85) says that the first 'systematic 
scheme for romanization of Vietnamese* is found in Fr. Alexandre de Rhodes' An- 
namese-Portuguese-Latin Dictionary, which appeared in Rome in 1651, the first 
known published work in romanized Vietnamese. However, educated Vietnamese 
preferred writing in French, especially during the Colonial period, and it is only 
with the French departure in 1954 that 'the native language became the primary 
means of intellectual communication at all levels', which explains their 'success' 
story in literacy (DeFrancis 1989:243). 

34 The Pinyin system for Chinese is another example, except that, owing to the ex- 
istence of massive language variation in Chinese, many Chinese still do not escape 
the diglossic situation. 

35 According to Sakamoto & Makita 1973 (cited in Henderson 1982:210), Japanese 
children also learn the syllabary before entering school. Certainly, one could say 
the zeal for education is more responsible for this early achievement, nevertheless, 
one cannot help noticing the simplicity of the syllabary and han 'gul. For example, 
note that even Japanese children do not have kanji before going to school, and 
knowing the syllabary is not sufficient for a Japanese person to be functionally lit- 
erate in Japanese, while knowing han 'gul can be for a Korean. 


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Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1, Spring 2000 


Florian Coulmas 

Chud University, Tokyo 

As the most tangible subsystem of language, writing lends itself 
easily to political instrumentalization. In spite of the borderless world 
of cyberspace, the symbolic potential of writing continues to be ex- 
ploited in many parts of the world, for in this age of globalization na- 
tionalism is still a potent force. In this paper I shall review a number of 
cases where writing systems have served as vehicles of nationalism. 
The discussion focuses on East Asian languages and writing systems, 
Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, in particular, but other examples from 
Europe, as well as the Soviet Union's successor states are also re- 
ferred to for comparison. The questions of how the goodness of writ- 
ing systems can be evaluated and how systematic criteria tend to be 
superseded by symbolic ones is discussed in connection with Hunmin 
jong.iim [The Correct Sounds to Educate the People']. 


The great original writing systems which, for all we know, were independently 
invented in ancient times, all came into existence within the context of a particu- 
lar language. For the purposes of this paper, I shall call a language for which an 
original writing system evolved the matrix language of that writing system. At 
some point in the course of their long histories, all original writing systems were 
recruited to record other languages than their matrix language. Some of them be- 
came defining features of entire areas of civilization. As scripts of empire or relig- 
ion, they were maintained for many centuries, spreading in the wake of, and as a 
means of, cultural diffusion across vast areas. From Mesopotamia, where it first 
evolved, cuneiform spread through large parts of the Ancient Near East where, in 
addition to Sumerian and Akkadian, it was used to represent the Elamite, Hurrian. 
Urartian, and Hittite languages. As the script of what was the lingua franca of 
Southwest Asia from the first millennium B. C. E. until the 17th century C. E., the 
Aramaic script was carried, albeit in various derived forms, to places as far away 
as western China, serving a range of languages of Semitic, Iranian, and Altaic 
stock. A daughter of Aramaic-derived Nabatean, the Arabic script, blessed by Is- 
lam, experienced an even wider expansion, continuing to be one of the world's 
major scripts today. This distinction is shared with only few other scripts, notably 
the Chinese and the Roman. 

Thanks to China's advanced culture, the Chinese script became the first 
writing system of a number of languages spoken at the periphery of the Middle 
Kingdom, such as Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. Chinese characters were 

4 8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

also used to write other languages, such as, Tibetan and Sanskrit, India's classical 
language. Sanskrit, which has been written in several scripts, is now typically as- 
sociated with Devanagari, a modern offshoot of the ancient Brahmi script, which 
came into being in the 3rd century B. C. E. and served as the blueprint for a great 
number of scripts on the Indian subcontinent and in Southeast Asia. With mari- 
time trade, Indian learning spread through Southeast Asia, taking Buddhism and 
Hinduism, as well as Indian alphabets, as far afield as the Malayan archipelago, 
now Indonesia and the Philippines. Prior to the arrival of Islam in the first half of ^ 
the second millennium, the Indian model of writing was universal throughout the ■ 

And Roman. The alphabet, as it is sometimes called, has of course become 
the most catholic script of all, representing a greater variety of languages than 
any other and, partly thanks to its closeness to the symbolism of IPA, is used more 
than any other by a large measure for providing hitherto unwritten languages 
with a suitable script. The Cyrillic alphabet must also be mentioned in this con- 
nection. Originally designed by Greek missionaries for Slavic languages, it first 
became the script of Orthodox Christianity, Old Church Slavonic or Old Bulgar- 
ian being its classical language. In modern times, after the Russian Revolution, it 
became the script of the Soviet empire. More than fifty non-Slavic languages of 
the Turkic, Uralic, Caucasian, Indo-European, and Altaic families were written in 
Cyrillic when the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991. Thus Cyrillic, too, must be 
counted among the scripts that transcend linguistic boundaries to demarcate an 
area of civilization. 

To summarize this brief and admittedly selective overview, if we look at the 
world atlas of writing systems and scripts today, a small number of systems cover 
virtually the entire globe: Roman, Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, and Brahmi-derived 
Indie. To be sure, the variety of existing and historic writing systems outside 
these five groups is considerable, but in terms of demographic strength, they con- 
stitute only a small fraction of all literate societies. Moreover, aided by Microsoft 
and other agents of cyberspace cultural imperialism, a single script, Roman, is set 
to make further inroads. Already it is the only script used by the United Postal 
Union to publish its Universal Postal List of Localities, 500,000 place names in 
189 countries. As the script of all Western European languages, English in par- 
ticular, it provides access to the overwhelming majority of data banks the world 
over, and although electronic communications equipment for the internet is being 
made available for major language markets with their scripts, such as the Japanese 
and the Chinese, the total amount of written telecommunication in Roman far m 
surpasses that of all other scripts combined. The stage seems set, therefore, for the ^ 
Roman alphabet in its ASCII guise to push other systems further to the edge. 

Yet, accompanying the dispersion of the major scripts just mentioned, there 
have always been countervailing tendencies opposing the forces of homogeniza- 
tion. To some extent, this is an all-but-inevitable result of the structural differences 
between the matrix languages of scripts and other languages to which they were 
adapted. However, structural features of the language system requiring altera- 
tions of an imported writing system were not the only factors mitigating against 

Florian Coulmas: Nationalization of writing 4 9 

homogenization. While the advantages of extending the range of a script have 
always been noted and allowed to take effect, forces pulling in the opposite di- 
rection, both consciously and unwittingly, can also be traced back a long time. It 
is with these that this paper is concerned. 

Writing and ethnic identity 

One of the areas in which the erstwhile Soviet Union most obviously failed was 
nation-building, that is, in its attempt to transform the Czarist empire into a mod- 
ern nation-state. A telling manifestation of this failure was the decision by several 
nationalities/speech communities in the late Soviet and immediate post-Soviet pe- 
riod to abandon the Cyrillic alphabet. Indeed, in retrospect, the disintegration of 
the Soviet Union was foreshadowed by a number of language-policy initiatives 
concerning script choice (Coulmas 1994). In Moldova, the Cyrillic script, which 
under the Soviet regime was intended to foster ties with the Union and under- 
score the distinction of Moldavian from Roman-written Romanian, was replaced 
by the Roman alphabet, and the identity of Moldavian and Romanian was rec- 

As Jacob Landau 1996 has pointed out, with the introduction of glasnost', 
language grievances burst open in many parts of the Soviet Union. In what he 
calls the 'six newly independent ex-Soviet Muslim republics in Central Asia and 
the Caucasus', that is, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Ta- 
jikistan, and Azerbaijan, the debate regarding the changing of the alphabet was a 
focal point in manifesting ethnonational self-assertiveness. This question was 
considered so important because it involves culture (a return to 'the roots'), eco- 
nomics (investing in textbooks and other print products), inter-group relations 
(opposition to local ethnic Russians), and politics (affiliation with other states). 
Abandoning the Cyrillic alphabet was seen as a way of curbing the predomi- 
nance of the Russian language as well as its speakers' influence. By abandoning 
Cyrillic, these republics moved away from Moscow in search of new alliances. 

Propaganda coupled with economic incentives on the part of Iran and Saudi 
Arabia persuaded the government of Tajikistan in 1992 to pass a language law 
that commits the republic to revert to Arabic script. Neighboring Uzbekistan. 
Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and the Caucasian republic of Azerbai- 
jan, in keeping with a more pro-Western orientation, decided to replace Cyrillic 
by Roman, clearly not a decision that can be motivated by linguistic arguments 
concerning the suitability of either script for any of the languages in question. 
Discussions about adopting the Common Turkic Alphabet (Ortak Turk Alfabesi), 
with the additional letters a [ae] and n [//] (MTAS 1992), for use in all Turkic lan- 
guages spoken in these republics underscore the political dimensions of script 
choice. For Chechnya, too, replacing Cyrillic by Roman was a political manifesta- 
tion rather than anything else. 

Post-Soviet Mongolia is yet another example of a 'return to the origins' 
script choice policy. In 1991, prior to independence, Mongolia's political leaders 
called for the re-introduction of the vertical Mongolian script that had been re- 


5 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

placed in 1946 by the Cyrillic alphabet. Once Mongolia had become an inde- 
pendent republic recognized by both Russia and China in 1993, this became offi- 
cial policy. Implementing this policy proved a difficult task, however. Five years 
later nothing much had changed. At the end of the century, government docu- 
ments continued to be written in Cyrillic, as were all newspapers. With a GNP per 
capita of $340 (1994), Mongolia ranks among the poorest countries of the world. 
The fact that parts of the population still lead a nomadic life is another factor that 
makes it difficult to effect policy objectives. Literacy statistics are unreliable, but 
an illiteracy rate of 20% would seem a conservative estimate. Yet, bringing the 
traditional script back to life remains a policy objective. 

As these cases vividly illustrate, scripts are prone to come into prominence 
as political symbols in times of crisis, since script choice is easily instrumentalized 
for ideological purposes. Even where such purposeful instrumentalization is not 
in evidence, scripts tend to become the focus of political controversy whenever 
attempts are made to change established norms. A telling example of this can be 
observed at present in the German-speaking countries. 

A spelling reform in the courts 

After more than a decade of research and committee work by representatives of 
the three major German-speaking countries, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, 
the 1994 Vienna spelling conference drafted a very moderate reform proposal for 
the German spelling system (cf. Eroms & Munske 1997). 

The proposed reform affects five areas of the spelling system: Sound/letter 
correspondence, capitalization, spelling of compounds, punctuation, and hy- 
phenation and word division at the end of a line. Some anachronistic and unsys- 
temic rules will be scrapped, and some spellings will be made more regular. For 
example, according to the old rules, it was impossible to insert a hyphen between 
<s> and <t> even if the juncture coincided with a syllable boundary, as in Kis-ten 
'boxes'. This peculiar rule had to do with typesetting, since <st> is printed as a 
ligature in German typesetting. The new rules permit hyphenation in these cases, 
as in other consonant clusters at syllable boundaries. The spelling rules for <6> 
will be more regular in future, since <B> will be used for [s] only following long 
vowels and diphthongs. Thus, new Fluss (with a short vowel) rather than old 

Will written German be very different after the reform? Hardly. For example, 
of the 1417 words elementary school students learn to spell from first to fourth A 
grade, 32 will be affected by the new rules. Of these, 28 involve a change from ^ 
<B> to <ss>. The remaining four are heute Abend and gestern Abend with Abend 
capitalized; selbststdndig rather than selbstdndig (in the latter, the -st of selbst 
'self was assimilated in the former rules to the st- of stdndig 'standing', which 
does not make much sense); and zu viel 'too much' spelt as two words rather 
than one. This would seem to be a bearable load for teachers and students to 
carry, but evidently not for parents. 

Florian Coulmas: Nationalization of writing 5 1 

In 1996, the three countries agreed that the reform be phased in starting in 
August, 1998. This was, however, not to be, because the proposal provoked 
heated political discussion: Letter-to-the-editor columns, public symposia, collec- 
tions of signatures by the tens of thousands. More than that, a barrage of legal 
challenges have been mounted against the reform. This is what makes this case 
particularly interesting in the present context. Those who most vehemently dis- 
approved of the reform were parents who could not bear the thought that their 
children should be taught what they once learned was wrong, and teachers in 
despair because proper standards of what is right and what is wrong seemed to 
be slipping away. Both groups were not content to simply ignore the reform. 
Rather, they insisted on challenging it in court, implicitly acknowledging thereby 
the state's authority to decide where hyphens are to be put and whether a given 
word should be spelt with double ss, or curly^?. 

Incredible as it may seem, twelve German district courts had to rule on the 
spelling reform (Coulmas 1997). Seven decided in its favor, five against it. This 
legal jumble is unavoidable in a federal country with sixteen ministries of educa- 
tion rather than one. To resolve the issue, the whole exercise has been referred to 
the Constitutional Court, Germany's highest court. Of course, the Court did not 
deliberate whether Fluss violates the Constitution. It had to rule on a more diffi- 
cult and more interesting question: Who has the right to alter the spelling rules of 
German? Can a reform be enacted by ministerial decree or does it need parliamen- 
tary approval? Who is to be the master of the written language? Opponents to 
the reform held that spelling was too important a matter to be left to bureaucrats 
and misguided linguists. The Constitutional Court did not follow their arguments 
and allowed the reform to pass. Some diehard anti-reformists still did not give up. 
In Schlesweg-Holstein, one of the Federal Republic's 16 Lander, they initiated 
and won a plebiscite against it. 

The public dispute on the German spelling reform was focused almost en- 
tirely on the pros and cons of the reform. Very few participants in the discussion 
questioned the significance of the whole exercise or suggested that people 
should do as they please, that is, write according to the old or the new rules. This 
suggests that beyond the details of the reform there is wide agreement that the 
state and its institutions should be entrusted with safeguarding the integrity of 
the spelling system, lest it be corrupted by unauthorized meddling. 

This way of thinking is paradigmatic for what in the title of this paper has 
been called the nationalization of writing. By this notion I wish to make a distinc- 
tion between employing a writing system and the spelling conventions associated 
with it as a symbol of ethnonational identity, on the one hand, and charging the 
state with the task of codifying a writing system and acting as the sealkeeper of 
the written language, protecting it from lawlessness and decay, on the other. This 
is new. Until the beginning of this century, orthographic conventions had 
evolved without much official guidance. After a spelling conference held in 1901, 
spelling rules were fixed in a dictionary compiled by Konrad Duden. To this day, 
the Duden dictionary, published by a private company, is the most widely used 
reference work for spelling questions, although other dictionaries are available 

5 2 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

which deviate in detail. The 1996 reform proposal, however, is intended to set a 
binding standard. Its proponents want it sanctioned by the state, while its oppo- 
nents want it outlawed by the state. Over the decades, this kind of statist think- 
ing has gained ground as writing has become increasingly conceived as not just 
being similar to law, but as providing its very foundation (GroBfeld 1997). Against 
this point of view it has been argued convincingly, that there can be no rights 
with regard to a shared language (for instance, a fundamental right to correct 
German) and that, therefore, spelling conventions or any other aspect of the lan- 
guage system cannot be regarded as falling within the domain of fundamental 
rights that the state is obligated to protect (Roellecke 1997). Despite their unde- 
niable merits, however, such arguments mostly fall on deaf ears. There is an ap- 
parent desire in the German and other European speech communities, such as the 
French, to legalize the written language. How does this situation compare with 
attitudes toward the written language in Asia? 

Writing and the state in Asia: China, the paradigm case 

This is, perhaps, a misguided question, for statist attitudes toward writing and lit- 
eracy have an even longer and more pronounced tradition in the East than in the 
West. China is, perhaps, the most conspicuous example of a civilization that em- 
phasizes state control over the written language, although other examples out- 
side the sphere of Chinese culture easily come to mind. In Burma, for instance, the 
kings of successive dynasties attached great importance to the matter of an or- 
thographic standard (Nishi 1997). Written Tibetan, too, experienced official insti- 
tutionalization. Other examples could be referred to for comparison. For the na- 
tionalization of a once universal script, however, Chinese provides the paradigm 

From early times, literacy skills were critical for social advance in China, the 
written language functioning as a crucial means of social control. The Mandarin 
scholar-bureaucrat embodied this tradition, which perpetuated itself above all 
through the civil-service examination system. Initially institutionalized by the first 
emperor of the Sui dynasty. Wen Di (reigned C. E. 589-604), the examinations 
tested knowledge of the Confucian classics, the ability to compose formal essays, 
and calligraphy. The exams required protracted and arduous preparation, which, 
however, was deemed worthwhile. Competition was always fierce, because to 
become an official was the highest reward, in terms of both income and recogni- 
tion, in imperial China (Taylor & Taylor 1995:149-50). 

China's civil-service examination system is the prime example of instumen- 
talizing the written language for purposes of state. Both conservatism and politi- 
cal reform were intimately associated with literary and scholarly subject matter. 
The May Fourth Movement at the beginning of this century, which called for 
China's renaissance, was essentially a literary revolution leading to the abandon- 
ment of the classical style, wenyan, in favor of a vernacular style called 
('plain language'). Political allegiances found expression in the medium of the 
written language. For reform-minded men of letters, and men they were for the 
most part, the function of the classical language as a social filter was to be weak- 


Florian Coulmas: Nationalization of writing 5 3 

ened, if not entirely removed. As of the late 19th century, the civil-service exami- 
nation system came increasingly under attack, as the empire proved impotent to 
resist foreign intervention. It eroded as the ideological foundation of state power 
even before the end of the Ching Dynasty and was eventually abolished early in 
the 20th century, but its influence lingers on. 

Both the Republic of 1912 and the People's Republic of 1949 continued to 
consider Chinese letters not only focal elements of Chinese identity, but also im- 
portant matters of government responsibility. The Communist Party was commit- 
ted to written language reform and spreading vernacular literacy long before it 
came to power (Seybolt & Chiang 1978). Once the People's Republic was estab- 
lished, writing reform was high on the agenda of government business. Both Mao 
Zedong and Zhou Enlai devoted considerable attention to the problem. A Com- 
mittee for Chinese Writing Reform, which reported to the government was estab- 
lished in 1950, and in 1956 the State Council promulgated the first 'Plan for the 
Simplification of Chinese Characters'. Another character simplification scheme 
followed in 1964. 

Taiwan did not go along with Beijing's writing reform, while achieving a 
much higher literacy rate much earlier than the People's Republic. Although, as 
DeFrancis (1984: 218) has pointed out, more than anything else this has to do 
with the efficiency of Taiwan's Japanese-shaped educational system, the island's 
high literacy raises doubts about one of the essential presuppositions of China's 
writing reform, that character simplification will help to advance literacy. (When 
the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, illiteracy still was as high as 
85%.) Both Taiwan and Japan have demonstrated that near universal literacy can 
be achieved in spite of Chinese characters. The question, however, remains 
whether literacy in Chinese characters is the most productive form of literacy for 
our age, or, to put it the other way round, whether character literacy has serious 
disadvantages, such as, 'the intractable incompatibility between characters and 
computers' (Hannas 1997), which will force the eventual demise of the former. 
Whatever the answer to this question, Taiwan's refusal to adopt Beijing's stan- 
dard is yet another expression of the common perception that the written lan- 
guage is properly a matter of state control. Since Taipei does not recognize Bei- 
jing's jurisdiction, it claims the right to its own official standard of written Chi- 

In the pre-modern societies of East Asia, when literacy was restricted, Chi- 
nese writing, especially classical Chinese, was a code for interregional and even 
international communication among the educated elites of China and adjacent 
lands. As literacy became more widespread, the unity of this community of literati 
was gradually superseded by more particularistic vernacular literacies, which, 
following the model of China's bureaucratic literacy, came under state control. 
Compulsory education further strengthened the state's grip on the written lan- 
guage. This is evident both inside the Chinese-speaking world, notably in China 
and Taiwan, and outside it in those speech communities that once belonged to 
the sphere of Chinese characters, especially Japan and Korea. Both these coun- 
tries have inherited China's statist attitude toward the written language. 

5 4 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 


Like the Chinese, the Japanese identify their ethnicity with their language. There 
is a strong general interest in the language, which is often portrayed as incorpo- 
rating the true spirit of the Japanese people. Such ideas are of modern origin and 
can be traced to European linguistic nationalism. The authenticity of the lan- 
guage, this the Japanese intellectuals learned from their European counterparts, 
was a valuable spiritual asset that could be exploited for the purpose of moderni- 
zation. Japanese was made Japan's national language or kokugo. This term was ■ 
coined in the Meiji period (1868-1911) and is still used as the common designa- 
tion of Japanese as a school subject. It implies both that there is but one language 
of the country and that the state is its proper steward. Through compulsory edu- 
cation, the Japanese government implemented a policy of linguistically unifying 
the country, making sure that standard Japanese based in the dialect of Tokyo 
came to be understood throughout the country. It also promoted the idea that Ja- 
pan was a homogeneous country whose national identity 'naturally' flowed out 
of its ethnic identity. 

When the Japanese started to build their empire, which eventually incorpo- 
rated Taiwan, Manchuria, the Korean peninsula and Micronesia, the government 
saw no contradiction between linguistic nationalism and a colonial language re- 
gime of promoting Japanese at the expense of indigenous languages. Japanese 
was seen as a means of uplifting other races and offering them the opportunity to 
become good Japanese citizens. Early this century, Ueda Kazutoshi 1895, a lin- 
guist who had studied in Germany, called the Japanese language 'the spiritual 
blood of the nation' thus advancing a notion that was to reverberate in Japanese 
thought on language until well after the Pacific war. Linking as it does the cul- 
tural with the racial aspect of the perceived Japanese uniqueness, it encapsulates 
the essence of Japan's ethno-nationalism. As a member of the National Language 
Research Committee, Ueda wielded considerable influence. 

That their language not only possesses certain features that are unique or 
salient in comparison to other languages, but is unique as a notion many Japanese 
embrace as part of a more comprehensive myth of their own insularity. This con- 
viction is fueled by the common confusion between language and script. Com- 
bining Chinese characters with two Japanese syllabaries, kana, the Japanese 
writing system is both unusual and rather involved. As the most visible part of the 
language system, it manifests both Japan's indebtedness to China and her cul- 
tural independence. Accordingly, script-reform discussions are invariably politi- A 
cally charged. The government invariably plays a central role in such discussions. ™ 
Since the Meiji period, there has been a continuous tug of war between progres- 
sive intellectuals advocating romanization or, failing that, the limitation of Chi- 
nese characters, and conservative supporters of the traditional script, including an 
open-ended list of Chinese characters. 

It is not uncommon that the written language is used as a means of social 
control, but in few cases is this more obvious than in Japan. This is largely due to 
the mixed nature of the Japanese writing system, which lends itself to socially 

Florian Coulmas: Nationalization of writing 5 5 

stratified literacy practices: Kana symbols are few and easy to learn, while Japa- 
nese Chinese characters are even more involved and time-consuming than their 
Chinese models. 

Since the Meiji period, writing reform has been advocated repeatedly, but 
the state has been slow to act. Whenever a simplification was effected, as during 
the education reform under American occupation, when the number of characters 
in common use was substantially reduced, such moves were usually followed be- 
fore long by countervailing policies. Thus, while character limitation after the war 
was conceived as a measure to facilitate the acquisition of literacy and reduce the 
importance of character knowledge as an indicator of social status, the slightly 
revised 1981 List of Characters for General Use was defined as a basic standard, 
rather than an upper limit that should not be surpassed. In effect, therefore, the 
importance of Chinese characters to written Japanese and to social advance had 
been reaffirmed (Unger 1996). Appeals to tradition and Japan's unique written 
language, which makes use of three different scripts, are very common. They 
camouflage, perhaps not always deliberately, the social control function of this 
written language, which, by virtue of its complexity, continues to restrict upper- 
level literacy to the erudite elite. 

Today, state control over the written language is generally accepted in 
Japanese society, although a serious challenge to government authority has been 
mounted from an unexpected direction, the computer industry. Computer soft- 
ware that handles Chinese characters often does not conform with government- 
approved standards. Character lists drawn up by the Japan Industrial Standard 
Organization (JIS) and the International Standard Organization (ISO) include 
many more characters than the official Joyo kanji list of 1981. Developments in 
telecommunication are extremely rapid. Rather than wait for the conclusion of 
lengthy government deliberations, software makers release their products in order 
not to diminish their marketing opportunities. As in other areas, industry seems to 
be unwilling to yield to state control. Yet, there is nothing to suggest that the 
Japanese government is willing to give up its role as the rightful custodian of the 
written language. 


In Korea, the influence of Confucianism was extremely deep and lasting. China's 
civil-service examination system was adopted with little modification and prac- 
ticed consistently from the 10th to the 20th century. For many centuries, Korea 
was a model Confucian state. Mastery of Classical Chinese was an indispensable 
prerequisite for securing a place among the intellectual elite. The written language 
was cultivated much as it was in China. However, it was obvious early on that 
Chinese characters were ill-suited for writing the Korean language. They were 
adapted for this purpose in the Idu clerical script, but this made for extremely 
cumbersome reading and writing. 

In a remarkable attempt to open the world of letters to a greater number of 
his subjects and make vernacular literacy possible, King Sejong in the 15th cen- 

5 6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

tury, therefore, undertook the ambitious project of a writing reform. It was a top- 
down reform initiated by the highest representative of the state. A group of 
scholars under his leadership designed the ingenious system of phonetic letters 
known today as han'gul. This is a matter of understandable pride for the Kore- 
ans. Says Shin Sang-Soon (1990:xiii): "Han'gul is the best asset which Korea has 
inherited from her past.' It took many centuries for this view to gain acceptance. 

King Sejong's new script was promulgated to the literate public in 1446 in a ^ 
rescript entitled 'The correct sounds for the instruction of the people'. His mol 
tives were at least three: to create a system with a good linguistic fit. which would 
be uniquely Korean, and simple, so as to make literacy more accessible to the 
common people. Consisting of only 28 basic letters that represent the sounds of 
Korean in a straightforward and elegant manner, han'gul meets these require- 
ments to a truly astounding extent. The King and his associates, moreover, 
thought of an ideological justification of the new script, tying it to the doctrines 
of the Ijing, the 'Book of Changes', which the followers of Confucianism revered 
as the most important of the Five Classics. Providing highly sophisticated philo- 
sophical arguments, they tried to convince Confucian scholars that han'gul re- 
flected the cosmic order and was destined to be the proper writing system for all 
Koreans. Yet, the reform failed. The very idea of vernacular literacy ran counter to 
the communication practices of a highly stratified society in which elite literacy 
was a means of social control. The educated classes looked with disdain on the 
new system and continued to use Chinese writing until well into the present cen- 
tury. A vernacular literature developed since the 17th century, but its prestige 
could never match that of Chinese. 

Nowadays, however, the creation of han'gul is celebrated as the proudest 
moment in Korean cultural history. It was at the center of the commemorative 
events staged in Seoul in 1997 in honor King Sejong's 600th anniversary. In 
North Korea, there is less inclination to credit royalty with Korea's most distin- 
guished cultural achievement, but the script is used and held in high esteem nev- 
ertheless. What caused the change? The single most important factor was Korea's 
emergence as a modern state, a process that was unwittingly aided by Japanese 
colonial rule. 

Near the end of the 19th century, Korea's conservative Confucianist elite 
proved to be unable to meet the political challenges that put Korea at the center 
of a power struggle between China, Russia, and Japan. Prevailing in two succes- 
sive wars over the other two, Japan established itself as the dominant power or^P 
the Korean peninsula and in 1910 made it part of its empire. The colonial admini-^J 
stration first discouraged and later proscribed use of the Korean language, pro- 
moting Japanese instead. Their harsh language regime provided the conditions 
necessary to kindle the fire of linguistic nationalism, the first sparks of which had 
become visible before the turn of the century when progressive intellectuals who 
opposed the corrupt and impotent bureaucracy started to publish the all-han'gul 
newspaper Tongnip Shinmun ("The Independent'). Under the Japanese, writing 
han'gul became a visible symbol of opposition and self-esteem. During much of 
the colonial period (1910-1945), Korean in han'gul letters served as a vehicle for 


Florian Coulm as : Nationalization of writing 5 7 

opposition to Japanization. Although, in 1907, three years prior to the formal in- 
auguration of Japan's rule over Korea, a mixed style of Chinese characters and 
han'gul was introduced for official documents by government decree, it was only 
when the Japanese had left that han'gul became the official script of Korean, five 
centuries after King Sejong's noble failure. 

One interpretation of this failure is that Sejong was ahead of his time. King 
Sejong's motivation for promoting a writing reform has been called 'nationalistic' 
(Lee Don-Ju 1990:49). However, even if there were the seeds of ethno- 
nationalism, state and society at the time were not organized in a way that would 
allow grass-root nationalist movements to develop, if only because the vast ma- 
jority of the population were illiterate. In the 15th century, the nationalization of 
writing could not succeed because there was no nation state in the modern sense 
of the word. That Korea was and continued to be administered largely in Chinese 
testifies to this fact. 

Japan's domination of Korea and its attempt to impose the Japanese written 
language upon the Koreans was completely different from the millennium-long 
domination of Korean letters by Chinese. As I pointed out earlier, Chinese writing 
was universal in the sense that it was the common medium of written communica- 
tion of an area of civilization whose unquestioned center was China. The Japa- 
nese written language, by contrast, was that of a people who, like the Koreans, 
had learned the art of writing from China and adapted the system to their ver- 
nacular. It had no universal appeal. On the contrary, it was despised as provincial 
and inferior to Classical Chinese by conservative Sinophiles and loathed as the 
language of an unwelcome intruder and rival by reform-minded nationalists. This 
was the kind of atmosphere that generated enough nationalist fervor to allow 
han'gul-using reformists to win the upper hand over Chinese-writing traditional- 
ists. It can be said then, in sum, that the nationalization of Korean writing, whose 
foundations were laid more than five centuries ago, became a major focus of Ko- 
rean cultural nationalism and anti-colonialism that culminated when Japan was 
forced to withdraw from the Korean peninsula. 

Han'gul is unchallenged now as the official script in both Korean states, al- 
though there are some differences, especially concerning the use of Chinese char- 
acters. Shortly after their foundation in 1948, the Democratic People's Republic 
of Korea and the Republic of Korea adopted different policies on the standard 
form of the written language (Sohn 1997). In South Korea, a first government- 
sponsored attempt at orthography reform was made in 1954. Ill-informed as it 
was, it had to be rescinded, however. Another reform scheme was drafted by the 
Ministry of Education in 1973. Meanwhile, North Korea adopted a policy of 
'purification' (the linguistic equivalent of ethnic cleansing) and abolished Chi- 
nese characters. Contrary to this, successive governments in the South abolished 
and reintroduced the study of Chinese characters several times. As a result, while 
in a general sense the Korean language continues to serve its speakers as an im- 
portant marker of ethnic identity, its two diverging forms in the North and the 
South have become associated ever-more strongly with the political identities of a 
divided nation. 

5 8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Owing to North Korea's seclusion during the past half century, its divisive 
language policy has had profound effects. Beyond regional dialect variation, Ko- 
rean now has two different phonetic norms, two distinct lexical norms, and two 
different orthographies (Kim 1992). Yet, on both sides of the 38th parallel, the 
written language is subject to state control. Five and a half centuries after the 
royal rescript 'On the Correct Sounds of Instructing the People', the process of 
nationalizing Korean writing has thus been brought to a conclusion, although 
not in a way that King Sejong could have anticipated. A 


Coulmas, Florian. 1994. Language policy and language planning: Political per- 
spectives. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 14:34-52. 

. 1997. Germans go to war over spelling reform. The Japan Times, November 


DeFrancis, John. 1984. The Chinese Language. Fact and Fantasy. Honolulu: 
University of Hawaii Press. 

EROMS, H. W., & H. H. MUNSKE (eds.). 1997. Die Rechtschreibreform: Pro und 
Kontra. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag. 

Grobfeld, Bernhard. 1997. Sprache und Schrift als Grundlage unseres Rechts. 
Juristen Zeitung, 52/13, June 4:634-8. 

Hannas, William C. 1997. Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. Honolulu: University of 
Hawaii Press. 

Ktm, Chin W. 1992. Korean as a pericentric language. Pericentric Languages. 
Differing Norms in Different Nations, ed. by Michael Clyne, 239-60. Berlin 
& New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 

Landau, Jacob. 1996. Language and ethnopolitics in the ex-Soviet Muslim re- 
publics. Language and Identity in the Middle East and North Africa, ed. 
by Yasir Suleiman, 133-52. Richmond: Curzon Press. 

Lee Don-Ju. 1990. An Explanation of Understanding Under- 
standing, ed. by Shin Sang-Soon, Lee Don-Ju, & Lee 
Hwan-Mook, 37-86. Seoul: Hanshin Publishing Company. 

MTAS. 1992. Milleterarasi Turk Alfaheleri Sempozyum 18-20 Kasim 1991 
[International symposium on Turkic alphabets 18-20 November 1991]. Is- 
tanbul: Marmara University Reports 509. 

Nism Yoshio. 1997. The orthographic standardization of Burmese: Linguistic and 
sociolinguistic speculations. Bulletin of the National Musuem of Ethnology A 
(Osaka), 22:4.975-99. ^ 

Roellecke, Gerd. 1997. Grundrecht auf richtiges Deutsch? Neue Juristische 
Wochenschrift 38.2500-01. 

Seybolt, P. J., & Chiang, G. K.-K. 1978. Language Reform in China (Documents 
and Commentary). New York: M. E. Sharpe. 

Shin Sang-Soon. 1990. Preface. Understanding, ed. by Shin 
Sang-Soon, Lee Don-Ju, & Lee Hwan-Mook, xiii-iv. Seoul: Hanshin Pub- 
lishing Company. 

Florian Coulmas: Nationalization of writing 5 9 

Sohn, Ho-min. 1997. Orthographic divergence in South and North Korea: Toward 
a unified spelling system. The Korean Alphabet. Its History and Structure, 
ed. by Y. K. Kim-Renaud, 193-217. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 

Taylor, Insup, & M. Martin Taylor. 1995. Writing and Literacy in Chinese, 
Korean and Japanese. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 

Ueda Kazutoshi. 1895, 1903. Kokugo no tame (For a National Language). 2 vols. 
Tokyo: Fuzambo. 

Typology of Writing Systems 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


William Bright 

University of Colorado 

william .bright @ 

The typology of writing systems includes such well known cate- 
gories as the alphabet (e.g., that of English), the syllabary (e.g., Japa- 
nese kana), and the logosyllabary (such as Chinese characters). An ad- 
ditional type, exemplified by writing systems of India and Ethiopia, 
shows features of both the alphabet and the syllabary; it has sometimes 
been called an alphasyllabary, sometimes an abugida (borrowing an 
Ethiopic term). These types can be distinguished in several Asian writ- 
ing systems, depending on whether priority is given to the presence of 
an inherent vowel or to the graphic arrangement of symbols. 

The writing systems of Asia can be classified into various types, such as the 
logosyllabary of Chinese, the syllabary represented by Japanese kana, and 
the alphabet represented by Korean han'gul. However, as has been pointed out 
by McCawley 1997, these typological categories need not be mutually exclusive. 
Thus the Korean alphabet also resembles a syllabary, in that the arrangement of 
the alphabetic symbols corresponds to syllable-sized units, but Korean has also 
been called a featural system, in that the shape of the alphabetic symbols re- 
flects their analysis in terms of phonological features. 

Table 1. Sample of the Devanagari script 
















Vowds: 8 ' 8H f 1 



ka ka ki kl ku ku kc kai 

Syllable-final C: W, 3^P kk 

*£ k# (Gnal) 

6 4 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

In South and Southeast Asia, many of the major writing systems share a 
characteristic that has caused them to be called alphabets by some writers, but 
syllabaries by others. The systems involved are those descended from the Brahmi 
script used in the Buddhist inscriptions of the Indian Emperor Ashoka, in the 3rd 
century BCE (Salomon 1996). In modern times, these include scripts such as De- 
vanagari (used for Sanskrit, Hindi, and Marathi) and other scripts of South Asia 
such as Gurmukhi (used for Panjabi), Gujarati, Bengali, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Kan- 
nada, Malayalam, and also Sinhala (of Sri Lanka). Related systems are the scripts 
of Tibetan and of Southeast Asian languages such as Burmese, Thai, Lao, and ( 
Cambodian, as well as scripts used for regional languages of Indonesia and the 
Philippines (Court 1996, Kuipers & McDermott 1996). 

The ambivalent nature of these scripts can be illustrated from the Devana- 
gari script, as shown in Table 1 (cf. Bright 1996). Like alphabets, this script distin- 
guishes two types of symbols, consonants and vowels. But each vowel symbol 
has two shapes; one of these, the 'independent' vowel symbol, is used principally 
in initial position. By contrast, a spoken sequence of consonant + vowel is writ- 
ten with a consonant symbol to which the vowel is added in what I call a 
'diacritic' form, i.e., one which departs from the linear succession of the basic 
symbols, namely the consonants. In European scripts, most diacritic symbols are 
written above or below basic letters (as in e, e, ?); but in the South Asian scripts, 
depending on the vowel, a diacritic may occur as a satellite appearing above, be- 
low, leftward, or rightward of a consonant. In some scripts, a vowel is even writ- 
ten with a combination of diacritics on two sides, e.g., in Tamil and Burmese (see 
Table 2). ' 

Table 2. Multiple diacritics 

Tamil: ka &> ka dBfl kc Q<Eb ko Q(95fT 

Burmese: ka CT) ki Cw ku (T> kou fw 

Two other features of Devanagari should be noted: First, the spoken vowel 
short a is considered 'inherent' in each consonant symbol, as can be seen in Ta- 
bles 1-2 from the fact that the symbol for the consonant k also represents the se- 
quence ka. Another way to describe this is to say that, after a consonant, the 
symbol for a has a 'zero' alternant. Second, to represent a syllable-final conso- . 
nant, a consonant symbol is either written in a 'conjunct' form (typically reduced fl 
in size), or else with a diacritic beneath it which 'kills' the inherent vowel a. 

The basic linear unit in this type of writing system is referred to in Sanskrit 
as an aksara — what McCawley 1997 has called a 'graphic syllable'. This most 
often consists of a consonant symbol with inherent vowel (ka) or attached dia- 
critic vowel (ku), but it may also be an independent vowel symbol (like u), or a 
conjunct consonant plus a vowel (kla, klu), or a consonant symbol with 'killed' 
inherent vowel (k). The term aksara is usually translated as 'syllable', but note 
that it does not necessarily correspond to a syllable of speech; a sequence like 

William Bright: Alphasyllabaries and abugidas 6 5 

akka would consist in writing of two aksaras, a plus kka, but the pronunciation 
would probably be analysed in terms of the syllables /ak/ + /ka/. Nevertheless, the 
number of written aksaras in a Sanskrit word usually corresponds to the number 
of spoken syllables. 

The Indie writing system has, then, frequently been referred to as a sylla- 
bary. However, it is clear that it has a different structure from that of well-known 
syllabaries such as Japanese kana or the Cherokee writing system invented by 
Sequoyah. Combinations of Indie k + vowel all have the graphic element k in 
common; but as seen in Table 3, such combinations in kana or in Cherokee show 
no shared elements. This fact makes the term 'syllabary' unsatisfactory for de- 
scribing the Indie script. 

Table 3. Typical syllabaries 


















The Indie system has also been referred to with the term 'alphabet'. This, of 
course, is the word normally applied to writing systems in which consonants and 
vowels have equal prominence in the sequence of symbols. But the term seems 
inappropriate for the Indie type of script, where the vowel a is typically inherent 
in a consonant symbol, while other vowels have reduced 'diacritic' shape — 
which, when placed on the left side of a consonant (cf. ki and ke above) may 
even depart from the left-to-right linear order of symbols. As it happens, a writing 
system of a similar type is used for the languages of Ethiopia, although it is of 
more recent origin there (Getatchew 1996). A new term seems needed to describe 
this type of script. Since such systems have something in common both with al- 
phabets (independent writing of at least some phonological segments) and with 
syllabaries (recognition of the CV unit), it has been called a 'neosyllabary' 
(Fevrier 1959), a 'pseudo-alphabet' (Householder 1959), a 'semisyllabary' (Dirin- 
ger 1968), and a 'syllabic alphabet' (Coulmas 1996:229). Among South Asian 
specialists, it is now often referred to as an 'alphasyllabary' (Salomon 1996:376, 
Bright 1996:384) — not to suggest that it is a type of syllabary, or some kind of 
hybrid, but only that it shares some features of both alphabets and syllabaries. 

In the typology of writing systems presented by Daniels (1996a:4), a differ- 
ent terminology is proposed. Alongside the familiar term 'alphabet', used for a 
system in which consonants and vowels have equal treatment, he offers the term 
abjad for a system in which the characters denote only or primarily consonants, 
as in the writing of Hebrew or Arabic; vowels are indicated optionally or occa- 
sionally by 'points', i.e., diacritic-like symbols above and below the consonants. 
(As the term 'alphabet' is derived from Greek, in which the sequence of symbols 
begins with 'alpha, beta', so 'abjad' is based on Arabic, in which that sequence 
begins with symbols corresponding to A, B, J, D.) In addition, Daniels offers the 

6 6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

term abugida for the Indic/Ethiopic type of script, in which 'each character de- 
notes a consonant accompanied by a specific vowel [i.e., the inherent vowel], and 
the other vowels are denoted by a consistent modification of the consonant sym- 
bols.' This term is based on the first four consonants and the first four vowels in a 
traditional Ethiopic order (used in certain religious contexts; Getatchew 

In the reference volume The World's Writing Systems, co-edited by Daniels 
& Bright 1996, the term 'alphasyllabary' is used in the chapters for which I was 
responsible, and 'abugida' in those for which Daniels was responsible. My posi- 
tion was that, although I recognized the aptness of Daniels's term, I felt a new 
term was unnecessary, since 'alphasyllabary' was familiar in the South Asian 
field. However, the following commentary was provided by Daniels (1996a:4, 

Bright' s alphasyllabary ... is apparently not intended as an equiva- 
lent of these functional terms [alphabet, abjad, abugida], but refers to 
the formal property of denoting vowels by marks that are not of the 
same status as consonants, and do not occur in a linear order corre- 
sponding to the temporal order of utterance. 

I understand, then, that Daniels prefers a typology based on the 'functional' cri- 
terion of correspondence between sound and symbol, in particular the impor- 
tance of the 'inherent' vowel and its replacement by other vowel symbols. But 
my own preference, which he calls 'formal', is for a typology which gives more 
attention to the graphic arrangement of symbols. For this purpose, I accept the 
terms 'alphabet' and 'abjad' as Daniels defines them; but in defining the al- 
phasyllabary, I focus on the predominantly 'diacritic' status of the vowel sym- 
bols. It is understandable that some reviewers of the book have found the use of 
'abugida' and 'alphasyllabary' to be problematic, as well as the related use of the 
term 'diacritic' (Segert 1996:408, Anderson 1997:307, Sproat 1998: 130). 2 

To evaluate the alternative criteria employed by Daniels and myself, it may 
be useful to look at some other, less well-known writing systems of Asia. One of 
these is the 'Phags-pa script, developed by a Tibetan monk in the 13th century 
on the order of Kubla Khan, the emperor of China. The plan was to have an offi- 
cial script which would be used for all the major languages of the Chinese empire, 
including Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongolian, and Chinese. (As we know, the plan was 
not successfully implemented, but some texts have survived in the 'Phags-pa 
script, especially in the Mongolian language.) The monk modeled his script after 
the Tibetan alphasyllabary, but he designed it to be written vertically, after the 
Chinese custom; and he invented new symbols for certain sounds which did not 
exist in Tibetan, but did occur in Chinese and Mongolian (van der Kuijp 
1996:437-40). The inherent vowel a of the Indie scripts and of Tibetan is retained 
in 'Phags-pa. (Some scholars think that King Sejong of Korea, the inventor of the 
han'gul script, was inspired by 'Phags-pa, but this view is not usually accepted in 
Korea; cf. Kim-Renaud 1997, Ledyard 1998.) 


William Bright: Alphasyllabaries and abugidas 6 7 

Other writing systems besides 'Phags-pa have adapted the model of Indie 
script for writing non-Indie languages in vertical columns, e.g., Lepcha in Sikkim 
(India), and Hanunoo in the Philippines. This seems to me a relatively superficial 
change, not crucial to the typology of the scripts concerned. However, the 
'Phags-pa script makes an additional change: The vowel symbols which are 
'diacritics' in Tibetan — above, below, or alongside the consonant symbols — 
come to have a single uniform position, following (i.e., beneath) the consonant 
with which they are associated. This can be illustrated by the Tibetan word rdo- 
rje 'diamond', written in Tibetan script and in 'Phags-pa as shown in Figure l. 3 

Tibetan: The consonant cluster rd is written as a conjunct C^' 

The combination with o is written as c!~" 

The duster tj is written as a conjunct ^" 

The combination with * is written as E^"" 

The entire word is written as C^'E^"' 

'Phags-pa: The cluster rd is written as a conjunct r 1 "" 

The combination with o is written as T~ 

The cluster rj is written as a conjunct p 1 - 

The combination with t is written as r^~ 

The entire word is written as ~r- 
Figure 1. Tibetan and 'Phags-pa writings of rdo-rje 'diamond' 

How is 'Phags-pa to be classified? By Daniels's definitions, since there is an 
inherent vowel a, and other vowels are written with consistent modifications of 
the consonant symbols, this script should be an abugida. However, the overt 
vowel symbols have become uniform linear symbols, and for this reason I would 
consider 'Phags-pa an alphabet — although an unusual one in that the vowel a 
is represented as zero. (Note that there are no initial vowels in Tibetan script, but 
glottal stop is a common initial consonant.) 

Another writing system which may be hard to classify is the Pollard Script, 
which was invented early in the 20th century for the tonal Hmong languages of 
southern China, by Samuel Pollard, a Methodist missionary (Daniels 1996b:580). 
In this script, consonants are represented by 'big letters', vowels by diacritics, 
and tone by the position of the diacritic relative to the consonant; see the sample 
in Table 4. 

6 8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Table 4. Sample of Pollard Script 

f] ku 

— J v ku 

^]w ku 

— I ku 

Since the Pollard script has separate symbols for consonants and vowels, 
and has no INHERENT vowel, this is an alphabet, not an abugida, by Daniels's 
definitions (p. c); but since vowels and tones are written with 'diacritic', nonlin- 
ear symbols, I myself would classify it as an alphasyllabary. It is interesting to 
compare another missionary script of southern China, invented around 1915 by J. 
O. Fraser for Lisu, another tonal language (Daniels 1996b:581). In this system, 
consonants and vowels are written with letters of the same size (many borrowed 
from the roman alphabet); tone is written after each syllable by symbols resem- 
bling European punctuation marks (see the sample in Table 5). Both Daniels and I 
would call this an alphabet. Although the tone symbols are smaller than those for 
the consonants and vowels, I would not consider them 'diacritics', since they oc- 
cur in a uniform linear order. 

Table 5. Sample of Fraser script 

PA. pa (high tone) 

PA, pa (mid rising) 

PA, pa (mid tone) 

PA. pa (mid tense tone) 

PA pa (low tone) 

PA pa (low tense tone) 

An even more unusual script is Pahawh Hmong, a system invented between 
1959 and 1971 for the Hmong language, as spoken in Laos, by Shong Lue Yang, 
a native speaker without formal education (Smalley et al. 1990, Ratliff 1996). 

Table 6. Sample of Pahawh Hmong (all syllables with mid level 









la ihn 






li Aifl 






lu rto 

In pronunciation, each syllable consists of a consonant, a following vowel, and a 
tone; but in the script (written from left to right), it is represented by a symbol rep- 
resenting the 'rime' (the combination of vowel and tone), followed by a symbol 
representing the initial consonant. Furthermore, a consonant symbol by itself im- 

William Bright: Alphasyllabaries and abugidas 6 9 

plies an inherent vowel (but it is the diphthong au, not a\), and a vowel symbol 
by itself implies an inherent consonant (namely k). For a sample, see Table 6. 

Because of the inherent vowel, Daniels (p.c.) classes this as an abugida. My 
own preference is to call it an alphasyllabary of an unusual sort: the symbols for 
rimes can be considered diacritics which always occur on the lefthand side of 
the associated consonant (like some of the vowel symbols in the South Asian 
scripts). This view mitigates the paradox of saying that, although Pahawh Hmong 
is read from left to right, the elements within the syllable are read from right to left. 
Rather, we can say that the script is read from left to right in terms of its basic 
units, the consonants; but that these are 'modified' by the leftward diacritics that 
represent the rimes. 

In fact, another Hmong script, also invented by a native speaker — called 
the Sayaboury script after its place of origin — has very recently been reported 
by Smalley & Wimuttikosol 1998. This script is clearly an alphabet, with uniform 
signs for initial consonant, vowel, and tone of each syllable (in left-to-right order); 
it may indeed have been inspired by a widely used roman script for Hmong, in 
which tone is indicated by a distinctive letter at the end of each syllable. But the 
Sayaboury script is unusual in one respect: Each of the 13 vocalic nuclei of the 
language (including diphthongs) is written with a digraph, i.e., with an arbitrary 
combination of two symbols. However, the individual symbols only occur in 
these combinations, never in isolation. Sample combinations of vowels and tones 
are shown in Table 7. 

Table 7. Hmong vowels and tones in the Sayaboury script 




high tone 

a tca\ 

i rrm 

e aAi 


a YT/1T 

i rarer 

c r(AT 

low tone 


i rrm, 

e nAV 

There are rumors of other locally invented scripts in Southeast Asia (Gerard 
Diffloth, p.c.) — an area with a strong tradition that every language should have 
its own writing system. When and if such other scripts come to light, we may be 
obliged to reconsider still further our typologies of the world's writing systems. 
But of course such classifications are not an end in themselves; they can only be 
justified by whatever insights they may give us into more general questions, such 
as these: What inventory of structural features — lexical or phonological, func- 
tional or formal — is possible in human writing systems? How may such features 
be combined with one another, as Korean han'gul combines alphabetic, syllabic, 
and featural characteristics? What typical changes can be traced in the historic 
evolution of scripts, and in their borrowing by one people from another? What 
are the psycholinguistic implications of different types of scripts for acquiring lit- 
eracy, and for reading or writing efficiently, in languages with diverse types of 
morphological and phonological structures? What can our understanding of dif- 

7 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

ferent scripts contribute to the practical problems of script design for preliterate 
communities? At this point, the theoretical concerns of grammatology and the 
practical concerns of promoting literacy come under a single roof. 


* Thanks for comments on this paper go to Peter T. Daniels, Chin-Wu Kim, 
Young-Key Kim-Renaud, and James McCawley. This paper was published in ^ 
Written Language and Literacy 2:45-56 (1999). Copyright by John Benjamins m 
Publishing Company; reprinted by permission. 

1 A diacritic is typically understood as 'a mark added to a character to indicate 
a modified pronunciation' (Daniels & Bright 1996:xli) or 'a mark added to a basic 
letter to alter its pronunciation' (Coulmas 1996:126). However, these definitions 
do not incorporate the idea of departing from the 'succession of the basic sym- 
bols,' which now seems to me important. Thus, when the German umlauted vow- 
els are written ae, oe, ue, I would consider them as digraphs; but when they are 
written a, o, u, I would regard them as using diacritics. 

2 As Daniels has reminded me (p.c), West Asian scripts like Arabic and He- 
brew are sometimes written in 'fully pointed' form, with all vowels spelled out, 
e.g., for the use of beginning students. I would regard such usage as alphasyl- 
labic, but Daniels would call it alphabetic (and presumably would not consider 
the 'points' to be diacritics in this case). 

3 Each 'graphic syllable' of Tibetan is written with a dot at the righthand 


Anderson, Lloyd B. 1997. Review of Daniels & Bright 1996. Anthropological 
Linguistics 39.299-324. 

Bright, William. 1996. The Devanagari script, In Daniels & Bright, 384-90 

Coulmas, Florian. 1996. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. Ox- 
ford: Blackwell. 

Court, Christopher. 1996. The spread of Brahmi script into Southeast Asia. In 
Daniels & Bright, 445-49. 

Daniels, Peter T. 1996a. The study of writing systems. In Daniels & Bright, 3-17. 

. 1996b. The invention of writing. In. Daniels & Bright, 579-86. ^ 

, & William Bright (eds.). 1996. The World's Writing Systems. New York: « 

Oxford University Press. 

Diringer, David. 1968. The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind. 3d edn. 
2 vols. New York: Funk & Wagnall. 

Fevrier, James-Germain. 1959. Histoire de Vecriture. 2nd edn. Paris: Payot. 

Getatchew, Haile. 1996. Ethiopic writing. In Daniels & Bright, 569-76. 

Householder, Fred W., Jr. 1959. More on Mycenean. Classical Journal 

Kim-Renaud, Young-Key (ed.). 1997 The Korean Alphabet. Honolulu: Univer- 
sity of Hawai'i Press. 

Kuipers, Joel C, & Ray McDermott. 1996. Insular Southeast Asian scripts. In 
Daniels & Bright, 474-84. 

Ledyard, Gari K. 1998. The Korean Language Reform of 1446. Seoul: Singu. 
[Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1966.] 

McCawley, James M. 1997. Han'gul and other writing systems. Literacy & 
Hangul: Proceedings of International Conference (Memory of the 600th 
Anniversary of King Sejong), 5-16. Seoul: Ministry of Culture & Sports, In- 
ternational Association for Korean Language Education. 

Ratliff, Martha. 1996. The Pahawh Hmong script. In Daniels & Bright, 619-24. 

Salomon, Richard G. 1996. Brahmi and Kharoshthi. In Daniels & Bright, 373-83. 

Segert, Stanislav. 1996. Review of Daniels & Bright 1996. Archiv Orientdlni 

Smalley, William A., et al. 1990. Mother of Writing: The Origin and Develop- 
ment of a Hmong Messianic Script. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

, & Nina Wimuttikosol. 1998. Another Hmong messianic script and its texts. 

Written Language & Literacy 1.103-28. 

Sproat, Richard. 1998. Review of Daniels & Bright 1996. Written Language & 
Literacy 1.129-37. 

Vander Kuijp, Leonard W.J. 1996. The Tibetan script and derivatives. In Daniels 
& Bright, 431-41. 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Peter T. Daniels 

New York City 
grammatim @ 

Ten years after the initial presentation on the syllabic origin of 
writing, we may return to the writing of syllables, with examples from 
the Semitic-derived scripts of Asia. Of special interest are the develop- 
ment from the Aramaic abjad (consonantary) to the Indie abugida 
('syllabary' with vowel inherent in the basic symbol), the migration of 
consonant symbols from a syllable to an adjacent aksara in Indie and 
the refinement of this practice in Tibetan, and the Korean decomposi- 
tion and recognition of the syllable in light of Chinese grammatical the- 

1. The syllabic origin of writing 

In returning to syllables ten years after the syllabic origin of writing was an- 
nounced at the Milwaukee Symposium on Linguistics and Literacy (Daniels 
1992b),* I would like to take up three episodes of 'script transfer' that involve 
writing syllables. 1 I investigate the diversification of script types across Asia — 
Asia, where all the types (perhaps excepting the alphabet) had their origin. First 
is the transfer of Semitic writing to India. Second is the transfer of Indie writing to 
Tibet. And third is the invention of a distinctive type of writing in Korea, which 
perhaps involved Tibetan influence. When these episodes of transfer are com- 
pared with other examples of the spread of scripts across the continent, a new fac- 
tor comes into view. 

In order to clarify this new factor, I need to revisit the twin insights that led 
to my understanding of the syllabic origin of writing. 

1.1 A typology of writing 

The initial insight resulted from uneasiness with my teacher I. J. Gelb's 'principle 
of unidirectional development' (1952, etc.): the claim that script types succeed 
one another in a specific order of development, that no stage can be skipped, and 
I that the sequence cannot be reversed. That is, logograms can only give rise to syl- 
labograms, and syllabograms can only give rise to alphabets. My objections to that 
scenario were published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society in 1990. It 
is simply counterintuitive for the theory to require calling the Northwest Semitic 
scripts syllabaries, and it is counterintuitive to insist that Ethiopic writing is an al- 
phabet (see also Daniels 2000). 

The first insight, then, was to recognize that the traditional tripartite classifi- 
cation of scripts, going back at least to Isaac Taylor (1883), is not an adequate ty- 
pology. The Northwest Semitic scripts are not syllabaries — but neither are they 

74 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

alphabets (the only alternative in the tripartite view). The name I use for the con- 
sonant-only type is the Arabic term 'abjad'. Similarly, not all scripts that encode 
syllables are simply syllabaries. There are two entirely different kinds of scripts 
that do so: syllabaries proper (like Mesopotamian cuneiform, the Greek sylla- 
baries [Linear B and Cypriote], and Japanese kana); and what I call 'abugidas' 
from an Ethiopic term: Abugidas encode syllables, but the graphic shapes of the 
characters explicitly indicate both the consonant and the vowel that constitute the 
syllable concerned. The basic shape for each set of syllables beginning with the 
same consonant reflects the original abjadic letter, and vowels are denoted by ad- 
ditions to the consonantal base; except that the basic shape itself denotes the syl- 
lable consisting of the consonant plus the unmarked vowel, usually /a/ ( 1 ). 

(1) Ethiopic a u i a e 0/e o 

1 A A- A. A A, A A° 

The type is most familiar from the scripts of India, which derive from the ancestral 
Brahmi of the time of Asoka (mid third century b.c.e.). (To state it using Gelb's 
approach, alphabets derive from abjads, and so do abugidas [2]. Since an abjad 
arose only once, we can't really state a rule as to where it must have come from.) 

(2) logosyllabary -> syllabary — > abjad t^> alphabet -? featural/Hangul 


1.2 Unsophisticated and sophisticated grammatogeny 

The second insight contributing to my Milwaukee presentation developed from the 
recognition of the two kinds of syllable-encoding scripts. Looking at all the exam- 
ples of script invention in modern times, we find that both syllabaries and abugidas 
have been created. Thus Sequoyah's Cherokee script (3) is a syllabary, but 
Evans's Cree script (4) is an abugida. 

(3) Cherokee RDWJrG^ i£5 P A*> y ... 

e a la tsi nah wu we li ne mo gi ... 

(4) Cree 






































From a dozen or so cases, we find that whenever someone invents a script who is 
not familiar with writing — beyond knowing that it exists — the result is a sylla- 
bary. (I call this 'unsophisticated' script creation or grammatogeny.) But when 
someone invents a script who does know how to read, the result is an abugida. (I 
call this 'sophisticated' grammatogeny.) Note the primacy of the syllable — it is 
not segmental scripts that arise from nothing, but syllabic ones. 

Daniels: On writing syllables 75 

1.3 Catastrophic script transfer 

Let these two observations remain in the back of the reader's mind: the multiplic- 
ity of types, and the unsophisticated/syllabary, sophisticated/abugida contrast. The 
kind of script transfer that interests me at this point might be termed 'catastrophic' 
(in the somewhat passe mathematical sense) — usually when a previously unlet- 
tered people takes up writing from somewhere else, or when a major change hap- 
pens in the course of script transmission. A specimen of the former is the beginning 
of Greek alphabetic literacy: The Phoenician script writes only consonants; the 
Greek script uses six of the Phoenician letters — which denoted consonants absent 
from the Greek language — for vowels. This seems to have happened by accident: 
The first Greek scribe didn't understand the Phoenician language, or how to write 
it, particularly well, misheard the names of those letters, and misinterpreted them 
as letters for what he (or she) heard as vowels beginning those names. 

1.4 Gentle script transfer 

Before turning to my first example of script transfer, I will mention some examples 
of less catastrophic script transmission. The spread of the roman alphabet across 
Europe with Western Christianity proceeded with little change to the script itself: 
rarely were letters added, but letters are frequently provided with diacritics. (The 
contrast with the situation in the Eastern churches, where languages received new 
scripts, is instructive but a matter for another occasion.) 

Remaining within Asia, we can observe the progression of Aramaic scripts 
through successive stages of Iranian languages: Parthian, Middle Persian, Pahlavi 
(the script of the Middle Persian Psalter and Book Pahlavi are shown in [5] )," Sog- 
dian, and several Christian usages. For centuries, the script remained abjadic, 
even though in Semitic scripts the importation of Greek and Iranian loanwords 
seems to have provided some impetus toward ever fuller notation of vowels and 
eventually toward the addition of optional vowel markings in Syriac, Arabic, and 
Hebrew sacred texts. Moreover, in Iranian scripts, lettershapes tended to merge so 
that the inventory of symbols grows ever smaller and texts harder to read. 

(5) ' bgdhwzhykl mns ' ps qr s t 

MidPers jj j j ^j 4 1 1 a» j> ^ j ^ j_ s* 1 a g ^ 1 aa_ » 

Pahlavi *_\ J j ^ei 1 ** j 5 j ^, ( a \ v <J.<»t *o < 

Nonetheless Aramaic script continued its journey eastward into the so-called 
Altaic languages — successively (originating from the Sogdian) Uyghur, Mongo- 
lian, and Manchu. Fortunately the phonemic inventories of the Turkic, Mongolic, 
and Tungusic languages are more limited than those of Iranian, and total crisis did 
not ensue; the original West Semitic inventory of letters can still be discerned (cf. 
Daniels 2001: 60-61, tables 3.13-3.14). 

Two developments from Aramaic that do not follow this pattern remain to be 
accounted for, however: Avestan and Arabic. More on these anon. 

76 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

2. Transfer to India 

I now turn to my first case of script transfer, that of the origin of the Brahmi script 
of India that is ancestral to all the Indian scripts. Keeping in mind my distinction 
between 'sophisticated' and 'unsophisticated' grammatogeny, I would like, I 
think, to make a pun on the English word 'sophisticated'. 

For what was the most sophisticated grammatogeny of all? Who had the most 
grammatical sophistication when a script was needed? Clearly, it was Indie soci- 
ety. Panini and his initial commentators date several centuries before the bringing 
of writing to India. Brahmi is now dated no earlier than the earliest attestations in 
the reign of Asoka, around 250 (all dates in this paragraph b.c.e.) (Falk 1993, cf. 
Salomon 1995). S. M. Katre (1987:xix) places him 'c. 6th century'; Paul Kiparsky 
(1994:2918) 'c. 350'; George Cardona (p.c.) cautiously says that if writing existed 
in Panini's time, it plays no role in his work. Writing seems to have first come to 
India in the far northwest a bit earlier, where users of Aramaic came into contact 
with South Asian civilization, and the Kharosthi script was built on the model of 
an Aramaic abjad. But even the earliest Indie inscriptions — the language is called 
Prakrit in general — are not written with consonants only. (The claim by some In- 
dicists that vowel notation was adapted from Semitic vowel pointing some thou- 
sand or so years before the latter was invented has been sufficiently ridiculed that 
it need not be belabored.) Vowels are marked by strokes added to the consonantal 
shapes (6-9). Each of these basic consonant symbols plus the additions is called 
an aksara — which is also the word for 'syllable' in Sanskrit grammar. 






















=F ¥ 










A =A 











^r «# 









TfT ^ 


Oriya k 









CQI (oQ 










C6II C€f 


Javanese k 






01 cum 







Colin Masica (1991:136) mentions that in the earliest surviving inscriptions, 
vowel notation is not yet fully consistent; but when James Prinsep set about deci- 
phering the Brahmi script of the great Asokan pillars, he was able to dress a virtu- 
ally complete table of the characters, consonants versus vowels (1834, see 
Daniels, WWS 150, fig. 12). Some indication of the linguistic 'sophistication' of the 
script is the provision of separate indicators for short and long vowels — which is 
not often found in the world's scripts and indeed is not found in Kharosthi. Note 
also the rational order of the Brahmi-derived scripts, giving stops and nasals pro- 
ceeding from the back to the front of the mouth, and so on, contrasted with the ara- 
pacana order associated with Kharosthi ( 10; Salomon 1990). 


1 d b d s v t y 


k s m g th 

ks st jn rth h bh 


sm hv ts gh 

ys sc t dh 

Daniels: On writing syllables 77 

(10) a r p c n 
j sv dh skh 
th n ph sk 

The most interesting feature of the Indie group of scripts, though, is the treatment 
of vowelless consonants. In other syllabic notations, such as the Greek syllabaries, 
consonant clusters are handled either by omitting a member, or by writing a syl- 
labic character repeating the preceding or following vowel: there is no possibility 
of notating adjacent consonants. 

At first, Indie script did not need to deal with this problem, as clusters were 
'untypical of Prakrit, involving mainly geminates or homorganic nasals, and all 
words ended with a vowel (Masica 1991:148). But after some centuries, it became 
licit to write Sanskrit as well, and here consonant clusters did arise. In Indie, two 
devices are used for marking consonants as vowelless. A word-final consonant has 
its inherent /a/ 'killed' by a virdma (and becomes halanta). It might be interesting 
to explore the connection between this graphic device, which came into use in the 
4th-8fhc. (Dani 1963/1986:121), and the numeral zero, which may be of a similar 

More interesting is the second method of indicating consonantal vowelless- 
ness: Any sequence of consonants within a word is written by adding a reduced 
version of the later consonant or consonants to the shape of the first consonant 

(11) Brahmi Devanagari 

1 kha + X ya = Ikhya ^ka +"* ra =^>kra ^ka + & la = ^ kla 

L pa + A ta = I, pta ?T ta + ?T ta = tT tta 1? ha + ^T na = ¥ hna 

Oriya Javanese 

Q gha + Q na = Q ghna ao na + crut la = no nla crui la + am ha = trw-jn lha 

"3 sa + £J tha = 01 stha on na + <cm ba = <cm nba tut da + no na = tin dna 

Q da + d dha = G ddha oba + ccm na = azm bna 

Such a combination still constitutes a single aksara, and the practice is found al- 
ready in the late 3rd c. B.c.E. (Dani, pis. IVb, Vb). As various authors have stressed 
(Bright, WWS 388, McCawley 1997:9), these graphic combinations need not cor- 
respond to phonological syllables (Katre mentions in the note to Panini 1.1.7 that 
there can be clusters of up to five consonants: kartsnya- 'totality'). Thus the pho- 
nological syllable, which we saw is somehow basic in unsophisticated linguistic 
consciousness, gives way to a graphic syllable. There are no graphic closed 'syl- 
lables' — as there are, uniquely or nearly so, in Mesopotamian cuneiform; in In- 
die, anything can be written with a combination of individual consonant signs. 

3. Transfer to Tibet 

A second script transfer in this sequence ensued. The earliest Tibetan inscriptions 
date from the 8th or 9th century, and Tibetan writing is based in the Brahmi family. 
It preserves the abugidic nature of its forebears, using appendages for the vowels 


78 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

e, i, o, and u but not for a ( 12). 

(12) Tibetan ka ki ku ke ko 


However, in crossing from India, with its Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languag- 
es, to Tibet, with its Sino-Tibetan language, we encounter a very different mor- 
phological type: instead of inflection, we find isolation; we find monosyllabic 
morphemes that end with consonants, where it would be disadvantageous for syl- 
lable-, that is morpheme-, final consonant letters to be combined with letters be- 
ginning succeeding syllables. Tibetan has overcome this problem by using full- 
size consonant letters following the vowel — and innovating an obligatory sylla- 
ble-end mark, the dot at the right shoulder of the last letter of the syllable. There 
can even be a syllable-final cluster, ending with s (after voiced stops and nasals g, 
ng, b, m) or d (after continuants n, r, or /). 

Syllable-initial clusters can include up to four letters: one is taken as the rad- 
ical, which can have others before, above, and below it. Thus a Tibetan syllable 
can have as many as six letters plus a vowel mark, as in ( 13), 

(13) Q*AC\Qi bsgrubs 'established' 

where 0]' ga is the radical, accompanied by CJ b(a) as both prescript and post- 
script, ^] s(a) as both superscript and post-postscript, ^ r(a) in its combining form 
— as subscript, and the vowel marker — for u. (An <3-final syllable with an initial 

consonant cluster CCa ends with a dummy symbol to preclude the reading CaC.) 
Today's Colloquial Tibetan has changed so greatly — reducing clusters, innovat- 
ing tone and rounded vowels — while orthography has remained fixed (R. A. Mill- 
er 1956) that the word in (13) is pronounced [cjjub]. But the syllable-final dot is 
still used. 

Tibetan writing may be taken as one example among many of the untruth of 
the assertion by P. G. Patel (and, following him, D. Gary Miller 1994:55) that 
Brahmi 'represents the Sanskrit sound system so well that it must have had a long 
developmental history' (1993:203); Patel attributes this assertion to A. L. Basham, 
but all Basham says is that 'its development must have been at least in part delib- 
erate', and 'it was the most scientific script of the world' (1967:396 [not 394]). 
Basham actually takes no position at all regarding the date of invention of Brahmi. 
What comparison of early and late stages of the orthography of Tibetan, or for that 4 
matter of English, shows, is that a script that represents its language well is at the " 
very beginning, not a late stage, of its development: language continually changes, 
while writing tends to remain the same. 

4. Transfer to Korea 

So far we have considered two ways of writing that turn on the representation of 
syllables. Additionally, earlier than Brahmi or Tibetan, in limited parts of the 
Greek world, two syllabic orthographies had been in use. Despite clever analyses 

Daniels: On writing syllables 79 

by generations of philologists and linguists, the very fact that they did not accom- 
pany Greek colonists to other parts of the Mediterranean indicates that they were 
more cumbersome than useful: their inadequacies must have outweighed their val- 
ue. So Linear B went out of use, and the Cypriote syllabary yielded — eventually 
even in Cyprus — to the alphabet that had been taken from the Phoenicians. 

Indie orthography employs graphic syllables that can contradict phonological 
syllables by combining all consonants in a cluster — tautosyllabic or heterosyllab- 
ic — into a single visual unit. Tibetan orthography uses both full and reduced forms 
of letters to notate all the segments, but strictly within a syllable, innovating a no- 
tation for syllable boundary. 

We now reach a point where the script sequence briefly mentioned earlier, 
the progression of Aramaic letters across Asia to Mongolia and beyond, impinges 
on the more southerly sequence culminating in Tibetan. Kubla Khan, ruler of much 
of Inner Asia in the second half of the thirteenth century — perhaps literate in 
Mongolian, perhaps not, but presumably aware of the inadequacy of its much-bor- 
rowed script for representing the language — ordered up the creation of a script to 
record all the languages of the empire (including Tibetan, Uyghur, Chinese, and 
Mongolian, though in practice it seems to have been used primarily for Mongo- 
lian). The result was an abugida, known as the hPags pa script, where the letter- 
shapes clearly come from Tibetan ( 14), but the indicators for vowels other than a 
are separate (smaller) letters and all follow their consonants (the letters run in col- 
umns, so all vowel letters are below their consonants, rather than in different po- 
sitions relative to the consonants as in Indie generally and Tibetan particularly). 
There is no indication of syllable demarcation, but Mongolian seems fairly cluster- 













Tibetan ^ 











hPags pa an 
















(after Hope 
















Ti CI 











hP ej 





















This brings me, somewhat indirectly, to my last example of script transfer, 
what gathered us at this symposium: the Korean alphabet or Hangul. As is well 
known, Hangul comprises a full alphabet, and it is more than that: Geoffrey Samp- 
son calls it a 'featural' script, because of the correspondence between lettershape 
and some distinctive features of the segments represented; moreover, the letter- 
shapes themselves are said to be iconic, with the consonants representing positions 
of the articulators and vowels relating to 'heaven', 'earth', and 'man'. James D. 

80 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

McCawley calls attention to the syllabic organization of Korean, suggesting that 
this keeps it from fitting into any of the 'types' that are appropriate for the rest of 
the world's scripts. (Sampson's 'featural' type is needed anyhow for sophisticated 
grammatogenies like Pitman or Gregg shorthand and Bell's Visible Speech.) To 
me it is important that all the elements of a syllable — initial consonant(s), vow- 
els, final consonant(s) — are included within one Chinese character-like syllable 
block. The arrangement into blocks takes the place of a Tibetan-style syllable-di- 
viding marker. It is interesting to note that over the centuries Korean spelling has 
grown more morphophonemic (15; King, WWS 223). 4 

(15) 15th c. 16th c. 18th/19thc. 

u — LM I o n M l mT3^| 

nimkum-i 'lord-NOM' (nim.ku.mi) (nim.kum.mi) (nim.kum.i) 

A*\ #*} #°f 

cap-a 'catch-iNF' ( ( (cap. a) 

Traditionally, Hangul is seen as a completely indigenous invention, with its 
visual aspect based on the prevailing Chinese esthetic. (Though this view seems 
to overlook the fact that the earliest shapes of the letters were not brush-based but 
geometric, designed to be cut in woodblocks.) When we take into account that the 
invention of Hangul is connected with the introduction of Buddhism to Korea, we 
must recognize that writing systems other than the Chinese probably came in along 
with it. As long ago as 1912, J. S. Gale compared various scripts — including De- 
vanagari and Chinese phonetic notation — with Korean, but the one that has found 
most favor as the possible stimulus and model for Korean letters is hPags pa. The 
suggestion was set out by E. R. Hope in 1957 (see [14] above), with acknowledg- 
ments to several predecessors. Gari Ledyard ( 1966:336-49), in the most detailed 
study of the origin of Hangul, accepts Hope's suggestion and improves it consid- 
erably by comparing the original forms of the Korean letters rather than the mod- 
ern brush-written forms. Hope also compared some Tibetan letters where he 
considered the hPags pa too different from the Korean, but Ledyard discards these. 

Perhaps, though, hPags pa is not the only possible candidate as inspiration 
and even model for the alphabetization of Korean. Lloyd Anderson (1992; p.c.) 
has suggested that the sidewise versus bottomward positioning of the two classes 
of Korean vowels might relate to the various positionings of the vowel marks in 
Indie scripts. In hPags pa, though, the vowels can only follow their consonants; in 
Tibetan they can only be above or below; but in earlier Indie scripts, vowel marks A 
can go left, right, above, or below the consonant sign their vowels follow. Nowhere ^4 
in Indie are the options simply right or below, nor is the spatial arrangement cor- 
related with phonetic quality as in Korean, where nonrounded vowels go to the 
right and rounded vowels below. 

Chinese characters have remained in use in Korea as Hangul gradually over- 
came various obstacles to its success and came into common use, and North Kore- 
an orthography shows that characters can be dispensed with and Korean can be 
effectively written with Hangul alone. I should mention two other scripts with or- 

Daniels: On writing syllables 81 

igins in Chinese writing: Japanese kana, and the Women's Script of southern 
Hunan. Both hiragana and katakana of Japan are syllabaries simplified from Chi- 
nese characters. Characters — kanji — have of course not been abandoned in Ja- 
pan, and Japanese scholars insist that they cannot be. 

The only somewhat detailed description of Women's Script in a Western lan- 
guage is by an anthropologist, William W. Chiang (1995 [pub. 1997]), and is frus- 
tratingly vague about the details. Graphic variants of some 719 standard Chinese 
characters (with 1 ,535 shapes overall) are used for their phonetic values only, rep- 
resenting 492 different syllables, or else not (Daniels forthcoming). 

5. Transfers from Aramaic 

At this odd-seeming juncture, I will return briefly to the two derivatives of Arama- 
ic script I mentioned earlier: Avestan and Arabic. The Avestan alphabet was de- 
vised, apparently around the 5th century C.E., to record the Avestan scriptures 
which by then were already a thousand and more years old and had been pre- 
served strictly by oral tradition. Many more sounds needed to be accounted for 
than could be written with the then-current Iranian scripts, Pahlavi and the Middle 
Persian Psalter script, and the Avestan alphabet includes consonants from both, as 
well as no less than 16 vowel letters, the inspiration for which seems to have been 
knowledge of Greek writing (16). 

( 16) Avestan Alphabet (after Skjaerv0, WWS 527) 








































m, m 













Q3' ■" 




























x v 


q v 

















The Arabic language preserves a larger complement of consonants from Pro- 
to-Semitic than the Aramaic language does. The scripts of the earliest Arabic in- 
scriptions — in languages that go by names like Safaitic, Thamudic, and so on — 
include letters for all the consonants. But early in the Common Era, an Arab tribe 
called the Nabateans left a good-sized corpus of inscriptions and some papyri writ- 
ten in Nabatean Aramaic. There is a tiny handful of pre-Islamic attempts at writing 
Arabic with the Nabatean script, which can be seen to have developed into a dis- 
tinctively Arabic form by the 6th century. Unfortunately this script was nearly as 
degenerate as the Pahlavi! With the dissemination of the Qur'an in the 7th centu- 

82 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

ry, but perhaps not exclusively because the Qur'an needed to be written, letters 
whose shapes had merged in Arabic script came to be differentiated by patterns of 
dots (17). (These dots are found already in the earliest surviving secular papyri, 
from the Cairo Geniza, which as far as we know predate the first written Qur 'ans.) 

(17) Arabic btnrzhgssfq 

V°0 J J £ £ t_r" lT «-* J 
More interestingly, dots are used to differentiate the surplus of consonants * 
preserved in Arabic over those used in Aramaic — and the modified letters are § 
based on exactly those that had merged, centuries earlier, in the history of Arama- 
ic (18). 

(18) *t J 1 


*h * 



Aramaic t 



Arabic t 


h 1 



I think this needs to be explained. If it were simply a question of phonetic similar- 
ity, a l\J letter could have been based on the /f/ letter, or /d/ on /z/; or the equiva- 
lences could have been arbitrary, or even new lettershapes could have been 
devised. (This was not unthinkable; in both Ethiopic script and one form of Syriac 
Aramaic, a letter was added for Greek-origin words with a distinct /p/ phoneme.) 
Rather, it seems as though some sort of grammatical knowledge was involved: 
perhaps someone very much at home in both Nabatean and Arabic, a proto-lexi- 
cographer, noticed a series of cognates between the two languages, where one Na- 
batean sound corresponded to both itself and a different sound in Arabic, and chose 
to add a mark to those letters in Arabic that consistently were pronounced differ- 
ently from the Nabatean correspondent. 

6. Grammatical traditions 

And this brings me, at long last, to the point of my survey of script transfers and 
transmissions across Asia. Forever after the original transfer of Phoenician to 
Greek, it is grammatical awareness that resulted in improvements to scripts and 
even changes in script type. 

There is no known grammatical tradition in the Iranian world or in the Mon- 
golian world. Accordingly, Aramaic script moved across the continent, being tak- 
en over almost thoughtlessly for language after language. Even the Mongolian m 
adaptation from Tibetan to hPags pa gave up indication of the demarcation of syl- ^ 
lables, whereas Avestan with its addition of vowels can be accounted for by its en- 
counter with Greek alphabetic writing. (Similarly, Syriac, and following it Arabic 
and Hebrew, devised notations for vowels after familiarization with Greek Scrip- 
tures. The grammatical traditions of these languages — Syriac, Arabic, and He- 
brew — are later.) 

Contrast the other transfers I described: The Indie scripts developed the 
abugida type from the Aramaic abjad in the awareness of Paninian grammatical 

Daniels: On writing syllables 83 

doctrine. And its rigor is visible even in comparison with the abugida of Ethiopia. 
The vocalization of Ethiopic script took place concurrently with the conversion of 
the Aksumite kingdom to Christianity. The missionaries are usually said to have 
been Syrian or Coptic or even Greek. But Syrian scribes could not have brought 
vowel notation, since it did not yet exist in Syriac script. Coptic or Greek scribes 
would have added vowel letters as in their own alphabets. The only reasonable ex- 
planation is that the missionaries who Christianized Ethiopia in the mid 4th century 
came with the well-attested traders who sailed between India and Ethiopia, from 
the well-known Martomite Christian community of the west coast of India, found- 
ed in legend by the Apostle Thomas himself (Daniels 1992a). They brought not 
the shapes of the vowel marks, but the idea of how to indicate vowels. Compare 
the vocalization of Brahmi in (6) with the vocalization of Ethiopic in ( 1 ), especial- 
ly (g) in the former with similarly shaped {1) in the latter. Brahmi letters retain their 
shape beneath the vowel appendages; Ethiopic letters bend, and this is not a matter 
of cursivizing development, for we have inscriptions dated to nearly successive 
years, unvocalized and vocalized, showing that from the start, the consonants had 
their rather flexible forms. 

Thus the invention of the abugida occurred in a grammatically savvy milieu. 
Roy Andrew Miller (1962/1976) shows that Tibetan linguistics incorporated San- 
skrit phonological awareness, term for term: The equally well informed savants of 
Tibet created a script that preserved what was useful of the Indie system and added 
a treatment of final consonants and syllable structure that was better suited to the 
Tibetan type. This did not happen when, around the same time, Indie script came 
to the Tibeto-Burman language Burmese. Syllable-final consonants have a 'killer' 
mark as in Sanskrit (conjuncts are not needed in Burmese, but they are used in In- 
die words [19]; a complete inventory of them is found in Khmer or Cambodian 

(19) Burmese: ^cnobdjrrpcs^Gcoo abhaykroiichuiso but cp § buddha 

(20) Khmer Consonants with Subscript Forms 3 (Schiller, WWS 470) 































































W J 




9 JI 




a.The full forms of consonants are for identification only; most of the clusters represented here do 
not occur in the language. 

Finally, the grammatical sophistication of the inventor of Korean script is 
clear in the founding document of 1446: it clearly knows the Chinese grammatical 
tradition and applied it to the very different phonology of Korean — as it was not 
involved in the development of the syllabaries of Japan and of Hunan, both of 

84 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

which were writings of women, women who were denied the Chinese Classical 
education available to the best of the men. 

I hope to have convinced the reader that while scripts can be passed on from 
language to language under many circumstances, with varying degrees of success 
and appropriateness, real innovation in script transfer must be informed by gram- 
matical understanding of the language that is to be written — metalinguistic 
knowledge of one's language: the result of deep study, not simple copying. One 
cannot help learning to speak the language of one's surroundings. One must be^ 
taught to read. Many, like Charlemagne, can read but not write. But to create writ- W| 
ing is one of the highest achievements of all. King Sejong, for your 600th birthday, 
I salute you! 


* A preliminary version of this talk was presented at the 26th North American 
Conference on Afroasiatic Linguistics, New Orleans, April 5, 1998. 1 am grateful 
for comments on that occasion from Vit Bubenik, Robert Fradkin, and Olga Kape- 
liuk. Bill Bright made valuable contributions to this version. 

1 A fourth transfer, of Phoenician script to Greece, was discussed at the Cham- 
paign conference, but that topic was out of place in that context, and that portion 
has been published separately as Daniels 1999. 

2 The Iranian fonts used in (5) and (16) are courtesy P. Oktor Skjaervo, Harvard 

3 Cf. Ledyard 1997:56 for just criticism of Hope's approach. I am grateful to 
Young-Key Kim-Renaud for the gift of her edited volume The Korean Alphabet. 

4 Confirmed by Oktor Skjaerv0 and Denis Sinor, respectively (p.c. 7 April 1998). 


Anderson, Lloyd. 1992. Korean Hangul: Typology and historical background. Pa- 
per presented at the 8th International Conference on Korean Linguistics, 
Washington, D.C., 6 August. 

Basham, A. L. 1967. The Wonder That Was India, 3d ed. London: Sidgwick & 

Chiang, William W. 1995 [pub. 1997]. "We two know the script: We have become . 
good friends" : Linguistic and Social Aspects of the Women's Script Literacy I 
in Southern Hunan, China. Lanham, MD: University Presses of America. 

Dani, Ahmed Hasan. 1963. Indian Palaeography. Oxford: Clarendon. Repr. New 
Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1986. 

Daniels, Peter T. 1990. Fundamentals of grammatology. Journal of the American 
Oriental Society 1 10:727-3 1 . 

. 1992a. Contacts between Semitic and Indie scripts. Contacts between Cul- 
tures: Selected Papers from the 33rd International Congress of Asian and 
North African Studies, Toronto, August 15-25, 1990, vol. 1, West Asia and 

Daniels: On writing syllables 85 

North Africa, ed. by Amir Harrak, 146-52. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen. 

. 1992b. The syllabic origin of writing and the segmental origin of the alpha- 
bet. The Linguistics of Literacy [Proceedings of the Milwaukee Symposium 
on Linguistics and Literacy, 1988]. (Typological Studies in Language, 21 ), 
ed. by Pamela Downing, Susan Lima, & Michael Noonan, 83-1 10. Amster- 
dam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 

. 1999. Some Semitic phonological considerations on the sibilants of the 

Greek alphabet. Written Language and Literacy 2:1.57-61. 

. 2000. Syllables, consonants, and vowels in West Semitic writing. Lingua Po- 

snaniensis 42.41-53. 

. 2001. Writing systems. The Blackwell Handbook of Linguistics, ed. by Janie 

Rees-Miller & Mark Aronoff, 43-80. Oxford: Blackwell. 

. Forthcoming. Book notice of Chiang 1995. Language. 

, & William Bright, eds. 1996. The World's Writing Systems. New York: Ox- 
ford University Press. 

Falk, Harry. 1993. Schrift im alten Indien: Ein Forschungsbericht mit Anmerkun- 
gen. (ScriptOralia, 56.) Tubingen: Gunter Narr. 

Gale, J. S. 1912. The Korean alphabet. Transactions of the Korea Branch of the 
Royal Asiatic Society 4. 1 3-6 1 . 

Gelb, I. J. 1952. A Study of Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Hope, E. R. 1957. Letter shapes in Korean Onmun and Mongol hPhagspa alpha- 
bets. Oriens 10.150-59. 

Katre, Sumitra M. 1987. The Astddhydyl of Pdnini. Austin: University of Texas 

Kiparsky, Paul. 1994. Paninian linguistics. The Encyclopedia of Language and 
Linguistics, 2918-23. Oxford: Pergamon. 

Ledyard, Gari K. 1966. The Korean language reform of 1446: The origin, back- 
ground, and early history of the Korean alphabet. Ph.D. dissertation, Univer- 
sity of California, Berkeley. 

. 1997. The international linguistic background of the correct sounds for the 

instruction of the people. The Korean Alphabet, ed. by Young-Key Kim- 
Renaud, 31-87. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 

Masica, Colin. 1991. The Indo-Aryan Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge Univer- 
sity Press. 

McCawley, James D. 1997. Han'gul and other writing systems. Literacy & 
Hangul: Proceedings of International Conference (Memory of the 600th Anni- 
versary of King Sejong), 5-16. Seoul: Ministry of Culture & Sports, Interna- 
ls tional Association for Korean Language Education. 

' Miller, D. Gary. 1994. Ancient Scripts and Phonological Knowledge. (Current Is- 
sues in Linguistic Theory, 116.) Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Ben- 
Miller, Roy Andrew. 1956. The Tibetan System of Writing. Washington, D.C.: 
American Council of Learned Societies. 

. 1962. The Si-tu Mahapandita on Tibetan phonology. Repr. in Studies in the 

Grammatical Tradition in Tibet. (Studies in the History of Linguistics, 6), 19- 
31. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1976. 

86 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

Patel, P. G. 1993. Ancient India and the orality-literacy divide theory. Literacy 

and Language Analysis, ed. by Robert J. Scholes, 199-208. Hillsdale, NJ: Erl- 

Prinsep, James. 1834. Notes on inscription no. 1 of the Allahabad column. Journal 

of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 3. 1 14-23. 
Salomon, Richard. 1990. New evidence for a Gandharl origin of the Arapacana 

syllabary. Journal of the American Oriental Society 1 10.255-73. 
. 1995. On the origin of the early Indian scripts [Review article on Falk 1993]. 

Journal of the American Oriental Society 1 15.271-79. 4 

Sampson, Geoffrey. 1985. Writing Systems. London: Hutchinson; Stanford: Stan- 

ford University Press. Corrected pbk. reprint, London, 1987. 
Taylor, Isaac. 1883. The Alphabet: An Account of the Origin and Development of 

Letters. 2 vols. London: Kegan Paul, Trench. 
WWS = Daniels & Bright 1996. 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Richard Salomon 

University of Washington 


The Indie script family provides the most widespread examples 
of writing systems of the alphasyllabic or abugida type, which mark 
vowels by means of diacritic signs attached to the preceding conso- 
nants. This type of script is rare in other parts of the world except 
Ethiopia, but other scripts such as Meroitic and Old Persian cuneiform 
share some of its characteristic features. These alphasyllabic and re- 
lated script types are compared with a view to determining their ty- 
pological relationships and the historical factors underlying the par- 
allel developments of such systems in different parts of the ancient 

1. Theoretical introduction: Problems of classification of scripts 

The traditional classification system that has prevailed in the past divided scripts 
into three types: logographic, syllabic, and alphabetic. It is, however, nowadays 
generally agreed by specialists that this classification is simplistic and unsatisfac- 
tory, among other reasons because few actual scripts, considered as fully func- 
tioning systems, belong entirely to one class or the other. For in practice, scripts 
often mix and combine in various and often complex ways logographic, syllabic, 
and alphabetic modes of representing the sound elements of the languages that 
they visually represent. For example, Japanese, like several of the most ancient 
scripts such as Egyptian and Sumerian cuneiform, combines logographic and syl- 
labic representation. On another level, the Roman script as used for English is 
theoretically alphabetic, but when analyzed functionally, as opposed to formally, 
it can be considered to have some of the characteristics of a logographic system. 1 

Thus analyses of script types should be undertaken on two separate levels: 
first, on the level of the mode of representation used by the individual graphs 
| wtthin a script system to represent linguistic elements, be they words, syllables, or 
phonemes, and second, on the level of the script as a whole, as a complex system 
which may combine two or more modes of graphic representation. 2 Thus, to con- 
tinue with the example of Japanese, on the first level we have both kana charac- 
ters embodying syllabic representation and kanji characters representing lo- 
gography. On the second level, then, Japanese writing as a complete system con- 
stitutes a mixed syllabic-logographic type. 

But this distinction between analysis of individual graphs and of overall 
systems does not, of course, solve the overall problem of script typology; I men- 

8 8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

tion it only by way of clarifying the nature of the larger problem. This problem is 
essentially that the aforementioned tripartite division of sound representation, 
though convenient and time-honored, does not nearly suffice to describe the 
types of graphic representation that actually exist among the scripts of the world, 
ancient and modern. For among them we often find, among other varieties, classes 
of characters that are neither strictly alphabetic, in that they do not represent a 
single sound unit or phoneme, nor strictly syllabic, in that they do not stand for a 
single and indivisible syllabic unit. Thus more recent and more sophisticated M^ 
studies of the typology of scripts have tried in various ways to grapple with these ^4 
and other grey areas between the traditional three categories of logographic, syl- 
labic, and alphabetic representation. For example, Peter Daniels in the now- 
definitive The World's Writing Systems (Daniels & Bright 1996:4) states that 
'half a dozen fundamentally different types of writing systems have been devised 
with respect to how symbols relate to the sounds of language'. These, in Daniels' 
formulation, are: 

1. Logosyllabary 

2. Syllabary 

3. Abjad or consonantary, in which characters represent consonants only, 
with the vowels left unrepresented. 

4. Alphabet 

5. Abugida (also called alphasyllabary, neo-syllabary, pseudo-alphabet, 
semisyllabary, etc.), in which the basic consonantal characters are understood to 
imply a particular 'inherent' following vowel, unless another vowel is explicitly 
indicated by a modification of the basic consonant sign. 

6. Featural system, in which 'the shapes of the characters correlate with dis- 
tinctive features of the segments of the language' (Daniels & Bright 1996:4), as in 
the Korean Hangul script. 

This scheme is obviously a vast improvement over the traditional one. One 
could, as always, quibble about the details. For example, it is not clear to me why 
'featural' systems, of which Korean is apparently the only example among the 
standard scripts of the world, should be classed as a separate category, since 
Hangul is otherwise an alphabet in the full sense of the term despite some unusual 
secondary but ultimately superficial features. In any case, it is probably impossi- 
ble, and perhaps unnecessary, to establish a definitive and comprehensive list of ^ 
script types. For no matter how such a list is formulated, and no matter how many V 
script types are included in it, there will inevitably be some cases that will not fit 
neatly into one or the other category, but rather will fall into a grey area between 
two or more of the basic types. 3 

This is particularly the case in regard to the relationships among alphabets, 
syllabaries, consonantaries, and alphasyllabic or 'abugida' scripts. 4 Although 
there is no question that Daniels and others are correct to set each of these up as 
basic and distinct (though not necessarily unrelated, systemically and historically) 
classes, there are still some scripts which have been used at various times and in 

Salomon: Typological observations on the Indic script group 8 9 

various parts of the world which do not fit precisely into any one or the other of 
them. The intention of this paper to attempt a clarification, if not a solution, of 
these problems, by analyzing and comparing certain examples of such scripts 
which straddle the gaps between consonantal, alphabetic, and syllabic types of 
writing, with particular reference to the alphasyllabic and similar scripts. 

2. The Indic scripts as a prototype of the alphasyllabic class: 
Historical, linguistic, and systemic considerations 

It is convenient to begin the discussion of these issues by reference to the Indic 
scripts, as they constitute the most typical and most widespread specimens of the 
alphasyllabic scripts. The following features, or at least the first three of them, can 
be characterized as definitive of an alphasyllabic script: 

(1) The physical graphic unit is the syllable, typically of the types V, CV, CCV, 

(2) An unmarked consonantal graph is understood to have an automatic or 
'inherent' vowel (in the Indian scripts, the so-called 'short a') following it, unless 
an explicit mark for another vowel overrules the implied neutral vowel, as in De- 
vanagarl*^ A'tf. 

(3) Vowels other the inherent vowel, when following a consonant, are indi- 
cated by the addition of an extra 'diacritic' 5 sign, which is typically attached di- 
rectly to the consonantal character, as in Devanagarl ^FT kd, to ki,^ku, etc. 

(4) Vowels which do not follow a consonant (i.e., word-initial vowels or the 
second vowel in a V-V sequence) are represented by separate graphs, namely the 
'full', 'initial', or 'independent' vowel signs, such as Devanagarl 31 a, "? /. 6 

Thus, for example, the Sanskrit word akdri 'it was done' is segmented into 
graphic syllables as a-kd-ri and written in Devanagarl script as 3^>lR. 

This alphasyllabic type of script shares some of the characteristics of the tra- 
ditional definition of an alphabet, in that: 

(1) Unlike a consonantary or syllabary, it has distinct graphic elements for 
vowels and consonants. 

(2) It has graphic units, or at least sub-units, which correspond to individual 
phonemes rather than to words and syllables. 

On the other hand, an alphasyllabary also shares features with the traditional syl- 
1 labary, in that: 

(1) The primary graphic unit is the (graphic) syllable, that is, the Indian aksara. 

(2) The syllabic units are in most cases indivisible in the sense that at least 
some of their component parts, namely the secondary or 'diacritic' vowel signs, 
cannot stand alone. 

As Daniels has correctly argued, it is not satisfactory to dismiss alphasylla- 
baries as a sort of compromise or halfway step between syllabaries and alphabets; 
to do so simply reflects the mental strait jacket of the traditional tripartite system. 

9 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

and does not explain or reveal anything. Therefore it is appropriate to posit the 
alphasyllabary as a script type distinct and separate from alphabets and true syl- 
labaries, though not unrelated to them. 

But even when alphasyllabaries are set off as a distinct category, further 
problems still arise when we look at certain other scripts which share some char- 
acteristics with alphasyllabaries, but which do not have all of their defining fea- 
tures. 7 A common feature of alphasyllabaries and what I refer to here, for pur- 
poses of discussion, as 'alphasyllabary-like' scripts is the principle of the inherent m 
vowel. In this respect, it could be claimed that alphasyllabaries are also related to ^ 
Daniels's 'consonantaries', insofar as a consonantary can be said to consist of 
consonantal characters that are understood to be followed by a (or rather, any) 
vowel, which is left graphically unmarked. From this point of view, an alphasylla- 
bary can be understood to be an 'improvement' (in the semi-technical sense of 
the term, as used in Daniels & Bright 1996:8) on a consonantary, achieved 
through the addition of extra graphs in the form of vowel-specifying diacritics. In 
fact, there is reason to believe, in the Indian case at least, that this is precisely 
what happened in the historical evolution of alphasyllabaries (Salomon 1998:16). 

It is interesting to note that there is a consistent pattern among alphasylla- 
baries and related script types, such as Old Persian cuneiform, in their choice of 
the inherent vowel. Typically, it is a neutral or central vowel such as the so-called 
'short a' (a or s) in Indie and Old Persian or a/a in Ethiopic. This consistency is 
presumably not coincidental, though it is not certain whether it is determined by 
systemic or historical factors, or perhaps rather by both. The pattern is reminiscent, 
probably significantly so, of the secondary development of matres lectionis in 
connection with the Semitic consonantaries, especially Aramaic and its deriva- 
tives, wherein more 'marked' vowels such as i and u, particularly when long or 
diphthongized, were singled out for explicit indication by the phonetically most 
closely related consonants (namely y and w, respectively). Thus although the 
mode of graphic representation of such 'marked' vowels is different in the 
northwest Semitic scripts and in the alphasyllabaries, the distribution of marked 
versus neutral or inherent vowels is similar. While this parallel could be attributed 
to the nature of the vowels themselves, it is also by no means out of the question 
that the conceptual framework of the Indian alphasyllabaries, at least, was influ- 
enced by that of the Aramaic script, since Aramaic appears to be the ultimate 
source, though not necessarily the direct prototype, of the Indie scripts (Salomon 

If we can suppose, for purposes of discussion, that the evolution of writing ^| 
systems is at least in part determined by practical and rational factors (even 
though experience teaches us that this is not always as important a factor as is 
often assumed), the principal advantage of the inherent vowel would be one of 
economy, in that it permits writers to omit one of the commonest vowels of their 
languages in all or most of its occurrences. It is therefore perhaps no coincidence 
that the inherent vowel in the Indie scripts, the 'short a\ is the one which is sta- 
tistically by far the most common in most of the languages which these scripts are 
used to record, and particularly in the Prakrit and Sanskrit languages in connec- 

Salomon: Typological observations on the Indic script group 9 1 

tion with which they were originally devised. Similarly, in the Old Persian cunei- 
form script, short a also functions essentially as an inherent vowel, although the 
situation is rather more complex there than in the Indic scripts (as will be dis- 
cussed in part 3 of this paper). As a sub-family of the Indo-European group, the 
Indian and Iranian languages share a common sound change whereby the origi- 
nal Proto-Indo-European vowels e and 6 both became a, with the result that the 
latter vowel is statistically predominant in both families. 8 This common linguistic 
heritage could thus be the one of the reasons that a functions as the inherent 
vowel both in Old Persian cuneiform and in the Indic scripts, even though the 
scripts themselves are not historically related. 

But if we are to view the alphasyllabic system and its inherent vowel princi- 
ple in practical terms, we must also note that it involves, at least potentially, a 
complication in connection with the representation of vowelless consonants, that 
is, consonants which are prior members of consonant clusters or which are in 
word-final position. Since an unmarked consonant automatically implies a par- 
ticular following vowel (i.e., the 'inherent' vowel), some special device must be 
developed if the writer wishes to explicitly indicate that a consonant is followed 
by another consonant, or by nothing, within the larger graphic unit, typically a 
word. The different alphasyllabaries and alphasyllabary-like scripts treat this 
problem in various ways, one of which is simply to ignore it, satisfying themselves 
with a recognizable approximation of actual pronunciation. But in the Indian 
case the developments in this regard are complex, but also, fortunately, histori- 
cally fairly well-documented and typologically interesting. 

Brahmi script, which was the more widespread and historically more impor- 
tant of the two early Indian scripts of the historical period, 9 and its derivatives did 
have, or rather did develop devices to indicate vowelless consonants, but the role 
of these devices is more complex than one might have guessed. One such device 
is, in its modern form, a diagonal line, called halanta 'consonant [marker]' or vi- 
rdma 'stopping [sign]', attached to the lower right corner of the consonant (e.g., 
^ k) which is to be designated as vowelless. Its use, however, is severely circum- 
scribed. It is employed, for the most part, only in writing Sanskrit, and appears 
rarely in the many other languages written in Indic scripts derived from Brahmi; 
and even in Sanskrit it is employed with what seems to be great reluctance. For 
example, when a word ends in a consonant and the following word begins with a 
vowel, the two phonemes are combined together in a single graphic syllable that 
spans the two separate words; thus the phrase ayam asti 'this is' would normally 
} be written as 34-MHIK1 (i.e., a-ya-ma-sti) rather than 3FW 3-ii^ci ayam asft'.Thus, 
the vowel-cancelling marker is avoided even at the cost of ambiguating word 
boundaries and constructing an aksara, in this case ^f ma, whose phonetic com- 
ponents, m and a, belong to two different words. 

The vowel cancellation sign is also not normally used to mark consonant 
clusters within (and between) words. In such cases, a ligature or 'conjunct sylla- 
ble' (samyuktdksara) of the two (or more) consonants involved is formed, with 
the first consonant(s) being abbreviated in such a way as to indicate that its in- 
herent vowel is suppressed. Thus the word anta 'end' is written in Sanskrit as $RT 

9 2 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

rather than as 3Hcf, which would be read as the unrelated anata 'unbowed'. Un- 
like the rare halanta vowel-canceling sign, this ligaturing technique is very 
widely used, especially in writing Sanskrit, which has many consonant clusters, 
but also, to a lesser but still significant extent, in most of the other Indian lan- 
guages and scripts. 

The avoidance of the halanta sign in the Indie scripts may seem strange to 
those who are accustomed to reading and writing in alphabetic scripts, since it 
necessitates a complex system of conjunct consonants — hundreds of them, m\ 
which must be learned individually, are used in Sanskrit — as well as blurring ^ 
word divisions. Nonetheless, the halanta is for the most part used only when 
completely unavoidable, as for instance when a sentence or line of text ends in a 
consonant. This seeming anomaly must be understood in light of the historical 
developments within these scripts, which reveal that the halanta is historically as 
well as functionally secondary. No method of indicating vowelless consonants is 
attested in inscriptions until about the second century a.d. (Salomon 1998:37), at 
which time it was necessitated by the increasing use of Sanskrit as an epigraphic 
language. Before this time most of the surviving records of the Brahmi script are 
in various vernacular dialects, or Prakrits, and several graphic features of the early 
forms of the script confirm that it was developed for and in connection with Prak- 
rit rather than Sanskrit. For, whereas Sanskrit has many consonant clusters and 
word-final consonants, the Prakrits have virtually no word-final consonants and 
generally have only simple clusters of geminates or of nasals plus homorganic 
stops. Thus a script devised for Prakrit has no particular need for a vowel- 
cancellation sign; geminate consonants can be easily, if approximatively, indi- 
cated by the single consonant, nasal-plus-stop clusters are noted by a punctua- 
tion mark (anusvdra) indicating nasalization, and word-final consonants are ab- 

Thus it was only when the Brahmi script was adapted to Sanskrit, centuries 
after it was originally invented or adapted for writing Prakrit, that the notation of 
vowelless consonants became a significant problem and that various devices such 
as the modern halanta sign were developed for this purpose, albeit only as a 
stopgap in otherwise unavoidable situations. Consonantal conjuncts are present, 
though in limited numbers and somewhat primitive forms, in the earliest datable 
documents in the Indie scripts, namely the As'okan inscriptions of the third cen- 
tury B.C., but it is easy to conceive of an earlier stage of Brahmi in which there 
were no conjuncts at all, and in fact some very early inscriptions that are written ^ 
in a less formal manner than the imperial Asokan edicts do in fact lack, completely m 
or nearly so, conjunct consonants. Thus it is not at all unlikely that the Brahmi 
script in its earliest form (no specimens of which have survived) had no conso- 
nant conjuncts, and thus had no way of indicating vowelless consonants as such; 
and this, as we shall see shortly, is in fact the most typical pattern in alphasyllabic 
and similar scripts other than the Indian ones. 

Indeed, even in the modern Indie scripts derived from Brahmi, the halanta 
sign is of marginal status, being mostly restricted to learned Sanskrit loan words, 
and in some Indie scripts it is entirely absent. Consonant conjuncts are widely 

Salomon: Typological observations on the Indic script group 9 3 

used in most of the modern scripts and languages, but for the most part only in 
connection with loan words from Sanskrit and other languages such as Persian 
and English. Otherwise, where the spoken language has vowelless consonants in 
tadbhava or 'native' words (that is, words derived from, as opposed to secondar- 
ily borrowed from Sanskrit) they are usually indicated by the basic consonant 
with, theoretically, the inherent vowel, which is however intuitively understood 
by the native speaker/reader as to be suppressed. Thus Hindi karnd 'to do' is 
written c b< T 1l, which would be formally transcribed as ka-ra-nd, but would never 
be pronounced as such. 

In short, the notation of vowelless consonants in the Indic scripts as a whole 
is a marginal matter, and is a significant concern only in the Sanskrit tradition, 
which is characteristically conscious of and concerned with accuracy in phonetic 
representation. In vernacular languages, whether ancient or modern, vowelless 
consonants are in effect a non-problem, with the ambiguities that they theoreti- 
cally cause being easily outweighed by the principle of economy and the intui- 
tive understanding of the native speaker as to which inherent vowels are to be 
pronounced and which suppressed. In other words, outside of the learned San- 
skrit sphere and its penetration into the more elevated and literary forms of the 
vernacular languages, the representation of vowelless consonants in the Indian 
scripts is approximative and intuitive, as is typical of alphasyllabic scripts gener- 

3. Inherent vowels and related issues in other alphabsyllabaries and 
alphasyllabary-Iike scripts 

The only other script family that fits the strict definition of an alphasyllabary is the 
Ethiopic group. Although, as will be discussed below, Ethiopian scripts do not 
agree in all respects with the Indic type of alphasyllabary, they are similar enough 
that they can definitely be placed in the same general category. The essential 
common feature of Ethiopic and Indic scripts is the system of indicating vowels 
by means of diacritic additions to a basic form of each consonant, with the un- 
marked consonant having an inherent or implied vowel a or a. The ramifications 
of the Ethiopic system, however, are rather different from those of the Indic 
scripts. First, the Ethiopic script group does not have the dual vowel notation sys- 
tem of Indic, lacking the 'full' or 'independent' vowel signs, presumably because 
the languages represented have no word-initial vowels; thus in Ethiopian, vowels 
can only be represented as diacritic modifications of preceding consonants. Sec- 
ond, the representation of vowelless consonants is treated differently than in In- 
dic. In Ethiopic writing they are conventionally indicated by using the form of 
the consonant with the diacritic for the vowel s (Haile 1996:572). This method 
avoids the complications of consonant conjuncts and vowel cancellation signs in 
the Indian, particularly the Sanskrit system, and native speakers presumably have 
no difficulty in knowing when this vowel is to be pronounced and when it is 
suppressed, just as speakers of modern Indian languages know intuitively when 
not to 'read' a suppressed inherent vowel, as in the example cited in the previous 

9 4 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

section. Thus in Ethiopic scripts, as in the less formal applications of the Indie sys- 
tem, what is lost in (theoretical) precision is gained in simplicity and economy. 

In view of the systemic similarity of the Indie and Ethiopic scripts, of the 
rarity of this script type worldwide, and of the chronological priority of the Indian 
over the Ethiopic scripts, it has been proposed 10 that the Ethiopic vowel system 
was influenced by an Indian model. This is not impossible on historical grounds, 
since trade and cultural contacts between India and Ethiopia in ancient times are 
well documented, but as far as I am aware no direct proof of Indian influence, be- m 
yond the systemic parallels, has been offered. It has also been suggested (Diringer ^ 
1953:231) that the concept, if not the specific technique of vowel notation in 
Ethiopic was inspired, not by an Indian, but rather by a Greek model. 

But perhaps it is more prudent to assume, for lack of proof to the contrary, 
that the Ethiopic alphasyllabary was an independent invention, parallel to but not 
based on the Indie model. In both cases, the underlying factors were similar, in- 
volving the adaptation of a pre-existing Semitic consonantal script (Aramaic, ap- 
parently, in the case of Indian scripts, and the south Semitic Sabaean script for 
Ethiopic) to a different language. This is precisely the sort of situation which, over 
and over in the history of writing throughout the world, has stimulated the devel- 
opment of 'improvements' (in Daniels's sense) in script systems, particularly in 
respect to the fuller notation of vowels in consonant-based scripts. Different ad- 
aptations were worked out in different places, and it is not at all hard to imagine 
that the alphasyllabic system could have been invented twice separately. As a 
parallel example, we might compare the celebrated development of the alphabetic 
Greek script from a Phoenician consonantary, with the less well-known and much 
later, but essentially parallel development of the Mongolian script, which similarly 
expanded the matres lectionis system of its prototype (ultimately Aramaic, 
through Sogdian and Uyghur) to the point that it represents every vowel with an 
individual (originally consonantal) character, and thus has, in effect, become a 
pure alphabet like Greek. 

Whatever may have been the historical origins of the Ethiopic script group, 
it is, as far as I have been able to determine, the only other true alphasyllabic fam- 
ily besides the Indian scripts. What remains to be discussed, however, are scripts 
which partake of some of the defining characteristics of this type — particularly, 
the inherent vowel system — but not of all of them. Two interesting examples of 
such scripts are Meroitic, the ancient script of the Sudan, and Old Persian cunei- 
form. It may or may not be simply a matter of coincidence that each of these are a 
found in geographical regions that are at least approximately contiguous to the ^ 
areas, namely Ethiopia and India respectively, where true alphasyllabaries are 
found, and that the time of their use overlaps with, or at least approximates those 
of the neighboring alphasyllabaries. But once again, it is probably more prudent, 
in the absence of direct evidence, to think in terms of parallel developments, or 
perhaps of indirect inspiration by example, than of direct influence. 

Meroitic script, which was in use from about the third century B.C. to the 
fourth century A.D., is an unusual system which superficially looks like an alpha- 

Salomon: Typological observations on the Indic script group 9 5 

bet, but which on closer examination proves to have an unusual combination of 
syllabic, alphasyllabic, and alphabetic characteristics. Thus in Davies's opinion 
(1990:133), '[ajlthough it looks alphabetic, Meroitic is in fact a syllabic system'. 
Meroitic script has a repertoire of twenty-three characters, of which fifteen repre- 
sent simple consonants (y, vv, b, p, m, n, r, I, h, h, s, k, g, t, d), four syllabic combina- 
tions (/re, se, te, to), and three vowels (e, i, o), plus one anomalous character which 
represents a, but only in initial and never in post-consonantal position. The rea- 
son for this latter peculiarity is that there is no need for a sign for non-initial a, 
since a consonant that is not followed by a vowel sign is automatically under- 
stood to be followed by the vowel a. In other words, the Meroitic script has an 
inherent vowel system that is, in principal if not in outward form, the same as that 
of the Ethiopic and Indic scripts, and moreover, it shares with them the choice of 
a, that is, of a neutral central vowel, as the inherent one. The outward difference 
between Meroitic on the one hand and the Indian and Ethiopian alphasyllabaries 
on the other is that the former has a superficially 'alphabetic' system, in that the 
post-consonantal vowels are represented by physically separate and distinct 
characters, rather than as diacritic additions to the consonantal characters. This 
feature, I assume, is what Davies has in mind when he characterizes Meroitic as a 
syllabic script that looks like an alphabet. 

As a function of this system, Meroitic script also agrees with Indic in having 
a symbol for the vowel a only in word initial position, since post-consonantal a is 
represented, in effect, by zero. Its other vowel characters differ from those of the 
Indic scripts, however, in that they have only one form, as opposed to Indic, 
which has for each vowel (other than the neutral vowel a) two completely dis- 
tinct forms, namely a 'full' or word/syllable-initial position sign and a post- 
consonantal or diacritic form. 1 ' 

Like all alphasyllabic or inherent-vowel scripts, Meroitic requires a special 
technique to represent vowelless consonants, that is, consonants followed by an- 
other consonant or word-final consonants. This it accomplishes by writing the 
sign for the vowel e (Davies 1990:133), which thus has a double function, repre- 
senting either a neutral vowel (schwa, according to Priese 1973:283) or no vowel 
at all; the choice between the two possible readings is presumably left to the in- 
tuition of the native speaker/reader of the language. In this respect. Meroitic 
works precisely like Ethiopian and differs from Indic, which, uniquely among all 
alphasyllabic scripts as far as I have been able to determine, has developed the 
conjunct consonant system and, as a backup, a vowel-cancellation sign. 

| A further peculiarity of the essentially simple Meroitic system is the presence 

of four truly syllabic, that is, indivisible signs for CV syllables. These present a 
problem for both the historical and typological analysis of the script. For although 
graphic archetypes for these syllabic characters can be identified in the demotic 
Egyptian script which is the source of the Meroitic characters generally, it is not 
clear why these and only these four syllables received special treatment; accord- 
ing to N.B. Millet (1996:85), this was done '[f]or reasons not understood, but 
possibly having to do with the existence of dialect differences'. In principle, 
though, the presence of these typologically aberrant characters should not dis- 

9 6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

turb us unduly, since, as noted at the beginning of this paper, mixed script systems 
are far from unusual. 

The preceding typological comments about Meroitic are made primarily from 
the point of view of comparison with the alphasyllabic and alphasyllabic-like 
scripts; but it may also be profitable to compare Meroitic with other types of 
scripts, such as consonantaries and, particularly, modified consonantaries. If, for 
example, we were to compare Meroitic to Aramaic written with matres lectionis, 
or with modern Hebrew or Arabic, here too we would significant typological 4 
similarities, the main difference being that in Meroitic all vowels other than a are ^ 
explicitly indicated, whereas in the modified consonantaries only the long and 
diphthongized vowels are, in general, written, while vowels such as / and u are 
left to be filled in by the reader. 

Thus although conventional descriptions of alphasyllabaries and related 
script types on the one hand, and consonantaries and modified consonantaries on 
the other, involve different terminologies and presuppositions, in principle these 
two systems are less different than they seem on the surface. Describing modified 
consonantaries like (later) Aramaic from the alphasyllabic point of view, so to 
speak, one could say that they are Meroitic-type alphasyllabaries, with separated 
vowel signs in which the inherent (i.e., unmarked) vowel is "any short vowel', 
rather than a as in Meroitic, Indie, etc. 

From this point of view, the distinctions, even those in a sophisticated mod- 
ern typology such as that proposed in The World's Writing Systems, between 
categories such as alphasyllabary and (modified) consonantary begin to break 
down. This comment is not meant as a criticism of that typology, but rather is 
meant to point out the inherent limitation of any typology of writing systems. Ac- 
tual writing systems, as opposed to ideal types and individual components of 
complex systems, rarely fall squarely and completely into any one category, and 
when we try to categorize scripts, we have to be willing to think in terms of ap- 
proximations and combinations of theoretical archetypes, rather than of rigid 
boxes or water-tight compartments. 

Finally, with regard to the possibility of external influences or models on the 
development of the Meroitic script, Priese (1973:283-4) briefly considers, but ul- 
timately rejects, influences from systems such as the Ethiopic, Old Persian, or In- 
dian scripts. He concludes (284) that 'wir . . . hier nicht notig haben, nach frem- 
den Vorbildern zu suchen', on the grounds that the inherent vowel of Meroitic 
script can readily be explained as a result of internal developments, whereby the 
use of the originally consonantal characters j and w to note the vowels i and u 
respectively in what was originally a consonantal script leads, by a logical but 
presumably unconscious process of elimination, to the vowel a being assumed 
when no other vowel is written; that is to say, a becomes the default, or un- 
marked, or inherent vowel. This pattern of development is in fact exactly what I 
would posit for the development of alphasyllabic-type scripts in general. 

The Old Persian cuneiform script has long been a subject of discussion and 
controversy in grammatological literature, largely due to its stubborn refusal to fit 

Salomon: Typological observations on the Indic script group 9 7 

conveniently into any of the normal typological classes, whether traditional or 
more sophisticated, such as that of The World's Writing Systems. Old Persian cu- 
neiform, which originated, apparently by way of a systematic invention 
(Hoffmann 1976:621), in, probably, the late sixth century B.C. (622), contains the 
following repertoire of graphs: 

Three vowel signs, a, i, it, used interchangeably in initial or medial (post- 
consonantal) position. 

Thirteen alphasyllabic-type vowel-neutral consonant signs, that is, signs 
representing consonants plus the neutral vowel a unless some other vowel 
is indicated by a following separate vowel character: p(a), b(a), f(a), g(a), 
6(a), s(a), z(a), h(a), c(a), s(a), y(a), x(a), 1(a). 

Twenty indivisible syllabic signs, representing specific CV syllables: da, di, 
du; ma, mi, mu; ka, ku; ga, gu; ta, tic na, nu; ra, ru;ja,ji; va, vi. 

Seven logographic signs for 'king', 'land', 'god', 'earth', 'Ahuramazda' 
(two signs), and ahuramazddha (genitive singular of 'Ahuramazda'). 

Even beyond this unusual and complex mixed repertoire of sign types, the 
Old Persian script has several further peculiarities. For one thing, the syllabic 
characters {di, du, etc.) are regularly (though not invariably) 'reinforced' by the 
addition of the corresponding vowel sign, as in the spelling di-i-p(a)-i-m(a), in- 
stead of *di-p(a)-i-m(a), for /dipimJ 'inscription' (Testen 1996:137). In other 
words, the system is used in a way that introduces a considerable degree of re- 

Moreover, the repertoire of syllabic characters does not, as one might have 
expected, correspond to the repertoire of syllables that actually occur in the Old 
Persian language (Hoffmann 1976:625). For example, the syllables ti, ni, and ri, 
do not have separate characters, but they do exist in the language; thus the word 
patikard 'sculptures' must be written as pa-t(a)-i-ka-ra-a (Testen 1996:137). Nor, 
as we might logically expect, do the thirteen vowel-neutral or alphasyllabic con- 
sonants seem to comprise any special phonetic class in the language. In short, the 
logic of the distribution of syllabic characters in Old Persian cuneiform has eluded 
all attempts at an explanation, and appears to be to a large extent arbitrary or ca- 

These peculiarities lend to the Old Persian script an unique combination of 
characteristics of different conventional classes of script systems. For it works like 
| a syllabary in regard to its set of twenty characters which, in and of themselves, 
are syllabic characters in the strict sense of the term. But it also has characteristics 
of an alphabet in that it regularly supplements both the syllabic graphs, as well as 
the vowel-neutral consonants, with independent graphs for vowels. It also works 
like a consonantary in that is has a set of thirteen consonantal characters which 
are vowel neutral. And finally, it shows features of an alphasyllabary, or rather a 
semi-alphasyllabary like Meroitic, in that the consonantal characters are presumed 
to have a neutral inherent vowel, namely a, unless another vowel is explicitly in- 
dicated by the addition of a following vowel character. 

9 8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Though odd in typological terms, the Old Persian script is somewhat less so 
from a historical point of view. For the inventor(s) of this script were no doubt 
familiar with, and presumably literate in at least two other scripts which were in 
wide use in the Achaemenid empire, namely the logosyllabic Babylonian cunei- 
form and the modified consonantary Aramaic. The syllabic and logographic char- 
acters of the Old Persian script are evidently inspired by, though not directly bor- 
rowed from or modeled upon the corresponding character types that predomi- 
nated in Babylonian cuneiform, while the vowel-neutral consonants work more 
or less like Aramaic characters, which represent the consonant plus any vowel, 
with some 'strong' vowels such as 7, u and diphthongs specifically marked by 
matres lectionis. In Old Persian, however, ALL vowels other than the 'neutral' a 
are so indicated. Thus, if we can view this aspect of the Old Persian script system 
as a refinement of the Aramaic system, we see a development that is precisely par- 
allel to that of Meroitic, namely, one in which a partial system of marking certain 
vowels by matres lectionis or their functional equivalent has been expanded to 
explicitly represent all vowels other than one, typically a phonetically neutral 
and/or statistically frequent one. That vowel, then, becomes, by default, the inher- 
ent or automatic vowel, whether it is part of an alphabet-like system with sepa- 
rated vowel graphs like Old Persian or Meroitic, or of a true alphasyllabic system 
with attached vowel diacritics like Ethiopic or Indie. 

The redundant double notation of vowels after syllabic characters of the 
type di-i = Idil seems to result from the melding of the two systems that presuma- 
bly governed the formulation of Old Persian script. That is to say, this double no- 
tation is typologically a combination of the methods of representing vowels in a 
syllabary (di) and in a modified consonantary (-/). Although this, and for that mat- 
ter several other features of the Old Persian script may seem illogical or inconsis- 
tent from our point of view, we need not expect a script like Old Persian, created 
on the model of pre-existing scripts but essentially a newly invented type of 
writing, to be totally systematic. Inventions rarely turn out perfectly at the first 
attempt, and the imperfections and inconsistencies of the Old Persian script simply 
reflect this fact, though whether they were due to a failure to finish the task of 
inventing a complete script to represent the Old Persian language, as Hoffmann 
(1976:626-7) speculates, or whether they simply represent the limit of the inspira- 
tion and wisdom of its creators, remains a matter for speculation. 


4. Conclusions: Historical, systemic, and other factors in the development 
of the alphasyllabic scripts |l 

All the alphasyllabaries and related types of scripts discussed here were evidently 
derived, directly or indirectly, from consonantaries, often modified consonantaries 
using matres lectionis to represent certain vowels. Of course, this is part of a 
broader and well-attested phenomenon in the history of writing, whereby not 
only the alphasyllabaries but also the alphabets arose. The differences in outcome 
depend on the type and degree of refinements in the representation of vowels 
which were applied to the archetypal consonantaries or modified consonantaries. 
Several script groups, notably Ethiopic, Indie, and Meroitic, developed systems in 

Salomon: Typological observations on the Indic script group 9 9 

which all vowels but one, typically a frequent and/or phonetically neutral 'default 
vowel' were explicitly represented. The scripts of this type seem to have devel- 
oped this technique independently, and to have applied it in differing ways. 
Other scripts, such as Greek, adapted from Phoenician, and Mongolian, modified 
from Uyghur and ultimately derived from Aramaic, took the process one step fur- 
ther, so to speak, and represented all the vowels — rather than all but one — with 
distinct and separate graphs, essentially by extending the matres lectionis system, 
and, in effect converted themselves into alphabets. 

The exact origin of the diacritic system of marking vowels in Indic/Ethiopic 
types of alphasyllabaries, however, remains unexplained, since there is no clear 
historical prototype for it among the parent Semitic scripts. The closest typologi- 
cal parallel among the Semitic scripts is the various pointing systems sometimes 
applied to the Syriac, Arabic, and Hebrew consonantaries, in which points or 
other diacritic marks are placed above or below the consonant to specify the 
vowel that follows it. Although these 'points' are physically separate from the 
consonants and hence superficially different from the diacritics of alphasylla- 
baries, typologically they are virtually the same thing; a pointed consonantary in 
which all the vowels except a neutral a are explicitly indicated by points (plus, in 
most cases, matres lectionis) is in principle no different, systemically, from an In- 
dic alphasyllabic script. An important practical difference, however, is that the 
Semitic pointing systems were not fully incorporated into the scripts, but rather 
were reserved for special uses where a more explicit representation of the lan- 
guage was deemed to be desirable, such as in sacred scriptures or in pedagogical 
texts for children or non-native speakers. 

In any case, there is no reason to posit any historical connection between 
the alphasyllabaries and the pointed consonantaries, which in any case are first 
attested much later than the earliest alphasyllabaries. Therefore, if only for lack of 
any other explanation, I would characterize the alphasyllabic system as an inde- 
pendent innovation, first attested, as far as I have been able to determine, in the 
earliest extant specimens of the Indic scripts from the third century B.C. It is possi- 
ble, as mentioned above (part 3), that the Ethiopic alphasyllabary arose under In- 
dian influence, but such an assumption is not theoretically necessary, and there- 
fore should not be accepted unless and until direct evidence of it is found. As we 
have seen in the other instances discussed above, for example that of the Meroitic 
scripts, systemic innovations in various scripts with regard to the such features as 
the expanded notation of vowels tend to follow similar patterns of development 
in cases which are, in all likelihood, historically unconnected. 

To return, finally, to the original topic, namely a consideration of the ty- 
pological and historical character of the Indian scripts: in their essential principle, 
the Indian scripts are not profoundly different from the other typologically similar 
scripts discussed in this paper, in that their most characteristic feature, the inherent 
vowel, is typical of this type of script. The feature which does set the Indic scripts 
off, in a secondary but nonetheless significant manner, from the other scripts oi 
this type in general and from their nearest analogue, the Ethiopic scripts, in par- 
ticular, is their treatment of vowelless consonants. The other scripts discussed 


here either ignore the problem, representing the vowelless consonant with the in- 
herent vowel (as in Old Persian), or they use the diacritic sign for a particular 
vowel, typically a weak vowel such as schwa, which is understood to alterna- 
tively indicate the absence of a vowel (as in Meroitic and Ethiopic). Only in the 
Indian scripts do we find special mechanisms to explicitly and distinctively mark 
the absence of a vowel, namely the formation of consonantal conjuncts and, in 
limited cases, the use of a vowel cancellation marker. 

This refinement in the direction of greater accuracy in representing the spo- A 
ken language can be attributed to the high degree of linguistic, especially pho- ^ 
netic awareness, that characterized traditional Indian cultural values, especially in 
the sphere of Sanskritic culture. It was probably precisely because they were so 
intensely aware of and interested in phonetics and grammar that Indians, in par- 
ticular brahmanical scholars of Sanskrit, were not satisfied with the approximative, 
functional quality that suffices in most graphic systems, and felt the need to de- 
velop a system which represented the sacred language as exactly as possible. 
Such a system inevitably involved some sacrifice of practicality for precision, re- 
sulting, for example, in complex ligatured clusters of three, four, and occasionally 
even more consonants. But as we have already seen, this refinement is in all like- 
lihood a historically secondary development of earlier Indie prototypes, only par- 
tially attested, in which the notation of geminates and other vowelless conso- 
nants was largely ignored. In this perspective, the Indie alphabsyllabaries once 
again are revealed to be less anomalous among alphasyllabaries in general than 
they seem at first glance. 


Salomon: Typological observations on the Indic script group 


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1 2 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 


* This article addresses many of the same issues as those discussed in Bright 1999, 
which, like this paper, was also presented at the Symposium on Literacy and 
Writing Systems in Seoul, South Korea, in July 1998. However, whereas Bright 
(1999:49) prefers a 'formal' typology for alphasyllabaries/abugidas 'which gives 
more attention to the graphic arrangement of symbols', I follow Daniels' prefer- 
ence for a typology 'based on the "functional" criterion of correspondence be- 
tween sound and symbol, in particular the importance of the 'inherent' vowel 1 
and its replacement by other vowel symbols' (cited by Bright 1999:49). 

1 Thus Sampson (1985:203-4) says that '[w]e may see another kind of method in 
the madness of our spelling . . . if we . . . think of English spelling as at least partly 
logographic. . . . [0]ur script might be described as a compromise between the 
phonographic and logographic principles — somewhat akin, in fact, to Japanese 

2 Although this distinction may seem obvious to experts in the study of writing 
systems, I emphasize it here because it is nonetheless not always clearly main- 
tained in descriptions of writing systems. 

3 Compare Bright's comments (1999:45, 54) on the limits and value of typological 

4 The term 'abugida' for scripts of this type was coined by Daniels with reference 
to the Ethiopic scripts, which generally follow the same principles as the Indie. 
The term is composed of the first four consonants and vowels of the Ethiopic al- 
phabet, on the analogy of the word 'alphabet'. But Bright (1999:49) prefers the 
more neutral term 'alphasyllabary', and I have followed his usage in this article. 
Actually, I would be inclined to refer to this type of writing as 'aksara script', 
using the Sanskrit technical term for the graphic syllable unit which constitutes 
the basic principle of such scripts, for which there is no precise term in English or 
in any other language as far as I am aware; but in order to avoid further termino- 
logical confusion, I have followed Bright's preference. 

5 On the justification for the use of the term 'diacritic' in this sense, see Bright 
1999:47 n.l and 50. 

6 Not all alphasyllabic scripts have this feature, presumably because some of them, 
such as the Ethiopic scripts, are used to represent languages which have no 
word-initial or syllable-initial vowels. 

7 For a summary of the features concerned, see Table 1: Comparison of alphasyl- 
labic features in four script groups. 

8 For example, Whitney (1964 [1889]:26) calculates a percentage of frequency of 
19.78 for this phoneme in Sanskrit. 

9 The other early Indie script is Kharosthi, which was typologically similar to 
Brahmi but historically less influential because it died out in antiquity and has no 

Salomon: Typological observations on the Indic script group 103 

surviving descendants (Salomon 1996:375). 

10 See Jensen 1969:346-7 for references. This position is endorsed, though with- 
out much evidence, in Chatterji 1968:49-56. 

1 ' This is presumably because the Meroitic vowels, being (unlike the Indic vow- 
els) graphically independent, could stand by themselves in any position, initial or 
medial, though it is not clear to me whether there are in fact any examples of 
vowels other than a occurring in word-initial position in Meroitic. No such exam- 
ples appear in the specimen texts that I have been able to consult, but this may be 


Bright, William. 1999. A Matter of Typology: Alphasyllabaries and Abugidas. 

Written Language and Literacy 2:1.45-55. 
Chatterji, Suniti Kumar. 1968. India and Ethiopia from the Seventh Century 

B.C. (Asiatic Society Monographs, 15.) Calcutta: Asiatic Society. 
Daniels, Peter T. & William Bright, eds. 1996. The World's Writing Systems. 

New York: Oxford University Press. 
Da vies, W.V. 1990. Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Reading the Past: Ancient Writing 

from Cuneiform to the Alphabet, ed. by J.T. Hooker, 75-135. Berkeley: 

University of California Press/London: British Museum. 
DmiNGER, David. 1953. The Alphabet. A Key to the History of Mankind. 2 nd ed. 

New York: Philosophical Library. 
Haile, Getatchew. Ethiopic Writing. In Daniels & Bright 1996:569-76. 
Hoffmann, Karl. 1976. Zur altpersischen Schrift. Aufsdtze zur Indoiranistik, 

2.620-45. Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag. 
Jensen, Hans (George Unwin, tr.). 1969. Sign, Symbol and Script: An Account of 

Man's Efforts to Write. 3 rd ed. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 
Millet, N.B. 1996. The Meroitic Script. In Daniels & Bright 1996:84-7. 
Priese, Karl-Heinz. 1973. Zur Entstehung der meroitischen Schrift. Meroitica: 

Sudan im Altertum (1. Internationale Tagung ftir meroitische Forschungen 

in Berlin 1971), ed. by Fritz Hinze, 273-306. Berlin: Akademie Verlag. 
Salomon, Richard. 1996. Brahmi and Kharosthi. In Daniels & Bright 1996:373- 

. 1998. Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, 

Prakrit, and the Other Indo-Aryan Languages. (South Asia Research se- 
ries.) New York: Oxford University Press. 
Sampson, Geoffrey. 1985. Writing Systems. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 
Testen, David B. 1996. Old Persian Cunieform. In Daniels & Bright 1996:134-7. 
Whitney, William Dwight. 1964 [1889]. Sanskrit Grammar. Cambridge, MA: 

Harvard University Press. 


Writing and Cognition 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Chin-Chuan Cheng 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

City University of Hong Kong 

To facilitate the spread of literacy in China, several lists of fre- 
quently-used Chinese characters have been published in the last 70 
years. The number of characters in each list does not exceed 8,000. The 
number of character types in each Chinese book such as the 25 Dynasty 
Histories published in the past 2,000 years also does not exceed this 
number. Even when synchronous dictionaries already accumulated over 
30,000 distinct characters, writers of large volumes normally used only 
4,000 to 8,000 characters. The range of 4,000 to 8,000 morphemes then 
is proposed as the optimal number of linguistic symbols for human ma- 

1. Number of frequently-used characters 

Comprehensive Chinese dictionaries list over 50,000 distinctive Chinese charac- 
ters. Many of these characters are no longer in use. From the articles in J. Wang 
1995 I collected the following counts of frequently-used characters in practical 
lexicons or pedagogically oriented frequency books. (These references are cited in 
J. Wang 1995 and are therefore not given in our own References.) These counts 
range from 2,000 to slightly over 7,000. The titles of the volumes are given to help 
the reader understand their orientation. 

Chen Heqin PUfi^ (1928, Practical Lexicon for Collo- 
quial style imzm^^m 

Sichuan Education College ^W^WMPtW^ (1946, 

Frequently Used Characters fitM^F-JW) 

Chinese Comprehensive Dictionary Editorial Board 

^\MM^%kM^L (1954, List of 3,500 Characters for 

Learning ^^IEb : 35OO^0) 

Education Department of Shantong Province 

lMM^$k WI§ (1958, List of Frequently-Used Characters 

in Putonghua MM£MfB¥0) 

Secondary and Primary School Textbook Editorial Board 

of Education Bureau of Beijing City 

itp^m^m^mmtmgM (1955, ust ofFre- 

quently Used Characters ^M^-0) 
4,444 Chinese Character Section of Committee on Chinese Lan- 








108 Studies in the Linguistic sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

guage Reform ^P^^C^^M^m^M^^ (1975, List 
of 4, 500 Characters 4 5 0^0) 

7,292 Ministry of Communication of People's Republic of 

China^X^MfPllnR (1983, Standard Tele- 
graphic CodefigXfiMM^) 

4,574 Language Teaching Department of Beijing Language In- 

stitute itP.mmmmmmmm^m 0985, Frequency 
list of Chinese Characters /M^-0^0) * 

3,500 Language Commission HKlg"B'^^Xf1^M# (1988, \ 

List of Frequently-Used Characters in Modern Chinese 

The term 'frequently-used characters' may give an impression that the num- 
ber of characters was drastically reduced for elementary learning and literacy 
promotion. However, T'sou et al. 1997 show that current Chinese newspapers in 
Taipei, Hong Kong, and Singapore used about 4,000 distinct characters. It is there- 
fore reasonable to say that a few thousand characters will suffice for linguistic ex- 
pressions of most matters and events in modern times. 

When we examine books of earlier times, we still see a similar number of 
characters used. For example, the novel Dream of the Red Mansion {frlf{f%r) from 
the 18 th century used only slightly over 4,000 characters. As it is quite certain that 
the first 80 and the last 40 chapters were written by two different individuals. I 
used the electronic version offered by Yuanze University of Taiwan to tabulate the 
characters separately as follows: 



First 80 Chapters %Ltg^m$0m 
Last 40 Chapters %If$^f£40[a] 
All 120 Chapters %Ejg^l20 [Ml 

The entire book had over 730,000 character tokens. But only 4,501 distinct 
characters were used. In the same 18 th century, the dictionary Kangxi Zidian 
(IftP&^ft) published in 1716 already collected a total of 47,035 distinct charac- 
ters. The fact that out of the available 47,000 distinct characters only a few thou- 
sand of them were employed in a novel full of poems and descriptions of social 
institutions and personal feelings should be regarded as something significant 
about human use of linguistic symbols. In the following sections I will show that 
during the past 2,000 years the number of distinct Chinese characters increased i 
from 9,000 to over 56,000. But individual authors used only a few thousand char- 
acters. This small number has been a constant across historical stages. 

2. Accumulation of Chinese characters 

The oracle writing of 3,300 years ago had about 5,000 distinct characters. It is 
generally agreed that 3.000 of them are now recognizable. Over time, additional 
characters were created, and the 1986 edition of the Hanyu Da Zidian 












(3) DATE 
































C. C. Cheng: Frequently-used Chinese characters 109 

can be clearly seen in the following list of dictionaries. The publication dates and 
the number of characters covered were gathered from Hsieh et al. 1992 and Yin & 
Rohrenow 1994: 


Oracle Writing Ef3#3t 
Xuncuanpian s/l/MM 
Shuowen Jiezi iftyCfl^^ 
Zilin ^Fffi 
Yupian 3lM 
Guangyun l^aM 
Leipian MM 
Jiyun MbM 
Zihui ^p0 
Zhengzitong JE^M 
Kangxi Zidian 0BE^J% 
Zhonghua Da Zidian cp0^^M 
Da Han-He Cidian JcMfflgffM 
Zhongwen Da Cidian tpj^CA^ixffM 
Hanyu Da Zidian MsaJt^M 

The sudden jump within a short span, for example, from a total of 48,000 
characters in the year 1915 to 49,965 in 1959 and from 49,905 in 1968 to 56,000 
in 1986 could not be attributed to the additional characters introduced during the 
intervals. The differences have to do with the comprehensiveness of the coverage 
of the dictionaries. Some editors had more resources to collect a larger number of 
characters. However, over the past 2,000 years, the gradual increase was obvious 
in this listing. 

As users of dictionaries, we often feel that many of the characters or words 
in them are totally unfamiliar. Unabridged dictionaries are supposed to collect all 
words, frequent as well as rare, for users to look up. So it is natural for us to en- 
counter unfamiliar characters. As we know, all aspects of language change in the 
course of history. Dictionary compilers are scholars who work on words unfamil- 
iar to them; they have to look up words in other dictionaries in the compilation 
process. Why do we have unfamiliar words? Over a century ago, Darwin attrib- 
uted the reason to a limit to the powers of the memory: 'We see variability in 
every tongue, and new words are continually cropping up; but as there is a limit to 
||the powers of the memory, single words, like whole languages, gradually become 
" extinct' (Darwin 1871:94-5). We will come back to this point later. 

Not all words or characters in a dictionary are unknown to us. We may be 

i able to derive the senses of some characters in contexts, but we have never used 

I them before. We may say that these characters are in our passive vocabulary. 

There are familiar ones, of course. They are in our active vocabulary. 1 low many 

are there of familiar ones? That is, how many characters do we know? This ques- 

| tion has to do with human language cognition. Earlier we saw that 4,000 may be 

considered as an optimal number for language manipulation. We will pursue this 

110 Studies in the Linguistic sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

issue further in the following sections. 

3. How many words do you know? 

Traditionally a way to find the answer to the question 'how many words do you 
know?' is through experiments. In such experiments subjects were asked to iden- 
tify known words from randomly selected pages of a dictionary, and the statistics 
were projected to cover the entire repertoire of the lexicon (Crystal 1995). Crystal 
1995 states that English speakers can have 31,500 to 56,250 words in their active i 
vocabulary and 38,300 to 76,350 words in their passive vocabulary. Miller & 
Gildea 1991 state that in the United States high school graduates at age 17 nor- 
mally have 80,000 words in their vocabulary. Thus in the first 16 years of life they 
acquired 5,000 words per year or 13 words per day on average. 

Do we indeed have 31,000 or 80,000 words in our active vocabulary? Are 
we actually able to use that many words? I have proposed to use the number of 
words in various books to help find the answer (Cheng 1997, 1998). First of all, in 
English the inflectional endings change a word into several graphic forms. For ex- 
ample, the nine words below are derived from the basic forms of 'write' and 

(4) write, writes, wrote, writing, written, kick, kicks, kicked, kicking 

We can say that these nine words are 'graphic words' and the two basic 
forms are the 'concept words'. I wrote a computer program to lemmatize words by 
returning words ending in -s, -ed, -ing, -ly, -er, -est and various forms of pronouns 
to the basic forms. Following is a list of words that show the inflected and basic 



ME: I ' 

I ran the program on scores of electronic English texts obtained from the 
Web. The numbers show a consistent pattern. No matter how long the books are, 
the concept words used range from about 4,000 to 8,000 in number. Some exam- 
ples are given below: 









Call of the Wild 




Tom Sawyer 

C. C. Cheng: Frequently-used Chinese characters 





Beauty and the Beast 








The American 




Aspern Papers 




Paradise Lost 








Sense and Sensibility 




Pride and Prejudice 








Austen's 6 Books 

The last set of numbers is for Jane Austen's six books combined. The books are 
Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, 
Northanger Abbey. The novels by Austen covered different areas of human activi- 
ties, and yet the total number of distinct words used is just over 8,000. 

In Chinese, we can also examine individual authors' use of characters to de- 
termine the number of morphemes that we can actively control. Earlier we showed 
that the Chinese novel Dream of the Red Mansion used only 4,501 characters. 
Here we will examine the 25 Dynasty Histories. These Histories recorded all the 
activities of the emperors, ministers, and local officials, conditions of economy 
and society, and others. Generally speaking they are not skewed to one particular 
aspect of human life. The numbers of characters used in the 25 Dynasty Histories 
are taken from the tabulation by Hsieh et al. 1992. The publication dates, character 
tokens, and character types are given below. We see that the number of characters 
used rarely exceeds 8,000: 













Han Shu ?Mif 




Sanguo Zhi _E"J§^z>' 




Houhan Shu f^Mlf 




Song Shu ^0 




Nanqi Shu /W0F0 




Wei Shu M0 




Liang Shu 0?jHr 




Chen Shu M0 




Beiqi Shu ftWIf 




Zhou Shu Jajf? 




Jin Shu If J^ 




Sui Shu /WW 




Nan Shi 0jg 








Jiu Tang Shu M0Hr 




Jiu Wudai ShiMSft^ 




Xin Tang Shu £F00 




Xin Wudai Shi 0f£ft& 




Liao Shi jgg. 
















112 Studies in the Linguistic sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

Jin Shi ££ 
Song Shi ^rj^ 
Yuan Shi yelk 
Ming Shi B%£ 
Qing Shi Gao }W^fM 

The token column shows the length of each book. In the past 20 centuries, 
even though some of the books could be as short as 163,000 or as long as 
4,514,000 characters, the total number of distinct characters used was between 
4,000 and 8,000. This constant range existed when the dictionaries had a total 
number of character types of 5,000 in the 1 st century, 12,000 in the 4 th century, 
16,000 in the 6 th century, 30,000 in the 11 th century, 33,000 in the 17 th century, 
47,000 in the 18 th century, and 56,000 in the 20 th century. The entries in the lists in 
(3) and (7) are now combined and arranged in chronological order to show the in- 
crease in the number of characters collected in dictionaries and the constant num- 
ber of characters used in Dynasty Histories over time: 

(8) -1300 


Oracle Writing ^#5t 






Xuncuanpian 01/MM 



Han Shu MW 



Shuowen Jiezi i£jt0^ 



Sanguo Zhi JEW^ 



Zilin ^ffi 



Houhan Shu f^fMW 



Song Shu i^rlr 



Nanqi Shu iWWir 



Yupian 3£M 



Wei Shu MW 



Liang Shu 'Miff 



Chen Shu PMtr 



Beiqi Shu YtWW 



Zhou Shu fujff 



Jin Shu WW 



Sui Shu /WW 



Nan Shi 0jfc 






Jiu Tang Shu MWtr 



Jiu Wudai ShiMEftg 



Guangyun 0M 



Leipian 0M 



Xin Tang Shu %fJ£W 



Jiyun MM 



Xin Wudai Shi 0f£ft& 



Liao Shi M£ 



Jin Shi £^ 



Song Shi ^^ 





















C. C. Cheng: Frequently-used Chinese characters 113 

Yuan Shi TU 1 ^. 

Zihui ^0 

Zhengzitong JE^M 

Kangxi Zidian j^BB^A 

Ming Shi BJj£ 

Zhonghua Da Zidian cp^^^A 

Qing Shi Gao iW^fM 

Da Han-He Cidian XfMfflffiM 

Zhongwen Da Cidian cp3£^0fj£i 

Hanyu Da Zidian MM^^fM 

The numbers were plotted in Figure 1 (see Appendix) to show the small 
range of variation in the number of characters used in the Dynasty Histories in 
contrast with the large numbers of characters in dictionaries. While dictionary 
compilers collected known as well as unfamiliar words in a volume, authors of 
books used familiar words to express ideas or to describe events. The small range 
of variation in the number of characters used in the Chinese writings and in the 
number of words used by English writers compels us to conclude that the optimal 
number of linguistic symbols a person can handle is between 4,000 and 8.000. 

I have made a cross-language comparison of English and Chinese and con- 
cluded that the optimal number of linguistic symbols for manipulation is between 
4,000 and 8.000. However, English 'words' and Chinese "characters' are not iden- 
tical linguistic units. We will discuss this issue below. 

4. Characters, and words, and linguistic symbols 

As is well known, a Chinese character represents a morpheme, and a morpheme 
can be analyzed as bound or free. A free morpheme is a word. A large number of 
Chinese characters represent words. But Chinese words may consist of more than 
one morpheme and therefore more than one character in writing. The English 
words that we tabulated above are lemmatized basic forms. They may be single 
morphemes. Some may consist of stems and affixes. 

In terms of internal structure some English words may not be identical to 
Chinese characters. We now examine occurrences of 'words'. 

Francis & Kucera 1982 show that the Brown University's English corpus 

built in the 1960s had over 30.000 distinct basic words. However, they give only 

■ 5.996 words with a running frequency of five or above in their listing and consider 

the others rare words. It is interesting to note here that this number 5.996 is within 

our optimal range. 

There are numerous words in Chinese. "Cidian' (word dictionaries), in con- 
trast to "Zidian' (character dictionaries), normally give a separate count of mono- 
syllabic (single character) and polysyllabic (multiple character) entries. Some oi' 
the following 'word' dictionaries have more than 90.000 distinct entries: 

114 Studies in the Linguistic sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 



100,000 Chinese Comprehensive Dictionary 

Editorial Board cfJg^f^^Jll 
(1937, Guoyu Cidianffljgf&tjfe) 
10.000 30,000 He fnj^ (1976, Guoyu Ribao 

6,000 50,000 Beijing Foreign Language College Eng- 

lish Department itttft-W&W^L 
Uln^ (1978, Chinese-English Diction- 
ary MMMM) 
56,000 Chinese Academy of Social Science 

Linguistics Institute 4 J ^fdl#f4^^ 
fp ra^Jf (1980, Modern Chinese Diction- 


3,994 90,000 Fu and ChenffUlf * WM^ (1982. 

Frequently-Used Word Dictionary 

2,116 90,000 LiuglM ( 1 984, Modern Chinese Word 

4,000 58,000 Zhang 51^* (1986, Words gffffft 

9,700 48,000 Lietal. ^Wlfe^F (}9S8, New Chinese 

Dictionary gffMMs§5*IM) 
13,000 80,000 Wu^ il (1988, Old and Modern 

Chinese Practical Dictionary 

60,400 Chinese Pinyin Lexicon Editing 

GroupMlgHmiWliSTl (1991, Chi- 
nese Pinyin Lexicon Msaiff'sn^JS) 
800 80,000 Beijing Foreign Language University 

English Department itttft-WMJ^ 
rPiln^ (1995, Chinese -English Diction- 
ary ?MM*/M) 

13,000 36,000 Ye and Huang MalM ' Mf&B (1996, 

Longman New Advanced Chinese Die- 
tionary MP^^jZKM^f^m 

1 1 ,000 28,000 Minfxlf 1^ ( 1 997, Modern Chinese Us- 

age Dictionary MftMMMz£s¥M) 

Many of the words here are combinations of morphemes and other words. 
They do not have to be memorized. Moreover, the commonly used ones are not as 
numerous as the figures would show. For example, T'sou et al. 1997 found over 
40,000 'words' in the newspapers in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taipei. But the 
highest occurring 5,000 to 7,000 words cover 90% of the texts: 

C. C. Cheng: Frequently-used Chinese characters 115 


90% 5,043 7.477 5,005 

Thus we can say that even in terms of words, the optimal number is not very 
large. We will have to study the morphological organization of words in Chinese 
in detail to be able to differentiate those that have to be memorized and those that 
can be derived from morphological rules and patterns. 

1 5. Language cognition 

We have used 'characters', 'graphic words', and 'concept words' in printed mat- 
ters to argue for the view that the human capacity for manipulation of linguistic 
symbols has a limit around 8,000 units. We see no problem in extending this view 
to the capacity of those who are not literate. As we know, with effort and speciali- 
zation, some people may have a larger vocabulary. But literate or not, mature na- 
tive speakers of any language possess similar powers of language use. 

Earlier I cited Darwin's view that 'as there is a limit to the powers of the 
memory, single words, like whole languages, gradually become extinct'. The 
phrase 'powers of the memory' is perhaps the right word. We use a finite set of 
elements to make up other words. The words are combined to make up phrases 
and sentences. The powers for combination are fairly high. But I have shown that 
there is a limit to morphemes that we can actively manipulate. This limit cannot be 
due to the finiteness of physical memory locations or cells for the reason that bi- 
linguals or multilinguals generally have the same powers for each language. If 
physical memory locations were the determining factor, then those who speak an- 
other language would have to replace the memory of what had been occupied by 
the first language. Therefore the limit of powers is a matter of memory function 
rather than memory location. 

New words appear, and old words become extinct. This is a fact of language. 
I have proposed a level of optimal manipulation of linguistic symbols for the 
maintenance of a constant 4,000-8,000 range of characters in the 25 Dynasty His- 
tories over time. In daily life, names of acquaintances fade away with time. With 
effort we can retrieve them. So are words. Various linguistic functions and activi- 
ties associated with the proposed optimal number of symbols for manipulation can 
be profitably studied in conjunction with the studies of memory and other aspects 
of cognition. 


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. 1998. Learning words with many texts. The Proceedings of the First Inter- 

116 Studies in the Linguistic sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

national Conference on Multimedia Language Education 1-12. Taipei: 

Crane Publishing House. 
Chinese Academy of Social Science Linguistics Institute ^l^tila^Pl^lnlt^f- 

1980. Modern Chinese Dictionary 2§ftMini*/M- Beijing: Commercial 

Press fgt^EPlril! . 
Chinese Comprehensive Dictionary Editorial Board ^SAitflftSilSlll- 1937. 

Guoyu Cidian MM0?M- Taipei: Commercial Press illf^EPilrfll. 
Chinese Pinyin Lexicon Editing Group MMffilsMW^M^i- 1991. Chinese Pin- 

yin Lexicon MsnffiWlfflllM. Beijing: Language Press a^fcHftS'ti- ( 

CRYSTAL, David. 1995. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. 

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
Darwin, Charles. 1871. The Descent of Man. Washington Square, New York: 

New York University Press. (1989 Edition). 
FRANCIS, W. Nelson, & Henry KUCERA 1982. Frequency Analysis of English Us- 
age: Lexicon and Grammar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 
Fu, Xingling, & Zhanghuan CHEN ffHII - WM^Wk- 1982. Frequently-Used 

Word Dictionary ^^f^gaJ^M. Beijing: Chinese People's University 

Press ^mx^^m&M±. 

HE, Rong fnj^. (ed.) 1976. Guoyu Ribao Zidian SflggBglx^M- Taipei: National 
Language Daily WM B $gf±- 

HsiEH, Ching-Chun, LlN Hsi, Hsu Chin-Ting, Fu Wu-Chang, & Chang Tsui-ling 
Mm ft ' WiT ' fft&M. • mWM * Wm^- 1992. Statistics and analyses 
of the characters in Twenty-five Dynasty Histories — "hE^lE^J^t? 
^tlflSI^I/f. Paper presented at the Third National Conference on Chinese 
Writing System HHJa^^i^SMj WsT#tiS?>C. 

Li, Guoyan, Heng Mo, Yaohai Shan, and Chongkang Wu ^JMlfc. * 
MW ' W-iWM » ^#It 1988. New Chinese Dictionary 0fMMM°/M- 
Changsha, Hunan: Hunan People Press ^j^AJ^tBJiS/lii ° 

Liu, Yuan glj/jg. 1984. Modern Chinese Word List ?M{tMsn§*10- Beijing: Chi- 
nese Standards Press £pWWMttiM±- 

Miller, George A., & Patricia M. GlLDEA. 1991. How children learn words. The 
Emergence of Language Development and Evolution, ed. by William S-Y. 
Wang 150-58. New York: W. H. Freeman. 

MlN, Longhua f!t]fl^- 1997. Modern Chinese Usage Dictionary ?MftMsa 
ffl£MM- Taipei: Wenqiao Press SMWlMt- 

T'sou, Benjamin K., Hing-Lung Lin, Godfrey Liu, Terence Chan, Jerome Hu, 
Ching-hai Chew, & John K.P. TSE. 1997. A synchronous Chinese language a 
corpus from different speech communities: construction and applications. \ 
Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing 2:1. 91-104. 

WANG, Jun EEJ^J. (ed.) 1995. Current Chinese Language Reform Mft^M 
&j3t¥$M- Beijing: Current China Publishers #{-t4 n O ttiM±. 

WANG, William S-Y. (ed.) 1991. The Emergence of Language Development and 
Evolution. New York: W. H. Freeman. 

Wu, Changheng ^IH'IM- 1988. Old and Modern Chinese Practical Dictionary 
^^■/MsaWMi^M-- Chengdu, Sichuan: Sichuan People Press 

C. C. Cheng: Frequently-used Chinese characters 117 

Ye, Liqun and Chengde HUANG Hillf * if^t*. 1996. Longman New Advanced 
Chinese Dictionary J2fl£#3£M£$ffi0¥M- Hong Kong: Longman Asia 

Publishers m^&W&MftU£;*\- 

YIN, Binyong and John ROHSENOW. 1994. Modern Chinese Characters. Beijing: 

ZHANG, Yuzhong ?g^^. 1986. Words gnfffi. Beijing: Workers Press 



Studies in the Linguistic sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 




Hwawei Ko 

National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan 


Ovid J. L. Tzeng, 

National Yang Ming University, Taiwan 

A positive relationship of phonological awareness and reading 
alphabetic writings is well documented. Chinese does not have the 
transparent speech-script correspondence as the alphabets do. We 
review several studies carried out in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China 
on the effect of phonological awareness on reading Chinese. Data 
reveal that almost all subjects were aware of speech sound at the syl- 
labic level. Smaller than syllabic unit speech sound awareness may 
require some form of instruction in phonetic aids. Yet it is not a must 
in order to learn to read Chinese. The finding is discussed in relation 
to the structure of Chinese characters that provide phonetic cues and 
help phonological coding when reading characters. 

1. Phonological awareness and reading 

In western literature concerning the acquisition of reading, the main focus is di- 
rected to decoding single words and more specifically, phonological awareness 
(Adams 1991). A positive relation between phonological awareness and reading 
ability has been established (I. Liberman, Shankweiler, & A. Liberman 1989). 

Phonological awareness refers to an explicit mental representation of 
phonological information in processing oral and written language. In English, 
phonological awareness has been operationalized as the ability to discriminate 
phonemes. For example, segmenting /cat/ into /k/-/ae/-/t/. Most of the alphabetic 
script and speech correspondence is transparent, each sound is represented by a 
letter, as in cat. To segment speech sounds, there are Grapheme-Phoneme conver- 
sion (G-P-C) rules to follow. It would be very natural and easy then, for the al- 
phabetic readers to perform the phoneme segmentation tasks. However, this is not 
the case. 

In alphabetic research, of particular interest is the data regarding the explicit 
analysis capacities of non-readers — whether the preschool children, disadvan- 
taged readers, or adult illiterates often perform less well to readers. For example. 

120 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Liberman, Shankweiler, Fisher & Carter 1974 had shown that kindergarten chil- 
dren found it nearly impossible to follow instructions to count the number of 
phonemes in a pronounced syllable, yet they performed much better when the 
units to count were syllables. The performance of first graders on both tasks was 
well within the capacities. Morais, Bertelson, Cary, & Alegria 1986 compared lit- 
erate and illiterate adults in rural Portugal found that the illiterate could not add 
and delete the initial consonant of words. These studies seem to suggest that 
analyzing speech sounds at the syllabic level could come more easily than at the a 
phonemic level. A task of the latter type requires some form of training to be per- \ 
formed successfully. 

Hence, a debate of the direction of the nature of the relation between 
phonological awareness and reading arose among researchers (Perfetti, Beck, Bell, 
& Hughes 1987; Wagner, Torgesen, Roshotte 1994). 

Chinese does not have the transparent scrip and speech correspondent 
characteristics. It is considered a logographic writing system. The basic symbols 
of written Chinese are characters. Most of the characters are constructed with 
components. In many cases, the components either denote the meaning or the 
phonological information. There is a 'radical' component which signifying the 
meaning of the character. There is also a 'phonetic' component functioning as 
the phonetic reminder. In character recognition, the pure semantic character di- 
rectly representing meaning is only a tiny minority among all Chinese characters. 
In reading the majority of radical plus phonetic characters, the phonetic compo- 
nent is far superior in predicting pronunciation than is the radical in predicting 
meaning (DeFrancis 1991). Nevertheless, the phonetic components do not act like 
alphabets. Recognizing characters does not require the use of so called G-P-C 
rules. Then, is a native Chinese reader capable of performing the phonological 
tasks such as segmenting speech sounds? 

Read and his Chinese colleagues (Reid et al. 1986) administered consonant 
addition and deletion tasks to represent phonological awareness to two groups of 
Chinese adults in China. One group was the alphabetic group who had learned 
the alphabetic Pin- Yin system with simplified Chinese characters. The other group 
was the non-alphabetic group who entered school before the Pin-Yin system was 
introduced in China. They learned only the Chinese characters. On the phoneme 
manipulation tasks, the non-alphabetic subjects gave 21% correct responses and 
the alphabetic subjects 83%. The results implied that with 40 years of reading and 
writing a non-alphabetical system, the phonological awareness ability would not a 
develop naturally. Read et al. thus suggested that performing the phonological \ 
awareness tasks required 'a non-spontaneity of explicit phonemic instruction'. 

However, there is a fact that cannot be overlooked, i.e., the necessity of 
speech recoding in reading Chinese characters (Tzeng, Hung, & Wang 1977). 
How can this phonological recoding processing be accomplished if there are no 
G-P-C rules in Chinese? 

Hwa Wei Ko and Ovid J. L. Tzeng: Learning to read Chinese 121 

2. The structure of Chinese characters 

As we mentioned earner, most of the Chinese characters are constructed with a 
radical and a phonetic component. This kind of character is named phonetic com- 
pounds. It has the largest number among all Chinese characters, estimated at 
around 79-90% (DeFrancis 1991). Empirical studies have shown that the speed to 
pronounce characters is influenced by the presence and the degree of consis- 
tency of the phonetic components (Cheng, C. M. 1992; Fang, Horng, & Tzeng 
1986). By consistency we mean that no matter what radical is combined with the 
phonetic component,, the pronunciation of the character wqould be the same as 
the phonetic component. Therefore, Chinese readers need to know the ortho- 
graphic rules in the construction of characters. Some authors suggest there are 
orthography-phonology correspondence rules (OPC) in reading Chinese charac- 
ters (Chen 1993, in Ho & Bryant 1997a). However, when tone is taken into con- 
sideration, the estimation of the predictive accuracy of using phonetic component 
cue to pronounce a character is only around 26%. If we further take frequency 
into consideration, the percentage drops to 19% (Ho & Bryant 1997a), because 
there is more regularity in low-frequency characters (Shu & Anderson, in press). 
Therefore, the expected percentage of using phonological regularity for character 
recognition is a little less than one fifth of the number of characters. Thus, for the 
beginning readers of Chinese, how do they learn and make use of the partially 
valid phonological information available in the phonetic component of the char- 
acter? Do they develop phonological awareness as their western counterparts 
do? In this paper, we are going to examine these issues by reviewing the roles of 
phonological awareness in learning to read Chinese in Hong Kong, Taiwan and 
China. We believe this paper will help clarifying the nature of the relation be- 
tween phonological awareness and reading. 

To explore this topic we need to return to schools to observe how the 
reading instructions are carried out in the Chinese-speaking communities. 

3. Character instruction 

In Taiwan, there are Zu-Yin symbols (phonetic symbols) used as a pronunciation 
aid system. Thirty-seven consonant and vowel symbols can be put together, syn- 
thesized, and spelled. In the beginning of elementary school education, children 
are introduced to Zu-Yin symbols to help them recognize characters. They learn 
phonetic symbols and the synthesis (spelling) of symbols for 10 weeks. After 10 
weeks, characters are presented in short paragraphs. Character instruction fo- 
cuses on the radical and the position of each stroke. Due to its variations, the role 
and the function of the phonetic component are not taught at school. Students 
are required to practice characters as homework. 

In China, Pin Yin (an alphabetic phonetic system) is introduced to children 
at the beginning of school for about 4 weeks, before the character instruction 
(Read et al. 1986). 

122 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

In Hong Kong, according to Ho & Bryant 1997a, children start learning to 
read single Chinese characters in their first kindergarten year. In the second and 
the third kindergarten years, they learn to read multiple-character words and short 
phrases. In the first grade, students read a Chinese text, in which new vocabular- 
ies of single Chinese characters and multiple-character words are highlighted at 
the end of each piece of text. Characters are introduced as a whole (a whole- 
word approach), and no phonetic system is developed to aid children to read 
Chinese. From grade 3, the students learn how to use radicals to look up charac- a 
ters in Chinese dictionaries. The role and the function of the phonetic compo- \ 
nents are not taught by school teachers. 

Since Taiwan and China all have constructed phonetic systems to aid read- 
ing, we assume their phonetic symbols play the role as alphabets. Then, will Hong 
Kong children differ from Taiwan and China children in the development of 
phonological awareness? 

4. The measurement of phonological awareness and the phonological 
features of Chinese 

The studies we reviewed all adopted the western paradigm to study the relation- 
ship between phonological awareness and reading. 

A wide variety of tasks have been used in the alphabetical literature to as- 
sess the concept of phonological awareness (Yopp 1988; Wagner & Torgesen 
1987). According to Yopp's review, there are 11 tasks that are used to assess 
phonological awareness. They are: 

(1) Sound-to-word matching: Is there an /f/ in caip. 

(2) Word-to-word matching: Do pen and pipe begin with the same 

(3) Recognition or production of rhyme: Does sun rhyme with runl 

(4) Isolation of a sound: What is the first sound in rosel 

(5) Phoneme segmentation: What sounds do you hear in the word hotl 

(6) Phoneme counting: How many sounds do you hear in the word cakel 

(7) Phoneme blending: Combine these sounds: /k/-/a/-/t/ 

(8) Phoneme deletion: What word would be left if l\J were taken away 
from the middle of standi 

(9) Specifying deleted phoneme: What sound do you hear in meat that is 
missing in eatl 

(10) Phoneme reversal: Say /os/ with the first sound last and the last sound i 
first? ' 

(11) Invented spellings: Write the word monster. 

Among them, the most used tasks are rhyming tasks, phoneme segmentation 
tasks, matching tasks, phoneme substitution tasks, blending tasks, and phoneme 
counting tasks (Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer 1984). All these tasks have 
high interrelations (Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer 1984; Wagner, Torgesen, 
& Rashotte 1994; Yopp 1988). 

Hwa Wei Ko and Ovid J. L. Tzeng: Learning to read Chinese 123 

Perfetti, Beck, Bell, & Hughes 1987 renamed the tasks by their processes: 
synthesis and analysis. These two represent different components of phonemic 
knowledge. The synthesis tasks require subjects to produce a word or pseudo- 
word in response to segments spoken in isolation by an examiner. It is phoneme 
blending, which taps basic and simple phonemic knowledge. The analysis tasks 
that include tapping and deletion require more sophisticated phonemic knowl- 
edge. With a longitudinal study of 1st graders, Perfetti et al. 1987 suggested that 
success in reading depended on synthesis, and reading itself enabled child to 
analyze speech segments. 

It is obvious that all the above tasks require the subjects to pay attention to 
the phonemic unit of the word. This is very different from Chinese's pronuncia- 
tion. Chinese characters are pronounced at the syllable level (Tseng, Huang, & 
Jing 1996). In fact, characters are morphosyllabic (DeFrancis 1991; Tzeng & 
Wang 1983). Each character is pronounced as a single syllable and represents a 
single morpheme. Moreover, The Zu-Yin symbols were invented at the syllabic 
level. For example, /ai/, /ei/, /ow/,/ang/ and /eng/ are all represented by one Zu-Yin 
character respectively. For this reason, the phonological awareness tasks devel- 
oped in Taiwan and Hong Kong are limited to the discrimination of sounds at the 
syllabic level. 

In China, the Pin- Yin symbols are represented by Roman letters so that 
speech sounds could be written down with phonemic units. For example, the 
character ^ 'east', in Pin Yin, is 'dong' with four phonemes; in Zu Yin, it is rep- 
resented by three Zu-Yin symbols. In Read et al.'s 1986 study, they only asked 
the subjects to add or delete the first consonant. It will be interesting to see how 
subjects in the P. R. China with Pin-Yin training differentiate the sounds that in 
speech involve one syllable, but in Pin Yin involve more than one phoneme. Will 
they be influenced by the syllabic nature of Chinese or by the nature of phone- 
mic Pin-Yin training? 

5. The Hong Kong study 

In Hong Kong, Ho & Bryant 1997a conducted a research to test the psychologi- 
cal reality of the OPC rules. They studied the Hong Kong children's ability to use 
the phonetic component to read characters and the relationship between 
phonological awareness and character reading. The tasks used were 1) Chinese 
ideophonetic compound reading, 2) Chinese word reading, 3) Chinese pseudo- 
character reading, 4) Onset deletion and Rhyme detection as tasks for phonologi- 
' cal awareness. 5) The Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices. The results 
showed that after controlling the effect of IQ differences, rhyme detection ceased 
to be significantly related to Chinese ideophonetic compound reading at grade 1, 
and none of the phonological awareness tasks correlated statistically significantly 
with any of the reading tasks in Grade 2. But the correlation among word read- 
ing, ideophonetic compound reading, and pseudo-character reading stayed statis- 
tically significant. 

124 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Ho & Bryant 1997b also studied the phonological awareness of Hong Kong 
children from the ages of 3 to 8 . They have considered acoustically separable 
sounds in Chinese syllable and adopted onset (the initial segment) and rhyme (the 
final segment) and tone attached to the rhyme to define phonological awareness. 

Either cross-sectional or longitudinal data all showed that Hong Kong chil- 
dren were able to detect global sound (homophones and combined rhyme/tone 
difference). But before 5 years old, children were not able to detect rhymes or 
tones alone. They were able to detect onsets at the age of 7. The authors con- 1 
eluded that exposing to Cantonese facilitates Hong Kong children to develop an 
awareness of onsets, rhymes, and tones. There is an age-related developmental 
pattern observed in this study. An interesting phenomenon is that after partialling 
out IQ scores (measured by the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale at age 3 and by 
the Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices at age 7), the correlation coefficients 
of the phonological tasks given to children at those two ages were found to be 
not significant. It seems to imply that the advancement of phonological aware- 
ness depends on a general cognitive ability rather than the initial ability (age 3) to 
separate syllables. 

6. The Taiwan study 

Ko & Lee 1997a,b have involved two groups of subjects to explore the relation 
between phonological awareness and learning to read Chinese. All these subjects 
just started to learn to read Chinese. 

There were adult female subjects, aged 40 to 45 who were illiterate, and 
were taking elementary literacy classes from year one to year three. In the very 
beginning of the first year, students were taught Zu-Yin symbols. The following 
next two years, they read Chinese characters with Zu-Yin symbols beside each 
character. Our first testing (pretest) was held at the beginning of school year. 
Second testing (post test) was held at the beginning of the 2nd semester. 

Another group was the 1st grade children who were tested longitudinally at 
five points: 

(1) Just entering elementary school without any formal language instruc- 

(2) Five weeks after Zu-Yin symbol instruction. 

(3) Ten weeks after Zu-Yin symbol instruction. 

(4) The end of the first school year. 

(5) The end of the 2nd school year. ' 

6.1 Tasks 

There are many tasks to test phonological awareness. Variation among the tasks 
does exist. For example, rhyming tasks do not belong to the same factor as other 
tasks do (Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer 1984). The level of difficulties 
among the tasks is not the same (Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer 1984; Wag- 
ner, Torgesen, & Rashotte 1994). Nevertheless, many researchers agree that pho- 
neme deletion is the most valid task, for it can differentiate high and low perform- 

Hwa Wei Ko and Ovid J. L. Tzeng: Learning to read Chinese 125 

ance. Its correlation with reading scores is robust even when the IQ scores are 
held constant. Most of all, it is not easy for the subjects to reach a perfect score 
(Morais, Bertelson, Cary & Algeria 1986, Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer 
1984; Wagner, & Torgesen 1987). 

In our studies, we adopted the tasks of deletion of the first syllable, deletion 
of the initial consonant, synthesis of Zu-Yin symbols and Zu-Yin symbol recogni- 
tion to represent phonological awareness. The last two tasks are formally taught 
at schools. All tasks were administered on the one-to-one basis. 

Other tasks used in the studies were: 

(1) Character recognition, for all subjects, but items were different accord- 
ing to different grade level of difficulty . 

(2) Reading characters in texts, for 2nd and 3rd year adults. 

(3) Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test for children. 

(4) Raven's Colored Progressive Matrices for children. 

6.2 Results 

Both adults and children had no problem with 'Deletion of First Syllable' at any 
testing points. All the scores reached the ceiling. Their 'Phonetic Symbol Recog- 
nition' scores after instruction, the lowest score among all was 85% of the first 
year adults. The synthesis of Zu-Yin symbol scores were also improved as time 
progressed, and children performed much better than the adults did. 

'Deletion of the Initial Consonant' was the most difficult task among all 
phonological tasks. Children again performed much better than adults did, espe- 
cially after 10 weeks of phonetic symbol instruction. After 10 weeks, their aver- 
age passing rate was around 77%, but the passing rate was never above 40% for 
the adults. However, the variation of the score was wide. This might imply that 
there were subjects, children and adults alike, who had difficulty performing the 
initial consonant deletion tasks at any testing time. From our observation, when 
the subjects were instructed to do the task of initial consonant deletion, for ex- 
ample, deleting Ibl from /ba/, and sounding out /a/, many of the subjects would 
analyze the sound Ibl la/ and then said /a/, the answer. Some of the children used 
their fingers to help memorizing the position of the sound they analyzed and then 
gave the answer. The way they synthesized Zu-Yin symbols was the way they 
learned at school. 

For character recognition, with learning, adults' variation grew larger. The 
variation between the good and the poor character recognizers was getting wider 
as time progressed. On the contrary, children's variation stayed about the same 
across different testing points. 

From the above description, a summary could be drawn accordingly. 
Learning makes difference. But, the learning progress of children and illiterate 
adults is not quite the same. 

To explore the relationship of phonological awareness and reading charac- 
ters, we did an analysis of the children's data. It revcealed that after partialling out 

126 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

the Raven's scores, the correlation coefficient of deletion of initial consonant and 
character recognition decreased as time passed. But the correlation coefficient of 
character recognition and Zu-Yin symbol recognition or the correlation coeffi- 
cient of character recognition and synthesis of Zu-Yin symbols (either word or 
nonword ) stayed at the level of significance (p<.001) as time progressed. It im- 
plies that the relation between deletion of the initial consonant and character rec- 
ognition depends on a general cognitive ability. This phenomenon was also ob- 
served in Ho & Bryant's 1997b study. d 

When holding the IQ score constant, a partial correlation between phon- 
ological awareness measures and later reading scores showed that the relation 
was independent of general cognitive ability measured by IQ scores. If general 
ability plays a role in phonological awareness, we incline to claim: 

(1) that the Chinese case proved that in a non-alphabetic system, it takes 
a general ability to learn to segment sounds into a subsyllabic level. 

(2) that there are abilities other than segmenting sounds that are more 
closely relelvant to reading Chinese. 

For example, after partialling out the Raven's score and 'Deletion of Initial 
Consonant' score, only the correlation coefficients of Zu-Yin symbols synthesis 
and character recognition at later testing points stayed the same. This implies that 
Zu-Yin symbols synthesis is more important to later character recognition than 
deleting the initial consonant. Moreover, the mechanisms of deletion of the initial 
consonant (analysis) and synthesis are not the same. This will be elaborated later. 

As for the adults' data, due to the first year adults' unstable performance, 
we only considered 2nd and 3rd year adults' data. At the 2nd year and the 3rd 
year, the scores of pre-ZuYin symbol recognition (pre-test) correlated signifi- 
cantly with all post-tasks. However, its correlation with phonological variables 
was much stronger than its correlation with nonphonological ones. On the other 
hand, the pre-character recognition score was only correlated with character 
reading variables. 

Because adults did not have IQ equivalent measures, we followed Wagner 
& Torgeson 1987 by taking the initial character recognition score as a control 
and partialling it out. The results showed the correlation coefficients of character 
recognition and the scores of all the phonological related tasks weakened or be- 
came nonsignificant. This might imply that the relation between character recog- 
nition and all the scores of the phonologically-related tasks is built on the initial f 
score of character recognition. ™ 

7. Discussion 

Taken it all together, either in Hong Kong, Taiwan or China, subjects of all ages 
and all grades had no problem with deleting sounds at the syllabic level. Sec- 
ondly, explicit instruction of subsyllabic sounds did make a difference. For exam- 
ple, in China, the percent correct in the word target segmenting consonant task 
was 93 for the alphabetic group, but for the non-alphabetic group it was only 37. 

Hwa Wei Ko and Ovid J. L. Tzeng: Learning to read Chinese 127 

For the nonword target task, the correct percentage were 83 and 21 for alpha- 
betic and non-alphabetic groups, respectively (Read et al. 1986). 

Now, let us ompare Taiwan and Hong Kong's data. Recall that Hong Kong 
children receive no Zu-Yin or Pin-Yin instruction, Their performance in onset de- 
letion was less satisfactory than that of Taiwan's children. In Taiwan, the average 
passing rate on the deletion of initial consonant of the first graders was around 
77% after 10 weeks' Zu-Yin symbol instruction. In Hong Kong, the 1st graders' 
and 2nd graders' passing rate was around 42.7% to 51.3% which was nonethe- 
less above the level of chance (Ho & Bryant 1997a). 

Huang & Hanley 1994 have compared 8th graders of Taiwan, Hong Kong 
and Liverpool (UK). The task was first sound deletion.* With maximum score of 
10, when tested with Chinese language, the mean score for Hong Kong subjects 
was 2.40, for Taiwan it was 8.42. When tested with English language, the means 
scores were 4.59 and 9.09 for Hong Kong and UK subjects, respectively. It is ob- 
vious that with explicit instruction, Taiwan children's performance in Chinese 
sound segmentation task was better than Hong Kong children's performance. 

Interestingly, the Hong Kong students with no explicit instruction of 
phonological processing do show some sense of phonological awareness. In 
Read et al's 1986 study, a subject in the non-alphabetic group improved a great 
deal in non-word targets when he took the test the second time. How this ability 
develops requires more observation and exploration. 

Since training makes Chinese subjects more capable of segmenting sounds, 
does it relate to character recognition? 

Studies show the relation between phonological awareness and character 
recognition decreased as time progressed (Ho & Bryant 1997a; Ko & Lee 
1997a,b). In Taiwan, the children's data showed that the relation of Zu-Yin sym- 
bol synthesis and character recognition was more stable and stronger than the 
relation of deletion of the initial consonant and character recognition. The adults' 
data showed that the initial character recognition score was a much better predic- 
tor of later text reading and character recognition than other variables. 

7.1 The role of Zu-Yin symbol synthesis 

Though we have run a factor analysis with Taiwan children's data (Ko & Lee 
1977b) and the principle component comprised all the phonological variables, 
which implied all the variables share some commonality. Yet, as we mentioned be- 
fore the mechanisms of deletion of the initial consonant and Zu-Yin symbol syn- 
thesis were not the same (Please refer to Figures 1 and 2). 

Figure 1: The process of deleting a sound from a word 

I i 

Input (the sound of a character) — memorization — analyze the 

individual sounds — find the corresponding phonetic symbols — 

memorize each sound — delete the required sound — give the answer. 

128 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Figure 2: The process of Zu-Yin symbol synthesis 

T T 


From Figures 1 and 2, we can see that the process of Zu-Yin symbol synthe- 
sis is actually embedded in the process of deleting sounds. This is similar to Per- 
fetti et al's 1987 suggestion that spelling taps a more primitive phonemic knowl- 
edge and deletion requires more complicated knowledge. Since Zu-Yin symbol 
synthesis is formally taught in Taiwan elementary schools, it is suggested that 
synthesis could be used to process the deleting a sound from a syllable word after 
children learn to synthesize Zu-Yin symbols. 

Other than the process difference, since Chinese characters are pronounced 
at the syllabic level, we also suggest that Zu-Yin symbol synthesis is more benefi- 
cial to reading than deleting sounds. In fact we believe that Zu-Yin symbol syn- 
thesis plays a prominent role for Taiwan children to learn to read Chinese. The 
evidence is from the positive and significant correlation of synthesis and charac- 
ter recognition. On the contrary, the correlation coefficient of deleting consonant 
and character recognition decreased in advanced grades. The reason for the need 
of Zu-Yin symbol synthesis to reading is that blending sounds helps phonological 
coding of the character especially when encountering new characters. The ability 
to blend sounds helps efficiently to store the sounds of words while reading. 
However, this explanation is not applicable to Taiwan adults' data and Hong 
Kong's data. 

7.2 Phonological awareness and character recognition 

It appears that the low performance of Taiwan's illiterate adults and Hong 
Kong's children on deleting consonant tasks is not a reflection of inability to un- 
derstand the requirement of the tasks, but is specific to the linguistic level. We see 
that their inferiority in speech analysis depends on the linguistic units they use to 
manipulate, and this experience might be a constraint to them, such as the Tai- 
wan's illiterate adults who had learned, but made less use of, the Zu-Yin symbols. 

Subjects in Ko & Lee's study 1997a are native Taiwanese who speak Tai- 
wan dialect most of the time. There is a possibility that they cannot make use of 
the Mandarin speech sounds in learning to read Chinese. We might argue that 
their inferiority in performance on the deletion of the initial consonant task is be- 
cause of their unfamiliarity with the Mandarin sounds. Their learning of Mandarin 
is probably like a foreigner learning Chinese. We had tried the consonant deletion 
task with Taiwanese speech sounds. They did not perform well, either. Hence, we 
propose that their script and speech experience makes them use more of the char- 
acter information to learn characters. 

As we mentioned above there is partially valid phonological information 
available in the phonetic components of Chinese characters. In fact, research in- 
dicates that adults and elementary school children all alike can make use of it 
when encountering new characters (Ko 1991). 


Hwa Wei Ko and Ovid J. L. Tzeng: Learning to read Chinese 129 

With large sampling of characters and elementary school subjects, Ko 1991 
used the errors observed in subjects' responses and categorized them into the 
strategic patterns of identifying new characters. The task for the subject was to 
identify each character by writing down the phonetic symbols to represent the 
character's sound then to make up a word of at least two characters out of the 
target character. The most used strategy to identify new characters by the ele- 
mentary school children was 'graphic resemblance only' whose error rates of 
grades 1 to 6 ranged from .38 to .55. The first grader had the highest 'graphic re- 
semblance' error, the 6th graders had the least. The 2nd highest error students 
made was a pattern of 'graphic and phonetic resemblance'. The error rates of 
grade 1 to grade 6 ranged from .15 to .40. The 1st graders had the least and the 
6th had the most. These two patterns comprise up to 90% of the character recog- 
nition errors. The percentage of 'graphic resemblance only' error made by the 
grades 4, 5 and 6 are less than that of the grades 1, 2, and 3. The 'graphic and 
phonetic resemblance' error, however, increased as students advanced in grade. 

The use of 'graphic and phonetic resemblance' cue to identify characters 
also found in Hong Kong and China. In Hong Kong, children made use of the 
phonetic components to read characters or pseudo-characters. The effect of 
regularity and frequency was significant for the first graders (Ho & Bryant 
1997a). In China, Shu & Anderson (forthcoming) found a developmental trend of 
phonetic component awareness. The developmental variation of using this cue 
reflects that the lower graders have not developed the phonetic component 

Chang, Hung, & Tzeng 1992 used an on-line reading analysis and found 
that while reading, the 3rd and 4th grade poor readers substituted characters with 
characters which shared 'partial graphic and partial sound resemblance' or 
'graphic resemblance only'. The percentage of the former miscue used was 34 to 
36 %. The percentage of the latter miscue used for the 3rd grader was 17%, and 
9% for the 4th graders. Chang et al. again showed a developmental transition 
from using 'graphic resemblance' to 'graphic and partial sound resemblance' to 
identify characters. 

This developmental transition of character recognition actually reflects the 
nature of the structure of Chinese characters. Chinese characters share a high de- 
gree of similarity in overall visual layout and internal features. For elementary 
children, the tasks of learning to read characters involves discriminating between 
graphically similar characters and finding the character construction rules, espe- 
cially the phonetic component regularities. The research reviewed suggests that 
Chinese students, whether in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or China have learned to dif- 
ferentiate the graphic similarity and picked up the character construction rules to 
identify new characters. They have made use of the phonetic component to pro- 
nounce characters, even when they do not have the phonetic aids. 

130 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

8. Conclusion 

Could we hence draw a conclusion after the discussion above that phonological 
awareness in reading Chinese is not as important as in alphabetical reading? Al- 
though the discussion seems to suggest this conclusion, the answer is: 'it de- 

If we define phonological awareness as a task of segmenting sounds, this is 
probably true. Except for Zu-Yin symbol synthesis, the effect of other phonologi- 
cal awareness tasks on reading Chinese characters does not move along with 
learning. Ironically, phonetic aid is helpful, but it is not a necessary tool in reading 
Chinese. Students with no phonetic aids or special phonetic training could find 
other ways to read characters. 

If we consider phonological awareness and using phonological information 
in lexical access or in working memory are from the same source, then phonologi- 
cal awareness does play a role in reading Chinese for beginning readers. Chinese 
readers, either with phonetic aids training or without it, show a sense of 
phonological awareness at the syllabic level. How does this phonological aware- 
ness develop in Chinese children? It can derive from reading the characters or 
from learning the phonetic aids. The phonetic aids do help phonological coding 
of characters. When there is no such aid, students learn to refer to the phonetic 
component of the characters. Interestingly enough, schools do not teach the 
function of the phonetic components. Yet, among exceptions and low predictive 
accuracy, after being exposed to characters for some time or some amount, stu- 
dents eventually and implicitly pick up phonetic cues and apply them to identify 
new characters. How do they come to have this ability? This should be an impor- 
tant learning issue for research in the future. 


* Huang & Hanley 1994 tested first sound deletion, middle sound deletion, and 
last sound deletion as phonological awareness tasks. We take only the compati- 
ble first sound deletion here for a comparative analysis. 


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Literacy and Writing Systems 
in South Asia 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Peter Lowenberg 
San Jose State University 

At the end of World War n, when Indonesia declared its inde- 
pendence from the colonial regime of the Netherlands, only one Indo- 
nesian in 20 could read and write in any language. As the 21st century 
begins, almost nine out of every ten Indonesians is literate. This paper 
examines the sociolinguistic and historical context in which this dra- 
matic increase in literacy has occurred, focusing on the development of 
written language in present-day Indonesia; the crucial role played by 
Bahasa Indonesia, the national language; and the contributions of 
both the conventional and the nonformal education systems in pro- 
moting literacy. 


As recent events on several of its outlying islands have tragically demonstrated, 
Indonesia is confronting many of the political, economic, and ethnic tensions still 
encountered by other multilingual, multiethnic Asian nations that have emerged 
from the colonial era. However, Indonesia differs from most of these other coun- 
tries in not having its regional conflicts further exacerbated by linguistic tensions, 
as has occurred, for example, in India, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Rather, Ba- 
hasa Indonesia, a variety of the Malay language, was proclaimed Indonesia's na- 
tional language while Indonesia was still a Dutch colony, was named her official 
language at the time independence was declared, and has never since had serious 
competition for its status as the sole national and official language (Diah 1982; 
Nababan 1982, Kuipers 1993). 1 

One major benefit of this widespread acceptance and use of the national 
language has been a remarkable spread of literacy throughout the Indonesian 
population. In 1945, when Indonesia declared its independence from the Nether- 
lands, only five per cent of the population could read and write (Napitupulu 
1980). Just 35 years later, in 1980, almost 70 per cent of the population aged 15 
years or older were literate, a percentage that has now increased to an estimated 
87 per cent in 2000 (UNESCO 1999). This paper will examine the sociolinguistic 
and historical context in which this dramatic increase in literacy has occurred, fo- 
cusing in particular on Malay/Bahasa Indonesia. Also discussed will be current 
efforts to maintain and to further extend literacy among Indonesians, both 
through the expansion of reading and writing skills in the school system and 
through a very successful program of nonformal education. 

136 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 


Consisting of an estimated 13,000 to 17,000 islands (Kuipers 1993, Turner 1999), 
Indonesia extends from east to west a distance equivalent to the length of Europe 
from Ireland to the Caspian Sea, occupies half of the territory of Southeast Asia, 
and has the third largest land area in Asia after China and India (Peacock 1973). 
In 1980, according to the census of that year, Indonesia had a population of 
146.7 million (Nababan 1982). The census of 1990 reported a population of 179.3 
million (Turner 1999), and by 2000, the United Nations (in Turner 1999) projected I 
a population of 212.6 million, the fourth largest population in the world ^ 
(Encyclopedia Britannica 1999). 

This population, distributed across 6,000 of Indonesia's islands, comprise 
over 300 distinct ethnic groups, each with its own cultural patterns and linguistic 
repertoire (Diah 1982). Estimates of the number of regional vernacular languages 
in current use range from 250 to almost 700, depending on criteria employed to 
distinguish languages from dialects. Except in the easternmost province of Irian 
Jaya (the western half of the island of New Guinea), these languages are generally 
related through the Western Indonesian sub-branch of the Malayo-Polynesian, or 
Austronesian, language family, but few of them are mutually intelligible (Voegelin 
& Voegelin 1964, Dyen 1971, Kuipers 1993). The majority of these languages are 
used in the sparsely populated eastern islands by at most a few thousand speak- 
ers each. However, several languages on the more populous islands to the west 
have many more speakers, including Javanese in Central and East Java, 70 mil- 
lion; Sundanese in West Java, 25 million; Madurese in Madura and East Java, 9 
million; Minangkabau in West Sumatra, 7.5 million; Balinese in Bali, 3 million; 
Bugis/Makassar in South Sulawesi, 2.5 million; Acehnese in the very north of 
Sumatra, 2.2 million; and Batak in North Central Sumatra, 2 million (estimates in 
Kuipers 1993). In addition, a significant number of Indonesia's three million Chi- 
nese, who reside mainly in the seaports and larger cities, use Hokkien, Hakka, and 
Cantonese (Nababan 1982, Kuipers 1993). 

Malay to Bahasa Indonesia 

The speakers of these diverse regional and ethnic languages, connected since pre- 
history by inter-island trade, have for almost 2,000 years shared a common lingua 
franca, Malay. The first institutionalized spread of Malay throughout insular 
Southeast Asia was by the great seafaring powers of Srivijaya, Malacca, and 
Aceh, which dominated trade in the region from early in the Christian era until the a 
sixteenth century (Gonda 1973, Abas 1978, Asmah 1982). During the Nether- \ 
lands' colonization of present-day Indonesia (1600-1942), although Dutch was 
initially the only official language of the colony, the Dutch found Malay ex- 
tremely useful as an auxiliary language for communication with the linguistically 
diverse peoples whom they sought to govern. By the beginning of the nine- 
teenth century, Malay 'was solidly in place inside officialdom' (Anderson 
1983:121), and in 1865, Malay was adopted by the Dutch colonial government as 
the second official language for local administration and commerce (Hoffman 
1973). As an ethnically neutral indigenous language, Malay also became the Ian- 

Lowenberg: Writing and literacy in Indonesia 137 

guage of opposition to the Dutch colonial regime, culminating in its adoption by 
nationalists in 1928 as Bahasa Indonesia, 'the Indonesian Language'. The Japa- 
nese occupied Indonesia from 1942 to 1945 and used Bahasa Indonesia as an of- 
ficial language of their regime for law, administration, education, science, and in- 
dustry. Hence, when Indonesia proclaimed its independence in 1945, Bahasa In- 
donesia had become the primary pan-Indonesian language and, with virtually no 
opposition, was declared Indonesia's single national and official language 
(Alisjahbana 1976, Abas 1978, Asmah 1982, Diah 1982). 

Under Indonesia's current language policy, Bahasa Indonesia remains the 
only national and official language. It is the symbol of national identity and unity, 
the language of law and government administration, the medium of instruction in 
education, and a tool for national planning and for the development of science, 
technology, and national culture. In complementary distribution with Bahasa In- 
donesia, regional languages often serve as the medium of instruction for the first 
two or three years of elementary education, and are also maintained for intra- 
regional communication and for the preservation and development of local cul- 
ture (Nababan 1979, 1982, Diah 1982). 

The written tradition 

The first evidence of writing in the Indonesian archipelago consists of 5th cen- 
tury A.D. stone engravings in Sanskrit, the language brought by Hindu priests 
from India in the early centuries of the Christian era. Soon afterward, writing sys- 
tems based on Devanagari and other Indian scripts began to appear in Malay and 
the regional languages used on Java, Bali, Sumatra, and present-day Sulawesi. 
The development of these scripts led to the first indigenous literatures, the Royal 
Chronicles, written in the Hindu courts of Java and Sumatra (Gonda 1973, Alis- 
jahbana 1976, Nababan 1979, Asmah 1982). Kawi, the writing system of Old 
Javanese (900 to 1500 A.D.) based on the Devanagari script, is used in the earliest 
written inscription in an indigenous language in Southeast Asia, the Charter of 
Sukabumi in Central Java, executed in 804 a.d.. (Zoetmulder 1974). Kawi was 
also the most extensively used written language in Southeast Asia during this pe- 
riod in terms of number and variety of texts, including prose stories, and sung po- 
etry; scientific, legal, and philosophical treatises; chants, songs, and folklore; and 
epic literature, particularly the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, imported from 
India but nativized to Javanese content and forms. The Kakawin Ramayana is 
oldest extant document of Kawi literature, dating from before 930 a.d. 
(Zurbuchen 1976). 

With the large-scale conversion of the Indonesian islands to Islam between 
the 13th and 17th centuries, Arabic writing developed into the Jawi and Pegon 
scripts for Malay and Javanese, respectively. These scripts were used for both re- 
ligious and secular matters, including the translation of Arabic literature and the 
composing of original literature in Malay and Javanese (Jones 1981, Asmah 

138 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

The institutionalized romanization of Indonesian languages came with the 
adoption by the Dutch colonial government of Malay as a second official lan- 
guage, as mentioned above. In 1901, the Dutch scholar C. A. van Ophuijsen pub- 
lished a standardized Latin-alphabet spelling system for Malay, along with an ex- 
tensive wordlist implementing this system. In 1920, the colonial government es- 
tablished a literature bureau, the Balai Pustaka, to provide popular reading mate- 
rial in Malay and several regional languages for Indonesians who were literate in 
the new spelling system (Vandenbosch 1944, Hoffman 1973). 

Concurrently, a native journalistic press in Malay began to flourish after " 
1900; by 1925, approximately 200 newspapers had been published for varying 
periods wholly or in part in Malay. In addition, the Budi Utomo ('High En- 
deavor'), a nationalist movement established in 1908 by a community of Javanese 
intellectuals to promote Javanese language and culture, adopted Malay as its offi- 
cial written language (Anwar 1985). During the 1930s, the first major non- 
European promotion of written literature in Malay, by now renamed Bahasa In- 
donesia, was undertaken by the Pujangga Baru ('The New Poets'), who com- 
menced publication of a literary magazine by the same name in order to 'promote 
the Indonesian language and its culture' (Alisjahbana 1974:399). The efforts of 
Pujangga Baru and similar writers' groups during the 1930s produced genres of 
nationalistic writing which became the foundation for several schools of modern 
literature in Bahasa Indonesia, and which are used in secondary schools as mod- 
els for expository writing (Anderson 1966, Alisjahbana 1976, Diah 1982). 

In 1938, the leadership of Pujangga Baru organized the First Indonesian 
Language Congress in Surakarta, Java, where it was agreed that urgent needs for 
the spread of the language included an institute and faculty for teaching Bahasa 
Indonesia, a modernized and standardized lexicon and grammar, and unified re- 
form of the many spelling systems that had developed alongside the one formu- 
lated by van Ophuijsen, mentioned above (Effendi 1972, Nur 1979, Anwar 1985). 

Not surprisingly, the Dutch ultimately gave little support to these Indone- 
sian nationalist writers. However, the next colonizer, the Japanese, implemented 
most of the recommendations of the Congress of 1938. During their occupation 
of Indonesia (1942-1945), the Japanese abolished Dutch as the principal lan- 
guage of power in the East Indies, hoping eventually to replace it with Japanese, 
which was taught as a compulsory subject in all the schools (Reid & Oki 1986). 
With regard to literacy in Japanese, Anwar (1985:37) reports that for most Indo- 
nesians, 'the katakana and hiragana alphabets were learned and mastered after a , 
week or two.' However, the urgent wartime need to communicate quickly and \ 
clearly with the Indonesian people forced the Japanese to give Bahasa Indonesia 
official status almost immediately and to use it as the primary language of the ar- 
chipelago (Reid 1980). 

In so doing, the Japanese contributed greatly to the development and 
spread of Bahasa Indonesia as a written language in the domains of government 
and law; of science, technology, and industry; and of elementary through univer- 
sity education, including the publication of textbooks. In order to spread propa- 

Lowenberg: Writing and literacy in Indonesia 139 

ganda for their war effort, the occupation government used Bahasa Indonesia for 
written communication with the Indonesian people and also supported increases 
in the number and circulation of newspapers in Bahasa Indonesia (Elsbree 1953, 
Alisjahbana 1976). 'It was a period in which a great deal that had never before 
been written or otherwise expressed in Indonesian had to be communicated in 
the language' (Anwar 1985:46). 

In addition, in 1942, in order to cultivate Bahasa Indonesia so that it could 
be used 'to express modern ideas as well as technical terms' (Anwar 1985:43), the 
Japanese organized the first systematic planning of Bahasa Indonesia by estab- 
lishing a Commission of the Indonesian Language, comprised of both Japanese 
and prominent Indonesians, including future president Sukarno. The tasks of this 
commission were to write a normative grammar, to standardize the vocabulary of 
daily usage, and to develop terminology. 

These efforts have been continued by an unbroken succession of such 
commissions and agencies from independence to the present day. Since 1960, 
these Indonesian agencies have met regularly with language planners from Ma- 
laysia to standardize the Malay language in the two countries. One achievement 
of these efforts has been a unified Latin-alphabet Melindo spelling system, 
adopted by both countries in 1972 (Asmah 1982, Noss 1984). The Latin alphabet 
has also been applied to create standard writing systems for several of the major 
regional languages, including Javanese (Abas 1978, Perez, Santiago, & Liem 


Despite this long tradition of writing, literacy in Indonesia has until recently been 
accessible only to the elite. Under the Hindu kingdoms, reading and writing were 
limited to the court nobility, whose children were instructed in holy writings by 
special gurus living in remote areas (Soedijarto, et al. 1980). With the advent of 
Islam, members of the aristocratic social strata began to learn the Arabic alphabet 
in centers for Islamic study called pesantren, which still flourish today. However, 
of those who studied in the pesantren, only children of the rising bourgeoisie — 
traders and more affluent land owners — tended to become sufficiently literate in 
Arabic writing to use the Jawi and Pegon scripts, mentioned above (Jones 1981, 
Naipaul 1981). 

During the latter part of the colonial period, the Dutch government provided 
Dutch-language education at the primary, secondary, and ultimately university 
levels for the children of the Eurasian and Indonesian urban elite. Concurrently, 
as the direct involvement of the Dutch in the governing of its East Indies in- 
creased, the colonial government needed more educated personnel to serve 'as 
low-level clerks, bookkeepers, and assistants to Dutch officials in government and 
business' (Gonzalez & Prijono 1988:592). 2 Therefore, in 1867 a colonial depart- 
ment of education was created, and a limited number of elementary schools with 
Malay as the primary medium of instruction were established for the non-elite 
(Vandenbosch 1944, Wilson 1975, Nababan 1979, Gonzalez & Prijono 1988). 3 

140 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

However, this education was far from universal. In 1900, there were a total of 
only 1500 schools in the Dutch East Indies, or one school for every 24,000 in- 
habitants. Thus, by the end of the colonial era, most Indonesians were still illiter- 
ate. In the 1930 census, the last official census prior to World War n, only 6.4 per 
cent of the non-European and non-Eurasian population (10.8 per cent of the 
males and 2.2 per cent of the females) were literate in any language, with literacy 
defined as the ability 'to write a note to an acquaintance on an ordinary subject, 
no matter in which language or with which characters' (Jones 1976:40). j 

After capturing Indonesia in 1942, the Japanese attempted to provide Ma- " 
lay-medium schooling and literacy instruction throughout the islands. However, 
they experienced little more success in increasing literacy than had the Dutch 
(Thomas 1970), and when Indonesia proclaimed its independence in 1945, no 
more than five per cent of the population were literate in the Latin alphabet 
(Napitupulu 1980). 

Since independence, several nationwide programs have been undertaken to 
spread literacy (Soedijarto, et al. 1980). In most of these plans, the major vehicle 
has been the educational system, particularly at the elementary level, where basic 
instruction in literacy skills occurs. Though the national curriculum does not as- 
sign a specific period of class time for the teaching of reading and writing, these 
skills are usually taught from the first grade during the eight hours per week allot- 
ted to language instruction throughout primary school (Nababan 1983). In the 
cities and other areas where Bahasa Indonesia is widely spoken in the commu- 
nity, beginning classes in reading are generally taught in Bahasa Indonesia, using 
materials developed and distributed by the national Department of Education and 
Culture. In other regions where the regional vernacular functions as the medium 
of instruction for the first two to three years of school, literacy skills are initially 
taught in the vernacular before switching to Bahasa Indonesia. Preparation of 
reading materials in local languages is, however, left entirely to the provincial and 
local school authorities. On the more populated islands, Latin-alphabet literacy 
materials have been produced in at least twelve regional languages. However, 
such materials are not universally available, and in many primary schools where a 
vernacular is the medium of instruction, basic reading and writing are taught in 
Bahasa Indonesia (Nababan 1982, 1983). 

The impact of this in-school instruction in literacy skills has been reflected in 
increasing literacy rates among the population in direct proportion to rising pri- 
mary school enrollments since independence. In 1945, when the Japanese with- a 
drew from Indonesia, only 20.7 per cent of all elementary school age (7-12 years) \ 
Indonesians were enrolled in school. By 1980, this percentage had increased 
dramatically to 85 per cent (Diah 1982), and by 1982, there was 'virtually 100 per 
cent enrollment for the relative age group in the first grade' (Gonzalez & Prijono 
1988:592). Between 1971 and 1989, elementary school enrollment more than 
doubled (Moegiadi & Jiyono 1994). 

Concurrently, whereas in 1951, still fewer than nine per cent of the popula- 
tion could read and write in any language (Thomas 1977), this percentage had 

Lowenberg: Writing and literacy in Indonesia 141 

increased to 39 per cent in 1961, to 56.6 per cent in 1971, to 69.3 per cent in 
1980, and to 83.7 per cent in 1990, according to census data gathered in those 
years (UNESCO 1974, 1977, 1999; Nababan 1983). Literates in the 1971 census 
(and presumably in subsequent censuses as well) were people aged fifteen years 
or higher 'who could both read and write simple sentences in any kind of letter or 
character' (Jones 1976:42). UNESCO (1999) estimates that in the year 2000, lit- 
eracy among this age range of the population had increased to 87 per cent. 

Nonformal literacy programs 

Despite the large numbers of children currently attending elementary schools, 
only 50 per cent of the pupils who enter the first grade reach the fourth grade, 
and only 35 per cent complete all six years (Diah 1982, Gonzalez & Prijono 
1988). A major reason for this high rate of attrition is the expense of education. 
Although tuition fees have been officially abolished in all primary schools since 
1978, other fees, including school maintenance, building levees, and the purchase 
of uniforms, impose a significant financial burden on most families. In addition, 
many rural children must leave school in order to help their families earn a liveli- 
hood (Beeby 1979, Gonzalez & Prijono 1988). With regard to the current non- 
school-age population, among Indonesians aged 25 years and older, as recently 
as 1990, 54.5 per cent had never attended school (UNESCO 1999). Since a 
'rudimentary' level of literacy is not achieved until the completion of 3.5 years of 
schooling (Pearse 1979), many Indonesians do not stay in school long enough to 
learn to read and write effectively. In addition, literacy rates are lower among 
women and residents of rural areas — sectors of the population which still have 
least long-term access to the school system. For example, according to the 1971 
census (UNESCO 1977), among Indonesians aged 15 years and older, 76.7 per 
cent of the urban population were literate (87.6 per cent of males, 66.1 per cent of 
females); however, among the rural population, who still comprise 80 per cent of 
all Indonesians, only 52.2 per cent were literate (65.5 per cent of males, 40.1 per 
cent of females). By 1990, whereas among the total Indonesian population, 89.6 
per cent of males aged 15 years or older were literate, only 75.3 per cent of fe- 
males were (United Nations 1999). 

For those Indonesians who have not acquired literacy through the conven- 
tional school system, the national Department of Education and Culture has, since 
1951, provided a succession of literacy projects as part of a larger on-going pro- 
gram in nonformal education, that is, 'organized learning opportunities outside 
the regular school room' (Soedijarto, et al. 1980:50). The major current nonformal 
literacy program — initiated at the direction of then-President Suharto in 1978 
and assisted by UNICEF, UNESCO, and the World Bank — is targeted for Indo- 
nesians 7 to 44 years old who have never had educational opportunities or are 
school dropouts (Napitupulu 1980, UNESCO 1982, Moegadi & Jiyono 1994). 
The program is organized under the name KEJAR (an acronym from kelompok 
belajar, meaning 'learning group'). With the slogan 'each one teach ten', these 
learning groups consist of an average of 10 people from a village instructed by 
one literate person from the same village who acts as their 'tutor'. Most of the tu- 


142 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

tors have graduated from primary school and some have completed junior high 
school; as members of the community, the tutors are often perceived as less 
threatening than the standard classroom teacher, who has usually come from out- 
side the village (Gonzalez & Prijono 1988). The members of each group determine 
where and when classes will be held, generally meeting three or four times weekly 
during evening hours in the members' homes. Administration and evaluation of 
the program and the distribution of teaching materials occur through a chain of 
command from the national down through the village level, where 'monitors', 
usually primary school teachers or secondary school graduates, each supervise 
five to ten learning groups and their tutors (Napitupulu 1980, Gonzalez & Prijono 

The objectives of the KEJAR program are 'functional literacy' — literacy in 
the Latin alphabet and proficiency in Bahasa Indonesia sufficient for writing let- 
ters and for reading newspapers, magazines, and other publications on various 
practical topics; numeracy in Arabic numerals for such tasks as measuring land 
areas and calculating loan interest; and the acquisition of basic education and 
critical thinking skills. In addition, the program seeks to foster a sense of national 
identity, and to develop attitudes supportive of social change and economic 
growth (Napitupulu 1980, Nababan 1983, Gonzalez & Prijono 1988, Moegiadi & 
Jiyono 1994). 

Toward these objectives, since the early 1980s, Package A, a series of 100 
24- to 40-page pamphlets, has been produced by the national Directorate of 
Community Education as a core curriculum for instruction nationwide. The first 
20 pamphlets, designed for use with a tutor in the learning groups, increase se- 
quentially in complexity of syntactic structures, text types, and arithmetic 
tasks.The first three of these, pamphlets Al through A3, introduce the Latin al- 
phabet and Arabic numerals using 'structural, analytic, and synthetic (SAS) meth- 
ods' (UNESCO 1981:50), in which a simple phrase or sentence in Bahasa Indone- 
sia is presented describing an illustration (such as 'father's green trousers'); this 
phrase or sentence is analyzed into words, the words into syllables, and the sylla- 
bles into graphemes; and then these constituents are resynthesized into the origi- 
nal phrase or sentence. Students repeat the tutor's pronunciation as they read, af- 
ter which the tutor explains the phrase or sentence in the local vernacular. Also 
provided, for each page of text in these initial three pamphlets, is a sheet of trac- 
ing paper which students can use to develop their skills in printing and in writing 
numerals (Department of Education and Culture 1979, 1981; Nababan 1983). 

Pamphlets A4 through A10 contain more advanced integrated lessons in 1 
reading and writing Bahasa Indonesia and in arithmetic without the SAS methods 
or the tracing paper. Pamphlets All through A20 provide follow-up materials for 
literacy and arithmetic practice and for studying Bahasa Indonesia in greater 
depth. Each of these pamphlets focuses on a particular activity of immediate util- 
ity to most rural families, on such topics as 'Home Garden' and 'Let's Save'. 

Whereas the first 20 pamphlets all require the assistance of a tutor in the 
learning groups, the remaining 80 pamphlets, divided into two levels of difficulty, 

Lowenberg: Writing and literacy in Indonesia 143 

serve as a self-study 'popular library' for students who have attained basic liter- 
acy in the learning groups through the first 20 pamphlets. These more advanced 
pamphlets cover a wide range of topics, from such practical household skills as 
'Food Conservation', and 'Raising Rabbits', to more abstract subjects, such as 
'Indonesia, My Homeland', 'United We Stand, Divided We Fall', 'Indonesia, A 
Constitutional State', and 'Religions and Faith in Indonesia' (Department of 
Education and Culture 1979, Napitupulu 1980, UNESCO 1981). 

I Most of these materials are printed in and then distributed from Jakarta. 

However, in order to promote the program's relevance to local contexts, supple- 
mentary readings are produced in each region, usually by hand or mimeograph, 
but in some provinces with 'micro-mobile printing units,' which include dark- 
rooms and offset printing equipment (Gonzalez & Prijono 1988). 

To date, the impact of the KEJAR program on literacy rates among its target 
population remains unknown. Similarly, no large-scale evaluation of the program's 
implementation has been completed. However, the fact that the program is flour- 
ishing and expanding more than twenty years after its inception probably indi- 
cates some measure of success. Meanwhile, since the 1994-95 school year, com- 
pulsory basic education in the schools has been increased from six to nine years, 
an extension also being adopted in the nonformal sector. The original Package A, 
intended to present a rough equivalent of the national elementary school cur- 
riculum, is now being supplemented by a more advanced level Package B, which 
is designed to approximate the junior secondary school curriculum for learners 
who have completed Package A or have dropped out of junior high school 
(Moegiadi & Jiyono 1994). 

Expansion of literacy skills 

Mandatory instruction in Bahasa Indonesia continues throughout primary and 
secondary schooling. However, the rate of advancement in literacy development 
beyond the basic level is constrained by several factors. One of these is the ex- 
ceedingly high dropout rate, mentioned earlier. In addition, of those students who 
stay in school, 15 to 20 per cent are repeating their previous grade (Gonzalez & 
Prijono 1988). These problems are compounded by a critical shortage of text- 
books, especially in light of Indonesia's rapid population growth. Surveys con- 
ducted in the 1970s revealed that in the less-developed provinces, an average of 
40 per cent of the sixth graders had no textbooks; in elementary schools in some 
k towns and small cities, no students questioned had any books (Beeby 1979). To 
f alleviate this shortage, between 1977 and 1994, the central government produced 
over 900 million copies of textbooks for use in primary and secondary schools 
around the country (Gonzalez & Prijono 1988). However, increased production is 
only a partial solution. The great distances and the shortage of transportation fa- 
cilities between islands greatly impede the distribution of materials, which can 
take several months to reach remote areas (Moegiadi & Jiyono 1994). 

Outside of the school system, there is a similar shortage of reading materials, 
particularly in rural areas, where many people who have gained literacy skills in 

144 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

the beginning grades of elementary school or through the nonformal education 
program relapse into illiteracy (Moegiadi & Jiyono 1994). Apparently, little has 
changed since Nababan observed (1983:43) that 'the reading habit is still in a 
developmental stage in Indonesia'. Book publication, other than textbooks, in all 
languages is low due to limited financial resources among both publishers and po- 
tential consumers. To generate more interest in the writing, publication, and read- 
ing of books, the government has established a National Council for Book De- 
velopment, which has among its projects a 'Books Enter Villages' program and a 
the establishment of local libraries (Diah 1982, UNESCO 1984). \ 

Similar shortages occur with the print mass media. In 1996, the combined 
circulation of Indonesia's 69 daily newspapers, most of which are written in Ba- 
hasa Indonesia, was 4,665,000, and the combined circulation of the nation's 94 
non-daily newspapers was 4,696,000 (UNESCO 1999). This total circulation of 
under ten million is well below a minimum of one copy per ten inhabitants rec- 
ommended by UNESCO (1961). Since these media are important to the govern- 
ment's needs to disseminate information to Indonesia's overwhelmingly rural 
population, the national government has implemented a 'Newspapers Enter Vil- 
lages' program, similar to the program for books described above, which includes 
the publication of village newspapers posted in public places for residents to read 
(UNESCO 1984). 

With regard to writing skills, many educators complain that students receive 
insufficient training and practice in writing, largely because few teachers of lan- 
guage or other subjects give writing assignments or collect or correct the assign- 
ments that they do give. Major reasons for this situation are Indonesia's popula- 
tion boom, which has led to classroom sizes of up to fifty pupils in many elemen- 
tary and secondary schools; the generally low salaries, which force most teachers 
to work in two or more schools daily; and, in rural areas, teachers' own lack of 
competence in writing (Beeby 1979, Nababan 1982, Gonzalez & Prijono 1988, 
Moegiadi & Jiyono 1994). 

The conditions for introducing and sustaining literacy skills in the regional 
vernacular languages are even more challenging. In addition to providing for the 
above-mentioned use of the vernaculars as a transitional medium of instruction in 
the elementary schools, the national curriculum guidelines encourage the schools 
to assist in the maintenance of the regional languages by offering them as sub- 
jects of instruction. Hence, where teaching materials and qualified teachers are 
available, the vernaculars are taught as subjects for two or three hours per week a 
throughout elementary school and junior and senior high school. Decisions as to ^ 
which languages will be taught, syllabus content, and materials preparation are 
made at the provincial level, based on the national syllabus for Bahasa Indonesia 
and guidelines that have been developed at a series of national seminars since 
1976. While most instruction appears to use the Latin alphabet, some schools on 
Java and Bali teach Javanese and Balinese, respectively, in traditional Indian- 
based scripts, discussed earlier (Nababan 1982, 1983). 

Lowenberg: Writing and literacy in Indonesia 145 

Little information is presently available concerning the results of these 
classes in the vernaculars. In general, literacy instruction in the regional languages 
appears to suffer from a lack of trained teachers and a shortage of reading materi- 
als, both in and out of the schools (Nababan 1983). For example, Quinn 1983 re- 
ports that in the early 1980s, the five major periodicals in Javanese had a rela- 
tively stable combined circulation of only 140,000, despite a population of over 
70 million speakers of Javanese (Kupiers 1993). 

I Conclusion 

Despite these problems in maintaining and enhancing literacy skills among its far- 
flung population, since independence, Indonesia has nonetheless made encour- 
aging progress in the eradication of illiteracy. To a considerable degree, this suc- 
cess results from a complex series of sociocultural, political, economic, and linguis- 
tic developments, spanning almost two millenia, that have led to the popular ac- 
ceptance throughout the country of Bahasa Indonesia as the single national and 
official language. This acceptance, in turn, has facilitated the preparation, publica- 
tion, and distribution of uniform literacy materials in one language for use na- 
tionwide despite the fact that most Indonesians speak any of several hundred re- 
gional vernaculars as their mother tongue. As the educational system has grown 
to accommodate most Indonesian children through the initial years of primary 
school, the percentage of Indonesians with at least a rudimentary ability to read 
and write has increased dramatically. The expansion of nonformal literacy pro- 
grams to reach the out-of-school population, particularly among the four out of 
every five Indonesians who live in rural areas, promises to further augment Indo- 
nesia's literacy rates. The challenge for Indonesia now is to maintain and expand 
these basic literacy skills through the increased publication and distribution of 
textbooks, newspapers, and other reading materials, and through improved train- 
ing and working conditions for Indonesians responsible for postliteracy instruc- 


1 Malay is also the national and official language in Malaysia, where it is called 
Bahasa Malaysia, and in Brunei. It is the national language and one of four offi- 
cial languages in Singapore (see Lowenberg 1988 for a comparison of its role 
and functions in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore). Differences among the va- 
rieties of Malay used in these countries are slightly greater than differences be- 

| tween British and American English, but these varieties are all mutually intelligible 
(Nababan 1982). In the 1970s, these varieties of Malay were used as a first or 
second language by more than 140 million people in Southeast Asia, making Ma- 
lay the sixth most widely used language in the world (Alisjahbana 1976). 

2 By 1928, 250,000 non-Europeans comprised 90 per cent of all employees in the 
Netherlands East Indies (Vandenbosch 1944). 

3 Anderson (1983:121) posits, as an additional reason for the use of Malay in co- 
lonial education, that 'Because, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Hoi- 

146 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

land had, for all intents and purposes, only one colony, and a huge, profitable one 
at that, it was quite practical to train its functionaries in a (single) non-European 
dienstaal ... for multi-continental empires like the British, no single locally-based 
dienstaal would have sufficed'. 


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Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Kamal K. Sridhar 

State University of New York at Stony Brook 

Yamuna Kachru 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

In a traditionally multilingual society such as India, literacy often 
involves more than one language. While much of recent research 
deals with literacy within a paradigm of individual skills, or literacy as 
a set of cultural practices, few studies address the problems of literacy 
in multilingual societies. There are several dimensions that need to be 
taken into consideration in the context of pluralistic societies, e.g., de- 
fining major and minor languages, major/minor languages without 
scripts, minor languages which are written in more than one script, 
etc. In India, where a significant number of people use several lan- 
guages in their linguistic repertoire on a daily basis, literacy in several 
languages is needed. In order to present all the dimensions involved 
in discussing literacy, we have organized the paper as follows: We 
begin with a brief overview of Indian multilingualism, including a dis- 
cussion on minority languages, followed by a section on literacy edu- 
cation in India. A detailed account of dimensions of multiple literacy 
education that need attention is presented using Kashmiri and Kon- 
kani as examples. A short concluding section raises issues related to 
these dimensions and to increasing dissemination and emphasis on in- 
formation technology in multilingual societies with rich traditions in 
orality and literacy. 


In literacy research a critical debate is going on between the proponents of the 
view that conceptualizes literacy within a paradigm of individual skills, and the 
notion that conceives of literacy as a set of cultural practices (Reder 1994). The 
individual-skills approach focuses on mental processes underlying reading and 
writing, and downplays the effect of social contexts in which they occur. Ac- 
cording to this view, literacy is a neutral technology that can be detached from 
specific social contexts, and is seen as a personal achievement. 

The paradigm of cultural practices, on the other hand, views literacy as a set 
of social or cultural practices which develops and spreads through a process of 
socialization. The instruments of such socialization may include interaction with 
other practitioners, formal instruction in institutional setting, etc. The cultural- 

150 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000 ) 

practices paradigm better addresses issues of how the characteristics of literacy 
behaviors vary with, and are closely fitted to, the features of the contexts in 
which they occur (Reder 1994). This approach is in consonance with Scribner's 
1986 observation that literacy must be regarded as 'a social achievement.' 1 

Within the domain of literacy as social and cultural work are situated the 
discussions of the multidimensional nature of literacy (e.g., in Hasan 1996, Wells 
1987). For instance, the term 'literacy' may be employed to signal just the pairing 
of orthography with linguistic forms, which the term usually means when we talk j 
of spreading literacy among the illiterate population. On the other hand, in most 
educational settings, it means more than that; it means equipping people to be 
able to manipulate written language to participate in social and cultural life, and, if 
possible, access and contribute to various areas of knowledge. 2 In a still more ex- 
tended domain, the term signals empowering people so that literacy means 'both 
access to' and 'defence against' information. Literacy in this sense means 'being 
able to participate effectively in social processes by working with written lan- 
guage' (Halliday 1996:367). 

Literacy in multilingual societies 

Recent research on literacy is also coming to grips with the phenomenon of liter- 
acy in multilingual societies where literacy in more than one language may be in- 
volved (Hornberger 1994). It is being recognized that at the macro level, just as 
different varieties of one language are identified with high and low functions in 
monolingual societies, so, too, in bilingual societies, different languages undergo 
specialization of function. The important distinction is less the difference in lan- 
guages than the differences in contexts, functions, and use. Similarly, at the micro 
level, the difference between monolingual and bilingual individuals is not so 
much that bilinguals possess two complete sets of functions and uses of language, 
one for each language. Rather, bilinguals switch languages according to specific 
functions and uses, whereas monolinguals switch styles in the same contexts. As 
Hymes (1986:38) observes, '[b]ilingualism ... is a special, salient case of the gen- 
eral phenomenon of linguistic repertoire. No normal person, and no normal com- 
munity, is limited to a single way of speaking'. Sridhar (1994:802) elaborates on 
the same theme when he states that accent, transfer from substratum languages, 
code-mixing and switching, etc. are enriching resources in stable multilingual 
communities with shared verbal repertoires. They are not an impediment to intelli- 
gibility; instead, they are as natural as style or register-switching in monolingual 
communities. Grosjean 1985 also argues for a bilingual ('wholistic') rather than a \ 
monolingual (fractional) view of bilingualism. In the bilingual view, bilinguals are 
realistically perceived to have unique and specific linguistic configurations that 
are different from those of monolinguals in either language, in the same way that a 
hurdler is neither a sprinter nor a high jumper, but something completely different 
(cf. Gumperz, 1969:244). 

Sridhar & Kachru: Literacy, minority languages, multilingual India 151 
Indian multilingual ism 

In the context of Indian multilingualism, there is scope for both approaches to lit- 
eracy, i.e., literacy as an individual achievement and literacy as a set of social prac- 
tices. We would elaborate this point by considering the social practices of literacy 
in India on the one hand, and the problems an individual faces in acquiring liter- 
acy on the other. India not only presents a unique source for data and case stud- 
ies, but also provides a testing ground for theoretical formulations and experimen- 
tal methodologies as a result of its history and diversity in languages, ethnicity, 
and religions. 

First, a brief look at the language profile of India is useful. India is politically 
organized into 22 linguistic states and 9 union territories. The country has four 
genetically unrelated language families: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan, and 
Austro- Asiatic. According to the 1991 census, there are over 300 languages spo- 
ken in India, out of which 18 languages are recognized as national languages (see 
Table 1) and a further four are recognized by the Sahitya Akademi (literary acad- 
emy) for purposes of annual literary awards. The languages thus recognized are 
Rajasthani, Maithili and Dogri, and the associate official language, English. 

Table 1. The national languages: Numbers and percentage of speakers* 


Number of speakers 
(in millions) 


















































*Based on the 1981 census. The data for Assamese are missing, as no 
census was taken in Assam; the total number of speakers for the San- 
skrit language is reported to be 2,946. 

As is clear from Table 1, no language emerges as a majority language of the 
country in terms of number of speakers. Even Hindi-Urdu, the single largest lin- 

152 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

guistic grouping, is spoken and understood by only slightly over 45% of the 
population. The constitution recognizes Hindi in Devanagari script as the official 
language, and English as the associate official language of India. 

There are ten major script systems used to write these languages; these are: 

Bengali- Assamese-Manipuri Malayalam 

Devanagari Oriya 

Gujarati Tamil 

Gurumukhi Perso-Arabic 

Kannada-Telugu Roman 

All the scripts of India, except Perso-Arabic and Roman, are derived from 
Brahmi script, which is one of the scripts of Ashokan inscriptions (third century 
BC). We will have more to say about scripts a little later. 

Minority languages of India 

Although states have been reorganized as linguistic states, each state in In- 
dia is multilingual. The state language is taken to be the majority language, but 
that is not true. The minority language speakers in some of the states are more 
numerous than the speakers of the so-called majority languages. For instance, 
86.06% of the population of Nagaland speak minority languages. Table 2 gives 
the figures of minority language speakers in different states. 

The languages spoken by minority populations in a state are designated mi- 
nor languages in the contexts of linguistic, educational and literacy-related dis- 
cussions. The following states have significant number of minor-language speak- 
ers (almost 20% or more of the total population): Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Kar- 
nataka, Maharshtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Andaman 
and Nicobar, Arunachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Delhi, Goa, 
Daman and Diu, and Mizoram. This is, however, misleading. Some of the populous 
states have small percentages of minor language speakers, but the populations 
involved are such that the small percentage exceeds the number of larger per- 
centage in small states such as Nagaland, Meghalaya, or Arunachal Pradesh. For 
instance, 10.32% of the population of Uttar Pradesh adds up to almost 14.5 mil- 
lion, and 26.38 % of the population of Maharashtra adds up to almost 21 million. 

Literacy practices and profile of literacy in India 

Traditionally, there is evidence of writing in India in pre-historic times (Indus 
civilization of 5000 BC), and the Kharoshti and Brahmi scripts were well estab- 
lished by 500 BC and 300 BC, respectively. Literacy, however, played a marginal 
role in the transmission of knowledge in India. Knowledge was passed on by a 
dedicated teacher to his group of students who lived and learned with him be- 
tween the ages of 8 and 25. Philosophical debates (Shastrartha) were also con- 
ducted orally. Brahmins were the guardians of literate knowledge, the warrior and 
the trading classes acquired literacy for the purposes of governing and conduct- 
ing business and commerce, but the vast majority of the lower castes were not lit- 

Sridhar & Kachru: Literacy, minority languages, multilingual India 


erate. Although the ancient literature suggests widespread literacy of a high level 
among Brahmin and other upper caste women, in later times, women of higher 
castes acquired literacy primarily for the purposes of reading sacred texts and 
writing personal letters to their kinsmen. This is still true of modern India to some 

Table 2. Minority-language speakers in states of India 
(Census of India 1981) 

State/Union Territory 

Major Language 

Minor Languages 

(% of speakers) 

(% of speakers) 

Andhra Pradesh 

Telugu (85.13) 



(No census 

data available) 


Hindi (80.17) 



Gujarati (90.73) 



Hindi (88.77) 


Himachal Pradesh 

Hindi (88.95) 


Jammu and Kashmir 

Kashmiri (52.73) 



Kannada (65.69) 



Malay alam (95.99) 


Madhya Pradesh 

Hindi (84.37) 



Marathi (73.62) 



Manipuri (62.36) 



Khasi (47.46) 



Ao (13.94) 



Oriya (82.83) 



Punjabi (84.88) 



Hindi (89.89) 



Nepali (62.57) 


Tamil Nadu 

Tamil (85.35) 



Bengali (69.59) 


Uttar Pradesh 

Hindi (89.68) 


West Bengal 

Bengali (86.34) 


Andaman and Nikobar 

Bengali (24.68) 


Arunachal Pradesh 

Nissi/Dafla (23.59) 



Hindi (55.11) 


Dadra and Nagar Haveli 

Bhili/Bhilodi (68.69) 



Hindi (76.29) 


Goa, Daman and Diu 

Konkani (56.65) 



Malayalam (84.51) 



Lushai/Mizo (77.59) 



Tamil (89.18) 


This does not mean, however, that literacy and schooling were rare in India. 
In the pre-British period, every village had its schoolmaster, supported out of 
public funds, for children between the ages of 5-8. In the province of Bengal 
alone, there were 80,000 such schools, one to every 400 of population 

154 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

(Venkateswara 1928). Children went for more rigorous training in the traditional 
areas of knowledge to a guru after schooling in the local schools. 

The repeated Muslim invasions between the 8- 14th centuries AD and the 
subsequent European colonization of the Indian subcontinent introduced politi- 
cal and economic changes that resulted in the destruction of the structure of the 
Indian village, and consequently, the indigenous system of education. The sub- 
continent is still struggling to reinstate a system of education that would serve its 
needs. i 

One of the factors complicating the issue of universal education is the his- 
torical and more recent political reorganization of states and Union Territories in 
India. The reorganization has shifted populations speaking one language to a 
state with other dominant language(s), or has incorporated linguistically separate 
populations into a single entity. This has resulted in populations that have be- 
come speakers of minor languages in many of the states of the Union. A case in 
point is Hindi in the state of Maharashtra. The region of Vidarbha used to be part 
of the Central Provinces, which was a Hindi-speaking province. However, 
Marathi-speakers were more numerous in the district than were speakers of Hindi 
or tribal languages. Consequently, when the states were reorganized, Vidarbha 
became a part of Maharashtra, a state with Marathi as its state language. Hindi 
speakers in the state are now in the minority. 

Literacy in minor languges 

There are several factors that contribute to the minority status of a language. If a 
language is not included in the eighth schedule of the Constitution, it is consid- 
ered a minor language. Speakers of a major national language become minority 
language speakers if they migrate to a different state, or are incorporated into a 
language-different state, e.g., speakers of Bengali in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, 
speakers of Hindi in Maharashtra, speakers of Tamil in Karnataka. Speakers of 
tribal languages, such as Gondi, Santali, Tulu, etc., since they are not in the major- 
ity in any state in India, represent minority-language speakers. Linguistic minori- 
ties who lack a specific geographic location within India, e.g., speakers of Gondi 
and Santali, who live in several states of India, speakers of Sindhi who migrated 
from the Sindh province of Pakistan and reside in several different states, are also 
considered speakers of a minor language. A majority language identified with a 
state may not be the official language of the state, and hence be reduced to the 
status of a minor language, e.g., Kashmiri, as Urdu was declared the state language . 
of Jammu and Kashmir. \ 

Kashmiri and Konkani: Case studies 

In order to highlight the problems that face literacy efforts in minor languages in 
India, we will discuss two case studies here, that of Kashmiri and Konkani. Both 
are included in the eighth schedule of the Constitution, but both are spoken by 
relatively smaller populations and both are written in multiple scripts. 

Sridhar & Kachru: Literacy, minority languages, multilingual India 155 

The language is spoken in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by just over 3 million 
people. The state is divided into three administrative provinces: Jammu, Kashmir, 
and Ladakh. Ladakh is in the Himalayan Mountains to the east of the Kashmir 
valley and its Buddhist and Muslim populations speak Ladakhi, a Tibeto-Burman 
language. Kashmiri is spoken by the Hindu and Muslim populations in the valley. 
The language of Hindus and Muslims in Jammu, located in the south of the valley, 
is Dogri, a variety of Panjabi, spoken by just over 1 .5 million. 

No serious dialect research has been done on Kashmiri. Only one regional 
dialect has been conclusively identified: Kashtwari spoken in the Kashtwar re- 
gion of the Southeast. It is written in Takri script. 

Kashmiri is written in four scripts: Sharada, Devanagari, Perso-Arabic, and 
Roman. Sharada is the earliest traditional script for the language. It is derived from 
Brahmi (3rd Century BC) and has been in use since the 10th century AD. A large 
number of Kashmiri manuscripts are in this script. Early Christian missionaries 
used it for publishing translations of the Bible in this script. Its use, however, is 
now limited to the Kashmiri pandits (priests) who use it for writing horoscopes. 

The Hindus of Kashmir (the Kashmiri Pandit Community) use a modified 
Devanagari script for writing Kashmiri. The rationale for its use is that it is a famil- 
iar script; Devanagari is used for Sanskrit and Hindi, two languages with which 
most Pandits are familiar. 

The state government of Jammu and Kashmir have adopted modified Perso- 
Arabic for Kashmiri (see Table 3): 

Teaching materials for primary classes are published in this script and Kash- 
miri Muslims use it for their literary creativity. The rationale for its use is that 
Kashmiris have to learn the script anyway to learn the official language of the 
state, Urdu. Additionally, Muslims are expected to learn the Arabic script for re- 
ligious purposes, i.e., to read the holy Koran. 

A few writers have used the modified Roman script to write Kashmiri. The 
rationale given for its use is that it is capable of representing Kashmiri sounds, es- 
pecially vowels, much more unambiguously than the Perso-Arabic script. Also, the 
diacritics are not as cumbersome as in the case of Devanagari. 

Problems for literacy efforts arise because Perso-Arabic script is the least 
suitable for Kashmiri, as Kashmiri has one of the largest vowel inventories (16 
vowels) and Perso-Arabic script has the smallest number of vowel symbols, if any. 
As Table 3 makes clear, the same symbol is used to indicate multiple vocalic val- 
ues with diacritics. Only teaching materials indicate the diacritics clearly, other 
texts usually do not bother with the diacritics. The same is true of Urdu texts, and 
we understand that that is the tradition in Arabic texts, too. The printing of dia- 
critics in newspapers and literary works, for example, is felt to be insulting to adult 
readers of Arabic texts. 

156 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Table 3: Perso- Arabic Alphabet for Kashrniri (Kaye 1996) 


it. Value Isolated 




Translit. Value Isolated 




































































































[k h ] 






















































































































[t] 1 










J • 



































d l 



[f. p h ] 

















Sridhar & Kachru: Literacy, minority languages, multilingual India 157 

Most Kashmiris have to be multilingual by necessity; Kashmiri is of no use 
as a means of communication outside the valley. The languages with which 
Kashmiris come into contact in their day-to-day living are Hindi, Panjabi, and 
Urdu, and more recently, English. Educated Kashmiris find no functional use for 
Kashmiri in the contexts of administration, business and commerce, higher educa- 
tion, the legal system, etc., even within the valley. A very small minority of Kash- 
miri speakers in fact uses Kashmiri even for written communication. In a survey 
conducted in the 1980s, only 11% of the literate Kashmiri respondents reported 
using Kashmiri in casual written communication (Koul & Schmidt 1983). The en- 
ergy, effort and time spent for learning the Perso- Arabic script for Kashmiri is thus 
of very limited use for the Kashmir speakers and most prefer other major lan- 
guages, such as English, Hindi, or Urdu, as media of education for their children. 


Konkani is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by approximately two million 
people in Goa, and in parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Kerala. Note that Kar- 
nataka and Kerala are predominantly Dravidian-language speaking states 
(Kannada/Tulu and Malayalam speaking, respectively). The largest concentration 
of Konkani speakers in Maharashtra is in the metropolitan city of Mumbai 

Some historical facts may be useful to understand the scattered population 
of Konkani speakers. Portuguese conquest of the central parts of Goa in the early 
16th century resulted in the total annihilation of the small ruling class of Muslim 
population and the coerced conversion to Christianity of the majority Hindu 
population. This in turn resulted in the mass migration of Hindus to adjacent parts 
of Southern India. The later conquest of the peripheral areas of Goa did not seem 
to have led to coercive conversion to Christianity. Consequently, whereas the 
Old Conquest areas are predominantly Christian, Hindus are in the majority in the 
New Conquest areas. Overall, Christians constitute 35% of the population of the 

One major basis for dialect differentiation in Konkani is religion (Miranda 
1978). Thus, the Christian dialect of Konkani is different from the Hindu dialect. 
There is also regional variation within these dialects. Thus, within the predomi- 
nantly Christian Old Conquest area of Goa, there are two regional dialects: 
Northern and Southern. The Hindu dialects in the northern and southern areas are 
closer to the Northern Christian dialect, perhaps because the Hindus represent a 
later migration (or rather, reverse migration) to their original homeland in these ar- 
eas of the Old Conquest. Additionally, there are two social dialects on the basis of 
caste. Both Hindu and Christian communities show the full spectrum of caste 
stratification. However, only the Brahmins and Gauddes of each community show 
marked dialect differences. Christians and Hindus living in the same area speak 
different dialects. 

Four scripts are used for writing Konkani: Roman, Devanagari, Kannada, 
and Malayalam. Goan Christians use the Roman script under the influence of Por- 

158 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

tuguese. Goan Hindus and Konkani speakers in Maharashtra use the Devanagari 
script as that is the script used for the state official language Marathi. Since litera- 
ture written by Hindus, particularly Brahmins, is of superior literary merit, the 
Hindu Brahmin dialect is favored as the literary medium. This may lead to greater 
use of Devanagari script eventually. 

Konkani presents many problems for literacy efforts. The case of Konkani is 
similar to Kashmiri. Konkani speakers have to be bilingual/multilingual in order to 
function in the modern society. Higher caste Goan Christians used to learn Portu- A 
guese in order to maintain their position in society; now they learn English. ^ 
Konkani speakers in Maharashtra have to learn Marathi, the state official lan- 
guage. Konkani speakers in Karnataka, similarly, have to control Kannada, and 
those in Kerala have to be able to use Malayalam. There is mutual intelligibility 
among dialects, but users of one script are not able to read what is written in the 
other scripts. 

In the context of literacy efforts, it is unrealistic to expect all Konkani 
speakers to learn all four scripts. This poses a challenge for policy makers in terms 
of which script to choose. Although Christian Konkani speakers have adopted 
the Hindu Brahmin dialect for literary creativity, it is not clear that they are keen 
to adopt Devanagari as the only script for Konkani. Sardesai 1985 has welcomed 
the adoption of Konkani based on the Hindu Brahmin dialect in Devanagari 
script for linguistic creativity in Karnataka. On the other hand, Miranda 1992 is 
not sure that the Christian writers from Goa are willing to adopt the Devanagari 
script, as their readers are familiar only with the Roman script. The situation has 
yet to resolve itself. 

Literacy and education in India 

There are several other languages in the same category as Konkani. Populations 
that speak these languages are scattered across several states, and their written 
representations are in several scripts. Speakers of Gondi, a Dravidian language, 
live in four states: Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Orissa. 
Speakers of Santali, an Austro-Asiatic language, live in three states: 49% of them 
live in Bihar, 30% are in West Bengal, and 13% are in Orissa. As a consequence of 
the historical development of writing systems for the language, Santali is written 
in five different scripts (Devanagari, 01 Chiki, Oriya, Bengali, and Roman). 

In order to understand the problems of literacy education in India, it is useful 
to relate the issue to the overall problem of education in India. The figures for lit- A 
eracy in India are given in Table 4 (Census 1991). ^ 

The literacy rates in the tribal areas are lower than the figures in Table 4. Ac- 
cording to the Fifth All India Education Survey, published by the National Coun- 
cil for Literacy Research and Training (NCERT), the school enrollment rate for 
rural tribal children between grades 2-5 in the mid-1980s was 58.6, 48.7, 36.8 and 
29.1%, respectively, whereas it was 72.4, 72.4, 54.7 and 49.1% for all rural chil- 
dren. It is clear that more than 70% of the tribal children were not getting any 

Sridhar & Kachru: Literacy, minority languages, multilingual India 


education at all beyond the primary level. It is not obvious that the situation has 
improved dramatically since then. 

Table 4: Literacy figures and rates (in % of population)* 

Total No. 

359,284,417 (52.21%) 


229,531,935 (64.13%) 


129,752,482 (39.29%) 


226,144,087 (44.69%) 


151,216,579 (57.87%) 


74,927,508 (30.62%) 


133,140,330 (73.08%) 


78,315,356 (81.09%) 


54,824,974 (64.05%) 

* The current figure for literate population, however, is 60%, up from 
slightly over 52% in 1991. For children ages 7+, provisions have to 
be made for instruction of a population of 39,249, 958 to achieve 
universal primary education (Singh 1999). 

The overall figures for education are in Table 5, which lists the figures for 
enrollment and number of educational institutions at various levels. 

Table 5: Figures for enrollment (Census 1991) 

School Enrollments 

(in millions) 
1980-81 1993-94 (Prov) 

73.8 108.2 

20.7 39.9 

11.0 23.3 


No. of Schools 



Primary Schools 



Middle Schools 



High Schools 



Colleges (Gen Ed) 






Compounding the problem of the abysmal rate of enrollment at the post- 
primary level is the overall literacy rate in the country, as is clear from the follow- 
ing list: 

Ranking of states and state-by-state literacy (census 1991) 


1 . Kerala 

2. Mizoram 

3. Goa 

4. Maharashtra 

5. Himachal Pradesh 

6. Nagaland 

7. Gujarat 

8. Tripura 

9. Manipur 

10. Punjab 

1 1 . West Bengal 

12. Sikkim 

% of Literacy 

Ranking % of Ln 



13. Karnataka 



14. Haryana 



15. Tamil Nadu 



16. Assam 



17. Orissa 



18. Meghalaya 



19. Madhya Pradesh 



20. Andhra Pradesh 



2 1 . Uttar Pradesh 



22. Arunachal Pradesh 



23. Rajasthan 



24. Bihar 


25. Jammu and Kashmir 


160 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

The latest figures of illiterates in India in the 7+ age group are given in Table 

Table 6: Population and number of illiterates 
(age 7+; in millions; Krishnamurti 1998) 

Year Total Population 7+ Age Population Number of Illiterates 

1961 438.93 356.85 249.40 

1971 548.16 445.65 283.03 

1981 665.29 541.04 305.31 

1991 846.30 688.16 328.88 

1997 953.04 774.91 294.46* 

2001 1031.63 838.82 258.42** 

* Source: National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) Survey 53rd Round. 
** Extrapolation based on NSSO Survey 53rd Round . 

Although there are over 700 governmental and voluntary agencies working 
in literacy programs, the results have not been spectacular, as the literacy rates 
show. The reasons have been many. One of the reasons is hidden in the data on 
languages. The figures in the ranking of states in literacy shows that the Hindi- 
speaking states, except for Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, rank very low in liter- 
acy (the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar rank 19, 21, 23 
and 24, respectively). 

The fact is that though people of these states identify themselves as Hindi- 
speaking, they speak a multiplicity of dialects. Some of these dialects, such as 
Avadhi, Braj, and Maithili are, or have been, literary languages in their own right. 
They belong to different subgroups of Indo- Aryan and they differ in phonology, 
lexicon, and grammar to such an extent that the dialects spoken in the extreme 
east in Bihar are mutually unintelligible with the dialects spoken in the west, e.g., 
in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Speakers of these 
dialects have a difficult time in learning Hindi, which is based on the western dia- 
lect of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. In fact, in the schools and colleges of Bihar, 
the failure rate in Hindi is some times higher than in English! 

One noticeable fact that explains high illiteracy rates is the low enrollment in 
literacy programs of women, members of the so-called scheduled castes and tribes, 
and the age group between 26 and 35 across gender, caste, and tribe. One en- 
couraging fact is that the most enthusiastic group of learners has been that of 15 
to 25 year-olds. 

There has been no in-depth study of literacy practices, or lack of them, 
among the groups that do not take advantage of literacy programs. For instance, 
not enough information is available as to why there is low representation of 
women and of the age group between 26-35. 

Sridhar & Kachru: Literacy, minority languages, multilingual India 161 

Among the groups that succeed in acquiring literacy, once literacy is im- 
parted, problems remain in maintaining functional literacy. First, the targeted 
population has to be convinced that literacy skills have definite functions in their 
lives. Often the content of literacy materials is too dry and drab, and totally irrele- 
vant to the lives of the learners. 

Second, the success of functional literacy programs depends on the choice 
of appropriate language. Whereas linguists would suggest literacy in the mother 
j tongue as the most desirable course of action, the groups targeted to receive liter- 
acy do not see much use for literacy in their mother tongue if the mother tongue 
happens to be a minor language. They prefer the major regional languages, and 
increasingly, Hindi and English, in view of the low functional load of the mother 
tongue. This does not mean literacy in the mother tongue is not a worthy goal. 
Substantial resources, both human and financial, still need to be invested in de- 
vising scripts for unwritten languages and in preparing literacy materials, espe- 
cially materials that would inspire neo-literates to maintain their literacy skills. 

As regards women's literacy, wherever women have acquired economic 
power, their interest in acquiring literacy has increased. Similarly, wherever 
women are seen by their families as capable of contributing to family funds, they 
have been encouraged to obtain educational qualifications. 

Although choice of a script in itself is not a major problem, maintenance of 
literacy becomes difficult if there is a huge gap between the properties of the 
script and the properties of the language. A case in point is the choice of Perso- 
Arabic script for vowel-rich languages. The Arabic script is barely suited to Mod- 
ern Standard Arabic with its 3-vowel system, since vowels are not always pre- 
dictable. The script, even though modified, is hardly suitable for vowel-rich lan- 
guages, such as Urdu with its 10-vowel system and Kashmiri with its 16 vowels. 
At an individual level, the mismatch between script and language presents a big 
problem to beginning readers. As children, we often wondered why our Urdu- 
learning friends struggled to learn to read Urdu for years while we became fluent 
readers of Hindi in Devanagari script within weeks. At the societal level, changing 
the preferred script for a language is, however, difficult because of the religious 
sentiments attached to the script. 


We have said earlier that the rich oral tradition has made it possible for a majority 
I of the population in India to function well without literacy skills. The question 
naturally arises, what is wrong with continuing with the status quo? Why put so 
much emphasis on literacy skills? 

The answer is obvious. India is a democracy and in a democracy, each eth- 
nic, religious, caste, and class group is competing for power. In a modern democ- 
racy, power accrues to those who know how to manipulate the written language. 
Those who wish to participate in the democratic process have to be able to criti- 
cally evaluate the multiple messages they get from print media, radio, television, 
and other sources. While we do not wish to suggest that literacy is essential for 

162 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

developing a critical faculty, we do wish to claim that the ability to gather infor- 
mation from multiple sources, including the printed sources, makes it easier to 
evaluate situations. 

Another argument in favor of promoting literacy has to do with people's 
economic lives. In the age of multinational corporations, GATT, WTO, fast devel- 
oping information technology, and intellectual property rights, India is still play- 
ing the game of catching up with the developed nations. At the same time, the 
traditional sources of knowledge and creation of wealth in India are in danger of I 
being appropriated by those internal and external agencies who have economic 
power. One example is traditional medicine and its exploitation by multinational 
pharmaceutical companies, which has attracted a great deal of media attention 
lately. Without literacy skills, it would be impossible for the majority of the popu- 
lation to protect their rights. The issue of economic development is thus intimately 
tied to the acquisition of a high level of functional literacy. 

Once the need for enabling people to read and write is granted, it becomes 
necessary to look for successful ways of imparting literacy. We have already men- 
tioned the need for identifying the appropriate language and script. We have also 
mentioned the need for devising scripts for and preparing appropriate materials in 
unwritten minor languages. These efforts are needed more to preserve the minor 
languages than to be of much use in imparting a high level of functional literacy. 
The reality of the multilingual situation demands proficiency in more than one 
language in the Indian context. The education policy has recognized this by insti- 
tuting the three-language formula. Every school-going child in India receives in- 
struction in the state official language, the official language of the Union (Hindi), 
and the associate official language (English). In states where Hindi is the state of- 
ficial language, school children are supposed to learn another modern Indian lan- 
guage, preferably a Dravidian language to follow the three-language formula. 
They may also elect to learn a classical language, Sanskrit or Arabic. Whatever the 
implementation and success rate of these programs, neither the children nor the 
parents feel multiple languages and associated scripts to be a burden and there is 
no wide-spread protest against the teaching and learning of multiple languages. 

Once the language and script are identified, programs that aim at imparting 
functional literacy to adults involve discussion with the targeted groups to assess 
their needs. Some of the non-governmental organizations have had better success 
in this regard. One group worked with weavers of reed mats in Tamil Nadu. They 
first observed how the adults produced mats of various sizes and patterns. There i 
were conversations about how the weavers knew how to measure without any " 
measuring instruments, and how they knew which patterns would emerge with- 
out a pattern book. Once the weavers described what they did, the literacy work- 
ers asked them if they would be interested in a written version of their knowledge 
that could be handed down to succeeding generations of weavers. A pattern 
book and an instruction manual would make it possible for the younger genera- 
tion to take up the craft once they were out of school, if they so desired. The 
weavers saw the point and participated in the program with great enthusiasm 
[personal communication]. 

Sridhar & Kachru: Literacy, minority languages, multilingual India 163 

Most traditional crafts of India depend upon oral instruction and appren- 
ticeship. For instance, the master carpet weaver chants the colors and patterns as 
the workers knot the carpet. Traditionally, farming, animal husbandry, child rear- 
ing, sewing, knitting, cooking, all have involved observation and imitation. A 
majority of the population does not rely on instruction manuals, pattern books, or 
recipe books. Involving those who possess the knowledge in writing it down and 
using such material for literacy efforts may be one way of making literacy efforts 
more successful. 

The introduction of information technology has added a new dimension to 
literacy efforts. In his recent visit to the subcontinent, the US President was im- 
pressed by the ease with which the barely literate women of a Rajasthan village 
manipulated computer technology to run their dairy business and thus contribute 
to the prosperity of their families and their village (see The New York Times, 
March 24, 2000:3). The development of information technology and its large 
scale introduction in the rural areas of several South Indian states is ushering in a 
new impetus to acquisition of computer literacy, which may yet change the face 
of literacy and education in rural and urban India. 

In addition to the introduction of information technology in rural India, 
there is a great deal of excitement about developing software in Indian languages 
and scripts in many centers of higher learning. There are attempts at translation 
software that could automatically convert material from one language and script 
into another or several others. If the trend continues and achieves some measure 
of success, the issue of adoption of a common script for all Indian languages to 
facilitate technological development will become largely irrelevant. One immedi- 
ate benefit of computer technology is in the area of desktop publishing of texts 
for literacy-related work that could lead to a less expensive method of materials 

We said in the beginning that India presents a unique source for data and 
case studies, and a testing ground for theoretical formulations and experimental 
methodologies in literacy and education. Just in the field of literacy education, 
there are several potential research directions, some of which we have hinted at in 
this paper. 


1 There are several trends in literacy research. For a discussion of different views 
and approaches, see, among others, Ellsworth, Hedley, & Baratta 1994; Ferdman, 
Weber, & Ramirez 1994; Freebody& Welch 1993; Goody 1987; and Schieffelin & 
Gilmore 1986. 

2 Hasan 1998 uses the terms 'recognition literacy', 'action literacy', and 
'reflection literacy' to characterize these types of literacy. 

164 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 



Ellsworth, Nancy J., Carolyn N. Hedley, & Anthony N. Baratta.. 1994. Liter- 
acy: A Redefinition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 

Ferdman, Bernardo M., Rose-Marie Weber, & Arnulfo G. Ramirez (eds.). 1994. 
Literacy Across Languages and Cultures. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. 

FREEBODY, Peter, & Anthony R. Welch (eds.). 1993. Knowledge, Culture, and 
Power: International Perspectives on Literacy as Policy and Practice. 
New York: Farmer Press. 

Goody, Jack. 1987. The Interface Between the Written and Oral. (Studies in Lit- 
eracy, Family, Culture and the State Series) Cambridge: Cambridge Univer- 
sity Press. 

GROSJEAn, F. 1985. The bilingual as a competent but specific speaker-hearer. 
Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 6. 467-77. 

Gumperz, John J. 1969. How can we describe and measure the behavior of bilin- 
gual groups? Description and Measurement of Bilingualism: An Interna- 
tional Seminar, ed. by L. G. Kelly, 242-9. Toronto: University of Toronoto 

, & Dell Hymes (eds..), 1986. Directions in Sociolinguistics: An Ethno- 
graphic Approach. New York: Basil Blackwell. 

Hat J. IDA Y, M. A. K. 1996. Literacy and linguistics: A functional perspective. In 
Hasan & Williams, 339-76. 

Hasan, Ruqaiya. 1996. Literacy, everyday talk and society. In Hasan & Williams, 

, Ruqaiya, & Geoff Williams (eds.). 1996. Literacy in Society. London: 


Hornberger, Nancy H. 1994. Continua of biliteracy. In Ferdman, Weber, & 
Ramirez, 103-39. 

Hymes, Dell. 1986. Models of the interaction of langauge and social life. In Gum- 
perz & Hymes, 35-71. 

Krishnamurti, Bh. 1998. Language, Education and Society. New Delhi: Sage. 

Ong, Walter J. 1982. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. 
(New Accents Series.) London & New York: Methuen. 

Reder, Stephen. 1994. Practice-engagement theory: A sociocultural approach to 
literacy across languages and cultures. In Ferdman, Weber, & Ramirez, 33- 

Schieffelin, Bambi B., & Perry Gilmore (eds.). 1986. The Acquisition of Liter- 
acy: Ethnographic Perspectives. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. 

Singh, Abhimanyu. 1999. Education for All: The Year 2000 Assessment Report. 
India. Ministry of Human Resource Development. EFA Reports, UNESCO. 

Sridhar, S. N. 1994. A reality check for SLA theories. TESOL Quarterly 28.4. 

Venkateswara, S. V. 1928. Indian Culture Through the Ages. Vol I: Education 
and the Propagation of Culture. London: Longmans. 

Wells, Gordon. 1987. Apprenticeship in literacy. Interchange 18:1/2.109-23. 

Sridhar & Kachru: Literacy, minority languages, multilingual India 165 

KACHRU, Braj B. 1973. An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri. 2 Vols. Urbana, IL: 

University of Illinois, Department of Linguistics. 
. 1981. Kashmiri Literature. (A History of Indian Literature, 4.) Wiesbaden: 

Otto Harrassowitz. 
Ka YE, Alan S. 1996. Adaptations of Arabic script. The World's Writing Systems, Peter T. Daniels & William Bright, 743-53. Oxford: Oxford Univer- 

isty Press.. 
KOUL, Omkar N., & Ruth L. Schmidt. 1983. Kashmiri: A Sociolinguistic Survey. 

Patiala: Indian Institute of Language Studies. 


Miranda, Rocky V. 1978. Caste, religion and dialect differentiation in the 
Konkani area. International Journal of Sociology 16.77-91. 

. 1992. Language standardizatioin in progress: The case of Konkani. Dimen- 
sions of Sociolinguistics in South Asia: Papers in Memory of Gerald B. 
Kelley, ed. by Edward C. Dimock, Jr., Braj B. Kachru, & Bh. Krishnamurti. 
New Delhi: Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. Ltd. 213-21. 

Sardesai, Manohar. 1985. Benefits of a common script. Indian Literature 28:6. 
78-86. New Delhi. :Sahitya Akademi. 

Literacy and Writing Systems 
in the Pacific 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Larry E. Smith and Jesse R. Long 

East-West Center, Honolulu 

Literacy is almost always considered to be a positive force. Most 
developmental theorists believe it to be a necessary step in order for 
economic development to take place. It is perhaps not so simple. Us- 
ing Pacific Island nations as a case study, it is clear that literacy, which 
is very high there, has not produced sustainable development. An ar- 
gument is made that the introduction of literacy, with an alien writing 
system, may have been a hindrance to economic prosperity. Sejong 
the Great is presented as an excellent example of what could/should 
have been done. 


Six hundred years ago, Sejong the Great introduced a new writing system in Ko- 
rea to replace the Chinese script that Koreans had been using. Although it took 
two hundred years to take root, it greatly encouraged literacy and general educa- 
tion all over the country. Some credit Han-gul's scientific design and ease of 
learning as reasons for Korea's development as one of the world's great civiliza- 
tions and most literate countries. Certainly part of Korea's development is due to 
this writing system, which vastly simplified the Chinese script previously in use. It 
is not difficult to credit increased literacy with greatly assisting Korea's develop- 
ment — especially after the system achieved widespread use earlier this century. 
In fact, most development theorists consider written literacy to be a major compo- 
nent necessary for development. Jack Goody figures prominently (1968, 1977, 
1986, 1987) among contemporary scholars who continue to maintain that written 
literacy plays a crucial role in bringing about positive fundamental changes in the 
structure of societies. After observing the course of development in Pacific island 
nations, however, we find reason to question the assumption that written literacy 
always brings about positive changes in a society. 

If we compare the history of written literacy and economic development in 
Korea with that of Pacific island nations, the contrast is striking. Korea, under 
King Sejong' s direction, adopted a writing system developed internally to replace 
one that had been imposed from the outside. Korea was already a society with a 
written language, and while literacy was not common, it was indeed a written 
form of literacy, not an oral form. Until 300 years ago, on the other hand, written 
literacy was unknown in the Pacific — there were no writing systems of any 
kind. When the written word arrived in the islands, it was imposed from the out- 
side, displacing the existing oral traditions and introducing an entirely new form 

1 70 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

of literacy — written. These two scenarios include considerable differences and 
require us to reevaluate the effect of literacy on development, at least within the 
Pacific islands themselves. 

The Islands and the introduction of literacy 

Pacific island nations vary substantially in terms of size, population, political struc- 
ture, and level of economic development. Although the land area of each island is 
usually very small, the overall region encompassing all of the islands and the in- A 
tervening ocean actually covers a major portion of the globe (Attachment 1). Is- " 
land types include continental land masses, such as Papua New Guinea (PNG), as 
well as small atoll archipelagoes, as are found in Kiribati. Island populations range 
from the four million people of PNG to tiny Niue's 3,000. Approximately 25,000 
islands are grouped into the three broad cultural areas of Polynesia, Micronesia, 
and Melanesia, and further divided into twenty-five smaller socio-political enti- 
ties. Natural resources are unevenly distributed, providing some islands with sig- 
nificant forests, phosphate deposits, gold deposits, and productive farmland, while 
leaving others to deal with agricultural conditions that require intensive efforts 
just to grow basic fruits and vegetables. Politically, the island nations of the Pa- 
cific lag behind their Asian neighbors, primarily because most of the Pacific is- 
lands have attained greater degrees of political independence only during the 
past fifty-five years (Myers 1995). 

There is no evidence to indicate that literate societies existed in the Pacific 
prior to European contact (Besnier 1995). At the time of Cook's voyages to the 
Pacific, oral traditions were relied upon to convey the past to future generations. 
The first introduction of literacy — taken broadly as the ability to communicate 
by reading and writing — in the Pacific islands was in Micronesia. ' Catholic mis- 
sionaries from the Philippines went to the Mariana Islands in the late 17th century 
to establish a church, bringing with them their Bibles and their alphabet. This 
early introduction of literacy via Southeast Asia was not typical of other parts of 
the Pacific, however. 

Literacy came to most of the Pacific islands in the 1 800s when Protestant 
missionary activity flourished, most notably in Polynesia. At the time, mass literacy 
was thought to be an exclusive feature of Western life. From a Western perspec- 
tive, the advantages of written literacy far outweighed the disadvantages. In fact, 
from the missionaries' point of view, there were no disadvantages. It was clear to 
them that writing enabled its users to keep permanent records that could be sub- . 
jected to critical scrutiny, in contrast to orally transmitted information, which was | 
considered inherently ephemeral and unreliable. Writing, they believed, could 
give rise to standards of historical verifiability and long-distance communication 
(in terms of time as well as space). They claimed that written text is less context- 
dependent than a comparable spoken text, and that memory was enhanced in 
significant ways, as it made possible the rigorous and perfect recall of lengthy 
texts (all preserved in writing), compared to the imprecise, pattern-driven memory 
of pre-literate individuals. The transformation of the islands from societies that 
depended on oral traditions to places where literacy was valued represented a 

Smith & Long: literacy, writing systems, and development 171 

fundamental and lasting change. In most island cultures the validation of knowl- 
edge previously hinged upon its being passed orally and selectively from one 
generation to another. Literacy contributed to a gradual 'cultural erosion' (Top- 
ping 1992) as reading and writing was taught to everyone, not just to a chosen 
few, and what was written down was available for all who could read. This de- 
tracted from the power of the chiefs, who no longer had a corner on verbal 
speech acts or were unique in knowing the history of the people. Literacy influ- 
enced both the pace and path of cultural change as knowledge began to spread 
to the masses. 

Because literacy was introduced by outsiders, as opposed to being initiated 
by local rulers, native languages were not given their own script but instead 
given the alphabet (Roman) of an outside language (English, Spanish, or French) 
(Nakanishi 1980). The introduction of literacy was not seen as an addition to the 
local traditions of orality but as a replacement for it. This was done in the larger 
context of replacing much of local culture, especially religion, with western forms, 
believing that this would promote social and economic development. By replac- 
ing oral traditions with an outsider-based writing system, the cultures were 
changed in ways that must be taken into account in any discussion of develop- 

The relationships among culture, oral traditions, literacy, and development 
are both simple and complex. It is clear that the oral tradition is an important part 
of Pacific island culture, but it declined with the advent of written literacy. That 
form of literacy was introduced by outsiders and accepted by locals believing 
that it would expand and enrich the quality of life as well as promote civilization 
and economic development. Yet, today the Pacific islands still lag behind much of 
the world in terms of sustainable development. Why? Part of the answer lies in 
the decline of oral literacy. 

Literary statistics 

Rates of literacy in the Pacific are some of the highest in the world (Attachment 
2). Tonga, for example, boasts of 100% literacy. Unfortunately, considerable un- 
certainty surrounds the measurement of literacy rates. By definition, literacy rates 
measure the proportion of the adult population who can read and write, but 
methods of measurement differ among countries. Data on adult literacy are usu- 
ally collected from the national censuses, but such data are often self-reported 
and of doubtful accuracy. The UNESCO criterion of whether a person can 'with 
understanding both read and write a short, simple statement on his everyday life' 
provides a useful working definition, but those who can pass such a test are not 
necessarily functionally literate in the sense of being able to make productive use 
of literacy skills. Many developing countries (and this is particularly true of 
Melanesia) contain a number of groups speaking a wide variety of dialects or 
languages, and an adult who is literate in the local dialect may not be literate in 
the national language. In Fiji and the Marshall Islands, for example, a person is 
only considered to be literate if he or she has completed at least four years of pri- 
mary school. While this removes the risk of inflated rates of self-reporting, it still 

172 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

leaves open the question of whether four years of primary school is sufficient to 
produce functional literacy and it takes little account of the fact that many chil- 
dren attend school on an irregular basis. In the Solomon Islands, a special survey 
in 1991 by the National Literacy Committee found that, while 47% of respon- 
dents claimed the ability to read and write in Pidgin, only 15% were considered 
literate in Pidgin when tested by the Committee. Similarly, 44% claimed literacy in 
English, but when tested, only 28% could be counted as literate in English. These 
measurement difficulties mean that inter-country comparisons of literacy rates . 
need to be treated very cautiously. The apparently superior record of one country \ 
may reflect little more than its particular method of measurement (UNDP 1994). 
However, using any method of measurement, it is clear that the campaign for liter- 
acy in the Pacific has been very successful in raising literacy awareness in the 
sense that the people want to be literate and often report they are even when 
they are not. 

Ignoring the place of oral literacy 

At the time of the introduction of literacy no one seems to have given any con- 
sideration to the possible ill effects of literacy's success over the oral tradition, but 
they should have. Now, one might think that our ideas about literacy's draw- 
backs are a recent phenomenon, and that no one had yet written anything about 
the drawbacks of literacy. This is not the case, however. There is a great caution 
presented in classical western literature which the missionaries should have re- 
membered. No one less than Plato himself had written persuasively about oral 
versus written literacy. 

At the end of one of the dialogues of Plato, called Phaedrus, Socrates dis- 
cusses with Phaedrus the comparative merits of speech and writing as vehicles for 
the communication of truth: 

They say that there dwelt at Naucratis in Egypt one of the old gods of 
that country, to whom the bird they call Ibis was sacred, and the name 
of the god himself was Theuth. Among his inventions were number and 
calculation and geometry and astronomy, not to speak of various kinds 
of draughts and dice, and, above all, writing. The king of the whole 
country at that time was Thamus, who lived in the great city of Upper 
Egypt which the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes; the name they give to 
Thamus is Ammon. To him came Theuth and exhibited his inventions, 
claiming that they ought to be made known to the Egyptians in gen- 
eral. Ammon inquired into the use of each of them, and as Theuth went f 
through them, Ammon expressed approval or disapproval, according as 
he judged Theuth's claims to be well or ill founded. It would take too 
long to go through all that Ammon is reported to have said for and 
against each of Theuth's inventions. But when it came to writing, 
Theuth declared: 'Here is an accomplishment, my lord the king, which 
will improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians. I have 
discovered a sure receipt for memory and wisdom.' 'Theuth, my para- 
gon of inventors,' replied the king, 'the discoverer of an art is not the 

Smith & Long: literacy, writing systems, and development 173 

best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practice 
it. So it is in this case; you who are the father of writing, have out of 
fondness for your offspring attributed to it quite the opposite of its real 
function. Those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and 
become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to remem- 
brance by external signs instead of on their own internal resources. 
What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory. 
And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without 
the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper 
instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when 
they are for the most part quite ignorant. And because they are filled 
with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom they will be a bur- 
den to society'. 

Plato was writing this at a time when Greece had attained a high level of literacy, 
but he has Socrates assert the importance of the spoken word. He chose, in fact, 
to write his philosophical dialectic in dialogue form (i.e., in a form which imitates 
speech). If this account had been remembered by those westerners who were at- 
tempting to replace the oral traditions by literacy, they might instead have sought 
to complement orality with literacy. 

Even without an effective memory of Plato's works, if the educators pro- 
moting literacy had paid closer attention to the way the people's leaders re- 
sponded to the concept of literacy, they would have made major adjustments. We 
have a record by John Martin 1817 depicting William Mariner's account of the 
introduction of literacy in the Tonga Islands. 

In the early 1800s, William Mariner — who was a prisoner of the King of 
Tonga at the time — had written a letter in English 'with a solution of gunpow- 
der and a little mucilage for ink, on some paper which one of the natives had had 
a long time in his possession'. He had meant this letter for any shipcaptain that 
landed in Tonga, advising them to prefer Ha'apai to the island of Tongatapu for 
taking on supplies of food and water (Martin 1991): 

advising, at the same time, not to suffer many of the natives to be on 
board at once, lest they should meet with the same fate as the Port au 
Prince; but, if possible, to make some chiefs prisoners, and keep them 
hostages, till Mr. Mariner and his companions were delivered up. 

The letter had been given to one of the chiefs to keep and deliver when the op- 
portunity arose. Finau, the powerful warrior king, was told about this letter and 
he sent for it (Martin 199 1 ): 

When it was put into his hands, he looked at it on all sides; but not be- 
ing able to make any thing of it, he gave it to Jeremiah Higgins, who 
was at hand, and ordered him to say what it meant. Mr. Mariner was 
not present. Higgins took the letter, and translating part of it into the 
Tonga language, judiciously represented it to be merely a request to 
any English captain that might arrive to interfere with Finow for the 
liberty of Mr. Mariner and his countrymen; stating, that they had been 

174 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

kindly treated by the natives, but, nevertheless, wished to return, if pos- 
sible to their native country. This was not indeed the true substance of 
the letter, but it was what was least likely to give offense; and the chief 
accordingly remarked, that it was very natural for these poor fellows to 
wish to go back to their native country and friends. 

This mode of communicating sentiments was an inexplicable puz- 
zle to Finow; he took the letter again and examined it, but it afforded 
him no information. He considered the matter a little within himself; but 
his thoughts reflected no light upon the subject. At length he sent for 
Mr. Mariner, and desired him to write down something; the latter asked 
what he would choose to have written; he replied, put down me; he ac- 
cordingly wrote 'Feenow' (spelling it after the strict English orthogra- 
phy); the chief then sent for another Englishman who had not been 
present, and commanded Mr. Mariner to turn his back and look the 
other way, he gave the man the paper, and desired him to tell what that 
was: he accordingly pronounced aloud the name of the king, upon 
which Finow snatched the paper from his hand, and with astonishment, 
looked at it, turned it round and examined it in all directions; at length 
he exclaimed 'This is neither like myself, nor anybody else! Where are 
my legs? How do you know it to be I?' and then, without stopping for 
an attempt at an explanation, he impatiently ordered Mr. Mariner to 
write something else, and thus employed him for three or four hours in 
putting down the names of different persons, places, and things, and 
making the other man read them. This afforded extraordinary diversion 
to Finow, and to all the women and men present, particularly as he now 
and then whispered a little love anecdote, which was strictly written 
down, and audibly read by the other, not a little to the confusion of one 
or other of the ladies present. It was all taken in good humor, however, 
for curiosity and astonishment were the prevailing passions. How their 
names and circumstances could be communicated through so mysteri- 
ous a channel, was altogether past their comprehension. Finow had 
long ago formed his opinion of books and papers, and this as much re- 
sembled witchcraft as anything he had ever seen or heard of. Mr. Mari- 
ner in vain attempted to explain. He had yet too slender a knowledge 
of their language to make himself clearly understood: and, indeed, it 
would not have been an easy matter to have explained the composition 
of elementary sounds, and of arbitrary signs expressive of them, to a 
people whose minds were already formed to other modes of thinking, 
and whose language had few expressions but what concerned the or- 
dinary affairs of life. Finow, at length, though he had got a notion of it, 
and explained to those about him that it was very possible to put down 
a mark or sign of something that had been seen both by the writer and 
reader, and which should be mutually understood by them; but Mr. 
Mariner immediately informed him, that he could write down anything 
that he had never seen. The king directly whispered to him to put Too- 
goo Ahoo (the king of Tonga, whom he and Toobo Nuha had assassi- 

Smith & Long: literacy, writing systems, and development 175 

nated many years before Mr. Mariner's arrival). This was accordingly 
done, and the other read it. Finow was yet more astonished. He then 
desired him to write Tarky,' (the chief of the garrison of Bea, whom 
Mr. Mariner and his companions had not yet seen; this chief was blind 
in one eye). When 'Tarky' was read, Finow inquired whether he was 
blind or not. This was putting writing to an unfair test! And Mr. Mari- 
ner told him, that he had only written down the sign standing for the 
sounds of his name, and not for the description of his person. He was 
then ordered in a whisper to write, 'Tarky, blind in his left eye,' which 
was done, and read by the other man to the increased astonishment of 
everybody. Mr. Mariner then told him that, in several parts of the 
world, messages were sent to great distances through the same medium, 
and being folded and fastened up, the bearer could know nothing of 
the contents; and that the histories of whole nations were thus handed 
down to posterity, without spoiling by being kept (as he chose to ex- 
press himself). Finow acknowledged this to be a most noble invention, 
but added, that it would not at all do for the Tonga Islands; that there 
would be nothing but disturbances and conspiracies, and he should not 
be sure of his life, perhaps, another month. He said, however, jocularly, 
that he should like to know it himself, and for all the women to know it, 
that he might make love with less risk of discovery, and not so much 
chance of incurring the vengeance of their husbands. 

We are confident there were encounters like this all over the Pacific with similar 
emotions of wonder expressed at what writing was capable of communicating 
just as there were inaccurate perceptions of what it was able to do. 

Mariner made judgments about the limitations of the indigenous language 
system, even though he acknowledges his own poor understanding of it. It is re- 
vealing that he notes that the native mind had been formed by other modes of 
thinking. This is in itself a key realization worthy of exploration in the context of 
an oral culture, but he seems to have thought little more about it. The idea that 
written literacy develops in people an entirely different way of thinking and 
perceiving than does oral literacy did not impress itself upon the early explorers 
and missionaries. 

Consider the example of what Finau expected of writing. He wanted writ- 
ing to function as icon. When the word 'Finau' was written, he thought it would 
have to be like himself. In some way, from his point of view, the writing should 
become him, person/flesh to be made word. Finau expected that when Mariner 
wrote Takay's name, this would include the detail that Takay was blind in the left 
eye. Symbol in this mode of perception would be instantiation, not abstraction. 
The symbolized becomes (comes to be within) the symbol. This perception is an 
important component of word in oral cultures. A person's name makes present 
the identity of that person, and by sounding the name one can have influence 
over that person. The uttered word is something that is living, energized, real, ac- 
tive, with power. It is complete and all-encompassing, not abstract and partially 
accurate; it is real, not symbolic. 

176 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

The literate concept of word, on the other hand, is not quite like that. Mari- 
ner had trouble trying to make Finau understand the written word as the symbol 
of what was sounded and the connection between symbol and sound. A written 
word is just a symbol, a phonetic pronunciation — it carries no innate meaning, 
although if writer and reader are both familiar with the word then a complex pic- 
ture can be created by a single word. The bottom line, however, is common expe- 
rience, without which the word carries no meaning. It would have been helpful 
perhaps if Mariner had remembered that 'word' in Latin is verbum which is de- , 
rived from a root meaning 'to speak' — a spoken word represents life, a written I 
word only the pronunciation. Spoken words are, by nature, very closely linked to 
experience, context, and reality. Mariner himself did not understand what Walter 
Ong (1982) refers to as the linking of orality to 'the human lifeworld': 

In the absence of elaborate analytic categories that depend on writing 
to structure knowledge at a distance from lived experience, oral cul- 
tures must conceptualize and verbalize all their knowledge with more 
or less close reference to the human lifeworld, assimilating the alien, 
objective world to the more immediate, familiar interaction of human 
beings. A chirographic (writing) culture and even more a typographic 
(print) culture can distance and in a way denature even the human, 
itemizing such things as the names of leaders and political divisions in 
an abstract, neural list entirely devoid of a human action context. 

There should have been a genuine concern on the part of Mariner and those like 
him to account for the arts of the people, the richness of their language system, 
and the threat of erasing these inadvertently through a literacy program, but there 
was not. They assumed that literacy was best for the social development of the 
people and for the economic development of every country. 

Prior research and implications 

According to Pio Manoa 1995, the importance of oral traditions in Pacific socie- 
ties was lessened significantly by literacy. Schools were designed and have been 
maintained to promote written literacy and through literacy 'civilization'. The 
written word (silent, visual) becomes the real word. The primary oral culture, 
with its own way of organizing and communicating knowledge, information, and 
values, was replaced with a different system by the technology of writing. There 
was a fundamental conflict between the oral tradition (e.g., chant), which is how 
the chiefs made their claims to power, and written literacy, which gave all people . 
the ability to learn and know. It soon happened that if one did not know the al- \ 
phabet, or did not know how to read or write, then one was considered ignorant 
no matter how skilled he or she was in the verbal world. There was no longer 
great power in the spoken word. Instead, people had to learn and use the written 
system provided, in the process altering their society: their perception of knowl- 
edge, the value of their old ways, the way they expressed themselves, the mean- 
ing of words, even the way they thought. 

Smith & Long: literacy, writing systems, and development 177 

The old oral traditions found no place in the newly-imposed concept of sus- 
tainable development. This may be a major reason why economic development 
has been painfully slow in most of the Pacific and why all Pacific island nations 
are presently aid-dependent. The methods, styles, and measurements of economic 
development have all been imposed from the outside. There is no room for in- 
digenous priorities, oral traditions, or non-Western modes of thought. This pro- 
motes an 'us versus them' mentality that supports a Marxist core-periphery, 
north-south view of development. Traditional developmental theories are not 
broad enough when it comes to the Pacific islands. 

Traditional developmental theorists concern themselves only with economic 
and environmental factors, but Sitiveni Halapua' s 1996 definition of sustainable 
development includes culture as one of the seven important dimensions. Accord- 
ing to Halapua — who focuses on sustainable development in the Pacific islands 
— those seven dimensions are economic growth, population, environment, tech- 
nology, culture, government, and international relations. One cannot ignore any 
of the seven, or else development cannot be sustained. The Pacific island nation 
that ignores culture will eventually become a shell of its former self, lacking the 
solid center that culture and traditions provide. Pacific islanders, therefore, will 
eventually realize the importance of culture. This appears to be an accurate as- 
sessment of the situation in the Pacific islands today. In a survey taken at the 
East-West Center of sixteen Pacific island leaders from eight Pacific island coun- 
tries, all but one of them volunteered 'culture' as a necessary factor for sustain- 
able development. This was hardly an all-encompassing survey, but it does sug- 
gest that Halapua' s conclusions have merit. 

Let us pause to restate our argument. If we acknowledge that: 

a) oral traditions have been an important aspect of Pacific island culture; 

b) literacy was imposed as a replacement for oral traditions; 

c) anything that weakens oral traditions weakens culture; and 

d) culture is an essential part of development, as Halapua suggests; 

then we have to recognize that written literacy, by weakening the value of oral 
traditions, may have been detrimental to, rather than instrumental for, sustainable 
development in the Pacific. 


If it is accepted that literacy as developed in the Pacific has been a hindrance to 
development, what should be done? Surely the answer is not to try to reduce lit- 
eracy, but to place it instead in its proper context within an oral world. People are 
more productive when they are comfortable with their environment. Fostering an 
environment that both respects and allows room for the legacy of oral literacy is 
one way of creating a positive environment. People are less productive when 
they feel that their efforts are destroying an old way of life. People will not em- 
brace economic development if that development erases their way of life, their 
history, their identity. 

178 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

What is needed today are Pacific island leaders who have the energy and 
courage of Sejong the Great to convince others that the written/printed word is 
not necessarily superior to oral word. To believe that is to confuse the instrument 
— the technology of writing — with the word itself. If oral traditions are indeed 
humanizing agents (Ong 1967, 1971, 1977), as we agree they are, then it is neces- 
sary to revitalize those traditions. Literacy in the Pacific will be richer and more 
fulfilling when it takes the oral traditions more fully into account. Pacific islanders 
need to develop their literate muscles with the help of their oral cultures and val- . 
ues. An interest in orality as a regenerative factor is at the same time an interest in \ 
orature which has been overlooked and unheard by most researchers, scholars, 
anthropologists, missionaries, and colonial civil servants. A creative program by 
Pacific leaders which explores the oral heritage of the area must be developed to 
enrich the literate lives of Pacific islanders. To see this orature/oral literature be- 
coming reinstated by a genuine interest in verbal art events will enhance the de- 
sirability of a writing system and perhaps be a key to social and economic devel- 
opment throughout the Pacific. 


1 The standard definition of literacy is one of written communication. In this arti- 
cle we wish to distinguish between standard literacy (referred to here as 'written 
literacy' or just 'literacy') and a type of literacy that is oral in form (either 'oral 
literacy' or 'orality'). We distinguish between the two because both require the 
development of certain mental skills. Oral literacy is not merely the ability to 
speak, but the ability to engage in the oral traditions of these island cultures — 
chant, oral history, etc. It would be inaccurate to assume that the ability to use 
these oral forms of communication is not in and of itself a type of literacy, given 
the skills necessary to master them and the power derived from their mastery. 


BESNIER, Niko. 1995. Literacy, Emotion, and Authority Reading and Writing on 
a Polynesian Atoll. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Dubin, Fraida, & N. A. Kuhlman (eds.). 1992. Cross Cultural Literacy: Global 
Perspectives on reading and Writing. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. 

GOODY, Jack (ed.). 1968. Introduction to Literacy in Traditional Societies. Cam- 
bridge: Cambridge University Press. i 

. 1977. The Domestication of the Savage Mind. (Themes in the Social Sci- 
ences Series.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

. 1986. The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society. (Studies in 

Literacy, the Family, Culture, and the State.) Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- 
versity Press. 

. 1987. The Interface Between the Written and the Oral. (Studies in Liter- 
acy, the Family, Culture, and the State.) Cambridge: Cambridge University 

Smith & Long: literacy, writing systems, and development 179 

Halapua, Sitiveni. 1996. Sustainable Development: From Ideal to Reality in the 
Pacific Islands., Honolulu: East-West Center Working Paper 

Plato, Phaedms & Letters VII and VIII, Penguin Classics, pp. 95-6 

Marttn, John. 1991 [1817]. Tonga Islands: William Mariner's Account, 91-4. 
5th edition. Nukualofa: Vavau Press Limited. 

Myers, David (ed.). 1995. The Politics of Multiculturalism in the Asia/Pacific, 
Darwin: New Territory University Press. 

Manoa, Pio. 1995. From orality to literacy and to orality again: a story of story. 
Journal of Educational Studies, Special Edition, November, [pp?]. Suva, 
Fiji: The Institute of Education, The University of the South Pacific, 

Ong, Walter J. 1967. The Presence of the Word. New Haven: Yale University 

. 1971. Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology. Ithaca: Cornell University 


— — . 1977. Interfaces of the Word. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 

. 1982. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. (New Ac- 
cents Series.) London: Methuen. 

Topping, Donald M. 1992. Literacy and Cultural Erosion in the Pacific Islands. In 
Dubin & Kuhlman 1992:19-34. 

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 1994. Suva, Fiji. 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

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Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Stanley Yunick, Jr. 
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

This paper examines planning for literacy in Micronesia under a 
United Nations-mandated Trusteeship with the United States from 
1945 to the 1980s. From the outset of Micronesian- American in- 
volvement, dual language planning goals, to develop Micronesian 
languages for literacy and to teach English as a language of wider 
communication, were set out. Ideological issues were explicit, and 
American linguists worked both to legitimate Micronesian languages 
through standardization and to train teachers in second-language 
teaching methodology. Faith was placed in linguistics and newly de- 
veloping theories of language education to solve what were thought 
to be 'practical' problems for Micronesia. However, over- reliance on 
language teaching methodologies and linguistically elegant orthog- 
raphies qua solutions failed to promote the desired outcomes and 
sometimes hindered them. 

1. Introduction 

From 1945 to the 1980s, the island cultures of Micronesia lived as a United Na- 
tions-mandated Trusteeship, the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (11 PI), ad- 
ministered by the United States of America. The ostensible aim of the Trusteeship 
was to guide the islands, largely devastated by war, to a condition of self- 
supporting sovereignty. Already having felt the impact of three colonial powers 
(Spain, Germany, and Japan), the islanders were simultaneously wary and hopeful 
of what an association with the United States might bring. 

Among the many goals to be achieved were widespread education and lit- 
eracy. From the beginning of United States involvement in Micronesia, linguists 
were consulted regarding language in education and were brought in to assist in 
the development of dictionaries, grammars, and standard orthographies. This pa- 
i per examines decisions influenced or made by language planners, American and 
Micronesian, during the period of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Deci- 
sions in language education, such as whether, when, and how to teach in indige- 
nous ('vernacular') languages or English, were steered by theories of language 
pedagogy. Decisions in corpus planning were guided by linguistic principles of 
elegance and economy. Where outcomes based on these decisions have been less 
favorable, it is instructive from both an ethical and theoretical perspective to ex- 
amine limitations to the practice of applying linguistics. 


184 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

2. Profile of languages and literacy Micronesia 

The TTPI consisted of three island chains in the Micronesian geographical area: 
the Marianas, the Marshalls, and the Carolines. The Carolines, culturally and lin- 
guistically diverse, were divided into the states of (from west to east): Palau, Yap, 
Truk (now Chuuk), Ponape (now Pohnpei) and Kusaie (now Kosrae). As the 
Congress of Micronesia planned the end of the Trust Territory, the Marianas, the 
Marshalls, and Palau negotiated for separate political status. The remaining island 
groups in the Carolines came together as the Federated States of Micronesia 
(FSM).The Marshalls, Palau, and FSM negotiated separately for status as inde- 
pendent nation-states in a Compact of Free Association with the United States. 
The Northern Marianas, with close ties to Guam and having seen greater contact 
with Spain and Japan, and with Americans during the war, chose to become a 
commonwealth of the United States. Discussion in this paper focuses for the most 
part on those of the Caroline Islands which would later become the FSM. 

Each island grouping has a dominant language, though major islands may 
have minority enclaves, and their associated outlying islands may speak other 
languages. Table 1 shows the languages of Micronesia. 

All of the languages of Micronesia belong to the Austronesian language 
family. The more closely related 'nuclear' Micronesian languages include, from 
West to East: Chuukese, Pohnpeian, Kosraean and Marshallese. The sandy atoll 
islands that stretch across the Carolines form a dialect continuum of roughly 12 
differentiated links of Trukic dialects of varying degrees of mutual intelligibility 
(Quackenbush 1970). 

Contact between island groups, except within the Trukic continuum, was 
relatively infrequent. Indigenous learning included science of navigation and arts 
of song, tattooing, weaving, but did not include writing. Literacy in the Carolines 
came largely from a concerted missionary effort by the American Board of Com- 
missioners for Foreign Missions of Boston, beginning in the mid- 19th century. 
The Spanish (1600s-1880s) and German (1880s-1914) colonial governments had 
limited interest in the Carolines and their languages, only a few word lists and 
grammatical sketches were produced by local governors. The American protes- 
tant missionaries were somewhat tolerated by the colonial powers because these 
powers did not extensively occupy the area, and because the missionaries chose 
to establish themselves in areas far from the centers of colonial (and Roman 
Catholic) authority. The missionaries were interested in learning and writing Mi- 
cronesian languages and in teaching Micronesians to read and write to further jj 
their goal of spreading their Christian faith. 

Japan expanded into Micronesia through a League of Nations mandate af- 
ter World War I. Thousands of Japanese settled the larger mountainous islands of 
Micronesia and became in some cases a demographic majority. The Japanese 
schooled Micronesians in order to teach Japanese customs and language. Mi- 
cronesians were also taught the basics of sounding out words in the Japanese 
syllabaries. While there was not much migration of islanders themselves between 
islands, Japanese became a regionally understood language, and a good number 

Yunick: Linguistics, TESL, and language planning in Micronesia 


of Japanese lexical items were borrowed into Micronesian languages during the 
relatively short occupation from 1919 to 1944. 

Table 1: The languages of Micronesia 



Factors in social and linguistic diversity 



Enclaves of islanders from the central Carolines 
speaking Trukic dialects (dubbed Carolinian), who 
had migrated by canoe; recent migrations from the 
Philippines and elsewhere; large English speaking 



(Important dialect variation, but dialects are mutu- 
ally intelligible) 



Outlying islands speak Trukic dialects (Tobian, 



Outlying islands speak Trukic dialects (Ulithian, 
Woleaian, Satawalese, etc). These languages are not 
closely related to Yapese and are not mutually in- 
telligible with it, though many outer islanders learn 
some Yapese, the language of the higher caste 
main-islanders, to whom they historically paid trib- 



Outlying islands speak Trukic dialects (Mort- 
lockese. Puluwatese, etc.) which are somewhat re- 
lated to Chuukese, the dialect of the main cluster of 
islands (the Lagoon). Familiarity with multiple dia- 
lects is common. 



Rather homogeneous 



Enclaves of outliers (Mortlockese. Kapinga) on the 
main island; some outliers speak languages closely 
related to, but not mutually intelligible with, Pohn- 
peian (Mwoakilese, Pingilapese); other outliers are 
Polynesian (Nukuoran. Kapingamarangi). Outliers 
living on Pohnpei learn some Pohnpeian; otherwise 
outliers use their language and learn English in 
school. FSM capitol on Pohnpei has brought a di- 
verse population. 

World War II saw the complete destruction of Japanese infrastructure in the 
Micronesian islands. Japanese, then the language of wider communication lor the 
region, would not be used for the education o{' Micronesians during American 
military occupation or afterward in the US-administered Trust Territory. English 
came to be used where a lingua franca was necessary. 

186 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

In present day Micronesia, Micronesian languages are the languages of 
home, religion, local government, primary schools, and radio. Literacy in Microne- 
sian tongues is perhaps still most strongly associated with Christian religious 
practices. English is used as a lingua franca between different cultural groups and 
is used in regional/national governments and in secondary education and be- 
yond. Consumer goods, such as American films and books, are also widely avail- 
able in Micronesia. Literacy in English is largely associated with participation in 
the Western economy and with American cultural capital. Although a regional 
oral variety of English is emerging, an indigenous identification with English isj 
not evidenced in the production of creative writing. 

Donald Topping (1975:4)summarizes the challenges of language and liter- 
acy planning in Micronesia: 

Some of the Micronesia-specific problems are self-evident [...]: the 
large number of languages for a small population, the linguistic and 
cultural diversity of a supposed political unit, the vast distances be- 
tween the islands (even those of a single district), and the history of 
different types of colonial education. Literacy has not been a tradi- 
tion. Among those who can read and write (mostly older people), 
there is very little consistency in the spelling systems. In addition to 
these Micronesia-specific problems, there are the usual ones of lack of 
trained teachers, lack of materials, and the perennial lack of money. 

There were many issues, both philosophical and practical, to be confronted in Mi- 
cronesia. Americans largely believed they had resolved most philosophical and 
ideological issues even before the start of the trust territory government. Avoid- 
ing extremes either of Americanizing the region or of cutting off the region from 
wider communication by allowing education only in indigenous languages was 
explicitly discussed (U.S. Department of the Navy 1948:223-5). The methods by 
which the extremes would be avoided and the dual linguistic goals of vernacu- 
larization and internationalization (to use Cobarrubias's 1983 terms) were to be 
carried out in the face of the complexities outlined by Topping were considered a 
'practical' problem (U.S. Department of the Navy 1948: 224). Scientific methods 
in linguistics and language teaching were to be relied upon to handle these is- 

3. Language education: Methodology and policy, methodology as policy 

A case has been made for considering American education in Micronesia to be an ( 
assimilating colonizer. Historian Hanlon 1998 describes American goals in the Pa- 
cific as 'development as discourse of domination'. The charismatic Jesuit educa- 
tor Francis X. Hezel, as cited by Sachuo (1992:416), compares Micronesia to the 
British Raj in India, asserting the Americans wished to create 'Micro-Americans' 
of 'white mind wrapped in brown skin'. 

Shortcomings in language planning and education in Micronesia have also 
been pointed out specifically. Despite glowing figures reported by the United 
States Department of Interior (U.S. Department of the Interior 1999:70) that liter- 

Yunick: Linguistics, TESL, and language planning in Micronesia 187 

acy is above 90% in Micronesia, literacy skills of Micronesian school children 
have been called into question (Spencer 1992). English-language teaching meth- 
odologies promoted in Micronesia by linguist-educators have been called into 
question for poor outcomes (Spencer & Langmoir 1987), and the relative pre- 
dominance of English-language teaching in the overall educational budget has 
been criticized (Gibson 1980). Furthermore, entire printings of educational materi- 
als in some island groups have been scrapped due to dissatisfaction and confu- 
sion over how the language was committed to an orthography. 

Despite these real problems, a look at planning in Micronesia from 1945 to 
the end of the Trusteeship does not show an assimilationist philosophy. Lan- 
guage planning in Micronesia is not simply a story of overt and covert domina- 
tion. A speech by University of Hawaii scholar Dean Wist, cited by the military 
historian Dorothy Richard (1957, 3:961), summarizes the American ideology to- 
ward the trusteeship: 

The thesis may be stated by asking whether the education of the Mi- 
cronesian is to be for our benefit or for his. 1 submit that unless it is 
planned and developed solely in his interest there is little likelihood 
that it will benefit him or us.[...]The Micronesian might well have 
been happier and better off had we left him alone; but we did not, 
therefore he already differs materially from his forebears in his social 
practices, in his hopes and aspirations. We cannot, therefore, in his in- 
terest or ours, leave him to his own devices. We cannot, as Americans, 
assume trusteeship and treat him as an inferior ward. We can, on the 
other hand, demonstrate that we have genuine faith in American 
democratic precepts by assisting him to achieve self-government, to 
develop social institutions and practices in harmony with his needs 
and desires, and to attain the self-respect which can result only from 
economic self-dependence. None of these will result from exploita- 
tion, paternalism or restrictive socio-educational opportunities. 

The difference in relative economic power was obvious and known to all. There 
was no pretense that the American presence in Micronesia would only bring 
change for the good. 

Two levels of ideology relevant to language planning in Micronesia do, 
however, begin to emerge from Wist's speech. On a broad level, there is faith, on 
the part of Americans and Micronesians alike, that education would substantially 
contribute to economic transformation. This connection would be later contested 
in educational circles and has been discussed with reference to the Micronesian 
area (Spencer 1992). 

More specifically with respect to language planning, there was faith that a 
proper balance between education in the mother tongue and in English would 
produce the ideal societal transformation. During the early days of the U.S. Naval 
occupation (1945-1947) and Naval administration of the Trusteeship (1947-1951), 
language and education policy discussions were recorded in the US Naval Hand 

188 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

book on the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (U.S. Department of the Navy, 
1948). The Handbook states: 

the ideal to work for is a bilingual situation in which the people will 
continue to hold to and value their own speech for carrying on their 
local affairs, yet will also come to know well a common language. 
Under present day circumstances the latter language must obviously 
be English (U.S. Department of the Navy 1948:47), 

and that 


islanders should as soon as possible become competent in their use of 
English, while at the same time knowing and appreciating their own 
local language which carries the island-type culture (U.S. Department 
of the Navy 1948:223). 

These aims were also explicitly stated by directive of the Chief of Naval Opera- 

Instruction in the English language for inhabitants of all ages is a 
prime necessity but this is not to be construed as discouraging in- 
struction in native languages and culture. ... Tests and educational 
material should be appropriate to the local environment, should be 
geared to the capacity of the inhabitants to absorb .... (U.S. Depart- 
ment of the Navy 1948:240). 

The Handbook provides a candid discussion of the evils of the over-emphasizing 
of the use of 'world language' (i.e., English) or of the 'vernacular'. Early prac- 
tices however operated under the assumption that education was a limited re- 
source and that the most exposure to English possible in school would be of most 

It is important to note that linguists, already in Micronesia since the begin- 
ning of the United States military take-over from Japan under the CIMA 
(Coordinated Investigation of Micronesian Anthropology), exerted influence, and 
their opinions were stated explicitly in the Handbook. There would later be a Su- 
pervisor of Linguistics in the Department of Education (U.S. Department of the 
Navy 1951:61). Linguists P. Garvin and I. Dyen are quoted as recommending that 
literacy initially be taught in indigenous languages and that indigenous lan- 
guages be used as medium of instruction, in opposition to the very early cram-in- 
as-much-English-as-possible strategy. Dyen is further reported as recommending 
that 'spoken English should be learned before written English'. (U.S. Department i 
of the Navy 1948:225) Linguist-educators from the outset promoted a 'scientif- ™ 
ically' based language-education strategy (the audio-lingual method), which dic- 
tated oral mastery before the introduction of literacy. 

The audio-lingual method for teaching used in Micronesia and throughout 
much of the Pacific was the Tate Oral Syllabus, versions of which were used into 
the 1970s. Spencer & Langmoir (1987: 3) cite Tate's Oral English Handbook 
(1971, 1979), which encouraged putting off reading and writing until pupils had 
been exposed to enough English so that they would not misapprehend: 

Yunick: Linguistics, TESL, and language planning in Micronesia 189 

If reading is to be correct, fluent, and immediately meaningful, no 
structural feature should be included in material for reading until it 
has been practised orally 

The danger of this type lies in its occasional need to express ideas in 
language which goes beyond the children's understanding, even if 
the context makes the general meaning clear. They are likely to try to 
use this language themselves at other times and form habits of error. ... 

The Oral English programme should control the Reading programme, 
and both should control the Written English programme. It is doubt- 
ful whether free composition should ever be attempted in the Primary 
School, as the writing of errors is of little or no value in learning. Oral 
preparation should precede all written work to lessen the possibility 
of making errors. 

As Spencer & Langmoir 1987 point out, adherence to this Oral Programme, in 
light of the fact the the orthographies had not yet been standardized and few 
mother tongue materials had been produced, there was effectively no teaching of 
reading and writing beyond the alphabet until the third grade or later. The ac- 
cepted pedagogical technique of the time, combined with language planning pro- 
cedure which called for the development of orthography before the development 
of written materials, meant that Micronesian students got a very late start in 
reading and writing. 

The belief in the power of English teaching to transform remained. Over the 
course of the TTPI, a Micronesian advisory body, the Council of Micronesia, was 
instituted and gradually began, as the later Congress of Micronesia, to take over 
the functioning of the Trust Territory. The 1962 TTPI Annual Report to the 
United Nations revealed a major turn in the policy of language in education (U.S. 
Department of State 1962:127): 

During the year under review a major and far-reaching change was 
the adoption of a new policy establishing English as the medium of 
instruction at the elementary school level in contrast tot the former 
policy which held that all instruction should be conducted in the ver- 
nacular. This change was made in conformance with the desire of the 
Micronesian people as expressed by the Council of Micronesia, and 
by Micronesian teachers and students. ... A linguist has been re- 
cruited for the Headquarters education staff and his primary function 
will be to expand and expedite the teaching of English in the elemen- 
tary schools. 

Faith in linguists in the burgeoning field of English as a Second Language to ac- 
complish this end was also evidence in the report (U.S. Department of State 1962: 
139): 'Scientific linguistic techniques are used so as to improve the teaching of 
English'. By 1964, the importation of American teachers for the primary schools 
to fulfill the official English-language education policy had begun. 

190 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Some linguists were critical of this move. Gibson 1980 criticizes the amount 
of energy and money spent on English teaching relative to other areas. Topping 
1992 outlines his role in trying to counterbalance this tendency by beginning 
more rigorous efforts toward the development of orthographies, dictionaries, 
grammars of indigenous languages. 

The burgeoning faith in ESL teacher-training techniques and in the power 
of teaching in English to improve the lot of Micronesians continued. The short- 
age of English-speaking teachers was soon to be handily (and cheaply) filled by^j 
the advent of the Peace Corps. Beginning in 1966, Peace Corps teachers were^l 
sent out en masse to fulfill the Micronesian mandate. 265 Peace Corps Volunteers I 
become teachers in Micronesia (in a total of 186 public schools, i.e., more than 
one per school), alongside 179 other non-indigenous teachers and just over 1000 
Micronesian teachers (U.S. Department of State 1967). The same year the Annual 
Report to the United Nations refers specifically to 'TESL' and states its goals as: 
'a. Oral English b. Literacy in English' (U.S. Department of State 1967:124). 

Gradually, and without explicit fanfare in the Annual Reports, the emphasis 
on TESL decreased. Many Micronesian dictionaries and reference grammars were 
developed in draft form by the mid-1970s, coinciding with efforts to bring United 
States bilingual education monies to Micronesia. Experimental bilingual educa- 
tion programs were eventually put into practice in all island groupings. Again, 
faith in a new instructional methodology, bilingual education, was hoped to solve 
the problem of Micronesian education. Educator Mary Spencer's investigation of 
a host of these programs (Spencer 1985) reveals, however, that outcomes were 
difficult to assess, because US bilingual-education entry-exit criteria did not make 
sense in the Carolines, where the entire population was of 'Limited English Profi- 
ciency' because English was not the language of the majority anywhere. 

Planning efforts toward language education in Micronesia relied on the be- 
lief that language-education theory would lead to 'right' solutions for language 
development and education (thereby facilitating economic development). These 
were considered practical and logistical problems, and the belief was that apply- 
ing scientific method would solve these practical problems. 

4. Corpus planning issues: Orthographic development and 

The development of standard orthographies became a key issue in Micronesia. 
Without standard orthographies, literacy materials could not be developed, and i 
the teaching of literacy to school children, as outlined above, was postponed until ™ 
English reading and writing was introduced late in primary school. This section 
details some successes and difficulties in the planning of the orthographies for 
three Micronesian languages. The TTPI development of orthographies then be- 
gan with the examination of, and reform of, missionary orthographies. The need 
for standard orthography was recognized by the early US naval administration; 
the Handbook noted that early orthographies were inconsistent: 'One sound in 

Yunick: Linguistics, TESL, and language planning in Micronesia 191 

Ponapean has been variously written as "ch", "s", "j", "z", and "sz"' (U.S. 
Department of the Navy 1948:46). 

Early spellings reflect some elements of orthographic conventions and of 
the phonological systems of Spanish, German, and English. Some Micronesian 
phonemic distinctions were merged, ignored, or confused; other nonphonemic 
(allophonic) distinctions were represented in the orthographic system (e.g. voic- 
ing vs. voicelessness). In some cases these 'misdiagnoses' were represented con- 
sistently; however, in other cases, there was inconsistency, and the same phonetic 
realization might be represented by more than one orthographic means. These in- 
consistencies were compounded by the fact that Catholic and Protestant mission- 
aries often worked with groups from different dialect areas, providing different 
spelling traditions for different groups. 

Despite the early recognition of problematic spelling systems for Microne- 
sian languages and despite at least one early conference on orthography (on 
Pohnpeian, 1947), major progress was not made on the orthographies for two 
decades. This is in part attributable to a lack of knowledge of the Micronesian 
languages among American linguists, and a lack of knowledge of the representa- 
tion of sounds according to phonemic principles by Micronesians. Bender (1984) 
outlines the stages of development in Western learning about Micronesian lan- 

American linguists living and learning in the Pacific believed that a scientific 
analysis of the phonemic distribution of Micronesian languages would yield the 
most elegant systems of writing for these languages. This belief caused some de- 
lay in the standardization process, as an adequate knowledge of Micronesian 
phonological systems had to be accumulated in order to develop neat orthogra- 

There would also be extra-linguistic barriers to the adoption of the new sys- 
tems: resistance to the creation of a generation gap, resistance to a tradition that 
departs from the language used for a religion, which was by that time strongly 
identified with indigenous culture, and finally — ironically — resistance to a non- 
English-style spelling aesthetic after some years of literacy in English among the 

The position of linguists that language should be 'correctly' represented 
graphically appears unavoidable; linguists felt that they had to prove the sys- 
tematicity of Micronesian languages in order to legitimate them. They thus found 
themselves in a double bind: on the one hand, unappreciated by islanders who 
would find a new system difficult to use and might see graphization as tampering 
with the language, and on the other hand, compelled to convince government of- 
ficials, American and Micronesian, that systematic spelling was possible and 
worthwhile. Goodenough et al. (1980:xiv) discuss this dilemma: 

Americans were happy with the writing system that did not require 
them to learn to discriminate the sounds of Trukese they found diffi- 
cult. Moreover, the system's inadequacies permitted them to dismiss 
the language as unsuitable for serious literary or expository purposes 


192 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

in the schools. It is ironical, therefore, that the alphabetic reform be- 
gun in 1972 in order to do justice to Truk's language should have 
been perceived by some of Truk's people as an act of American inter- 
ference with their language. In truth it represented a cooperative ef- 
fort by Trukese in the administration and Department of Education, in 
consultation with language specialists, to correct the mishandling of 
their language by foreigners in the past. 

Moreover, such was the climate in the Congress of Micronesia in favor of interna- 
tionalization and the use of English that English was declared by official policy to 
be the language of education starting in primary school. Literacy in Micronesian 
languages appeared not to be a priority for Micronesians. The belief that a stan- 
dard orthography and reference tools legitimate a language is a particular percep- 
tion which the Micronesians did not seem to share; their languages were perfectly 
adequate for carrying out the social functioning of Micronesian societies as they 
had done for centuries. 

This climate provided a context in which the successes of the proposed or- 
thographies were ultimately decided by the scientifically trivial but socially val- 
ued criterion of aesthetics. It is, however, well within the scope of corpus plan- 
ning to address the aesthetics of a writing system in terms of its cultural accept- 
ability. Here however the linguists were caught in another sort of bind: they 
needed to work within the tradition of the Roman alphabet and at the same time 
needed to represent phonemes and phonemic distinctions which did not provide 
a one-to-one fit with the Roman alphabet. The linguists had at their disposal the 
historically tested ways of representing sound distinctions and new sounds in the 
Roman alphabet: by using digraphs and trigraphs or diacritics. To illustrate the 
relative acceptance of the orthographic systems devised by linguists in the TTPL 
the cases of three Micronesian languages from the Carolines: Pohnpeian, Chuu- 
kese, and Yapese, will be examined. 

A general concern for standardizing the orthographies of Micronesian lan- 
guages is the representation of vowel distinctions beyond the 5 vowels of the 
Roman alphabet. Another is the representation of non-European consonants, 
such as labialized and glottalic consonants. 


The language of Pohnpei has the smallest phonemic inventory of the three lan- 
guages under comparison: 6 or 7 vowels (depending on the dialect), 12 conso- 
nants, and 2 glides. With its somewhat Latin-like vowel inventory, the phonemics ■ 
of Pohnpeian were relatively easy for European and Japanese visitors to perceive 
and represent. Thus, missionary representations, though far from consistant, were 
not intractably erratic. Rehg & Sohl (1979:xix) note that the alphabet used in 
their Pohnpeian-English dictionary 'or one similar to it, had already gained wide- 
spread acceptance prior to the time the workshop was held. It represents a syn- 
thesis of at least six alphabetic traditions in Ponape'. The phonemic distinctions 
and their orthographic representations are presented here: 


Pohnpeian (IPA) 

may be long or short) 

i u 
e/e o 



p w d s 





m w n 1 r 
Semivowels: y w 



Yunick: Linguistics, TESL, and language planning in Micronesia 193 

Pohnpeian (Spelling) 

i u 

e o 


Long vowels: with h: 
ih, uh, eh, oh, oah, ah 

pw d s t k 

mw 1 n r ng 

Semivowels: i w/u 

Few cases challenge the Roman alphabet. The phonemic distinction be- 
tween a more rounded, higher [o], and a less rounded, lower [o] was maintained 
by creating a digraph for the latter: oa. Vowel length is represented by adding an 
h (which is not a consonant in Pohnpeian) after the vowel. Long [o:] is thus, for 
example represented by oah, as in soahng 'kind, type'. Labialized consonants are 
represented as combinations with the letter w; [ij] is represented in English fash- 
ion by the digraph ng (unlike, say, the Samoan solution of using g). A retroflex 
palatal affricate is represented by the letter t and the slightly palatalized alveolo- 
palatal fricative by s. 

In the Pohnpeian case, acceptance of the orthography was promoted by a 
good degree of continuity with missionary writing systems and by having a 
clergy as one of the proponents of the orthography. Furthermore, the spelling 
system that was adopted was more or less consistent with the orthographic aes- 
thetics of the English language, which, by the time of the publication of the dic- 
tionary using the planned orthography, had been the second language of the 
community for over 30. No letters not necessary for Pohnpeian (b, c,f, g, j, q, v, x, 
y, z) were used to represent non- European sounds. Vowel length was repre- 
sented using lengthening h, which at least occasionally appears in English and 
was a standard device in German. No diacritics were used at all. Phonemic consis- 
tency was paired with an orthographic aesthetic that is consistent with colonial 
English and not vastly different from earlier missionary traditions. 

It is no surprise that, at the Vernacular Language Symposium on New and 
Developing Orthographies in Micronesia in 1989, the Pohnpeians, unlike most 
other groups, did not lodge many complaints about spelling, except for some con- 
tention between northern and southern dialect (Spencer et al. 1990). The 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Pohnpeian resolutions passed at the symposium focused on language awareness 
rather than on orthographic standardization issues. 


Chuukese, spoken on mountainous islands in a single lagoon area, shows a larger 
phonemic inventory than Pohnpeian, with 9 vowels, 13 consonants, and 2 glides. 
Dialect variation may require one to two additional consonants and/or vowels. 
The Chuukese system, though still with a smaller number of phonemes than Eng- 
lish, presents more challenges in designing a Roman-alphabet orthography than 
does Pohnpeian. An additional social-historical complication is the fact that there 
is a series of Trukic dialects that show more differentiation than exists on the is- 
land of Pohnpei. The bulk of missionary educational and religious materials are 
based on a different dialect, Mortlockese, which differs phonemically from the 
dialects of the Chuuk lagoon, the center of the TTPI Truk State government and 
of the present FSM Chuuk State government. 

Perhaps owing to the confusion of dialects and the richer phonemic inven- 
tory, spelling systems developed by missionaries reflected Chuukese phonology 
very inconsistently. This was noted early in the US Naval administration in the 
islands, and administrator Samuel Elbert and linguist Isidore Dyen worked toward 
standardizing Chuukese spelling (U.S. Department of the Navy 1948:46). Later, 
Ward Goodenough and fellow authors of the Chuukese-English dictionary 
would lament that these 'improvements' by Elbert and Dyen were ignored 
(Goodenough et al. 1980:xiv). 


Chuukese (IPA) 


(all may be long or short) 

Chuukese (Spelling) 

u , w 



u ,u 



vowel length by doubling: 
ii, uu, uu, ee, oo, ee, 66, aa, aa 



P P w f t 


ts k 

p pw f t 


ch k 

mm* 1 r 



mmw 1 r n 




Chuukese consonant inventory is represented much as in Pohnpeian. 
Vowel length, however, is represented by doubling the vowel in the orthography 
rather than adding h, and the richer vowel inventory required more distinctions, 
which were represented with acute accents differentiating phonological neigh- 
bors. This seems a reasonably elegant system, however, the frequency of accented 

Yunick: Linguistics, TESL, and language planning in Micronesia 195 

long vowels is fairly high. Thus, words like wodwodyeech and pwddrddtd are 
commonplace. The multiplicity of accented vowels in the orthography was later 
found to be intolerable. Entire publications of educational materials were 
scrapped; children were reported to have difficulty remembering binary distinc- 
tions between accented and unaccented letters. Furthermore, traditional printing 
presses required more labor and expense in the production of materials with many 
accented letters — and materials thus printed were chocked full of mistakes. In 
the 1989 symposium on orthographies, the Chuukese delegation resolved 'to ac- 
tively identify ways and means of remedying the printing problems involved in 
developing Chuukese materials for the schools'. (Spencer et al. 1990: 100). A 
high degree of dissatisfaction remains with respect to the orthography — largely 
due to printing impracticalities and aesthetics. 

A further difficulty is alphabetic order in dictionaries. Micronesian lan- 
guages follow the missionary practice of reciting the alphabet with the vowel se- 
ries first, followed by the consonants, otherwise in the order of the English alpha- 
bet. Digraphs and diacritically marked letters are considered separate letters (as 
Spanish ch) Geminate consonants are not considered to be digraphs and are al- 
phabetized as if two letters. Long vowels, however are alphabetized as special 
cases of short vowels; for example, al would come before aam etc.) 

This logical system, however, produced word-finding difficulties for those 
who used the Chuukese-English dictionary for perhaps its most valued purpose 
to the Micronesians: to look in the Chuukese section for English translations. 
This is often a source of complaint regarding the PALI dictionaries, that entries are 
hard to find (Spencer et al. 1992, passim; Early 1994). Concessions to this, how- 
ever, as in the more recently published dictionary of Carolinian (Jackson et al. 
1991), the Trukic variety of the Northern Marianas, also cause confusion. The 
authors of the Carolinian dictionary decided that many users might not know 
which words contained geminate consonants and long vowels, and so treat them 
both as long vowels are treated in the Chuukese dictionary. This is exemplified in 
the Introduction to the Carolinian dictionary (Jackson et al. 1991:xvii) by alpha- 
betic sequences such as: bwel, bwell, bweel, bwele, fas, ffas, ffat, faat, ffaat, fiti, 
fiiti. It is debatable whether such moves, logically and systematically designed to 
help users, manage to simplify dictionary use. 

Overall satisfaction with Chuukese and Trukic orthographies is mediocre. 
The accented letters are often simply abandoned in favor of a more ambiguous 
representation that is more in conformance with English orthographic conven- 


Yapese, spoken on the old volcanic islands of Yap State, has a richer phonemic 
inventory than either Pohnpeian or Chuukese, with 8 vowels, 27 consonants, 4 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Yapese (IPA) 

Vowels (all may be long or short) 

Yapese (Spelling) 

Long vowels Short vowels 

ae a 






ea ae 



e a 

P' b 
t' d 






k' g 

f f m m' 
0' n n' 1 



w w' y y' 

p p' b 

t f d 

ch j 

k k' g 



f f m m' 

th th' n n' 11' 
s r 

n ng 

w w' y y' 

Orthography planning for Yapese has shown the least success, partly be- 
cause the new system agreed upon by Yapese orthography committees, as seen in 
Jensen et al. 1977, had many more departures from the earlier, somewhat en- 
trenched missionary orthography than was the case with Pohnpeian or Chuu- 
kese. The differences between the older missionary spellings and the newer or- 
thography were apparently great enough that there were reports (Spencer et al. 
1992) that parents could not understand what children were trying to write and 
could not help them with their school work. 

The choices made for Yapese vowels differed from those made for Pohn- 
peian and Chuukese. Umlauts were chosen to distinguish vowel qualities beyond 
the five Latin vowels, introducing e, a and 6. Long vowels without diacritics are 
doubled to show length; however, avoiding the doubled accented letters a la 
Chuukese, the proposed Yapese orthography adds a second vowel to accented 
vowels to produce the corresponding long vowel: e lengthens to ea; a to ae; and 
6 to oe. This system was greeted with a great degree of unhappiness: umlauts 
were resisted and the ea/ae distinction (though not unlike the German 'ieV 'ei' 
difference) was thought confusing. 

Yapese, being a non-nuclear Micronesian language, differs in syllable struc- 
ture and consonant-phoneme inventory from the nuclear Micronesian languages 
(Pohnpeian, Chuukese, Marshallese, Kosraean, etc.). One such difference is the i 
Yapese series of glottalized consonants, represented by the letter for the corre- ™! 
sponding oral consonant followed by an apostrophe. The practice appeared in 
some missionary writing and was not found especially controversial, though the 
apostrophe is also often ignored. A controversial innovation regarding conso- 
nants is the decision to represent the glottal-stop phoneme with the letter q, de- 
parting from the earlier practice of representing it with an apostrophe. The repre- 

Yunick: Linguistics, TESL, and language planning in Micronesia 197 

sentation of this phoneme as a letter in its own right makes good sense, as it ap- 
pears in all positions (syllable final and initial). However, as Pugram (in Spencer et 
al. 1992:48 ) notes, 'Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes that "Q".' Notwith- 
standing its approval by an orthography committee, the representation was ap- 
parently disliked; the use of the apostrophe was well entrenched, and by the 
1970s the English language usage of qu was quite familiar to the Yapese. Yapese 
accordingly joked that the indigenous name for their island [wo?ob] had become 
'waQUab' [wokwob] after 30 years of exposure to English. The q was widely 
ignored and is almost never used in personal names, place names, or even on 
tourist T-shirts, which still say Wo 'ab. 

Planning the Yapese orthography was largely a non-success, and consis- 
tency has not yet been achieved. Mother- tongue school materials continue to be 
a problem. Educational materials printed with the new orthography, on an even 
greater scale than in Chuuk, were discarded, and there remains much confusion 
over orthography. A standard system has not yet been settled upon. 

In each case, American linguists, under the advisement of Micronesian com- 
mittees, made sound, scientific decisions. They succeeded when their efforts hap- 
pened, serendipitously, to coincide with pre-exisiting (though only marginally en- 
trenched) literacy practices and to correspond to a prevailing aesthetic among 
Micronesians consistent with developing attitudes toward the language used for 
literacy and wider communication internally and internationally: English. Where 
these practices and attitudes conflicted, little progress has been made. 

The overall tone of the 1989 symposium on orthography (Spencer et al. 
1990) is optimistic; however, many educators complained that there was not 
enough legal backbone to enforce language commission decisions; others com- 
plained of inaccuracies and omissions in materials developed in the 1970s; others 
complained of lack of funding and of relative lack of follow-through on projects 
when the initiating program funding ran out. 

Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, Topping, a linguist who directed the 
program under which most of the Micronesian dictionaries and grammars were 
produced, encourages Micronesian language planners not to hold up writing in 
Micronesia over an ideology of correct spelling (Topping 1992:148). Correctness 
is, however, perhaps the primary legacy of American linguistic efforts in Microne- 
sia: concern for scientific accuracy above all, in the belief that accurate spelling 
systems would pave the way for literacy in vernacular languages, in the belief 
that the 'correct' acquisition of English would pave the way for literacy in Eng- 
lish, and finally in the belief these would in turn would provide a way to the good 
balanced life of traditional values and modern market-economy These factors re- 
flect the focus of American linguistic inquiry: understanding from the bottom-up. 

Americans demonstrated a complex over-arching ideology and sensitivity 
toward their role in Micronesia. They recognized from the beginning that a bal- 
ance would be needed between a free hand and guiding hand, if Micronesians 
wanted to see economic transformation. Micronesian interest in education and in 
English reflected their desire to participate in some way in the world economy. 

198 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Both groups relied on language-teaching methods and linguists for major and mi- 
nor social transformation. It seemed clear what language and linguistics was sup- 
posed to do for the Micronesian, but not what the Micronesian was supposed to 
do with the language, Micronesian or English. 


BENDER, Byron W. 1984. 'Preface'. Studies in Micronesian Linguistics, ed. by^ 
Byron W. Bender, vii-x. Canberra: Department of Linguistics, Research m 
School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University. 

Cobarrubias, Juan. 1983. Ethical issues in status planning. Progress in Lan- 
guage Planning. In Cobarrubias & Fishman, 41-83. Berlin: Mouton. 

Cobarrubias, Juan, & Joshua Fishman (eds.). 1983. Progress in Language 
Planning. Berlin: Mouton. 

Early, Robert. 1994. Review of Jackson et al. 1991, in Isla: A Journal of Mi- 
cronesian Studies 2:2.333-8. 

Gibson, Robert E. 1980. Putting the mother tongue back into the classroom: ESL 
and bilingual education in Micronesia. NABE Journal 4:2.49-58. 

Goodenough, Ward H., et al. 1980. Trukese-English Dictionary. Philadephia; 
American Philosophical Society. 

GROSSMAN, Gary M., Harry N. Drier, & Harold Starr. 1990. Achieving Academic 
Excellence: The Challenge of the 90s in the Federated States of Microne- 
sia. Palikir: Office of Education, Department of Human Resources, TheGov- 
ernment of the Federated States of Micronesia. 

HANLON, David. 1998. Remaking Micronesia: Discourses over Development in a 
Pacific Territory, 1944-1982. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 

Jackson, Frederick H. et al. 1991. Carolinian-English Dictionary. Honolulu: 
University of Hawaii Press. 

JENSEN, John Thayer, et al. 1977. Yapese-English Dictionary. Honolulu: Univer- 
sity of Hawaii Press. 

Quackenbush, Hiroko C. 1970. Studies in the phonology of some Trukic dialects. 
University of Michigan, Ph.D. dissertation. 

Rehg, Kenneth L. 1981. Ponapean Reference Grammar. Honolulu: University of 
Hawaii Press. 

, &DamienG. Sohl. 1979. Ponapean-English Dictionary. Honolulu: Univer- 
sity of Hawaii Press. 

Richard, Dorothy. 1957. United States Naval Administration of the Trust Terri- m 
tory of the Pacific Islands. Washington, D.C: USGPO. 

Sachuo, Sweeter. 1992. Impact of communication technology on traditional dis- 
course in the cultures of Micronesia. Pacific History: Papers from the 8th 
Pacific History Association Conference, ed. by Donald Rubinstein, 405- 
18. Mangilao: UOG Press. 

SPENCER, Mary L. 1992. Literacy in Micronesia. ISLA: A Journal of Micronesian 
Studies 1:2.289-327. 

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. 1985. Entry-exit criteria issues as they pertain to the bilingual education 

programs of the Micronesian region. Mangilao, Guam: University of Guam. 
ERIC, ED297586. 

, & Patrick Langmoir. 1987. Time to question the SPC standard: The ubiqui- 
tous English reading curriculum of the Pacific. Paper presented to the Na- 
tional Association for Asian and Pacific American Education National Con- 
ference, Honolulu, Hawaii, April 1987. ERIC document FL071493. 

, et al. 1990 Vernacular Language Symposium on New and Developing Or- 
thographies in Micronesia. Mangilao: University of Guam Press. 

Tate, Gloria M. 1971. Oral English, Handbook for Teachers, Teacher-Trainers, 
Inspectors, Your Essential Guide to the Oral English Course. Wellington : 
Reed Education. 

. 1979. Oral English, Handbook for Teachers, Teacher-Trainers, Inspec- 
tors, Your Essential Guide to the Oral English Course. Sydney, Australia : 
South Pacific Commission in association with the New Zealand Dept. of 

Topping, Donald M. 1975. A bilingual education program for Micronesia. The 
Linguistic Reporter 15: 6. 4. 

. 1992. Review of Vernacular Language Symposium on New and Develop- 
ing Orthographies in Micronesia. Isla: A Journal of Micronesian Studies 

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the Administration of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Washing- 
ton, D.C.: US GPO. 

. 1962. Fifteenth Annual Report to the United Nation on the Administra- 
tion of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Washington, D.C.: US 

. 1964. Seventeenth Annual Report to the United Nation on the Admini- 
stration of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Washington, D.C.: US 

. 1967. Twentieth Annual Report to the United Nation on the Administra- 
tion of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Washington, D.C.: US 

. 1969. Twenty-second Annual Report to the United Nation on the Admini- 
stration of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Washington, D.C.: US 

U.S. Department of the Interior. 1952. Report on the Administration of the Trust 
Territory of the Pacific Islands. Washington, D.C.: US GPO. 

. 1972. Annual Report of the High Commissioner of the Trust Territory of 

the Pacific Islands to the Secretary of the Interior. Washington, D.C.: US 

. Office of Insular Affairs. 1999. A Report on the State of the Islands, 1999. 

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ritory of the Pacific Islands: A Handbook for Use in Training and Ad- 
ministration. Washington, D.C.: US GPO. 



Writing and Minority Languages 
in East Asia 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Ma. Lourdes S. Bautista 

De La Salle University, Manila 

clalsb® mail. ph 

The paper presents the context in which literacy work is 
being done in the Philippines: extensive multilingualism, a 
large number of minority language groups, and varying esti- 
mates of the extent of basic and functional illiteracy. The work 
of the Summer Institute of Linguistics and the Education Re- 
search Program of the University of the Philippines in ad- 
dressing the problem of illiteracy especially among minority 
language groups is then highlighted. The paper concludes 
with the lessons from both the theoretical and field aspects of 
literacy work: the appropriateness of the mother tongue as the 
initial language of literacy, the usefulness of a bridging pro- 
gram from vernacular literacy to national language literacy, the 
importance of a literate environment and community-based lit- 
eracy projects in fostering literacy, and the need for political 
will to achieve the eradication of illiteracy. 


The eradication of illiteracy is one of the key components of the Philippines 2000 
plan of the national government. It is therefore necessary to ask: How is the 
problem of illiteracy being addressed? What kind of research is being done in the 
area of literacy? How is research being brought to bear on literacy work in the 
field especially among minority language groups? In this paper I will first present 
the sociolinguistic situation of the Philippines as the context for literacy efforts. 
Then I will document the research and practice in marginal communities of two of 
the most active groups addressing the problem of literacy in the Philippines, the 
Summer Institute of Linguistics and the Education Research Program of the Uni- 
versity of the Philippines. Reflection on their experience will pave the way for a 
consideration of lessons learned in promoting literacy among disadvantaged 
groups, which will form the concluding section of this paper. 

The Philippine sociolinguistic situation 

In 1990, the latest year for which Census figures are available, the Philippines had 
a population of 60.5 million speaking a large number of indigenous languages; by 
one account (Krauss 1992:6 citing Ethnologue 1988, as mentioned by Quaken- 
bush 1997:6), it is 10 th in the world in the number of indigenous languages spo- 
ken. The number of Philippine languages has been placed anywhere between 80 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30. 1 (Fall 2000) 

to 163, the sliding number being an indication of the difficulty of using mutual 
intelligibility as a criterion for distinguishing dialects from languages. 2 Eight of 
these languages have traditionally been called 'major languages' based on a 
ranking of the number of speakers; each of these languages now has one million 
or more mother tongue speakers. See Table 1 . 

Table 1 

Major Mother Tongues of the Population 

Censal Years 1960 and 1990 

Major Mother 



























































Source: Philippine Yearbook 1995. Manila: Republic of the Philippines, 

National Statistics Office. I 

In 1990, the speakers of the eight major languages accounted for 86% of 
the population (Philippine Yearbook 1995). Three of the major languages — Ta- 
galog (or Filipino) spoken by 28% as a first language, Cebuano spoken by 24%, 
and Ilocano spoken by 10% — are also regional lingua francas. Of the other lan- 
guages, generally known as 'minor languages', 29 languages have at least 
100,000 speakers, and 96 have at least 10,000 (Quakenbush 1997:6). Following 
Sibayan (1985: 152), I will refer to groups that are not native speakers of the major 
languages as minority language groups or linguistic minorities. 

b autista: Bridging research and practice 205 

Among the minority language groups are the indigenous cultural communi- 
ties, sometimes referred to as the tribal Filipinos — communities living in the re- 
mote interiors of the big islands, and least influenced by Spanish and American 
colonization, and by Christianity or Islam. Their numbers have been placed at ap- 
proximately six million. 

The 1990 Census gives information only on mother tongue speakers and 
therefore does not include figures for speakers of English as a second language. 
However, a reputable survey group did a small-scale survey after the 1990 Cen- 
sus and placed the figures at 73% being able to read English, 59% being able to 
write in English, 74% being able to understand spoken English, and 56% being 
able to speak English (Social Weather Stations 1994). 

The Filipino, then, is bilingual, and, depending on where he or she was born 
and resides, even multilingual. In addition to speaking a mother tongue, he or she 
also speaks a language of wider communication or regional lingua franca, 3 and, if 
schooled, the national language Filipino, and the international language English. 

The language problem of the Philippines, according to most Filipino socio- 
linguists, is the problem of reconciling the competing demands of ethnicity (em- 
bodied in an individual's mother tongue or vernacular), nationalism (manifested in 
having and propagating a national language), and modernization (seen to be 
synonymous with using an international language). The 1986 Constitution de- 
clared Filipino as the national language, official language, and language of in- 
struction; English as the other official language, until otherwise provided by law; 
the regional languages as the auxiliary official languages in the regions and as 
auxiliary media of instruction; and Spanish and Arabic as languages to be pro- 
moted on a voluntary and optional basis (see Bautista 1996 for an outline of the 
changes in the Constitutional provision and in the language of instruction policy 
over the years). 4 

The 1995 UNESCO Statistical Yearbook provides the illiteracy rates for the 
Philippines in 1980 and 1990, and gives estimates for 1995. For the age group 15 
years and over, in 1980, the total illiterate population numbered 4.6 million, or 
16.7%, with women at 17.2% compared to men at 16.1%. The difference between 
the urban and rural populations was pronounced, with the rural illiteracy rate at 
23.1% compared to the urban illiteracy rate at 6.9%. In 1990, the figures had im- 
proved dramatically: for the age group 15+, the illiterate population was placed at 
2.3 million, with the total illiteracy rate at 6.4%; male illiteracy was at 6.0% and 
( female illiteracy at 6.8%; the urban illiteracy rate was down to 2.7% while the ru- 
' ral illiteracy rate was at 10.3%. The estimates for 1995 for 15 year-olds and above 
put the illiterate population at 2.2 million (53% of whom would be female), and 
the illiteracy rate at 5.4%. See Table 2. 

These figures appear to be unreal istically low, and the question must be 

i asked as to how literacy was defined and how the figures were determined. 

Doronila & Acuha (1994: 2) of the Education Research Program of the University 

of the Philippines, giving higher rates of illiteracy compared to UNESCO's figures, 

206 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30. 1 (Fall 2000) 

Table 2 
Illiteracy Figures for the Philippines 1980, 1990, and 1995 

Illiterate Population 15 years and above (1980) 

























Illiterate Population 15 years and above (1990) 

























Illiterate Population 15 years and above (1995 estimates) 











Source: UNESCO Statistical Yearbook 1995. 

pointed to an important dimension of the problem: 'The illiteracy rate in the Phil- 
ippines was established in 1989 at 10.2 percent, or about 6 million of the popula- 
tion. The functional illiteracy rate was pegged at 26.8 percent, or about 13 million 
of the population, 10 years old and above'. In a later publication (UP-ERP Re- 
search Team 1996:2), the discrepancy was spelled out: 'The gap of 16% between 
our basic and functional literacy rates suggests that basic literacy skills do not 
expand and become functional to people's daily activities'. Still one more figure 
needs to be considered, the figure for the tribal Filipinos, the Filipinos living in the 
most remote and inaccessible areas of the country. According to the Literacy Co- 
ordinator of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the non-governmental organiza- 
tion that works on the most sustained basis among the minority language groups 

bautista: Bridging research and practice 207 

of the Philippines, the illiteracy rate for the country's six million ethnic (or cultural 
community) population has been placed at 75% (West 1993). At the same time, 
the Congressional Commission on Education (1991:11) underscored the fact that 
the functional literacy programs of the government and non-government organi- 
zations reach only a few illiterates; the estimate in 1989 was that these programs 
served only just a little over one percent of the estimated number of functional 

It is against this backdrop that literacy work with minority language com- 
munities is taking place. I will focus on two groups that, in my opinion, best ex- 
emplify the attempt to bring theory into practice in literacy work. 

The experience of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) 

SIL is an international, private, volunteer agency that has been in the Philippines 
since 1953 working with indigenous cultural communities. SIL volunteers live in 
the cultural communities, learning their languages and cultures. In partnership 
with the community, they prepare orthographies and dictionaries, implement liter- 
acy programs, facilitate production of vernacular literature, assist with health and 
other community development projects, publish linguistic and anthropological 
research, and translate literature of high moral value. In the Philippines, SIL has 
published over 800 titles in 75 Philippine languages, researched 90 Philippine 
languages, and is currently involved in some 50 language projects (Johnson 
1994; SIL 1996 Annual Report). 

The link between research and practice in literacy work is seen clearly in 
SIL's planning framework (West 1991): 

Step 1 - Research: This is a two-year period of intensive language and cul- 
ture study together with research on demography, language and 
identity, literacy rates, educational facilities, health factors, economic 
factors, social structure, traditional religion, moral values, aspirations, 
and felt needs. 

Step 2 - Goals and strategies: These are developed after considering the 
following factors: a) the particular segment of the population to tar- 
get — men, women, youth, children, civic leaders, etc.; b) the focus of 
activities — a literacy program, promoting vernacular reading, a 
health program, etc.; c) involvement of the local community. 

Step 3 - Activities: These are developed to implement the strategies and in- 
volve considerations of motivation, personnel, materials, and fund- 

From its extensive experience, SIL has evolved literacy programs that ad- 
dress the needs of different types of cultural communities, as follows (West 1991; 
Porter 1992): 

Among highly literate groups (those with 65% or above literacy as in some 
Cordillera communities) — the strategy is to produce literature to test 
the orthography and to give practice in reading the vernacular, and 

208 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30. 1 (Fall 2000) 

also, if needed, to prepare basic literacy materials for those in the 
population who need them. 

Among semi-literate groups (those with 30 - 65% literacy rate as in other 
Cordillera communities) — the strategy is to prepare primers and 
other pedagogical materials (readers, song books, health books), to 
develop a curriculum for pre-schools, to act as a catalyst for non- 
formal education classes, to teach small adult literacy classes. 

Among under-literate groups (those with less than 30% literacy, as in the m 
Negrito communities of Luzon) — the strategy first of all is to build ^ 
motivation for learning to read and write and then to serve as a cata- 
lyst for programs for school-age children and for adults: for children, 
by directly providing a teacher and getting a school started, which 
can then be turned over to the Department of Education, Culture and 
Sports (DECS), or by setting up vernacular pre-schools and providing 
simple work-sheets, the rationale being to prepare minority language 
children to compete in the school system; for adults, by providing 
flexible classes and schedules that accommodate the lifestyle of a 
semi-nomadic people. 

In terms of school-based literacy work, SIL's First Language Component- 
Bridging Program (FLC-BP) deserves notice; it is a program that SIL wishes to 
pursue in more communities with the aid of DECS. The program was first tried out 
in Hungduan, Ifugao in 1985 to address the problem of poor test performance of 
grade school children in that area. As designed by the SIL team (Hohulin 1993), 
in cooperation with DECS, the program adds one hour of first language instruc- 
tion to the Grade 1 and 2 curriculum to provide the children with a 'bridge' from 
their mother tongue to the two languages of instruction, Filipino and English. 
During the additional hour of instruction, the children are introduced to concepts 
in their mother tongue that they will encounter as concepts and words in the Fili- 
pino, English, and Math classes. Alternatively, the first 15 minutes of the 40- 
minute period in, for example, Social Studies, can be devoted to a discussion of a 
concept in the mother tongue, and the rest of the period can discuss the concept 
in Filipino, the medium of instruction for Social Studies. 5 It should be pointed out 
that the FLC-BP is a transition program, a program that bridges from the home 
language to the school languages, and not a vernacular education program. 

The formal testing that was built into the pilot project showed the experi- 
mental groups performing significantly better than the control groups. In the A 
years since 1987, the classes using the FLC-BP have not had counterpart control " 
classes and therefore no statistics for comparison purposes are available. But, 
based on SIL reports, the feedback from teachers, parents, and pupils consistently 
shows that the program works. 

The success of the original program prompted the Nueva Vizcaya State In- 
stitute of Technology (NVSIT) to include the FLC methodology as part of a 
course in the Master of Education program with specialization in Language, 
Reading, and Numeracy (Baguingan 1995). Workshops organized by SIL and 

bautista: Bridging research and practice 209 

NVSIT have been conducted in the Cordilleras to train teachers in the FLC meth- 
odology and to prepare instructional materials in the vernacular. The methodol- 
ogy is now being used not only in the lower grades but also in remediation pro- 
grams in the upper grades. However, the FLC-BP occasionally meets resistance 
from some administrators who believe that the vernacular is not a suitable lan- 
guage of instruction or who believe that a standard curriculum must be followed 
in all schools. 6 

With regard to adult literacy programs, SIL is guided by the following prin- 
ciples (West 1993:2): Programs are long term because it takes time to motivate 
participants, to train teachers, to develop materials, and it takes time to learn how 
to read and write. Programs are community programs; local people decide where 
classes will be held, who will be trained as teachers, who will be included in the 
classes; furthermore, teachers and eventually supervisors are members of the cul- 
tural community. The local language is used; basic reading and writing are first 
taught in the vernacular with provision for transition to a language of wider 
communication. The programs use materials relevant to the people's life and live- 
lihood concerns and materials that instill pride in their culture. The programs build 
on each other, following basic literacy with fluency classes, leadership training, 
health education, etc. 

SIL is prepared to stay in a community until the project has become self- 
sustaining, that is, it 'has gained sufficient momentum in three vital areas ... neces- 
sary for on-goingness: (1) motivation and general interest, (2) materials produc- 
tion, and (3) trained personnel' (Porter 1990:37). In 1996, for instance, SIL con- 
sidered its involvement among the Botolan Sambal people and the Umiray 
Dumeget people complete — two projects that were begun in the early years of 
SIL in the Philippines, i.e., in the mid-fifties. 7 

The experience of the Education Research Program (ERP) 
of the University of the Philippines (UP) 

The ERP is one of four programs of the Center for Integrative and Development 
Studies of the University of the Philippines, a research unit created in 1985 'with 
the mandate of mobilizing the multidisciplinary expertise of the UP in search of 
new paradigms, policies, strategies, and programs that will help the nation over- 
come constraints to its development' (UP-CIDS Chronicle 1996). It is under- 
standable, then, why an important concern of the ERP is illiteracy. 

A major research project of the ERP focused on the elements and factors 
constituting the dynamics of functional literacy in marginal communities of the 
Philippines. Commissioned by the Literacy Coordinating Council of the Philip- 
pines and the Bureau of Non-Formal Education of DECS, the project was accom- 
plished within the time frame January 1993-February 1994, with field work last- 
ing from October 15 to December 15, 1993, and it produced a monograph series oi 
16 volumes entitled Learning from Life: An Ethnographic Study of Functional 
Literacy in Fourteen Philippine Communities, by Maria Luisa C. Doronila and 
Jasmin Espiritu Acuna. 8 Its ethnographic approach included document review. 


210 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30. 1 (Fall 2000) 

individual interviews of participants and non-participants of non-formal literacy 
training, group interviews of community members and officials, life histories of in- 
dividuals who became literate on their own, literacy tests, and psycho-social 
scales to obtain the needed information. 

Functional literacy and literate practice in the Philippines was studied in the 
context of marginal communities (marginal in terms of access to basic services and 
economic opportunities, and in terms of participation in economic and political 
governance), classified by 'lifestyle' or cultural life into six categories: 

(1) traditional (a community of sea nomads in Tawi-Tawi); 

(2) transitional (a tribal group in Bukidnon practicing swidden agriculture, 
a tribal group in Ifugao practicing rice terracing agriculture, a tent city 
in Pampanga, a resettlement area in Zambales); 

(3) Muslim Filipino (a municipality in Lanao del Sur); 

(4) marginal Christian majority (a hill monocrop (sugar) community in Ne- 
gros Occidental, two lowland farming and fishing communities in Orien- 
tal Mindoro, a lowland farming community in Sorsogon); 

(5) urban poor (two poor communities in Metro Manila); and 

(6) developmental (one organized and participatory community each in 
Quezon and Rizal). 

The study examined how communities across the different community types 
viewed and used traditional knowledge (derived mainly from oral traditional and 
consisting mainly of practices, beliefs, norms, attitudes, values and world views) 
and literate knowledge (generally learned in school, from printed material or re- 
quiring some form of reading or writing) and how they made or were making the 
passage from an oral tradition to a literate tradition. It found that the process 
could take place more easily if the community folk used their own language and 
coined new word combinations to express new concepts, consistently encour- 
aged literate practices, combined traditional and literate knowledge into new 
forms, and incorporated characteristics of their oral expression into the written 
mode (Doronila Forthcoming, 262). 

The study also considered the question of the acquisition, retention, and loss 
of literacy skills. Doronila and Acuna (1994:88) found that in general, 'where the 
medium of instruction is familiar to the learners, literacy acquisition occurs earlier 
(in the second semester of Grade I) than predicted by DECS (at Grade 3); where a 
the language is foreign, it occurs later than predicted (at Grade 4)'. Retention of \ 
literacy skills was ascribed to: (1) involvement in community activities where liter- 
acy skills are practiced and new ones are learned; (2) continuous application of 
these skills, and (3) expansion of these skills because these are required by their 
work and other community activities (Doronila Forthcoming, 263). The study 
concluded that reversion to illiteracy happens when literacy skills cannot be used 
in the daily lives of learners, and when reading materials and broadcast media are 

bautista: Bridging research and practice 2 1 1 

Doronila's findings have been substantiated and extended in another ERP 
study, the one done by Bernardo 1995 on the cognitive consequences of liter- 
acy. 9 Bernardo used a quasi-experimental design to determine whether there 
were differences in the thinking processes of formal literates, non-formal literates, 
and illiterates in five marginal communities included in the original study. A 
noteworthy finding is that there are no direct effects of literacy on the cognitive 
processes of adults; instead, the cognitive consequences of literacy are indirect 
and are mediated by literate practices in the communities to which the adults be- 
long. Furthermore, the effects of literacy on thinking are not global but specific 
only to those cognitive skills associated with activities which incorporate literate 
practices. Thus, according to Bernardo, it is not enough to make individuals liter- 
ate; what is needed is literate communities where literate practices are an integral 
part of community life and activities. This was most obvious in one research site 
where community members have organized themselves to secure their interests as 
fisherfolk. This organization holds discussion sessions, conducts training work- 
shops, publishes a community newsletter, and runs a day-care center. These ac- 
tivities incorporate literate practices, which in turn have transformed the nature of 
community activities and community members themselves. In the words of Ber- 
nardo (p. 137), 'At the risk of oversimplifying, the flow does not seem to be from 
literacy to changes in thought to community development. Instead, it seems to 
flow from community development to literacy to changes in thought'. 

The ethnographic and basic research of the ERP has been extensive, pro- 
ducing comprehensive baseline data and important analyses. The question is: 
How has the research been used? One way has been to incorporate the research 
results into the framework of the DECS-Bureau of Non-Formal Education/UP- 
ERP Research and Development Program for functional education and literacy, 
continuing education, and capacity building, which has received assistance from 
the Asian Development Bank. Thus, the outputs from the studies have been used 
in (1) preparing a package of instruments for Rapid Community Assessment and 
training at the community level, (2) developing a curriculum, including a taxon- 
omy of literacy-numeracy skills, for each community type, (3) preparing instruc- 
tional materials, including the development and field-testing of exemplar modules, 
that build on existing literacy materials and the research outputs of the ethno- 
graphic study, and (4) conducting additional basic research on the consequences 
of literacy and on indigenous learning systems. Eight research projects done 
within the framework (including the one of Bernardo described above) have 
been collated in Studies on Functional Education and Literacy: A Handbook 
and User's Guide (UP-ERP Research Team 1996) for research dissemination con- 
ferences of the Bureau of Non-Formal Education. 

In addition, the UP-ERP itself, in collaboration with the municipal govern- 
ment, DECS, and the Literacy Coordinating Council, is implementing a compre- 
hensive education and community development program in Valencia, Negros Ori- 
ental (a majority language community) which has four components: (1) agricul- 
tural development and livelihood training — integrating education and literacy in 
enhancing agricultural productivity; (2) eco-tourism development — using liter- 

212 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30. 1 (Fall 2000) 

acy to preserve tourist spots in Valencia and to promote them among local and 
foreign tourists; (3) social services and ID system — encouraging the use of the 
ID among residents to be able to avail of social services, and orienting people on 
voters' education, basic environmental education, primary health care education; 
and (4) community resource development — building capability among local 
people to run their own education and community projects. At the same time, the 
UP-ERP is working with UP College Baguio and DECS to enrich education pro- 
grams in the Cordillera Administrative Region, specifically in the provinces of . 
Ifugao and the Mt. Province (minority language areas), through the inclusion of I 
indigenous knowledge in the formal and non-formal curricula. The team is col- 
lecting research materials on the Cordilleras, systematically validating traditional 
knowledge according to various classification systems, and incorporating such 
knowledge in the curricula. Thus far, several modules in Social Studies and in Sci- 
ence for use in elementary and secondary schools have been prepared incorpo- 
rating basic information on the Cordilleras, indigenous terracing technology, and 
the social organization of terracing and the rituals associated with it. Pilot testing 
of the new curriculum and instructional materials has been planned for school 
year 1999-2000 (Briefing kit for field researchers 1998). 


A concrete finding of the studies is the appropriateness of vernacular literacy. The 
SIL and ERP experience indicates that for minority language groups, the lan- 
guage of literacy should be the mother tongue, because literacy in a familiar lan- 
guage is easier to achieve than literacy in an unfamiliar language. This too is the 
recommendation of the Congressional Commission on Education (1991:14): 'The 
home language shall be used as the language of learning from Grade 1 up through 
Grade 3, with Filipino gradually becoming the medium from Grade 4 through high 
school'. Thus, primers and readers incorporating local folktales and customs and 
traditions should be prepared for the smaller language groups and preferably by 
the community members themselves. The use of the mother tongue as the initial 
language of literacy, together with the requirement of producing indigenous 
learning materials, builds cultural self-esteem and makes the symbolic statement 
that the mother tongue is a suitable vehicle for the transmission of knowledge 
and therefore is worthy of respect. For practical purposes, there will perhaps be 
need for bridging to the regional language or the national language, which is the 
language of wider communication and the language of a sustainable supply of 
reading material. Bridging from the home language to Filipino is relatively easy — 
compared to the great difficulty in bridging to English — because of the similari- 
ties in the phonology and phonotactics of the local languages. In this light, the 
strengths of the First Language Component Bridging Program are evident and 
therefore its adoption should be encouraged in marginal communities. 

The resistance of some school administrators to the use of the vernacular as 
a bridging medium for early literacy because it is 'not suitable' for instruction is 
regrettable. It is apparent that this attitude is shared by many people who believe 
that to be educated means to be able to talk about concepts in English, a kind of 


bautista: Bridging research and practice 213 

'language magic' where cognitive skills are assumed to be inextricably linked to 
the language used in acquiring and executing the skills. The result is that a large 
block of the literate population, i.e., those formally educated, have difficulty 
reading and writing in their native language and the national language. This atti- 
tude, which is quite widespread, of course has implications for minority languages, 
which are ascribed marginal status, particularly as they are not perceived as hav- 
ing a legitimate place in literacy practice. 10 Even the Summer Institute of Linguis- 
tics, which is concerned with encouraging the development and use of minority 
languages and preserving them, accepts the reality that vernacular literacy is of- 
tentimes only a bridge to literacy in a regional language or Filipino or English. 

The ERP studies have shown that motivation for literacy in marginal com- 
munities is seldom intrinsic, i.e., that one wants to read and write because it is em- 
powering in some abstract way to be able to read and write. Instead the motiva- 
tion is extrinsic — it usually comes from a literate environment, that is, an envi- 
ronment in which being able to read and write allows one to participate in the 
economic, cultural, and political activities of the community and, at the least, to 
avoid exploitation. The literate environment, in such an instance, includes not 
only broadcast media and reading materials for instruction and leisure, but, more 
importantly, community development projects and activities that incorporate liter- 
ate practices. In marginal communities, then, the task becomes more difficult be- 
cause promoting literacy is not just a matter of establishing and sustaining a liter- 
acy program but a matter of enhancing the community's capacity to organize for 
development, advocacy, and reform. The importance of being organized, and or- 
ganized not simply around an occupational or social basis but around an issue or 
concern, is thus highlighted. Both the ERP and SIL studies show the need for 
community-based literacy projects that show continuity between learning and 
earning, between school and life. 

There may be a difference, however, in the driving force for literacy acquisi- 
tion among the groups served by the ERP team and those by SIL. 'Pride in our 
culture' seems to be a stronger force on the part of indigenous cultural communi- 
ties than in other marginal groups, in which more pragmatic concerns are more sa- 
lient. Indeed, communities are not identical and their exposure to so-called global 
interests might vary. The drive to preserve one's cultural heritage might be the 
foremost concern in some communities while other communities might be all too 
willing to give up that heritage." 

The happy development for the country as a whole is that the experience of 
SIL and the ERP was incorporated in the 1997 Blueprint for Action of the Liter- 
acy Coordinating Council, the body created by law in 1991 to provide policy and 
program directions for literacy endeavors in the Philippines. The principles on 
which the Blueprint is based include 

preference for community-based projects which means that literacy 
programs should be rooted in the needs of the people who actively par- 
ticipate in the planning and management of literacy-related activities; 
stronger partnership among national and local government agencies, 

214 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30. 1 (Fall 2000) 

non-government organizations, and other important sectors of society; 
integration of literacy in ongoing development programs or projects 
rather than 'selling' it as a direct intervention; and intensified social 
mobilization and advocacy to emphasize that literacy and education is 
the responsibility of all sectors (Blueprint for Action 1997, Foreword). 

Needed to actualize the Blueprint for Action (with its research-based poli- 
cies and strategies to achieve literacy) in the marginal communities (with their as- 
pirations for a better life through development) are political will and forceful ac- A 
tion by government, non-government, and people's organizations. There is some ^ 
evidence that the impetus for literacy has reached the level of the local govern- 
ment: The promotion of literacy will be included in the performance audit of local 
government units. And the Annual Literacy Congress of the Literacy Coordinat- 
ing Council will feature the participation of provincial governors and 
city/municipal mayors. It can therefore be said that signs abound that research 
and practice are being bridged in literacy work among minority language and 
other marginal groups in the country. 


1 A revised version of the paper read at the Conference on Literacy and Writing 
Systems in Asia sponsored by the Center for Advanced Study of the University 
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Language Education Center of Chon- 
nam National University, held on May 1-2, 1998 at the University of Illinois at Ur- 
bana-Champaign. I would like to thank Steve Quakenbush, Anne West, Jenny 
Golden, Catherine Young, and Grace Tan of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, 
Allan Bernardo and Erwin Vargas of the Education Research Program, and Rosa 
Sese and Norma Salcedo of the Literacy Coordinating Council for their assistance 
in the preparation of this paper. I would also like to thank Braj Kachru and Larry 
Smith for their moral support. 

2 Quakenbush' s 1997 survey of the literature shows Reid 1971 listing over 80 
indigenous languages, McFarland 1980 listing 118, the 1990 national census 99, 
and the 1995 edition of Ethnologue (edited by Barbara Grimes) 163. 

3 Using a total of 110 minor languages, Sibayan (1985:155) found 34 minority 
language groups being bilingual in Tagalog, 23 bilingual in Cebuano, 26 bilingual 
in Ilocano, 12 bilingual in Hiligaynon (Ilonggo), 10 bilingual in Bicol, 2 bilingual 
in Pampango, 2 in Samar-Leyte (Waray), and 1 in Pangasinan. 

4 There is some discussion on two points. The first point is whether Filipino is 
equal to Tagalog plus borrowings from other Philippine and foreign languages or 
whether Filipino is "the common national language [still to be developed and 
formally adopted] to be known as Filipino' in the 1973 Constitution, implying a 
language that was still in the process of becoming. The second point is whether 
the term 'regional languages' refers to all the indigenous languages other than 
Filipino or only to the major languages used as lingua francas in particular re- 
gions, e.g. Cebuano and Ilocano. The first interpretation, i.e., that the term refers 

bautista: Bridging research and practice 215 

to the different indigenous languages, is found in the 1974 Implementing Guide- 
lines for the Bilingual Education Policy (DECS Order 25, s. 1974) which states 
that 'In Grades I and II, the vernacular used in the locality or place where the 
school is located shall be the auxiliary medium of instruction'. However, the 1987 
Bilingual Education Policy (DECS Order 52 and 54, s. 1987), points to the use of 
the major vernaculars [emphasis mine], left undefined, as languages for initial 
schooling and literacy. 

5 The principles underlying the program, according to the main proponent 
(Hohulin 1993:2), are: (1) the child's first language should be used as an instru- 
ment for teaching and learning in Grades 1 and 2; (2) the child's cultural model of 
the world should be used for helping him to process perceptual information, un- 
derstand concepts, and form new ones; (3) new concepts and skills should be 
built on existing knowledge structures rather than bypassing them using a rote- 
memorization methodology. 

6 An encouraging development is the position of the current Director of the Bu- 
reau of Elementary Education of DECS that, under the principle of devolution, 
schools are free to try out innovations in the curriculum provided the Minimum 
Learning Competencies are met (Dr. Lidinila Santos, personal communication). 

7 SIL received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding in 
1973, in recognition of its 'inspired outreach to non-literate ethnic people ... en- 
hancing their participation in the larger community of man'. 

8 Doronila's book Contexts, Constraints and Possibilities of Literacy: An Eth- 
nographic Study of Functional Literacy in Marginal Philippine Communities 
(in press), a shorter version of Volume 1 (The Main Report), was selected as the 
First Prize Winner of the 1994 UNESCO International Literacy Award 

because of its innovative and multi-dimensional perspective of liter- 
acy, its exploration of the social meanings of literacy in different 
contexts from an ethnographic point of view, its interdisciplinarity, 
its approach to needs assessment that challenges the traditional 
'mapping of illiteracy,' its analytical conclusions and recommenda- 
tions, and over all, because of its high relevance to other countries. 

9 This study won the 1996 UNESCO International Literacy Research Award. The 
citation highlighted 'its innovative investigation of the effects of literacy acquisi- 
tion, the generation of a new perspective on formal and non-formal literacy prac- 
tices, the in-depth and critical analysis of the research findings and the relevance 
it entails for different cultural contexts'. 

10 I owe the observation given in this paragraph to Allan Bernardo. 

1 ' The difference among communities in the source of their driving force for liter- 
acy acquisition was brought to my attention by Allan Bernardo. 

2 1 6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30. 1 (Fall 2000) 


Bautista, M. L. S. 1996. An outline: The national language and the language 
of instruction. Readings in Philippine Sociolinguistics, ed. by M. L. S. 
Bautista, 223-7. Manila: De La Salle University Press. 

Baguingan, G. 1995. The first language component: A bridging program. (DECS- 
SIL - NVSn Research Program.) Paper presented at the Asian Reading 
Congress, Singapore, June 22-24, 1995. 

Bernardo, A. B. 1995. Cognitive Consequences of Literacy: Studies on Think- 1 
ing in Five Filipino Communities. Manila: Education Research Program, 
Center for Integrative and Development Studies, University of the Philip- 
pines, and Bureau of Non-Formal Education, Department of Education, 
Culture and Sports. 

Blueprint for Action. 1997. Manila: Literacy Coordinating Council, Republic of 
the Philippines:. 

Briefing kit for field researchers. January 1998. Enrichment of the education pro- 
grams in the Cordillera Administrative Region through the incorporation of 
usable indigenous knowledge in the formal and non-formal curricula. A 
DECS-CAR/UP Collaborative Project. (Manuscript.) 

Making Education Work: An Agenda for Reform. 1991. Manila & Quezon City: 
Congressional Commission on Education, Congress of the Republic of the 

Doronila, M. L. C. [Forthcoming]. Contexts, Constraints and Possibilities of 
Literacy: An Ethnographic Study of Functional Literacy in Marginal 
Philippine Communities. Hamburg: UNESCO Institute of Education. 

, & J. E. Acuna. 1994. Learning from Life: An Ethnographic Study of Func- 
tional Literacy in Fourteen Philippine Communities. (Vol. 2 Main report 
— abridged version.) Manila: Education Research Program, Center for In- 
tegrative and Development Studies, University of the Philippines; Literacy 
Coordinating Council of the Philippines; Bureau of Non-Formal Education, 
Department of Education, Culture and Sports. 

Grimes, B. (ed.). 1995. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 13th edition. Dal- 
las: Summer Institute of Linguistics. 

Hohulin, E. L. 1993. The first language component bridging educational program 
(a preliminary report). Philippine Journal of Linguistics 24:1.1-16. 

Johnson, R. F. 1994. The Summer Institute of Linguistics: Forty-one years of 
promoting literacy. Paper prepared for the Asian Institute of Journal- 
ism/Panorama Magazine. m 

Krauss, M. 1992. The world's languages in crisis. Language 68:1.4-10. 

McFarland, C. D. 1980. A Linguistic Atlas of the Philippines. (Monograph Se- 
ries, 15.) Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia 
and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. 

Philippine Yearbook. 1995. Manila: National Statistics Office, Republic of the 

Porter, D. 1990. SIL literacy programs in the Philippines: Where we came from 
and where we are going. Notes on Literacy 61:1.55-61. 

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. 1992. Language-culture types and their implications for vernacular litera- 
ture use. Notes on Scripture in Use and Language Programs 12.22-34. 

Quakenbush, J. S. 1997. 'Other' Philippine languages in the Third Millennium. 
Paper presented at the Philippine Social Science Council symposium 
'Language Agenda in the Third Millennium', sponsored by the Linguistic 
Society of the Philippines, July 26, 1997 at the PSS Center. (Manuscript.) 

Reid, L. (ed.). 1971. Philippine Minor Languages: Word Lists and Phonologies. 
(Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication 8.) Honolulu: University of Ha- 

SlBAYAN, B. P. 1985. Linguistic minorities and bilingual communities in the Philip- 
pines. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 6.152-68. 

Social Weather Stations. 1994. Survey findings on the use of the English lan- 
guage. Philippine Journal of Linguistics 25:1-2.85-93. 

Summer Institute of Linguistics. 1996. Annual report. 

UNESCO. 1995. UNESCO statistical yearbook. Paris. 

UP-CIDS Chronicle. July-September 1996. Activities of the Programs/Projects of 
the University of the Philippines-Center for Integrative and Develop- 
ment Studies. 

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A Handbook and User's Guide. Manila: Education Research Program, 
Center for Integrative and Development Studies, University of the Philip- 
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Culture, and Sports. 

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. 1993. A relevant program will be a successful program. Paper presented at 

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Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Yukio Tsuda 

Nagoya University 

The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between 
the Korean language and the ethnic identity of 'zainichi' Korean 
residents in Japan. The discussion includes: (1) the role of Korean for 
Korean residents in Japan; (2) ethnic education for the maintenance 
of Korean identity; (3) the relationship between the young Koreans 
and their language. The investigation has found that (1) there is only 
a small population of Korean speakers among the Korean residents; 
(2) there are also a small number of Korean children sent to Korean 
schools where ethnic education is practiced; (3) some young Koreans 
manage to maintain Korean identity, not through using Korean, but 
through other means, such as the use of Korean names and the main- 
tenance of Korean nationality. The discussion seems to suggest that 
while literacy in Korean and ethnic education should be promoted, it 
should not be done for political or ideological purposes, but should 
be based on individual needs for pursuing ethnic identity. 


Despite the fact that Korea is the nearest country to Japan and that Korean resi- 
dents form the largest foreign community in Japan, the Korean language does not 
receive due recognition and acknowledgment in Japan. It is indeed a minority 
language in Japan that should have been recognized, but has been greatly ne- 

In this paper, I would like to discuss the relationship between the Korean 
language and the identity of 'zainichi' Koreans, or Korean residents in Japan. 

First, I will discuss the role of Korean for Korean residents in Japan. Second, 
I will discuss ethnic education for the maintenance of Korean identity. Third, I will 
introduce a couple of examples of the young-generation Korean residents to find 
how they relate language to ethnic identity. 

By examining these factors, I believe I shall be able to discover some of the 
dynamics operating between Japanese society and the Korean language as a mi- 
nority language and the role of linguistic and cultural literacy in Korean to main- 
tain Korean identity in Japan. 

220 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Needless to say, there are political and historical reasons for the neglect of 
Korean in Japan. However, these aspects are beyond the scope of this study. This 
study is limited to linguistic, cultural, and psychological aspects of the relationship 
between the Korean language and identity and Japanese society as a whole. 

Korean for Korean residents in Japan 

There are approximately one million Korean residents in Japan, forming the largest 
minority group. About 70 percent of them register as 'foreigners', while at least M 
20 percent of them are naturalized as 'Japanese' citizens. m 

For the majority of Koreans in Japan, the Korean language is very much like 
a foreign language. The reasons are many. 

First, the majority of Koreans in Japan are second-, third-, and fourth- 
generation Koreans who are not native speakers of Korean, while first-generation 
Koreans constitute only 15 percent of the Korean population and are decreasing 
in number. One observer predicts that in the future all the 'zainichi' Koreans in 
Japan will be born in Japan (Maher 1997). 

Thus, the population of Korean speakers is remarkably smaller than the 
population of Korean residents. For the majority of Koreans in Japan, Japanese is 
the first language. 

Second, many (not all) Korean residents in Japan take an assimilationist and 
realistic attitude in terms of using Korean, so that they do not seem to be trying 
very hard to be bilingual. 

Being able to communicate in Japanese seems to most Koreans, especially 
young people, sufficient to survive in Japanese society. Actually, there is a strong 
anti-Korean and discriminatory sentiment against Koreans among the Japanese. 
With their own assimilationist tendency and this anti-Korean sentiment combined, 
Koreans tend to deemphasize their language and culture so that they can avoid 
further discrimination and harrassment from the Japanese people. 

Table 1: Number of colleges offering foreign language courses 

English 495 














Another reason is found not in the Korean community, but in the educa- 
tional policy of Japan and Japanese society at large. There is still a lack of interest 
in promoting multilingualism and multiculturalism in education in Japan institu- 
tionally, socially, and individually. For instance, the curriculum of foreign lan- 
guage education is so Western-oriented that there are not enough courses in non- 
Western languages, as can be see in Table 1, in which the courses of Western Ian- 

Yukio Tsuda: Korean language and identity in Japan 221 

guages are offered in the majority of universities, while Korean is offered only at 
54 universities across Japan. At junior and senior high schools, English is practi- 
cally the only foreign language Japanese students can be exposed to, and Korean 
remains almost nonexistent to the majority of children. 

In addition, the Japanese people are so Western-oriented that they do not 
show much interest in the non- Western languages and cultures. I have to admit 
that I myself represent a typical example of a Japanese without much multilingual 
and multicultural awareness, as I spent the most time learning English while tak- 
ing the Korean class only once and ending up in dropping out. 

Thus, we have seen that there are some dynamics operating between the 
mainstream Japanese society and the minority Korean community. 

Many Koreans seem to comply with the forces of the monolingual and 
monocultural tendency in Japan in order to survive in Japanese society, which 
seems to most of them more important than maintaining their language and eth- 

Multilingualism and multiculturalism in Japanese education is very Western- 
oriented so that it neglects the teaching of a minority language within the coun- 

Therefore, it appears that there has not been enough effort to maintain the 
Korean language and identity either from the Korean side or from the Japanese 

Ethnic education and Korean identity 

In the face of the weakening of their language, how do Korean residents try to 
maintain their cultural and ethnic identity? Some of them have made serious ef- 

Let me discuss some of the efforts and strategies some Koreans employ in 
order to enhance their ethnic identity and pride. 

I will discuss the following three points: (1) ethnic education at Korean 
schools; (2) use of Korean names; (3) identity planning of young Korean resi- 

First, Korean residents have established Korean schools across Japan in or- 
der to maintain their language and culture. The number of Korean schools is 
summarized in Table 2. The number of Korean children going to these schools 
amounts to a little more than 20,000 across the nation. In these schools, bilingual 
education is instituted by using both Korean and Japanese as the media of in- 
struction. A large number of hours are allocated for the teaching of Korean. 

However, the majority of Korean children go to Japanese schools. One re- 
port tells that 86 percent of Korean children go to Japanese schools. It is argued 
that one of the reasons that most Koreans do not go to Korean schools is because 
the Japanese government does not give Korean schools the same status as Japa- 













222 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

nese schools, thus disqualifying Korean children from taking the entrance exami- 
nation to national universities (Maher,1997). 

Table 2: Number of Korean schools in Japan 

Junior High 
Senior High 

It is also argued that these Korean schools are ideologically and politically 
oriented toward North Korea and many parents do not send their children to 
these schools. 

For those Koreans who do not go to Korean schools, textbooks for learning 
Korean have been published in great numbers. One such textbook is aimed at 
promoting ethnic education, as its contents include not only language but Korean 
history, geography, music, and customs. 

One of the greatest difficulties facing Koreans is the division of opinions 
and philosophies among them. There are two major organizations for Korean resi- 
dents, one politically sympathetic toward South Korea, and the other, toward 
North Korea. 

'Mindan', an organization sympathetic toward South Korea, welcomes as- 
similation into Japanese society. Therefore, they have very few schools of their 
own and encourage Korean children to go to Japanese schools. 

In contrast, 'Souren', an organization sympathetic toward North Korea, en- 
courages the promotion of ethnic education, thus opening a large number of Ko- 
rean schools across the nation. These organizations have a great influence upon 
how Korean residents maintain their ethnic identity and pride. 

Second, the use of names is also important in terms of maintaining hethnic 
identity. Whether Korean residents take the assimilation-oriented lifestyle or iden- 
tity-oriented approach is reflected in their choice of names. If they take Japanese 
names, most of them are naturalized Japanese citizens who wish to be assimilated 
into Japanese society. On the other hand, assuming Korean names is a strong ex- 
pression of Korean identity. 

Also, assuming Korean names implies the restoration of their ethnic identity, A 
because Koreans were forced to give up using their names during the rule of the ™ 
Japanese Empire from the beginning of this century. Therefore, taking Korean 
names is in a sense a political statement criticizing Japanese imperialism in the 
past, as well as a strong expression of Korean identity and anti-assimilationist pos- 

It takes great courage for Korean residents to assume Korean names, be- 
cause it will definitely put them at great disadvantage in many respects. As a mat- 
ter of fact, the majority of Korean residents have Japanese names so that they 

Yukio Tsuda: Korean language and identity in Japan 223 

avoid unnecessary friction with the Japanese and more discrimination in Japanese 

Recently, however, Japan has developed slight cultural tolerance for Korean 
culture in everyday life. The Japanese government, for example, has stopped 
forcing the use of Japanese names upon Korean residents who wish to take Japa- 
nese nationality. A number of local governments have started employing foreign 
residents as governmental employees. A very famous literary award was given to 
a Korean resident with a Korean name. Actually, one survey even points out that 
the use of Korean names has been increasing since 1979 (Maher, 1997). 

Thus, the majority of Korean residents still have considerable anxiety and 
hesitation over the revelation of their ethnic identity by assuming Korean names, 
but it seems that an increasing number of Korean residents, especially the young 
generation, take on Korean names, as they realize that it is important to reveal and 
preserve their ethnic identity and that Japanese society has developed some tol- 
erance for the use of Korean names in recent years. 

Third, how do the young Korean residents manage to negotiate their iden- 
tity as they live in Japanese society? 

A Japanese sociologist, having interviewed more than 100 third-generation 
young Koreans in Japan, has determined that there are four different identity ori- 
entations present among these young Koreans (Fukuoka 1996). 

These four types of identity orientations are: (1) co-existence-oriented; (2) 
home-country-oriented; (3) individualist-oriented; (4) assimilation-oriented. 

'Co-existence-oriented' Koreans wish to live in Japanese society as they 
maintain their ethnic identity. They believe that their hometown is a place where 
they were born and raised in Japan, but at the same time they keep their Korean 
names, because they believe Korean names are a symbol of their ethnicity. They 
want to respect both Japanese and Korean cultures equally. Most of them speak 
only Japanese, but they try to learn Korean, as they believe it is their mother 

'Home-country-oriented' Koreans regard themselves as'Koreans' living 
outside of Korea and give a top priority to making a contribution to the develop- 
ment of Korea. These people tend to keep psychological distance from Japanese 
society and live within the Korean community. They identify deeply with Korea 
and try to develop a strong sense of pride as Koreans. They are bilinguals and 
they believe that Koreans should be able to speak Korean. 

'Individualist-oriented' Koreans identify neither with Korea nor with Japan, 
but believe in individual abilities and accomplishments. They have a very strong 
aspiration for upward social mobility, but they do not have much emotional at- 
tachment to any particular culture or nation. They believe that achievements 
based on individual abilities are the answer to all their problems. They regard lan- 
guage as an instrument of success and achievement. They do not show much in- 
terest in learning Korean, but they are often ardent learners of English, as it is 
viewed as an instrument for a successful career. 

224 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

'Assimilation-oriented' Koreans want to adapt to Japanese society by be- 
coming Japanese. They take Japanese names and develop relationships only with 
the Japanese, thus dissociating themselves from the Korean people and trying to 
live as 'Japanese'. They often do not try to maintain their Korean identity, but try 
to keep away from it. Most of them do not speak Korean and they think this is 

There are no statistics available to show which identity orientation is the 
most dominant. But as discussed above, except for the 'Home-country-oriented' 
Koreans, the young-generation Korean residents have almost no literacy in Ko- 
rean, not to mention a working knowledge of it. Does this mean that Korean resi- 
dents are experiencing a loss of ethnic identity? Or are they still able to maintain 
their ethnic identity and pride in some other ways? 

Language and cultural identity: Korean vs. Japanese and English 

Does the fact that the majority of Korean residents in Japan cannot speak or 
write Korean, or show little interest in learning and preserving Korean, suggest 
that language is not necessarily an integral part of ethnic identity? 

As a matter of fact, a Japanese sociologist reports on a young Korean resi- 
dent who believes that his ethnic identity is attributed to his Korean name and 
nationality, and not to the language (Fukuoka, 1993, p. 182). 

Can a person maintain his/her ethnic identity without knowing and using 
his/her mother tongue? Can a person maintain his/her ethnic identity by identify- 
ing with languages other than his/her mother tongue? 

Let me introduce two cases in which young Korean residents identify with 
Japanese and English, respectively, and still they do not identify with either one 
of them culturally. 

Case 1: Identification with Japanese 

A Korean woman regards herself as a 'Japanese-speaking person' . 
She defines herself as a Korean born in Japan and using Japanese, 
thus accepting both Korean and Japanese cultures. She also believes 
that since she thinks, speaks, and writes in Japanese, she is neither 
Korean nor a Korean resident in Japan. She feels that the label 
'Japanese-speaking person' is better than the label 'Korean resident' 
in that it liberates her mind from discrimination, the unfortunate his- 
tory between Korea and Japan, and complex ethnic consciousness 
which the label 'zainichi' or'Korean resident' is usually associated 
with. She has a Korean family name with a Japanese first name 
(Maher & Kawanichi 1994). 

Case 2: Identification with English 

A Korean woman, frustrated by the close-knit and closed atmosphere 
of Japanese society which discriminates against Korean residents, 
went to the United States for graduate study after retiring from a 


Yukio Tsuda: Korean language and identity in Japan 225 

company where she worked for almost three years after graduation 
from a Japanese university. She had been studying English all the 
time and her studies in the U.S. were successful. She feels as if she 
were a semi-Japanese while living in Japan, whereas in the U.S. she 
feels as though she could do or say anything. She also says that she 
does not belong to any country. When she visited Korea, she felt it 
was like a foreign country. Still, she cannot identify with Japan, Ko- 
rea, or the U.S. She feels that she just wants to be herself, regardless of 
nationalities (Fukuoka, 1993:183-96). 

Case 1 represents an example of a 'coexistence-oriented' Korean resident 
who accepts both Korean and Japanese identities. She is a speaker of Japanese 
and identifies with it as she thinks, writes, and reads in it. She retains her Korean 
family name, maintaining her Korean identity. This implies that even though the 
woman cannot communicate in Korean, by retaining her Korean name, it is possi- 
ble to maintain her Korean identity. This suggests that language is not necessarily 
the best medium of maintaining ethnic identity, which can be achieved through 
other means. 

Actually, John Edwards (1985:169), a social psychologist of language and 
identity, points out the disconnection between language and the maintenance of 
group identity as follows: 

As an objective marker of groupness, language is highly susceptible 
to change; despite its obvious claims on our attention, its continua- 
tion is not necessary for the continuation of identity itself. There is 
evidence to suggest that the communicative and symbolic aspects of 
language are separable during periods of change, such that the latter 
can continue to exercise a role in group identity in the absence of the 

Thus, the woman in Case 1, even though she cannot use Korean as a tool of 
communication, can maintain her Korean identity by using her Korean name as a 
symbol of her ethnicity. 

The woman in Case 2 represents an example of an 'individualist-oriented' 
Korean who wishes to free herself from ethnic confines and pursue self- 
realization by utilizing English and achieving her goals in the U.S. She wishes to 
dissociate herself from Korean, Japanese, and English nationalities, and therefore, 
she does not have any emotional or symbolic attachment to any of these three 

She seems to pursue a global or transnational identity, trying to go beyond 
national and ethnic boundaries. Her working knowledge of English helps her to 
pursue her goals. However, she does not develop very much emotional attach- 
ment to English or to American society. Rather, she is very critical of the U.S. for 
its imperialist tendency to dominate other nations, just as she is critical of Japan, 
which has very little tolerance for people different from the Japanese. 

226 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

From this example, it is hypothesized that English can be a medium for de- 
veloping global or transnational identity if it is learned and acquired without 
much emotional attachment, but with instrumental motivation. If English is 
learned as a medium of becoming assimilated in the U.S., the learners will run the 
risk of losing their ethnic identity to an American identity, thus not being able to 
develop a global or transnational identity. 

Summary and conclusion j 

To sum up the discussion so far, we have seen the following three points: (1) We" 
have seen that in the Korean community there is only a small number of speakers 
of Korean and that the number is becoming smaller as the newer generation of 
Korean residents whose first language is Japanese is increasing in number. (2) To 
maintain Korean culture, Korean schools have been established to teach Korean 
children the Korean language and culture, even though the number of children 
who go to these schools is very small. (3) We have discussed the relationship be- 
tween language and ethnic identity by examining the identity orientations of the 
young Koreans, and have discovered that they have managed to maintain their 
ethnic identity, not necessarily through language as a medium of communication, 
but through other means, such as the use of Korean names and the possession of 
Korean nationality. 

From these findings, we can argue that learning and teaching the minority 
language is not necessarily the best strategy for the maintenance of ethnic iden- 
tity. Rather, it is possible that if the maintenance of the minority language is made 
for an ideological and political purpose through formal institutional practices, it 
might confine its speakers to a small minority community and prevent them from 
communicating with the mainstream society, unless they learn the dominant lan- 

It is also argued that the ethnic identity of a minority group can be main- 
tained through having a symbolic attachment to the minority language, and not 
necessarily as a medium of communication. 

Does this mean that providing ethnic education and developing linguistic 
and cultural literacy in the minority language are not necessary or even harmful to 
its members if they are to survive in the mainstream of society? 

Will all the minority languages become mere symbols of ethnicity without 
really functioning as a tool of communication? Is it really desirable, for example, to 
find that all Koreans in Japan cannot speak a word of Korean? 

As far as Japan is concerned, there is a great deal to be done to make Korean 
a respected foreign language instead of a mere symbol. And this can be done 
through education. 

I have pointed out that in Japanese foreign language education, Korean is 
neglected. I propose that more Korean courses should be offered at junior and 
senior high schools and universities. In order to do this, the Western-oriented for- 
eign language education, in which English dominates, should be modified and a 

Yukio Tsuda: Korean language and identity in Japan 227 

multilingual curriculum should be established, so that there will be more Japanese 
who learn Korean. 

I also propose that intercultural education courses should be offered from 
elementary schools up to universities so that children will be able to develop in- 
tercultural understanding and awareness with which they can show tolerance for 
different cultures, ethnicities, and languages. 

I believe Japan is changing slowly but steadily toward a pluralistic society. 
There is a case in point. Recently, a Korean resident has been appointed as a full- 
time professor at the University of Tokyo. Of course, he has his Korean name. 

Lastly, what can Koreans do to maintain the Korean language in Japan? It is 
really up to the Koreans to decide what to do. But I think individual, not institu- 
tional, ethnic education, free from any political purpose, is very desirable. Actu- 
ally, I have been told by a Korean resident student that there are some signs 
among the young Korean people in Japan trying to learn Korean because by 
learning their own language they believe they will be able to develop a sense of 
pride in being a member of an ethnic minority. This example may suggest that the 
development of positive feelings and attitudes toward their own ethnicity on an 
individual basis will be the foundation of the maintenance of their language and 


Edwards, J. 1985. Language, Society and Identity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 

Fukuoka, Y. 1993. Zainichi Kankoku Chousenjin [Koreans in Japan]. Tokyo: 
Chuukou Shinsho. 

. 1996. Zainichi Kankoku Chousenjin Wakamonosedaino Aidentitino Tay- 

ouka [Diversity in ethnic identity of the young-generation Korean residents 
in Japan. Kokusai Shakaigaku [Transnational Sociology], 2nd edition, ed. 
by K. Kajita,. 317-36. Nagoya: Nagoya University Press 

Maher, J .C, & Y. Kawanishi. 1994. Nihonni Okeru Korean Iji Jyoukyou [The 
maintenance of Korean in Japan]. Atarashii Nihonkan Sekaikan-ni Mukatte 
[Towards a New Order: Language and Cultural Diversity in Japan], ed. by 
J. C. Maher & N. Honna, 165-81. Tokyo: Kokusai Shoin. 

Maher, J. C. 1997. Nihonno Korean Bilingualism [Korean bilingualism in Japan]. 
Tagengo Tabunka Communitynotameno Gengokanri [Language Manage- 
ment for Multicultural Communities, 75-85. Tokyo: The National Language 
Research Institute. 


Stuides in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 


Feng Zhiwei and Yin Binyong 

Institute of Applied Linguistics, Beijing 

This paper points out that since the 1986 National Conference of 
Language Works, Hanyu Pinyin and Hanzi no longer have equal 
status in the Chinese writing system. Hanyu Pinyin has assumed a 
subordinate status to Hanzi, and it is no longer regarded as an evolv- 
ing alphabetized writing system to replace Hanzi in the future. This 
posture is much lower than that preferred by Mao Zedong in the 
early stage of New China. In this paper, the authors propose a di- 
graphia in the information age. They suggest that if China does not 
promote a new Latinized writing system among the whole popula- 
tion, China should at least strive to implement a digraphia ('two-script 
system' using Hanzi and Pinyin scripts at the same time) among com- 
puter users. The use of a writing system (Pinyin) compatible to those 
of the majority of the developed countries would significantly in- 
crease the effectiveness of the communication networks of China, 
thus greatly benefiting the socialist modernization of the country. In 
this way, while the vision of the pioneers of the Latinizaton Move- 
ment remains unrealized among all Chinese, it could be partially real- 
ized in network communication. In practice, they suggest adopting 
the Latin alphabet as the basis of Hanyu Pinyin and to improve 
Hanyu Pinyin in order to achieve a very high level of readability by 
establishing a one-to-one relation between Hanyu Pinyin and Chi- 
nese characters. 

In January 1986, Liu Daosheng, former director of the State Commission on Lan- 
guage Works, pointed out in his report to the National Conference on Language 

With regard to the promotion of the Hanyu Pinyin Program, one must 
emphasize that it is the nationally designated standard with legal 
status. Its formulation was the culmination of past experiences and 
since its proclamation, it has been widely used both inside and out- 
side of China. The Hanyu Pinyin Program has a deep historical and 
popular base and is a scientific and practical program. We should 
strive to promote it, rather than reinventing something new; in fact, it 
would be very difficult to replace it with another program. Continued 
promotion of the Hanyu Pinyin Program is a necessity for social and 
scientific development. Therefore, we must continue to intensify the 


230 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

teaching of Hanyu Pinyin, gradually enlarge its scope of application, 
as well as carry on research to resolve practical problems encountered 
in its use. In particular, these problems include difficulties in disam- 
biguating homonyms in Hanyu Pinyin, the standardization of Hanyu 
Pinyin orthography, and the tonal representation of Hanyu Pinyin in 
technical applications. 

This passage in Director Liu Daosheng's report reflects the government's 
revision of the basic policy on Hanyu Pinyin. This revised policy remains largely 
unchanged today. However, it is different from the government policy towards 
Pinyin in the early stage of New China. At that time, Mao Zedong pointed out 
that 'the Chinese writing system must reform under certain conditions; it should 
converge into the universal pinyin approach.' Liu Daosheng's report did not 
mention at all the universal pinyin approach raised by Mao Zedong, rather, it fo- 
cused on enlarging Hanyu Pinyin' s scope of application. This suggests that the 
government has abandoned the policy of the 'pinyin approach' of Mao Zedong 
and that Hanyu Pinyin will not be regarded as a writing system, but as an auxil- 
iary tool to Hanzi, the Chinese character. Hanzi is the orthodox and legal writing 
script for Chinese, while Pinyin does not have such a legal status. Therefore, since 
the 1986 National Conference on Language Works, Pinyin and Hanzi no longer 
have equal status. Pinyin has assumed a subordinate status to Hanzi, and is no 
longer regarded as an evolving alphabetized writing system intended to replace 
Hanzi in the future. This posture is certainly much lower than that preferred by 
Mao Zedong. 

On May 31, 1986, the State Committee on Education and the State Commis- 
sion on Language Works further clearly indicated in the Highlights of the Na- 
tional Conference on Language Works that, 

'from now on, for a considerably long period of time, Hanzi will still 
continue to function as the legal writing system'. The Hanyu Pinyin 
Program will be promoted and its scope will be enlarged as an effec- 
tive tool for learning the Chinese language, Chinese characters, and 
for the popularization of the Putonghua. It will not replace Hanzi, al- 
though it can be used as a substitute when using Hanzi is not con- 
venient or possible. With respect to the problem of alphabetization of 
the Chinese language, many delegates considered it a problem for the 
future, for which one should not draw quick conclusions. 

This document clearly outlined the status and function of Hanyu Pinyin. i 
The use of Hanyu Pinyin is completely optional and depends on the actual situa- ™ 
tion. However, the use of Hanzi is legally binding and compulsory. 

During the National Conference on Language Works, delegates conducted 
vigorous discussions on the policy change with regard to the 'pinyin approach.' 
Chen Zhangtai, then Deputy Director of the State Commission of Language 
Works, made the following clarification in his concluding speech of the confer- 

Feng & Yin: The Chinese digraphia problem in the Information Age 2 3 1 

With regard to the issue of the 'pinyin approach', delegates ex- 
pressed two opinions in their discussions, reflecting the different un- 
derstandings on the issue that exist in our society. More than half of 
the delegates favored not raising this issue in the Report on Lan- 
guage Works. They believed that not doing so was in accordance 
with the practical spirit of 'seeking truth from facts' promoted by the 
central leadership, and that the newly adopted policy is effective and 
would facilitate the work on language in the new period, and at the 
} same time, be beneficial to the work of language reform. Others be- 

lieved that although the presentation in the Report was realistic and 
feasible, the failure to affirm the 'pinyin approach' is a kind of retreat, 
and such a low profile would hinder future work in that direction. Af- 
ter seriously considering and studying these two opinions, we still 
believe that the message expressed in the Work Report is in accor- 
dance with reality, proactive, and proper; it is progressive rather than 
regressive. In fact, prior to the Conference, we listened to the opin- 
ions in society and consulted some experts in the field, taking into 
consideration the opinions of many responsible people. We believe 
that the current position will receive more widespread approval and 
support, uniting more people to better improve linguistic work in this 
new period. We will better accomplish the outstanding mission of 
language reform, so as to better serve the modernization of our coun- 

We would like to explain to our friends that prior to the delivery of 
his Report, Comrade Liu Daosheng consulted the opinion of the com- 
rades in the Party Central Committee and the State Council with re- 
gard to this issue. Opposing points of view expressed during the 
Conference were reported to both organizations. Yesterday after- 
noon, the State Language Commission received an instruction from 
the Party Central Committee and the State Council agreeing with the 
representation of this issue in Mr. Liu Daosheng's Report. We hope 
you will understand well the situation. Of course, it is normal that 
people would have different opinions on this issue, and it can be dis- 
cussed, but we hope that the discussion will not affect the focus of 
our efforts to better perform the main task in front of us. 

In this way, the background of the policy change at that time was clearly 
| explained. Although the current government policy on Pinyin is outlined as 
* above, the government has indicated that the issue is still open to discussion. 
Therefore, some of our country's scholars continue to publicly advocate di- 
graphia. For example, Prof. Zhou Youguang advocates the implementation of the 
'two-scripts system' (a dual-track approach in language development). The gov- 
ernment does not discourage these scholars from expressing their points of view 
or carrying out freely scientific research. The nationwide Association for the 
Modernization of Chinese Language continues to receive strong support from 
the State Language Commission. The purpose of that Association is to promote 

232 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

and carry out research on the problem of pinyinization (Prof. Zhou Youguang is a 
consultant to the Association). This open policy of our Government provides a 
conducive atmosphere to the study of digraphia. Precisely for this reason, we are 
willing to put forward our opinion on digraphia, with the intention of bringing 
forth further discussions. 

The 260th issue of The Chinese Language (1997) prominently presented 
the paper of Feng Zhiwei, entitled 'The impact of the standardization of language 
and writing on language information processing' as its first article. Feng's work| 
generated strong responses as it studied the 'pinyin approach' from a new angle. 
It said: 

Many countries in the world are considering the problem of the es- 
tablishment of an information superhighway. The United States has 
already begun the establishment of an information technology infra- 
structure in the form of a widespread multimedia information super- 
highway. Our country has initiated the Chinese medium-speed infor- 
mation highway by implementing the 'Golden Bridge' project, with a 
transmission speed of 114 kilobits to 2 megabits, which will eventu- 
ally be enhanced to an 'information superhighway' with speeds up 
to or higher than 1000 megabits. As the main carrier of information, 
language will play a vital role in the construction of the information 
superhighway. As reported, Japan encountered difficulties in the con- 
struction of an information superhighway as a result of its complex 
writing system. If Pinyin is used as the information carrier for building 
our Country's information superhighway, it will greatly increase the 
overall system efficiency and facilitate international exchanges. In the 
past, pioneers of the Romanization Movement in our Country had for 
a long time attempted to promote a new Romanized writing. But in 
practice, as the cultural strength of Hanzi is strong, it is difficult to 
promote Romanized writing to the whole Chinese population. Hanzi 
is enduring as the cultural symbol for the Chinese Nation. However, 
in this age of information, if we do not promote Romanized new 
writing among the whole people, we should at least strive to imple- 
ment a 'two-script system' (using Hanzi and Pinyin scripts at the 
same time) among computer users. The use of a writing system com- 
patible to those of the majority of the developed countries would sig- 
nificantly increase the effectiveness of our communication networks, 
thus greatly benefit the socialist modernization of our Country. In this 
way, while the vision of the pioneers of the Romanizaton Movement 
remains unrealized among all Chinese, it could be partially be realized 
in network communication. Of course, the implementation of a 'two- 
script system' in computer use is only one of our visions, and its fea- 
sibility and merits require comprehensive evaluation. Obviously, if we 
wish to implement a 'two-script system' in computer use, we need to 
devise various regulations and standards for the pinyin writing sys- 

Feng& Yin: The Chinese digraphia problem in the Information Age 233 

tern. In this regard, the research and formulation of these regulations 
and standards is of paramount importance. 

In accordance with the new requirements of the information age, Prof. Feng 
Zhiwei was the first person to suggest the use of a 'two-script system' in com- 
puter use and advocate pinyinization with a new point of view. His paper was 
published as the leading article in the authoritative publication Zhongguo Yuwen, 
thus drawing the attention of academic circles to the discussion of the problem of 
pinyinization. In the current more relaxed academic atmosphere, we are exceed- 
ingly happy to see that we may be able to urge the government to reconsider the 
vital policy problem of pinyinization. 

In July 1998, we were invited to participate in 'Symposium on Literacy and 
Writing Systems in Asia', held in Seoul, Korea. Feng presented a paper entitled 'A 
bracket form of expression in the structure of Hanzi', while Yin delivered a paper 
on 'The future of Hanzi'. They pointed out that digraphia will be the best choice 
for the future of Hanzi and proposed the following three principles of the two- 
script system: 

(1) Adopt the Roman alphabet as the basis of Hanyu Pinyin. 

(2) Improve Hanyu Pinyin to achieve a very high level of readability. 

(3) Establish a one-to-one relation between Hanyu Pinyin and Chinese 

Yin's paper suggested a practical method to realize these three principles: A 
Chinese character is represented by one Pinyin syllable plus two or three numeric 
symbols (depending upon the number of homonyms). For example, H 'beautiful' 
is written as 'mei32'. The numeral 3 indicates the tone, while numeral 2 indicates 
that it is the second homonym. Software can be developed to automatically per- 
form the one-to-one conversion between Hanzi and its Pinyin representation. For 
instance, D$ H M %& 'marriage in tears and laughter' can be uniquely trans- 
formed into 'ti24 xiao41 yinll yuan28'. In practice, most viewers may opt for 
reading the computer output in conventional Chinese rather than such Pinyin 
codes, but Pinyin codes rather than Hanzi codes will be used for efficient com- 
puter processing and data communications. With the use of Pinyin representation 
(which is a form of ASCII text), the efficiency of Chinese data processing will be 
greatly enhanced, while Hanzi will continue to be used in human-computer inter- 
face. In this way, we will be able to achieve the desirable goal of maintaining the 
useful value of Hanzi, while moving ahead toward solving the difficult problem of 
Chinese computer processing and data communication. These are our views on 
the problem of 'digraphia' in Chinese in the Information Age. 


*The Chinese version of the above paper was published in Issue #14 of Yuwen 
Yu Xinxi in December 1999. {Yuwen yu Xinxi is a free electronic publication in 
GB Chinese format. Please send inquiries to 

234 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

The editors wish to thank most sincerely Mr. Apollo Wu, editor of Yuwen yu 
Xinsi, for translating the Chinese text of this paper into English. 


A. Abstracts 
B. Symposia Programs 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 



Wanjin Kim 
National Academy of Korea and Seoul National University 

By a dual theory, I refer to a theory that combines and harmonizes under one order 
what appears to be two mutually contradictory phenomena. In this paper, the two 
antitheses are a theory of hieroglyph {Hi0&WV) and a theory of the seal script — 
the so-called zhuanzi theory (Wc^rWL) or zhuanshu theory (HElIl^;) — in the 
creation of the Korean alphabet. 

When hangul was promulgated in 1446 (the 28th year of Sejong's reign), the 
hieroglyphic (or pictographic) theory — that hangul letters were formed after the 
articulatory shapes — was the dominant view, and there was no mention of their 
relation to zhuanshu. But a phrase in Chong Inji's (ftflHIEll:) epilogue — that the 
letters "imitated old seal characters {W^W^Y — raised some people's 
eyebrows. Intriguingly on the other hand, in the Royal Chronicles of the 25th year 
of Sejong (1443), where the first record about the making of Hangul is found, and 
in Ch'oe Manli's (^LMML) famous appeal in February 1444 against the new script, 
there is a mention about a relation with zhuanshu, but no mention of a principle of 

It appears that there was no application of Chinese phonology or Iching 
(JSM> the Book of Changes) in the first stage of making Hunmin Chong 'um. In 
view of the writing tradition in Korea at the time, it is more likely that a part or the 
whole of Chinese characters was made into a phonetic symbol. Korea had a long 
history of representing Korean with Chinese characters. A dual exploitation of 
Chinese characters, both as a phonogram and as a logograph, can be compared 
with monovalent Japanese writing. What is worthy of mention about the original 
version of Hunmin Chong 'um is that its letter shapes were sought in zhuanshu, the 
seal script. 

It seems that Sejong underwent a theoretic metamorphosis sometime 
between 1444 and 1445. King Sejong must have then seen the correlation between 
the original letters, and with amazing wisdom, he was able to develop a 
hieroglyphic theory (H^l^) and the principle of stroke addition (JIUWIJ&M)- 
Some adjustments were probably made in the process, as is evidenced by the fact 
that the original 27 letters were expanded to 28, the added letter being the letter for 
the glottal stop o. 

Sejong's world of vision was not limited to Korea nor to China. One 
characteristic feature of Hangul is that it is an alphabet and a syllabary at the same 
time, as the letters are bound into syllabic units. This must be the result obtained 

238 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:1 (Spring 2000) 

by Sejong, who studied various writing systems in Northeast Asia, then extracted, 
combined, and developed several distinctive features that he had discerned in 
them. The hPags-pa (jc) script had the practice of segmenting words into syllabic 
units, but it was linear, unlike the bi-dimensional Hangul. Both the Qitan {%.f\) 
script and the Jurchen (tcM) script had a bi-dimensional letter-binding system of 
writing, but it was in terms of word units, not syllable units. Hangul is unique in 
that it adopted a principle of syllabic ligature born of the wedding of two writing 
systems: an alphabet and a syllabary. 

In sum, Hangul is rooted in the long tradition of writing of the Korean J 
people and was constructed by coalescing several distinctive features in various 
scripts in Northeast Asia. The catalyst was the creative genius of King Sejong the 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 



Pung-Hyun Nam 

Tangook University, Seoul 

From the very early days, Chinese characters and writing were employed in Korea. 
Along the way, systematic methods of representing Korean with Chinese 
characters were developed. They are called (Chinese) loan character writing. 
Depending upon usage, it is divided into Idu, Kugyol. and Proper Names Writing. 

Chinese is a logo-ideographic language, and its characters consist of form, 
pronunciation, and meaning. The loan character writing did not directly borrow 
these three components, but was acquired in the process of learning Chinese. 
There were two ways to read Chinese writing: a phonetic reading (iimdok, a 1 IH) 
and a semantic reading (soktok, fpll) via the Korean translation (hun |jl|) of the 
character. Borrowing both urn and hun is the first stage of loan character writing. 
The next stage involved borrowing only one of the two components. The method 
of writing that exploited only the semantic component of the Chinese character is 
known as the tok, Ijf'read') method, and the one that discards the semantic 
component and borrows only the phonetic component is known as the ka (f|§ 
'false' method.* A system of writing was formed through the interuse of iim. hun. 
tok, and ka. Thus, we have the um-tok (ef if!) letters that use both the sound and 
meaning of Chinese characters, the um-ka ( TafPI) letters that borrow only the 
phonetic role of Chinese characters, the hun-tok (fjllll) letters that use the 
translation of the characters, and the hun-ka (|!l|ff§) letters that discard the 
semantic component, but keep the phonetic component of Chinese characters. 
These four types of loan characters form the basic system of loan character 

However, since loan character writing is acquired while learning the 
logographic Chinese writing, a tok letter may come to have a ka feature, and vice 
versa, giving 'pseudo' tok letters and 'pseudo' ka letters. This gives rise to pseudo 
um-tok letters, pseudo hun-tok letters, pseudo um-ka letters, and pseudo hun-ka 
letters. Though important in understanding loan character writing, the 'pseudo' 
method was optionally applied only after the basic system o\' loan character 
writing was formed. 

This paper reviews the letters that belong to each subsystem, how the) were 
used in the texts, and how they have developed historically, in an attempt to 
provide a stepping stone for reading Chinese loan characters used to represent 

240 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

* Since reading Chinese characters as ideographs automatically reveals their 
meaning, it is called the 'read' method. On the other hand, since borrowing the 
pronunciation only, but not the meaning, is a form of 'false' reading, it is called 
the 'false' method. 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30. Number 1 (Spring 2000) 



Soo-Hee Toh 

Chungnam National University, Taejon 

In Korean, representation of personal, place, and government-office names began 
with loan characters from Chinese. Systematic developments of these characters 
led to Idu, Hyangch 'al, and Kugyol. For example, the names of the founders of 4 
old dynasties were represented in loan characters as Pulgunae (^^|^I), Chumo 
(|g^), Onjo (yjjnjifE), and Suro (Hit). Early capitals were also written in loan 
characters, e.g., Saro (fifflU). Holbon {$3$), Wirye (Ufjii), etc. These examples 
indicate that writing personal and place names with loan characters was prevalent 
in the early history of Korea. 

Although the early loan characters were phonetic, the so-called urn (^) 
letters, semantic loan characters, the so-called hun (|)l|) letters, developed later, 
probably in order to convey the meanings of the source characters which are not at 
all present in phonetic loan letters. 

Pronunciation of the names written in phonetic loan characters can be 
derived by reading the characters in the then-prevalent Chinese pronunciation. 
However, the pronunciation of proper names cannot be derived from the 
representation in which semantic loan characters were used, either solely or in 
combination with phonetic loan characters. 

The purpose of this paper is to provide a method with which one can 
correctly read loan representations of ancient personal and place names. 
Representation with loan characters can be classified into (a) phonetic loan, (b) 
semantic loan, (c) phonetic + semantic loan, and (d) semantic + phonetic loan. 
Thus, one must first determine to which of the above four types a given 
representation in loan characters belongs. The paper is an attempt to give some 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 



Commemorating the 600th Anniversary of the Birth of 

King Sejong of Korea 

May 1-2, 1998 
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 

sponsored by 

The Center for Advanced Study, 

The China Studies Council & the Korea Studies Council 

of the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, 

the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, 

The Department of Linguistics, UIUC; 

Friday, May 1, 1998 
Room 407, Illni Union 

8:30-9:00 Registration (light refreshment) 

9:00-9:30 Opening remarks 

Chin W. Kim, Chair, Organizing Committee, Dept. of Linguistics 

and Dept. of East Asian Languages & Cultures, UIUC 
Braj B. Kachru, CAS Director and Professor of Linguistics, UIUC 
Jesse G. Delia, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, UIUC 

Session I: King Sejong and his Legacy 

9:30-10:25* Young-Key Kim-Renaud, The George Washington University 
King Sejong' s Theory of Literacy 

10:30-10:40 Break 

Session II: Typography of Writing Systems 

Chair: Ladislav Zgusta, CAS Director Emeritus and Professor 
Emeritus of Linguistics and the Classics, UIUC 

10:40-1 1:35* William Bright, Editor, Written Language and Literacy 
A Matter of Typology: Alphasyllabaries and Abugidas 

1 1 :35- 1 2:30* Peter Daniels, Co-Editor, The World's Writing Systems 

On Writing Syllables: Four Episodes of Script Transmission 

12:30-2:00 Lunch Break 

Session III: Literacy and Writing Systems in the Pacific 

Chair, Violet J. Harris, Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction. UIUC 

2:00-2:55* Stanley Yunick, Jr., Dept. of Linguistics, UIUC 

Sociolinguistic Factors in Writing and Literacy: The Micro- 
nesian Case 

2:55-3:50* Larry E. Smith, The East- West Center, Honolulu, HI 

Literacy and Writing Systems in the Pacific 


Studies in the Linjguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Saturday, May 2, 1998 
General Lounge, I Mini Union 

8:30-9:00 Registration (light refreshment) 

Session IV: Literacy and Writing Systems in South Asia 

Chair: Douglas A. Kibbee, Dept. of French, UIUC 

9:00-9:55* Peter Lowenberg, San Jose State University, CA 

Literacy and Writing Systems in Indonesia and Malaysia 

9:55-10:50* s Kamal K. Sridhar, SUNY, Stony Brook, NY, and 
Yamuna Kachru, Dept. of Linguistics, UIUC 
Literacy, Minority Languages, and Multilingual India 

10:50-11:05 Break 

Session V: Literacy and Technology 

Chair: Richard C. Anderson, Director, Center for the Study of 
Reading, and Dept. of Educational Psychology, UIUC 

11:05-12:00* Dennis Baron, Dept. of English, UIUC 

From Pencils to Pixels: Literacy and the New Technologies of 

121:00-1:30 Lunch Break 

Session VI: Writing, Literacy, and Minority Languages in East Asia 

Chair: Hiroko Yamashita, Dept. of East Asian Languages & 
Cultures, UIUC 

1 :30-2:25* Kim Ainsworth-Darnell, The Ohio State University 

Modelling the Processing of Kanji and Hiragana in Japanese 

2:25-3:20* Yukio Tsuda, Nagoya University, Japan 

Maintenance of the Korean Language and Identity in Japan: 
Problems and Prospects 

3:20-3:35 Break 

3:35-4:30* Maria L. S. Bautista, De La Salle University, The Philippines 

Bridging Research and Practice in Literacy Work among 
Minority Language Groups in the Philippines 

4:30-5:00 General Discussion - Moderator: William Bright 

*A fifteen minute discussion period is included. 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 1 (Spring 2000) 



July 13-14, 1998 
4.18 Memorial Hall, Korea University, Seoul, Korea 

sponsored by 

The International Society for Korean Studies, 

The Research Institute for Language and Information, Korea University 

Monday, July 13 

10:00-10:30 Opening Remarks 

Chin W. Kim, Chair, Organizing Committee, University of Illinois at Urbana- 

Hugh Kang, President, International Society for Korean Studies, University 

of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 
Kvvang Chung, Director, Research Institute for Language and Information, 

Korea University, Seoul 

Session I: National Scripts 

Chair: Suk-Jin Chang, Seoul National University, Seoul 

10:30-1 1:15 Wanjin Kim, National Academy of Korea, and Seoul National 
A Dual Theory in the Creation of the Korean Alphabet 

1 1:15-12:00 Florian Coulmas, Chuo University, Tokyo, 
The Nationalization of Writing 

112:00-1:30 Lunch 

Session II: Typology of Writing Systems 

Chair, James H.-S. Yoon, Seoul National University and 
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

1:30-2:15 William Bright, Editor, Written Language and Literacy 

A Matter of Typology: Alphasyllabaries and Ahugidas 

2:15-3:00 Richard G. Salomon, University of Washington, Seattle, 

Typological Observations on the Indie Script Group 

3:00-3:30 Break 

Session III: Chinese Characters 

Chair: Myung-Yoon Kang, Korea University, Seoul 

3:30-4: 1 5 Binyong Yin, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing 

The Future of Chinese Characters 

4:15-5:00 Zhiwei Feng, The State Language Commission, Beijing 

A Bracket Description for Construction of Chinese Characters 

246 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30: 1 (Spring 2000) 

Tuesday, July 14 

Session IV: Writing and Cognition 

Chair: Yongsoon Kang, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul 

10:30-10:45 Ovid J. L. Tzeng, National Yang Min University, Taiwan 

Script, Speech, and the Brain Organization: A Myth and its 

10:45-1 1:30 Chin-Chuan Cheng, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 
and City University of Hong Kong 

Frequently-Used Chinese Characters and Language Cognition 

11:30-12:15 Hwawei Ko, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan 
Phonological Awareness and Learning to Read Chinese 

12:15-1:30 Lunch 

Session V: Loan Characters 

Chair: Beommo Kang, Korea University, Seoul 

1:30-2:15 Soo-Hee Ton, Chungnam National University, Taiwan 

Decipherment of Loan Characters in Personal and Place 

2: 15-3:00 Pung-Hyun Nam, Tangook University, Seoul 

The Role of Chinese Characters in Representing Korean and 
the Formation of a Writing System 


ISKS meeting 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
30:2 (Fall 2000) 

Papers in General Linguistics 

Edited by 
Elmer H. Antonsen 


Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic, 
by Jamal B. S. al-Qinai 

The acquisition of aspect marking in English by native speakers of Creole, 
by Arlene Clachar 

Whose past is it? Linguistic pre- and early history and self-identification 
in modern South Asia, by Hans Henrich Hock 

Vowel harmony and tone in Akan toponyms, 
by Samuel Gyasi Obeng 

Pragmatics of the evil eye in Egyptian Arabic, 
by Mustafa Abd-Elghafar Mughazy 

The uniqueness of Ghanaian English pronunciation in 
West Africa, by Augustin Simo Bobda 

Issues in language planning and policy: The case of Namibia, 
by Joyce B. G. Sukumane 

Planned and spontaneous vocabulary expansion in Tanzanian Kiswahili, 
by Josephine Yambi 

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VOLUME 30, NO. 1 (SPRING 2000) 


Edited by Chin W. Kim, 
with Elmer H. Antonsen, William Bright, and Braj B. Kachru 

PREFACE: Braj B. Kachru 
FOREWORD: Chin W. Kim 


Chin W. Kim: The legacy of King Sejong the Great 

Young-Key Kim-Renaud: Sejong' s theory of literacy and writing 

Florian Coulmas: The nationalization of writing 


William Bright: A matter of typology: Alphasyllabaries and abugidas 
Peter T. Daniels: On writing syllabaries: Three episodes of transfer 
Richard G. Salomon: Typological observations on the Indie script 

group and its relationship to other alphasyllabaries 

Chin-Chuan Cheng: Frequently-used Chinese characters and 

language cognition 
Hwawei Ko and Ovid J. L. Tzeng: The role of phonological awarenes 

in a phonetically opaque script 

Peter Lowenberg: Writing and literacy in Indonesia 

Kamal K. Sridhar and Yamuna Kachru: Literacy, minority languages, 
and multilingual India 


Larry E. Smith and Jesse R. Long: Literacy, writing systems, and 

development in the Pacific 
Stanley Yunick, Jr.: Linguistics, TESL, and language planning in 



4 Ma. Lourdes S. Bautista: Bridging research and practice in literacy 
work among minority language groups in the Philippines 
Yukio Tsuda: The maintenance of the Korean language and identity 
in Japan 

Zhiwei Feng and Binyong Yin: The Chinese digraphia problem in the 
Information Age 


Studies in 
The Linguistic Sciences 

(FALL 2000) 



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General Linguistics 

Elmer H. Antonsen 


Lori Coulter 
Mustafa A. Mughazy 

(FALL 2000) 



Papers in General Linguistics 

JAMAL B. S. AL-QINAI: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic 1 

ARLENE CLACHAR: What do Creole speakers reveal about the acquisition 

of aspect marking in L2? 27 

HANS HENRICH HOCK: Whose past is it? Linguistic pre- and early history 

and self-identification in modern South Asia 5 1 

JUNG-MIN JO: Morphosyntax of a dummy verb 'ha-' in Korean 77 

CYNTHIA J. JOHNSON: Perceptual distance of initial consonants 
between Southern Min and Cantonese 101 

REIKO MAKINO: Pragmatic analysis of so-called complementizers 

in Japanese: koto and no ' ■" 

MUSTAFA ABD-ELGHAFAR MUGHAZY: Pragmatics of the evil eye in 

Egyptian Arabic 147 

FALLOU NGOM: Sociolinguistic motivations of lexical borrowings in Senegal 159 

SAMUEL GYASSI OBENG: Vowel harmony and tone in Akan toponyms 1 73 

AUGUSTIN SIMO BOBDA: The uniqueness of Ghanaian English pronuncia- 
tion in West Africa 1 85 

JOYCE B. G. SUKUMANE: Issues in language planning and policy: 

The case of Namibia 1 99 

JOSEPHINE YAMBI: Planned and spontaneous vocabulary expansion 

in Tanzanian Kiswahili 209 


Gerry Knowles, Anne Wichmann, & Peter Alderson (eds): Working with Speech: 
Perspectives on Research into the Lancaster/IBM Spoken English 


Tony McEnery & Andrew Wilson. Corpus Linguistics. (Yamuna Kachru) 223 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 2 (Fall 2000) 


Jamal B. S. al-Qinai 

Kuwait University 

A natural by-product of translation is the adoption of technical, 
scientific, and culture-specific terms for which ready-made equivalents 
are either unavailable or unpopular. The infiltration of loanwords into 
standard Arabic is a landmark of the flexibility of Arabic morphology. 
Yet, the methods of analyzing assimilated (i.e., Arabicized) loanwords 
often assumed an impressionistic, arbitrary nature. The current study 
attempts to linguistically diagnose systematic phonological and mor- 
phological changes and provide a typology for classifying them, while 
also accounting for anomalies. The study adopts a comparative mor- 
phophonemic approach to SL/TL forms from the point of view of lexi- 
cal etymology and the methodology of classical philology and modern 

0. Introduction 

'A pure language is a poor language' 

A natural by-product of translation is the adoption of technical, scientific and 
culture-specific terms for which ready-made equivalents are either unavailable or 
unpopular. The process whereby a particular language incorporates in its lexicon 
words from another language is technically designated by such terms as 'borrow- 
ing', Mending', or 'adoption', though the latter is usually the case (see Ali 1987: 

This study analyses a corpus of loanwords in Arabic with the purpose of in- 
vestigating the phonological and morphological adaptations that are applied to the 
incoming lexical items. The term 'adaptation', as Holden explains, refers to the 
process in the recipient language of altering the phonological (and at times the 
morphological) make-up of the loanword (see Holden 1972:4). 'Adoption', on the 
other hand, is a term that describes the borrowing into the recipient language of 
} loanwords while preserving their original form and pronunciation as per the donor 
language (Thornberg 1980:524). In Arabic, some loanwords are fully naturalized 
and thus become the roots for further derivations. Others, however, remain foreign 
or partially translated. 

1. The concept of 'Arabicization' and the status of loanwords 

Arabicization is a process whereby foreign words are incorporated into the 
language with phonological or morphological modifications so as to be congruent 

2 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

with Arabic phonological and morphological paradigms, hence the term 'analogi- 
cal Arabicization'. Yet, whereas Sibawayh (author of al-Kitab) and al-Jawaliqi 
(author of al-Mu'arrab) recognize all foreign vocabulary used by the Arabs, yet 
distant from Arabic models some of it might be, al-Hariri and al-Zamakhshari ad- 
vocated that loanwords that violate Arabic patterns degenerate the language (see 
AH 1987:87). Al-Hariri, for example, includes in his treatise on solecism a number 
of borrowings that are in breach of Arabic patterns (Ali 1987:97-8) 



Native word as 
a model 

Loan- form 





Je.1 i 

/fa? Ay 

UJjl * 



3 3 J* 












Table 1 . Non-analogical patterns of loanwords 

With regard to methodology, Eid propounds that Arabicization is, by and 
large, sanctioned by common usage and does not follow any rigid analogical rules. 
While early philologists were busy at work in their attempt to lay the canons for 
the process of Arabicizations by describing the already-assimilated words, their 
ultimate goal was to formulate rules in line with Arabic morphological patterns. 
Such rules were, however, vulnerable to exceptions (Eid 1980: 1 1 8). This could be 
accounted for by the fact that their data was in itself inconsistent and marred by 
anomalies. They were simply applying rules of Classical Arabic morphology to 
foreign lexical items that have their own rules in the source language. Important in 
this context is Yowell Aziz's (1983:80) view on the application of ancient methods 
of transliteration: 

... the ancient Arabic writer was not always consistent in his (translit- 
eration) methods. Some of the ancient practices are no longer suitable... 

In a nutshell, those who undertook the task of translating foreign books into 
Arabic, or those who came into contact with speakers of other languages, had no 
preset rules for Arabicizing foreign words. The transliterated form of a given 
loanword was, thus, in accordance with their best knowledge of its pronunciation 
(Eid 1980:1 18). At times, some translators were not adequately fluent in the source 
language, and, therefore, the transliteration form of a given loanword may be the 
end product of a mispronunciation rather than any real phonological or morpho- 
logical modifications. 


Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic 3 

2. Types of phonological and morphological changes in loanwords 

This section examines systematic segmental or suprasegmental alterations in 
loanwords. The aim is to determine whether such changes are rule-governed in 
view of the canons of Arabic phonology and morphology. Changes may range 
from assimilation, dissimilation, metathesis, and elision to doubling or replacing 
one or more segments of the original. In his book al-Kitab, Sibawayh (1317 A.H.: 
342) remarks that 

[the Arabs] often change the condition of a word from what it was in 
the foreign language by assimilating to Arabic those letters which are 
not Arabic and replacing a letter, though it occurs in Arabic, by another 
one. Furthermore, they change the vocalization as well as the position 
of augmentative letters without attaining the Arabic word structure, for, 
after all, it is a word of foreign origin whose power to attain the Arabic 
word structure is in their view not sufficient. Frequently, they shorten as 
in the 'nisbah' construction or add whereby they either attain the Arabic 
structure or not, as in the case of j*S /ajur/ 'red tile', ^jaIjj) /?brahim/, 
,■. ..mjjI /?brisAm/ 'silk', Jx.L»-.j /?sma?il/, JjjI j- /sArawil/ 'pants', j,j^ 
/fayruz/ 'turquoise', and jL.j*1 /kAhrAinan/ 'amber'. 1 

Al-Karuri (1986:351) on the other hand, ascribes all changes that take place 
in loanwords to one governing criterion. He defines this as the tendency by the Ar- 
abs to attain sound harmony. 

2.1. Sounds existing in both the loanform and Arabic, yet are replaced by 
similar sounds of the same natural class * 

Sibawayh (1317 A.H.: 342-3) hints at such segmental changes in his book al- 

'Often they change the combination of a word from what it was in the 
foreign language, by assimilating to Arabic letters such as are not Ara- 
bic, and replacing a letter, even though it be like Arabic, by another 
one.' But, they may have a noun unchanged when its letters are like 
theirs. 3 

He (Shayr 1980:127) further describes some irregular changes of loanword 
sounds that have Arabic counterparts. For instance, he cites the word Jjj'j— -> 
/sArawil/ 'pants' (from Jjji>-i /$ Arawil/'pants'), in which the J> /J/ was replaced 
by a o* /s/, and the Persian j^JS. /gAtjAliz/ 'a ladle', which was Arabicized as J^Liii 
| by replacing the j /g/ by a j /q/, the g /j/(or rather 5 /tj/ ) 4 by a J. /$/, and the final 
j Izl by a J l\l (by regressive assimilation under influence of the original J IV). 

Al-Khafaji (1371:4) remarks that irregular changes of loanword sounds that 
have indigenous counterparts are confined to the j /z/, & /s/, J>l^l,£ /?/, and the J. 
I\l. Yet, al-Jawaliqi (1966:90, 118, 209, 221) cites instances of similar cases. For 
example, he traces the origin of ^>jfl /tut/ 'rasberry' to the Persian ^>;/tue/(i. e. & 
/6/-cj /t/), *L>Ji /hirba?/ 'chameleon' to Persian L> /^irba/ (i. e. £ /x/ - z /n/ ), 
and &\ Ult/tabiq/ 'frying pan' to Persian aJj /tabs/ (i. e. c^lxl -±> /£/). Indeed, 
these sounds, along with those mentioned by Sibawayh and Al-Khafaji, constitute 
but few members of a larger group. For instance, in the course of our study we 

4 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

came across some frequent changes of foreign segments that could have been re- 
tained intact by dint of having corresponding Arabic equivalents. Some of these 
segments/sounds include the following: 

A. Consonants 

(1) Hamza: 

In Persian, a »>* 'hamza' is often replaced by other segments: 


z /hJ: 

i 121 - j /n/: 
\I2I- _A/h/: 

;J /?Abre / 
■ijjjjJ /?AnzArut/ 

ga j i /?Arbid3/ 
(J J /?AndanV 

i/2/- ^/y/: sJ jj /zir?ab/ 

^ jUa. /hAbara/ 'bustard' 
jjjjjc / ?AnzArut/ 'glue' (i. e., replaced I 
by its velarized counterpart). 
jjj>/narbij/ 'mouthpiece of a narghile' 
fiji* /hindam/ 'attire' (Also Latin 

endivia - dpi.* /hindiba?/ 'endive') 
mLijj /ziryarb/' literally: gold-water 

(also used as a bird's name)' 

Similarly, the hamza (or its equivalent) is velarized in loanwords from other 
languages (Holden 1972: 4). 

1/2/- £/?/: akhatis (Greek) - je»c/?Aqiq/ 'carnelian' 

(2) *hi\ 

d IM - i/d/: ji>j/turrad3/ (Persian) 'pheasant'- £y> /durrad3/ or ^ji 

/tAdrud3 / 

cilxl - ii / 1 /: stabulum (Latin) 






i/9/- */!/: 
./0/- j/d/: 

E /<&/: 



c /d3/ 




j /d/ - 

u- /s/: 

thiryakos (Greek) 
kantharitis (Greek) 

jjS /kAnd3/(Persian) 
t'j* /d3irad3/ (Persian) 

J, /$/: ji?jS /kAfd3Aliz/( Persian) 

,>a /g/: j£ /kAd3/ (Persian) 

o /q/: ^-lj /ramid3/ (Persian) 

Jjk-» /2ist Abl/ 'stable, barn' 

jIjjj /tiryaq/ 'potion' 
^-jjoii. //AndAris/ 'vintage wine' 

- j£ /kAnz/ 'treasure' 

- g\j* /sirad3 /'lamp, light' 

(via Aramaic lcl>£ 


JAiii /qAfjAlil/'a ladle' 
o^ /d3ig/ 'plaster' 
j.ij /ramiq/ 'a decoy ' 

g/h/: L> /xirba/ (Persian) 
j/q/: enchelis (Greek) 
<d /k/: mastikhia (Greek) 
_»/ h/:dhrakhmi (Greek) 

j/d/; odor (Syriac) 
j IzJ: zindan (Turkish) 


(. Lja. /hirba?/ 'chameleon' 
u-liji /?AnqAlis/ 'eel' 
KVi.™ /mAgtika/'mastic' 
f*>> /dirhAm/'Dirham' 

Jii/2adar/ 'March' 

"Uljij /zinzanAh/ 'prison cell' 

J= /t/:. 

i /dAnb bArAh/ (Persian)- 

j>ui» /t Anbur/ 'a mandolin- 
like instrument'. 

Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic 




o^ /dV: moda (Italian) 

i /9/: J>i/$AWAd / (Persian) - 

j/q/: jb>- /sArdar/( Persian) 

J / 1/: jjj »^iS /kanda bir/( Persian) - 

? Iml: barril (Spanish) 

j/n/: J>kj /rAhA\var/( Persian) - 

- l±y> /mucfs/ 'fashion' 

jji>- /suradiq/ 'pavilion' 
JjjAia /qAndAwil/ (or 
JAii /qAndAfil/) 'huge' 
Jx.jj /bArmil/ (i.e. 2nd lrl-1 m / 
jiykj /rAhAwan/'ambler' (horse) 

(9) j/z/: 


(10) j-/s/: 
o- /s/- i 




(11) uS/X/: 


(12) fc /2/ ; 

fc /2/- 

(13) i /B/: 


(14) a/f/: 
_ /17- 

(15) 4/k/: 

2 /d3/': Jiij /zAngAl/( Persian) - 
j- /s/: telezma (Greek) 
o^ /§/: polizza (Italian) 
ii Id/: boza (Turkish) 
£•/?/: jb /baz/(Persian) 

J /q/: jj_*i /?abriz/(Persian) 

J /!/: jJaiS /gAfd3Aliz/ (Persian)- 

J^ /d3Ald3Al/'alittlebeH' 
<~*ll> /t AlsAm/'talisma' 
A-aJ^ /bulige/ 'insurance policy' 
Aii^j/bu^e/ 'ice-cream' 
^b /ba?/'span of the outstretched 
arms' (a measure). 
jjjjI /?ibriq/ 'a pitcher or a jug' 
JJulis /qAfjAlil/'a ladle' 

i /t/:jS>i_ >ui /sArnuk9r/(Persian) 
/d3/: »j>.j^ /sArmuzah/(Persian) 

- &yj> /tArnuk/ 'despicable' 

- 3yj* /jarmuq/ 'a slipper 

or its cover' 
j&l /^Ahr/' month' 

ji/$/: sahro (Aramaic) 

,_y a /§/: mastikhia (Greek) - Kir™ /mAgt ika/ 'mastic' 

L /t/: ^>ij" /sArbuJ/ (Persian) - J>#j^ It ArbuJ/ 'turban, fez' 

^j/0/: gadich (Hebrew) - £ija. /d3AdA6/ 'grave' 
jr/d3/: Ji>>./hArA J/ (Hebrew)- £>>./hArAd3/ 'thicket or woo 

o. /s/: qachicho (Syriac) - ,^-i /qissis/ 'priest' 

j- lul: to 'outo' (Syriac) - Cj^cIL /tanut/ 'idol or seducer' 

jr /d3/: J>iJ/?ArBUwan/ (Persian) - ub*J /?urd3uwan/ 

j/q/: j- jj Iduhsl (Persian) - jy /duq/ 'butter-milk' 

<_i lb/: fleghma (Greek) - jUL /bAlBAm/ 'phlegm' 

^ IQI: foum (Hebrew) - ? y /9um/ 'garlic' 

■AI3/: sac (Turkish) 

rL^i /pad3/'bread tin' 

6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

dlkl- £/x/:carciofo (Italian) <Jtyij->. I^at $ uf/ 'artichoke' 

A /k/- j/q/: dhorakinon (Greek)- j Ijj /durraq/ 'peach' 

(16) J /l/: there are no consistent cases of J segmental changes: 
J/1/- 1/2/: >ii /lankar/(Persian) - jJ /?and3ar/ 'anchor' 
J/1/- £/?/: >-ii/laJkar/ (Persian) - j_i-*. /?askar/ 'army or 

J/1/- j/n/: >J~o/galmu/ (Syriac) - ^/gAnsm/ 'idol' 

(17) ,/m/: | 
? /m/- j/n/: pamodora (Italian) - »jjjjj /bAnAdureh/'tomato' 

(18) j/n/: 

j /n/- »_i/b/: jl£ /tunban/ (Persian) - jU /tubban/ 'tight short pants' 
(The Persian j Inl was changed to ? Iml under influence of the <-j /b/, 
then the ? Iml was assimilated to the ^ Ibl in a geminate form). 

j/n/- u"/s/: sindhon (Greek) - o**^ /sundus/ 'silk brocade' 

j In/- <f lyl: ^—V±^> /gAndAlaniy/( Persian) - ^V-ij-a /gAydAlaniy/ 

j/n/- ? Iml: jUl*. Id^AnhazI (Persian) - jL*». Id^umhazl 'gynastic' (alter- 
natively pronounced 

(19)^ Ihl: 

—* Ihl- ^/d3/: rhetine (Greek) - jiuij /ratind3/' resin' (here the final sound 

lei was treated on par with a _* Ihl). 
—x Ihl - ^/h/: jij— * /hArran/ (Persian) - jljs. /hArran/ 'Carrhae: ancient 

Mesopotamian town'. 
—a Ihl - lyj: haimat (Ethiopic) - i-ui /xAymeh/'tent' 

—^ Ihl - Izl: aIaj /dAhla/(Persian) - jjUj /dAhliz/' foyer or corridor' 
—x Ihl - j /q/: <c>i /butah/(Persian) - <&# /butAqAh/'meltingpot' 
—* Ihl - >£ Ik/: oji> /nAyzeh/(Persian) - djjj /n Ay ZAk/' meteor' 


Sibawayh (1317A.H.: 342-343) remarks that Persian speakers replace final _* / h / 
by either a i^* 121 or a ^ /y/ in fast speech. Thus, the Arabs replace final Persian 
i^ lyl, which contravenes Arabic morphological restrictions on final segments, by 
its nearest equivalent(s), viz., the jr Id^l or alternatively the ^J Ikl or the j /q/ 6 . In 
other words, final Persian —a Ihl which is replaced in Arabicized loanwords by a ^ 
»_^a /?/ or ^ /d3/ or ^ /h/or £ /%/ or j Izl or J /q/ or ^ /k/ (see above under 1 9; _a m 
Ihl is originally a ^ /y/and not a _j» Ihf). 

Al-Karuri, (1986: 390) however, traces the origin of the final Persian/— »/ to 
Middle (pahlavi) Persian in which the final _a Ihl was pronounced as d Ikl (which 
could, in turn, be the Persian _£ /g/; the change is, therefore, phonologically war- 
ranted). Further, he notes that the final _* Ihl was at times replaced by a £ /d3/ or j 
/q/ in order to show inflectional endings. In some cases, it was mistaken for the 

feminine * /• Ihl or l\J in Arabic, and at times was replaced by a '<- /» as in <jjjj 

/ruzn9h/(Persian) > <tj }J /ruzne(t)/ 'a hatch'. 

Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic 

Ali (1987:109-10) attributes such changes of foreign sounds which have na- 
tive Arabic counterparts to 'the tendency of Arabic sounds to combine in certain 
sequences rather than in others' (i.e., phonotactic cluster sequences). With regard 
to the velarization of sounds like A IVJ, o» /s/, j 161, & It], and the hamza by replac- 
ing them with their emphatic counterparts, viz. J>/t/((> Idl < o- 3 /§/ « 3 l<\l and £ 
/?/ respectively, he observes that 'early Arabs were keen to preserve the character 
of Arabic. Emphatic sounds, being among the salient features of Arabic, must thus 
khave been felt to be more capable of embodying this distinction rather than the 
f non-emphatic which are common to most languages'. In other words, whether the 
Arabs consciously or subconsciously velarized the <j» fsf, j /d/,cj It/, and the & l\J, 
their aim was to exploit the phonological potentials of the language in order to 
give loanwords an Arabic characteristic (El-Sheikh 1977:440). 

B. Vowels 

The earliest reference made to the change of vocalization while Arabicizing loan- 
words is to be found in the book of Sibawayh (1317 A.H.: 343): 

Further, they change the vocalization as in jjj /zAwr/ and j>ii 
/ajur/which are rendered asjjj /zur/ 'falsehood' and ^j — ii 
/a Jub/' mixture'. 

B.l. Short vowels 

Here, we will use Arabic approximants to represent foreign vowels for reasons of 

( 1 ) <a^j /A/(or its near equivalent): 

( 1 . 1 ) *ajs /a/- t-ili /a/: bus (English) - ^L /bag/ (instead of the 

possible form o~> /bAg/) 

( 1 .2) <ajj /a/- i^= /u/: khabast (Ethiopic) - j*. /xubz/ 'bread' 

(1.3) "Ls^s/a/- ij*&f I /: cambiale (Italian) - aJL^s /kimbiyalah/ 'bill 

of exchange' 

(2) <^Ja /u/(or its near-equivalent): 

(2.1)<— a/u/- 5*js /a/: gaborouto (Syriac) - ^jj^ /d3AbArut/ omnipotence' 

(2.2) <^> ImI- i>~& 111: ovrizon (Greek) - jjjJ /?ibriz/ 'pure gold' 

mushka (Sanskrit) - A^/misk/ 'musk' 

(2.3) ^Ja/u/- j /u/: neon (English) - j>u/niyun/ instead of j^/niyun/ 
(2.4)<-»i/u7- -*/i/: manganon (Greek) - j^v" /mAnd3Aniq/ 'mangonel' 

k (3) »>-s /i/ (or its near-equivalent): 

"(3.1) Sj-^/i/ - \a&ltJ\ enchelis (Greek) - ^-JLi /?AnqAlis/ 'eel' 

(3.2) *>*£ /i/ - i^ /u/: isotoria (Greek) - s J3 kJ /?usturAh/ 'fable' 

(33)ij^S/x/ - *-jft /a/: tighnon (Greek) - ja-LL /tad3 in/ 'frying pan' 

(3.4)s^-S/i/ - 3 /u/: kazik (Turkish) - jjjU. /^azuq/ 'pole or dirty trick' 

(3.5)s>-£/i/- — j/i/: candela (Greek) - Jpji /qAndil/ 'lantern* 

B.2. Long vowels 

( 1 ) v_iii /a/(or its near-equivalent): 

( 1 . 1 ) <-«il /a'- "LaJia /a/: iajus/ kAmand39h/( Persian) - a ? \«<. /kAmAnd3eh/ 


8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

(1.2) L_kJ /a/- /?/: maccarone (Italian) - aj 3J l^ /mA?kArunah/ 'macaroni' 

( 1 .3) J /a/- -j I'll: trabzan (Turkish) - jj jjI jj /dArabzin/ 'railing or banis- 

(1.4) <-*tf /a/- ^/y/: jijjl* /kArAwan/ (Persian) - Jjjjs /qAyrAwan/ 'caravan' 


(2.1) j/u/ - ^ /a/: opion (Greek) - j^si /?Afyun/ 'opium' 

(2.2) j /u/ -i-jji + j, /A\v/:>iL_jijj (Persian)- J3 jj /rAwnAq/ 'splendor or 

beauty' ■ 

(2.3) j/uf - <-itf / a/: odor (Syriac) - JjI / ?adar/ 'March' 

(2.4 ) Vu/ - <-^ /u/: Jjc jj /burKul/ (Persian) - J_ fcjj /burnul/ 'cooked, parched 

and crushed wheat' 

(2.5) j /u/ - -j /i/: kopru (Turkish) - ^j* /kubri/ 'bridge' 

(2) —j /i/ (or its near-equivalent): 

(3. 1) — j /i/ — A^is /a/: piselli (Turkish) - 4L-j /bisillAh/or ^^L-j/ bisillAe/ 

(with a short final uiH) 'peas' 
(3.2)_j/i/- ^Ja /u/: pondika (Greek) - J-ijj /bunduq/ 'hazelnut' 
(3.3) j/i/ - %j^£- Ill: jLujS /kiriban/(Persian) - jLja./d3inbban/ 'scabbard' 

(3.4) — j /i/ - cJli /a/: zorifo (Syriac) - 4ilj j /zArafAh/'a giraffe' 
(3.5)_ j /i/ - j /u/: hairetikos (Greek) - ^>^> /hArtuqi/'heretic' 

2.2. Sounds not constituting part of the Arabic phonological system 

Such sounds are often replaced by their nearest homorganic equivalents. Sibawayh 
(Sibawayh 1317A.H.: 242-3) notes that, 

... the Arabs assimilate (foreign) letters to Arabic letters... Thus, Persian 
/g/ is changed into either a £ AI3/ or a 3 Iql or a d /k/as in _>>». 
/d3urbuz/, j — >J /qurbuz/ or &J. /kurbuq/, respectively. Similarly, they 
replace the Ipl by a <-i /f/as in ±>jl TirAnd/ orau /b/as in iijj /birAnd/.... 7 

In like manner, al-Jawaliqi (1966:6) remarks that the Arabs 

... often change loanwords ... by substituting foreign phonemes by their 
nearest homorganic Arabic equivalents. At times, they may replace for- 
eign phonemes by heterogeneous (i.e., heterorganic) substitutes. It is 
imperative to accommodate such changes lest Arabic should be infil- 
trated by 'foreign' phonemes. 

He further quotes al-Jawhari on the subject and comments on the latter' s use A 
of the word .kkj 'interfere with' in the sentence 'l*-^£ cy o-4 M ^^ mj* 11 '. which ™ 
implies that the Arabs 'interfere with the pronunciation of foreign phonemes and 
alter the structure of loanwords to conform with the canonical patterns of Arabic. 
To achieve this, they modify loanwords by adding, replacing, or eliding a segment 
or a short vowel (i. e., a diacritical)' (al-Jawaliqi 1966:6). 

In al-Muzhir, al-Yasu'i (al-Seyuti 1958, vol. 1:274) classifies Arabic phonemic 
substitutes for foreign sounds into two categories: 

Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic 9 

(a) Phonemes that regularly replace foreign sounds: These include the 
lj /b/, j Iql, ^ /d3/, ^ /k/, and the ^i /f/. Such phonemes often replace 
sounds that have no Arabic equivalents. 

(b) Phonemes that are used to substitute for foreign sounds on an ir- 
regular basis: these include the J IV, j- /?/, J, /$/, ,_>- /s/, and the j Izl, 
though, as was discussed earlier under 2.1, some of these phonemes 
may replace sounds that have identical Arabic equivalents. 

i Nevertheless, it seems that philologists of late have serroneously confined 
segmental changes to the above-mentioned phonemes, despite the fact that Si- 
bawayh and al-Jawaliqi were merely citing examples rather than providing an ex- 
haustive account of the subject. Besides, al-Jawaliqi was primarily interested in 
Persian loanwords in Arabic and, hence, his comments and notes were directed 
towards the corpus of loanwords that was at his disposal. Indeed, nowadays the 
subject of foreign sound substitution has become more diverse with the increase in 
the number of loanwords and the number of source languages. In the following, we 
will present some examples of replacing phonemes that are lacking in the phono- 
logical system of Arabic. 

A. Foreign consonants 


This segment constitutes an accidental gap in Arabic phonology and orthography 
though, as will be discussed below, a devoiced version of the lb/ (i. e., [b]) occurs 
in certain consonantal clusters (Thornberg 1980:530). 

(1.1) Ipl- v/b/: operette (French) - £yj*J /SubArit/ 'operetta' 
(1.2) /p/- *_ »/f/: spongos (Greek) jiiJ /?isfAnd3/ 'sponge' 

In certain cases a /p/can be replaced by both a^lbl and a <_i If/ in two versions of 
the same loanword, e. g., 

■iij?(Persian) > (.i>jj /binnd/,Aija /firind/) both meaning 'a sword' 

Notice the homorganic feature (labial) in both the original sound and its replace- 


(2.1)/v/-v> /b/: (mainly in old loanwords): ovrizon (Greek) - jjjj] /?ibriz/ 

'pure gold' 
((2.2) l\l- j /d3/: anchova (Spanish) - i+yij /?An$ud3Ah/ 'anchovis' 
(2.3)/v/-*_i If/: archives (French) - i_LiJ /?Ar$ if/ 'archives' 

(2.4) l\l- j /w/: varnish (English) - Jujj /w Ami $/ (cf. the French 


(3) III/: 

(3.1) III I- jr/d3/: ajjUS /kAmand3Ah/ (Persian)- i»^-s/kAmAnd3 Ah/ 'violin' 

(3.2) /tj/- jJ/J/: y? /t$ay/( Persian) ^Li/Jay/ 'tea' 

inch (English) JJ /JinJ/ 'inch' 

io Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

(3.3) /t$/- u-/g/: ^.jU/xartSini/ (Persian) - j^-ijU. /margin/ 'zinc' 
Ji? /d3Ak/(Persian) - £~a /gAk/' contract, 

document, check' 

Certain loanwords may have alternative spellings as in: 

<!>». /d3ubAh/ (Persian) -> (4^ /JubAkAjj^i /JubAd3/i <jj>i /JubAq/, 
jj>-a /gubAd3/) all meaning 'a rolling pin' 

The /tj/ may also be rendered as J£ /t+ J/ as in: sandwich (English)- 

j*u>iiM /SAndAWltJ/. 

(4) /g/: 

(4.1) /g/- ^/d3/: tighnon (Greek) - o?.LL /tad3in/ 'frying pan' 

(4.2) /g/- £/k/: gas (English/ French) - jlc. /naz/ 'gas' 
(4.3) /g/- ^J /k/: magoung (Armenian) - .il^S— . /mAkuk/ 'Shuttle'; also 

'a weight measure'. 

In some cases, a loanword may have alternative forms as in: 

jl£jj (Persian) > ( jISjj /burkar/ >. jUji /furkar) both meaning 'compasses' 

Also notice that the /g/ in sagrougo *+J** /sukrud3Ah/ 'platter' was replaced by 
both a d /k/ and within the same word by a ^ /d3/. 
(4.4) /g/- j /q/ Groschen (German) - J>J /qirj/'piaster' 

Al-Yasu'i (1959:215) claims that the Arabs used a sound similar to the /g/ 
but it was abandoned later. Consequently, the £ /d3/ in o-=^-/d3ig/ (Persian: ^s 
/kAd3/ used to be pronounced, for example, in the dialect of Hijaz as a /g/ (Anees 
1961:68); hence, the change of the _s /g/ - ^ /d3/ instead of a ^ /k/ or a £ /k/. 

(5) /3/: 

(5.1) /3/- jr/d3/: Montage (French) - jrUi>./muntad3/ 'montage' 

regime (French) - ^j /rid3im/ 'diet' 
(5.2) 1^1- j /z/: »>jj/ziwAh/ (Persian) - &j /zi?bAq/ 'mercury' 

Note that both the original sound and its Arabic equivalent are continuant, coronal, 
sibilant fricatives. 


In assimilating foreign sounds, reference is usually made to 'marginal phonemes', 
i.e., classes of sounds found only in loanwords, such as the l\l in the pronunciation 
of j—^i /vidyu/ 'video' and jx«Ijjj /vitamin/ 'vitamin', the /g/ in o">J_£ /ku ngris/ 
'congress' and the /t J/ in JJ /?intS/ 'inch' or jljU /tjarlz/ (alternatively written 
jljLJiVt+Sarlz/) 'Charles'. But there is no good reason to treat these sounds as pho- 
nemes, whether marginal or not, of Arabic. 7 They may best be regarded as non- 
Arabic insertions and hence may be pronounced with their original phonetic fea- 
tures, though orthographical ly written in the nearest Arabic alphabetical symbols. 
In effect, when we consider the replacement of foreign sounds by their Arabic 
near-equivalents we could be talking about a process of assimilation on a binary 
level of spelling and pronunciation or simply a phonemic change at the level of 


Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic i i 

spelling, but with the retention of the phonetic quality of the source-language pho- 

In the loanword j>^jili/tilifizyun/, the l\l sound of the original television 
almost always shows transfer, i. e., it is pronounced [v] though written .-i in Arabic 
(Ali 1987:1 17). Yet, the analogical form jUt /tilfaz/, is not likely to show such a 
transfer, since it corresponds to a native morphological pattern in line with JU>- 
/sirbal/ 'shirt'. This indicates that full phonological assimilation goes hand in hand 
with full morphological integration (Ali 1987:1 17). 

With regard to the /p/ in loanwords, Thornberg( 1980:53) observes that the 
/p/ occurs as an allophone of Arabic ^/b/in the environment of syllable or word- 
final position in some borrowed lexical items such as: 

helicopter - ( jujljl* ) [hilikupter] 
captain - ( J4S) [kaptin] 
express - (^j^-si) [?iksprss] 

To account for such exceptional cases, with respect to the general borrowing 
rule that stipulates /p/ - /b/, she quotes Zughloul's 8 explanation, which can be 
cast in the following notational rule: 

Ibl - I pi [-vd] 

In other words, the [+vd] Ibl becomes [-vd] before another [-vd] consonant. Also, 
she refers to Vennemann, who 'argued that the process of assimilation is a weak- 
ening process and the fact that it occurs in syllable-final position is natural due to 
the universal strength relations,' according to which, 'in syllable-final position we 
are likely to observe processes of weakening' (Thornberg 1980:532). 

It is likely that Thornberg may have overlooked the fact that what she calls 
exceptional cases are but dialectal pronunciations of the orthographic form, for the 
phoneme A_i/. Ipl remains a gap in Arabic proper, and the occurrence of not only 
the [p] as an allophone, but also of the /t J/, /g/, or even the Ivl in the pronunciation 
of Arabicized loanwords depends on: 

(a) Level of education: some educated Arabs may tend to imitate the 
original source sounds of loanwords with a feedback from his or her 
previous knowledge of the source language. 

(b) Dialectal influences: some dialects may, out of sluggishness of 
speech, aspirate the ui — >• lb h l, while others may adopt the entire loan- 

I word with a reproduction of its source sounds. 

Further, it should be pointed out that one of the examples given, namely ex- 
press - [ ? ikspres] has been mistranscribed, since the actual pronunciation of the 
loanword in Arabic is ^j_u-S] [2iksipr£s] with a break in the consonantal cluster. 
In such an environment, the Ibl can not be made [-vd] by reason of being sur- 
rounded by two [+vd] segments. 

Rather than a [-vd] allophonic version of the /b/, we have, as Thornberg 
(1980:350) quite rightly observes, a devoiced Ibl. However, Thornberg states that 
the devoicing occurs when the Ibl is in initial position in a stressed syllable before 

12 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

low, mostly back vowels. Yet, the examples cited by her are either confined to 
certain dialects or are brand names. The latters' pronunciations are highly irregular 
and are not subject to a given phonological rule. Indeed the Ibl in words like ping- 
pong, pepsi, tape, or pipe (as cited by Thornberg) is likely to be devoiced by way 
of original sound transfer through imitation, though Thornberg does not deem it to 
be so. 

Instead, what we have is a general assimilation rule whereby a Ibl is devoiced 
before [-vd] consonant, i.e., Ibl- Ibl [-vd]. This rule may optionally apply in the 
pronunciation of u-i .i [tjibs], jiJ-S [kabtin], and any other word with a similar 
consonantal sequence, including native Arabic words such as o^ [dibs] 'date 

Finally, Thornberg (1980: 534-5) notes that 'since /?/ is neither phonemic 
nor is it represented in the orthography of Arabic, it is changed to a nasal + obstru 
ent sequence...'. The articulation of the adapted form is something akin to /n/+ 
/k/(or /gh/), but not quite an 111. 

She cites some examples, among which are: 

Boeing - /bowing/ 

Westinghouse - /westing h aus/ 
Tang - /taeng h / 

Exception to the rule: ping pong - /bi? bo?/ 

It seems that Thornberg was misled by the transliterated form of the above 
words, since in actual speech £> Inul, ^ Ind^l or even & /nk/ are all pronounced as 
/?/ , or to be exact, /n/+ /g/, regardless of the orthographic representation. Thus, for 
example, the word congress is transliterated either as u*j^j£ or ^>l>j£ but almost 
always pronounced /ku?ris/or /kungeris/. Another equally interesting example is 
oj* — M /?mgiltArAh/, or alternatively \j&>) /?mgiltArAh/, from French 'Anglet- 
tere' /a?leter/, meaning 'England'. Here, both the £ /d3/and the d Ikl are pro- 
nounced as a /g/, yet, the /?/ is, to use Thornberg' s term, separated into two seg- 
ments: a /n/+ £ 

M3/ (or £ IW) with i>— & lx/ infixed after the g /d3/ (or d Ik/). Thus, the Arabic 
word would read /JingiltArAh/. Once again, the exact pronunciation of the 
Arabicized form is determined by education and feedback from the speaker's 
knowledge of the source language. 

B. Assimilation of foreign vowels and diphthongs 

Both Sibawayh and al-Jawaliqi make reference to the change of the vowel quality 
of loanwords upon their assimilation into Arabic. Thus Sibawyah (1317 A.H: 342) 
states, '4_SjaJi 1 jjj — t y 'they (the Arabs) change the vowels', while al-Jawaliqi in- 
cludes with other phonological modifications the substitution of a vowel by an- 
other as well as making a vowelized (consonant) vowelless and vice-versa (al- 
Jawaliqi 1966: 6). 











(6.1) /oe/ 









Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic 13 

In the following, it will be seen that, as with other segmental changes, the quality 
and length of foreign vowels is determined by way of approximation rather than by 
any sound phonological criteria. 

(I) lal - 4»ja + j, /Am/or Ji + j /an/ (i. e., spreading) 

champagne /$ apaji/ (French) - LiLuui/SAmbanya/ 
parlement /parlsma/ (French) - J-»1jj /bArlAman/ 

i*ia /a/: sandwich (English) - j^ 3 x^ /sAndAwit J/ 

_j /3:/: etiquette /etiket/ (French) - cx^l /? itik3:t/ 

j +^ili /an/(i. e., spreading): mannequin /manek£/( French) - 
jl£uL> /mAnikan/ 

< — «l* lal: batteria /betsene / (Italian) - <ij^ /bAttanyyAh/ 

j /o:/: docteur /duktoer/ (French) - j>S.>/dukto:r/ 

_j 13:1: coiffeur /kwafoer/ (French) - jjii^s /kwaf3:r/ 

j /o:/: jupe /3yp/ (French) - L-ija. /d3o:b/ (as in 

j /o:/: rheumatism /rumstizem/ (English) - fj^jj /ro:matizim/ 

_j /i/: de luxe /dolyx/ (French) - ^^Li -/diluks/ 

(notice also /y/-j /o: / ) 

(10) /o/- - j + j/o:n/:coupon /kupoA(French) - j>jjS/kubo:n/ 

(II) /a/ - »>-s /i/: /galbab/(Ethiopic) - i_iLk /d3ilbab/'gown' 

Yet, according to al-Karuri, if a /a/is adjacent to a bilabial, it is changed to a <»>± 
l\il (al-Karuri 1986): 

e. g., /xabast/(Ethiopic) - jo. /xubz/ 'bread' 

/burhan/(Ethiopic) - Juk^/burhan/ 'proof 

2. 3 Stress shift 

This type of change is incurred on loanwords in Arabic owing to: 

(a) Mispronunciations in the absence of diacritics or as a result of a translit- 
erational error on the part of the translator, e. g., 

etiquette (French) - c*lp] /?itik3:t/ while according to the 
I French pronunciation /etiket/, it should be liiu] 

nylon (English) - j>Lu /n Aylun/, j_>LU /naylun/ instead of JLu 

/nAylun/or jLU /naylun/. 
keramis (Greek) - ±*J /qArmid/ instead of a.1 ji /qiramid/ 

Note that in most of the above examples the stress is shifted from the first to 
the second syllable. 

Such erroneous pronunciations, which could also be the result of mistransliterating 
the original source word, are but part of the problem of 

14 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

... how to represent (foreign) pronunciation within the framework of the 
Arabic script. For the dictionary user who knows (the foreign language) 
well, no pronunciation aid would be necessary. Such a user will recog- 
nize the word or pronounce it from his knowledge of its (original) 
spelling. But the dictionary user who does not know (the foreign lan- 
guage) may wish to pronounce the loanword in a recognizable ap- 
proximation of its native form... The loanword may be respelled in pa- 
rentheses with the Arabic vowels and consonants that are closest to the 
foreign phonemes... (Issa 1986:448). 10 

(b) The influence of Arabic stress patterns 

Arabic tends to place the primary stress on the next-to-the-last syllable. This often 
results in accentuating or prolonging the stressed sound, as summed up by Ibn 
Jinni in al-Khasa'is (Ibn Jinni 1952:315): 

When short vowels are accentuated, they are changed to their corre- 
sponding long vowels. Thus, a <^a /A/is turned into an -d /a/, a »>*£ 111 
into a —j I'll, and a <*** /u/into a 3 l\xl. 

Examples are: 

/a/ - < — »3i/ a/:-uj^ (Persian) *Ljj1 /lubya?/ 'bean' 

It/ - I'll: candela (Greek) - Jaajs /qAndil/ 'lantern' 

nickel (English) - Jlu /nikAl/ 'nickel' (mineral) 

/u/ - /u/ Chimos (Greek) - u»j*i* /xAymus/ 

technology (English)/ technologie (French) - WA>£j /tiknulud3ya/ 

Similarly, the stress shifts to the syllable before the last accounts for the dou- 
bling of the _£ in jlkj /dukkan/' store' (from Persian: jISj /dukan/) ' ' and the j It/ in 
£i jj /durrad3/ 'francolin (zool)' (from Persian: ^}j>/tmad^/) (Shayr 1980:61). 

Some cases of stress shift may entail (medial) segmental deletion or assimi- 
lation, as in j — x.ja /qArmid/'roof tile' (from Greek: keramis), wherein the medial 
vowel a was dropped owing to transposing the stress to the /i/, which as a result 
was turned to a -j I'll in jj-js. And in the word jli*j /rustaq/, ji^-j /rusdaq/ 'a vil- 
lage and its outskirts' (from Persian: li-jj /rusta/), the j was shortened as a result 
of the stress shift. 

Finally, in the word Jl->j* /d3inbban/'scabbard' (from Persian: jL_uj£ 
/kiriban/), we have a case of doubling the ij /b/and shortening the —> I'll. 

2. 4 Segment and features addition 

2.4.1 Declusterization by way of epentbesis 

In order to break consonant clusters, Arabs interpose a vowel, whether initially or 
medially (usually after the first consonant), or by prefixing an additional syllable 
composed of the glottal stop * (hamza) and a short vowel, thereby creating a new 
syllable of the type CVC, which is permissible in Arabic. Thus, for example, the 
consonantal string of CCC in words like ice cream ' and express is broken into 


Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic 15 

CVCC in their Arabicized counterparts ^,J^4 /?aysikrim/and o»j^! /2ksibrAs/. 
Similarly, CC in Italian balcone and French cadre is broken into CVC in *±£L /bA 
lAkunAh/ /and jjI£ /kadr/. 

Initial consonant clusters also undergo epenthesis, either by prefixing a s>a 
or inserting a vowel, as in the following examples: 

klima (Greek) - ?&\ /?iqlim/ 'region' 

spirito (Italian) - yy^\ /?isbirtu/ 'alcohol' 

stade (French) - ±iJ /?istad/ 'stadium' 


flourescent (English) - 
styrofoam (English) - 

jin ■?■<;•») (Persian) 

2.4.2 To show inflection, a 

Cii-.j> /flunsAnt/ 'fluorescent' 
^^jjjjl^ /stayrufum/ 'styrofoam' 
jU.yi /kuStuban/ 'thimble' 

; .a, or a r is sometimes added finally to loanwords 

ending in a vowel or a /h/:, e. g., 

L> /xirba/ (Persian) - pUj* /hirba2/ 'chameleon' 
rhetine (Greek) - juflj /rating/ 'resin' 

Final Nominal Suffix <i /yyah/: 

accademia (Italian) /akademeia (Greek)- w^i /?AkadimiyyAh/ 

kathedra (Greek) - 3__uij^is /katidra?iyyAh/ 'cathedral' (notice the 
addition of the s>* in line with 2 above regarding 
final addition to show inflection), 
strategy (English)- i&djLJ /?istiratid3iyyAh/ (notice the prefixation of) 
in line with 1 above) 

2.4.4 Relative/adjectival ^ /iy/: artois (French) - i/jlj3jl /?irtiwaziy/'artesian' 

amarantacees (French) - 4—ujj-vi /2mArAntiyyAh/ 

2.4.5 In some loanwords from Syriac, as well as other languages, some segments 
are doubled, probably in accord with existing morphological patterns: 

J? di-, or J?-»- /sAngAl/( Persian) - 

dhorakinon (Greek) 
scala (Italian) 

2.4.6 Miscellanea 

vjIjj /zArab/ (Persian) 

kastanon (Greek) 

Jls— /sid3d3il/ 'lump of clay' (modeled 
after the pattern J — «a/fi?2il/, to indicate 

large quantities) 

j \ji /durraq/ 'peach' (according to the 

pattern JUi/fuSSal/) 

yii- /sAqqalAh/ 'scaffold' (according to 

the pattern *JUi /fA?SalAh/) 

^ijj /zArabiy/ (singular: ^jj /zurbiy/) 'mat, carpet' 
(the ^ /y/was suffixed to the Persian loanword to 
form the plural, from which the singular was de 
rived by back-formation). 
«.Lii-£/kAstAna?/'chestnut' (suffixing 'alif and 
s>* 'hamza'after deleting the final '-on') 


16 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

zemerek (Turkish) ^Ijjjj/zunburuk/' spring' (by way of coalescent 


2.5 Deletion (elision) 

Deletion is yet another morphophonemic process applied to loanwords. To 
begin with, Sibawayh (Bakalla 1984:41) remarks that, in Arabic, when two /'s, i.e. 

2 come in succession, one of them may optionally be deleted (Sibawayh 1317 

A.H.:425-6). In other words, to cite Bakalla' s notational formula: 

i III -> o / # o /t/(opt) 


jj«KTi /tAtAkAllAmun/ - jy&> /tAkAllAmun/ 

jjjSjii /tAtAdAkkArun/ - jjjSi /tAdAkkArun/ 

Further, in his discussion of Arabicized loanwords. Sibawayh (1317 A. H. : 
342) employs the word uij». /hAdf/ 'deletion' to describe one of the changes ap- 
plied to borrowed lexical items. Al-Jawaliqi (Bakalla 1984:41), on the other hand, 
uses the expression <-jj». jL-aL /nuqgan hArf/, i.e., 'the omission of a letter' to de- 
scribe more or less the same process of deleting one or more segments from the 
original source form. Such changes, according to al-Karmali (1938:82), are attrib- 
uted to the Arabs' keenness to maintain unstrained and easy pronunciation of 
loanwords by omitting some of their sounds/letters. 

In the course of our study, we have noticed that deletion may involve initial, 
medial, or final segments or syllables, and may even include the clipping of a part 
of a word or one member of a compound. In addition, some cases of deletion are 
language-specific and in effect are more regular than others. 

(1) Initial segment/syllable deletion 

historia (Greek) - Sj_,k» i /?usurAh/'myth' 

musandira (Turkish) - Sj^ /sAndArAh/'loft' 

(2) Medial segment/syllable deletion 

chabbat (Hebrew) - c^/sAbt/ 'Saturday' 
ounguiya (Greek) - iJji/?uqiyyAh/ 'ounce' 
^•ykji/fArhumAnd/ (persian) - j>*js /fArhud/ 'stout boy' 

(3) Final segment/syllable deletion 

Fallopian (English) / Fallopio (Italian) - ^jfc /falub/ m 

j^->> /nArdA S ir/ (Persian) - j> /nArd/ 'backgammon' 

(4) Language-specific deletion 

(a) Syriac 

Generally speaking, final s /u/ in loanwords of a Syriac origin is omitted 
upon their assimilation into Arabic, e.g., 

jya /Jiklilu/ - JJS) /?iklil/ 'crown, diadem' 

uc u/tTr?Attu/ - a*. d/tTr?Ah/ 'canal' 

Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords pn Arabic n 
jjjjaJi/jAhruru/ - jjjaJ;/$Ahrui7 'thrush, blackbird' 

(b) Greek and Latin 

In like manner, the syllables of final segments in loanwords of Greek or 
Latin origin are deleted upon being Arabicised, e.g., 

, Words of Greek origin 

fanarion - JUs/fAjiar/ 'lighthouse' 

patrikios - jjjki/bAtriq/ 'penguin' 

Deletion of medial and final syllable: 

episcopus - tJLi /?squf/ 'bishop' 

Words of Latin origin 

canalis - sUi /qAna/ or JUS /qAnal/ 'canal' 

centenarium - jlki /qintar/ 'kantar' 

denarius - jLo /dinar/ 'dinar' 

2.6 Clipping of a part of a word or a member of a compound 

fj »Aj jj/bAridAh dAm/ (Persian) - jjjj /b Arid/ 'mail' 

hydrakele (Greek) - » _pi /?AdArAh/ or *LS /qilAh/ (Notice 

that the original loanform was dissected 
into two parts, each of which was 
Arabicized individually as a full word, 
yet, both mean 'hernia'.) 

Sometimes, clipping can take the form of assimilation (usually in syllable-final po- 
sition across word boundaries), e.g., 

baking powder - j-^j^L 1 [bekinbawdAr] 

2.7 Dissimilation 

When two adjacent sounds are similar, one is altered by changing its feature value 
in order to preserve the contrast between otherwise homorganic or semi- 
homorganic segments. Sometimes, this takes the form of addition 'epenthesis' or 
deletion, e.g., 

jLoo /dAdAban/ (Persian) - jlpjo /dAydAban/ 'centurian' (Deletion of —>) 
| jAjjb/badAzhAr/ (Persian)- j—*jk /bazAhAr/ 'bezoar' (Deletion of j). 

2.8 Metathesis 

Arabicization may also involve metathesis, i.e., transposing phonemes or segments 
from one place to another: 

From Persian: 

jjjii jb /dar ?Afzin/ - jJh'j- 1 /dArabzin/ 'hand-rail' 
jjajj /zAnd3ir/ - jj^^Anzir/ 'chain, track for a tank, 
caterpillar, etc' 

18 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

From Hebrew: 

k^, /gAluta/ - sUjL-a/gAlAwat/ 'prayers' 

cAAj*. /d3ulyat/ - ^Jh- /d3alut/ 'proper name' 

From Syriac: 

jnini*) /?isfAntin/ - .kiiJ/?isfAnt/ 'flavored juice' 

From Greek: 

eparchia - <j*iji /?AbrASiyy Ah/ 'parish, bishopric' 

litra - Ji>j /rAtl/ 'a unit of weight of variant { 

equivalence: in Egypt 449. 28g'. 

From Turkish: 

eretsane - 4jUjj /tArAsanAh/ 'arsenal' 

frenlemek - 4l*ji /fArmAlAh/ 'brake' 

2.9 Compounding 

Examples of compounding are few (see under 2.1). Most such words are the result 
of transliterating the pronunciation of two SL components in fast speech, e.g., 

Lj »l£ /kah ruba/ (Persian) - *L.j** /kAhruba?/ 'electricity' 
roba vecchia (Italian) - 1j%L.jj /rubabikya/ 'antiques' 

jjja pj /zAm hArir/ (Persian)- jjj4-»j /zAmhArir/ 'bitter cold' 

But we may notice a multitude of partial translations of compounds, usually in sci- 
entific register, e.g., 

acide hydro ferrique - ^jajia.jjjjVt o±** /himn ?Al?AydruhAdidik/ 
tetrabromide - ^>jji ^Ijj/rubaSM brumid/ 

and the awkward 

ideology - W-^jj^ /fikrulud3ya/ 

2.10 Remodeling in accordance with Arabic morphological paradigms 

The earliest reference made to remodeling loanwords to conform with Arabic word 
patterns comes from Sibawayh's al-Kitab (1317 A.H.: 342), 

The Arabs change those foreign words that are absolutely incongruous 
with their own, sometimes assimilating them into the structure of their 
words, and sometimes not. As for that which they assimilate into their 
forms (i.e., morphological patterns), there is ^ jj /dirhAm/according to 
£j_^»jk /hid3rAd3/ 'naive', £j*j/bAhrAd3/ 'ornament' according to u^Li 1 

/sAlhAb/ 'a tall horse', jrUo/dibad3/ 'silk garment', jUjj /dinar/ accord- * 

ing to<j-Ujj /dimas/ 'dungeon', vjj» /d3AwrAb/ 'sock'according to Jt^a 
/fAW?Al/, and jls— -j /rustaq/ 'a line of people' according to o^J 
/qirtas/ 'paper'. 12 

Thus, according to Sibawayh (1317 A.H.), remodeling loanwords is not manda- 
tory, though they may be subject to other phonological or morphological modifi- 

Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic '9 

Often they leave a noun unchanged when its letters are like theirs, be its 
structure Arabic or not, as in the cases of jUl>. /xurasan/, <»>. /xurram/, 
and f — £j£ /kurkum/ 'turmeric'. They may change a letter that does not 
exist in Arabic leaving the original Persian structure of the word intact 
as in j— ija /finnd/(from j-ujj /birind/ 'sword'), jJ /?ad3r/( from jj£i 
/?akur/or J\ /?Akur/ 'tile') and jjja. /d3urbuz/(from jj. /kurbuz/). 

In short, Sibawayhi's (Ali 1987:99) interest was in describing and analyzing loan- 
words rather than prescribing any rules for their incorporation into the patterns of 
Arabic. To him, ujJ*-^ /?Almu?ArrAb/ is a term that describes both analogical and 
non-analogical Arabicization. 

Other philologists who maintained an approach similar to that of Sibawayhi 
include Ibn Sayyidah, al-Khafaji, Ibn Berri, and al-Jawaliqi (1966:6). 

Al-Karuri remarks that Arabicized loanwords as viewed by Sibawayh and al- 
Jawaliqi can be classified into three categories: 

(1) those loanwords that were subjected to segmental alterations and 
were analogically modified to fit into Arabic word patterns, e.g., 

? — *jj /dirhAm/ (Latin 'drachma') analogical with ^j ■>& 

/hid3rAd3/ 'naive' 

jljjj /dinar/(Latin 'denarius') analogical with j-Ui /dimas/ 


(2) those loanwords that were subjected to segmental alterations but, 
nonetheless, were not modified analogically, e.g, 

j — jji /firind/, j*\ /?ad3r/, >ja> /d3urbuz/ (see the quotation 
by Sibawayh) 

(4) those loanwords that were neither subjected to segmental altera- 
tions nor modified analogically, e.g., 

jL-iji. /xurasan/, f£j£ /kurkum/ 'turmeric', and ?*\jA /?ibrahim/. 

Yet, there is no mention of the criteria for deciding whether a word is to undergo 
analogical modifications or be preserved intact according to its origin in the source 

Other philologists, such as al-Jawhari (d. 1005 AD) in al-Muzhir and al- 
Hariri (d.l 122 AD), stressed that in order to preserve the purity of the language, 
borrowings should be made concordant with the phonological and morphological 
patterns of Arabic. 13 Otherwise, loanwords will always remain ^^c-'\ /?A?d3 miy/ 
'foreign'. In a treatise on solecism, al-Hariri (Ali 1987: 98) cites a number of bor- 
rowings that contravene the Arabic patterns, 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 



Native word as 
a mould for 

Loan- form 





Jet i 

Jjj' — * 









/sArdab/ 'cellar' 

J3Ui -j^j*" 


/sirbal/ 'garment' 

Table 2. Non-analogical loanwords 

Generally speaking, loanwords or their derivatives may undergo alterations 
aimed at making them correspond with existing Arabic patterns. 

SL Loan form 

Arabicized Form 

Arabic Pattern 

/fAdAnu/(Syriac ) 

jIjs /fAddan/'acre' 


Coulisses (French) 

o*&j£ /kAwalis/ 
'behind the scenes' 

Irregular plural 

Doublage (French) 

a^Lj /dAblAd3h/ 

<l«i. /mAf?AlAh/ 

Gargso (Greek) 

or >'iiUj> 



'clay used for 
sealing or stamping' 


Hairesis (Greek) 

/hArt Aq Ah/' heresy ' 


Patrikios (Greek) 

jjjWb a t riq/ ' penguin 


Table 3: Remodeling of loanwords according to Arabic paradigms. 

The process of remodeling loanwords in order to conform with Arabic word 
paradigms may involve vast changes in the structure of the loanword including ! 
segmental and vowel changes, metathesis, addition, elision, and modification of m 
stress-patterns. For example, the word <L.ja /fArmAlAh/ ( Italian :yre«o) was su - 
jected to major changes: 

(1 ) Vowel addition: a '<*& I hi was inserted after the <J* If/. 

(2) Vowel elision: the e after the r in the original word was deleted. 

(3) Vowel change: the final o in 'freno' was replaced by *»2i /a/. 

(4) Syllable addition: J /1a/ was suffixed to the word. 

(5) Segmental addition: a final I /Ah/was added to the word J— _> 

/fArmAl/ (verb form) to produce the instrumental noun <i.ja /fArmAlAh/. 

Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic 21 

It should be pointed out that the first four changes were undertaken in order to re- 
model the word in accordance with the Arabic quadrilateral paradigm Ji*i /fA?lAl/. 
Fahmi (1961: 211) remarks that though this particular word could have been 
Arabicized as ^L_uja /firinAh/or * — «uja /firimAh/, the loanword form of i—Lji 
/f? rm? 1? h/escapes the confusion that may result from the semantic association of 
i-uj /firinAh/with jjs/furn/'oven' and of '^J /firimAh/ with ^ji/fArm/' mincing'. 
He quotes the example of the unfortunate coinage of the word j U> /d3Ammaz/ for 
'tram', which is similar in pronunciation to jU*». /d3umbaz/ 'gymnastic', a thing 
which may justify the unpopularity of the word jUa. /d3Ammaz/ in comparison 
with its Arabicized loanword ? \j> /tiram/ 'tram'. 

Remodeling may carry over to loanwords whose original pronunciations 
have correspondent paradigms in Arabic. The Persian word J* — ?j£ 
/kAfd3Alaz/' ladle' could have been Arabicized as such in analogy with the word 
J; ■■■;■■■ /sAysAban/'sesban', yet, the Arabic form of this word is J^Liia/qAf J Alii/. 
Such changes are warranted on account of the fact that the Arabs may change a 
paradigm or forfeit another if the sound sequence of the original contravenes the 
requirements of sound harmony in Arabic Al-Karuri (1986:407). Subsequently, the 
final j Izl in >M£ /kAfd3laz/ was replaced by J /1/to correspond with the first J IV, 
(both anterior), while the ^-i_ li /a/(a back vowel) was replaced by a _j/i/ (front 
vowel) to effect ease of articulation by avoiding the sudden shift from front to back 
and front again. 

2.11 Derivation and inflection 

Some Arabicized loanwords (other than proper names) have been morphologically 
naturalized and in effect may undergo a process of derivation in line with Arabic 
derivational patterns and inflectional affixes. 

(1) Some loanwords are treated as common nouns and, therefore, 
may be prefixed with the definite article J \ /?a1/ as in the following 
words, which were originally borrowed from Persian: 14 

c Lu!i /?Addibad3/ 'Silk brocade' 

jjjA-AJi /?AlyasAmin/ 'jasmine' 
Ju»jjll /?AzzAnd3Abil/ 'ginger' 
r l*in /?Allid3am/ 'bridle' 

Aside from regular inflection, such words can also be nunnated when 
they are indefinite, thus "jjjii/nayruzun/ 'Persian New Year's Day', 
) jj— L /yasaminun/ 'jasmine', "jrUp/dibad3Un/ 'silk brocade'..., etc. 

(2) Some loanwords may be pluralized according to ji^A\ £*» /d3Am? 
?ttAksir/ i.e., the irregular plural form plus an optional final * — 
/Ah/(Sibawayh 1317 A. H.: 201), e.g., 

jJ>-> /gAwlAd3/ or jL ? J>- a 

/gAwlAd3an/ 'scepter' - M>"=> /?Awald3Ah/ 
pjS /kurbud3/ 'store' jjIjS /kArabid3/ or aj^IjS 


22 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

vo>?- /d3AwrAb/ 'sock' - ^Jy>- /d3A\varib/ or ajj>>». 


(3) Aside from the irregular plural patterns Jci ? and Jcli-, as exempl - 
fied by the above plural forms (plus the optional final «_ /Ah/), loan- 
words may assume other patterns that may assume some intervocalic 
changes, as in: 

Ji£ /kabil/or da^ /kebil/ 

(English/ French: cable) - cikAS, /kabilat/ or c^/kibilat/ ( 

(by suffixing ol /at/) or JJ_j£ 
/kA\vabil/( according to the 
pattern Jelji /fAwa?il/) 
Jj*jj/bArmil/(French: baril) 13 - Jj-1 jj /bAramil/ 

(according to the pattern JJUi /fA?alil/) 
j*J; /jAhr/ (Syriac: jj«-i) - j*-ii /?Ajhur/ 

(according to the pattern J«ai /JfSul/) 

(4) An Arabicized word may be suffixed with v-aii «l /ya? ?AnnisbAh/ 
'relative ^ 'as in: 

amarantus (Latin) - AjSjj-Vi /?Al?AmArAntiyyAh/ 'amaranth' 
ideology (English)/ideologie (French) - ^^ji / ? Aydulud3iy/ 

tactique (French) - ^^uS/tAktikiy/'tactical'. 

(5) Sometimes a given loanword or its abstracted root serves as the 
basis for deriving parts of speech. Ali (1987: 1 14) notes, for example, 
that the abstracted root jji from £&$& (Greek kanori) has yielded: 

OJs/qAnnAn/ 'legjstlate' j iL. /muqAnnin/ 

jjL. /muqAnnAn/' formed ^y\l /qanun iy/' 
in accordance with the 'lawful' 
aji£/tAqnin/'legistlation' j ±\£ /qAwanin/ 


(6) Finally, from the Turkish manovara (Fanya 1975: 13), 16 Arabic has the 
noun ijjl_u /munawuruh/and the verb jjLu /yunawir/ 'to manoeuvre', which 
is a good example of an ill-conceived Arabicized word. The y/m/ in »jjU* 
/munawArAh/ was mistakenly thought to be the nominal y as, for example, m 
in <#jLv /mud3abAh Ah/' confrontation' from *jU. /d3abAhA/ and, accordingly, ^ 
it was dropped from the verb form. 

3. Conclusion 

The corpus of data analyzed in this study reveals two main types of loanword 
modifications. The first type concerns those modifications sanctioned by Arabic 
phonotactics and morphological paradigms. Despite some anomalies, most of the 
morohophonemic adaptations are fairly regular and consistent .Yet there are other 

Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic 23 

examples of loanwords that were changed for no reason other than to give a fla- 
vour of Arabic sounds and morphological patterns. 

While this study has attempted to classify loanwords according to etymology 
and define the criteria for morphophonemic changes, yet many issues remain unre- 
solved and call for more extensive analysis. For instance, subsequent studies could 
tackle the status of Arabic words borrowed or assimilated into other languages. A 
comparison can, therefore, be drawn between types of changes of loanwords in 
iboth Arabic as well as foreign languages. Further, a more thorough and precise 
etymological analysis is needed to account for anomalies. Finally, comparative 
lexicographers can compile dictionaries that list loanwords with their original SL 
form and TL assimilated version. 


1 Note that the original Arabic text includes words like 'may, or, often, frequently' 
which indicate that such rules admit exceptions and anomalies and are by no 
means conclusive 

2 I owe the division of segmental changes to Ali 1987:108-9. 

3 Sibawayh 1317A.H.:242-3. Translated by Bakalla 1984:72-3 (with adaptation). 

4 Shayr 1980:127 cites the Persian origin as jA <^i£/gAfd3A Hz/. Therefore, the /t$/ 
is not an Arabic sound. 

5 The reader may notice that some Syriac, Hebrew, and other loan words may at 
times appear in Arabic characters and at others in Latin alphabet. Our purpose is to 
preserve the form and, hence, the pronunciation of words as they are quoted in our 

6 Sibawayh cites the Persian loan-word <y*£ /k/vwsAq/ 'having incomplete teeth' 
and &J> /kArbAq/ or &J /qArbAq/ 'store or tavern'. 

7 Adapted from Simpson 1 97 1:71. 

8 M. R. Zughloul, Lexical interference of English in Eastern Province Saudi Ara- 
bia, Anthropological Linguistics 20, quoted by Thornberg 1980:532. 

9 She acknowledges this fact, but under another section. 

10 Peter 1986:448. The parentheses are mine. For more on the subject, see section 
4.3. on issues of misspelling and mispronunciation. 

11 Persian according to Shayr 1980:65, while according to Fahmi 1968:176 it is 
Greek dokneion. 

12 Sibawayh 1317 A.H. :342. Translated by Stetkevych 1970:59-60. The parenthe- 
sis as well as some minor alterations are mine. 

13 Al-Jawhari as quoted by al-Shihabi 1970 AH: 18. 

24 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

14 The examples are mentioned in Sibawayh 1317 A.H.:19, yet without providing 
any etymological background information as to their source language or original 

15 Abdul-Rahim 1975:22 traces its origin back to Spanish: barril. 

16 It is of questionable etymology. It could be from French manoeuvre or Latin 
manuopera yet, being a relatively recent lexical entry and in view of the proximity 
in pronunciation with manovara, it is most likely of Turkish origin. 


a. English references 

Ali, Abdul-Sahib. 1 987. A Linguistic Study of the Development of Scientific 

Vocabulary. London: Kegan Paul. 
ANWAR, Sami. 1987. Semiotic has four vowels. In Honor of Use Lehiste, ed. by 

R. Channon & L. Shockey. Holland: Foris Publications. 
Aziz, Yowell. 1983. Transliteration of English proper nouns into Arabic, MET A 

BAKALLA, M. H. 1984. Arabic Culture. London: Kegan Paul. 
BAKER, Mona. 1998. Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. London: 

BECKER, Alton. 1995. Beyond Translation: Essays Towards a Modern 

Philology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 
CATRER, M. G. (ed). 1984. Studies in the History of Linguistics (Amsterdam 

Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science III: 24.) Amsterdam: 

John Benjamins Publishing Co. 
EL-SHEIKH, M. S. 1977. A linguistic analysis of some syntactic and lexical 

problems of translation from English into Arabic. University of London. 

Ph. D. dissertation. 
HOLDEN, K. T. 1972. Loanwords and phonological systems. The University of 

Texas at Austin, Ph. D. dissertation. 
PETER, Issa. 1986. A Point of Concern for Current Arabic Lexicography, al- 

Mu'jamiyyah al-Arabiyyah al- Mu'asirah 1987. Proceedings of the 

Centennial Symposium of the Arabic Lexicography Society.Tunis: Dar 

al-Gharb al-Islami. 
SIMPSON, J. M. 1979. A First Course in Linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh 

University Press. 
STETKEVYCH, J. 1970. The Modern Arabic Literary Language .The University of 

Chicago Press. 
THORNBERG, Linda. 1980. Arabic loan phonology: The assimilation of English 

lexical items. Linguistics 18.523-42. 

b. Dictionaries 

Collins English Dictionary, Collins, London & Glasgow, 1985. 

Jamal al-Qinai: Morphophonemics of loanwords in Arabic 25 

Harrap's Concise French Dictionary, Harrap, London, 1984. 

The New Cassell 's French Dictionary, Cassell, New York, 1971 . 

The Random House College Dictionary, Random House, New York, 1973. 

c. Arabic References 

Abdul-Rahim, Fanya. 1975. al-Dakhil fi al-Lughah al- Arabiyyah wa 
Lahjatiha. Aleppo. 

Al-Karmali, Anistas.1938. Nushu' al-Lughah al-Arabiyyah wa Numuwwihawa 

' Tktimaliha. Cairo: al-Asriyyah Press. 

Al-Karuri, Abdul-Mun'im Muhammad. 1986. al-Ta'ribfi Daw' Tim al- 
Lughah al- Mu'asir. Khartoum: Khartoum University Press. 

Al-Khafaji, Shihab al-Din Ahmad. 1325 AH. Shifa' al-Ghalilfimafi Kalam al- 
Arab min Dakhil. Cairo. 

Al-Jawaliqi, Abi Mansour. 1966. al-Mu'arrab min al-Kalam al-A'jami 'Ala Huruf 
al-Mu'jam. Edited by Ahmad Shakir.Tahran. 

Al-Seyuti, Jalal al-Din. 1348 AH. al-Mutawakkili.Damascus: al-Taraqqi Press. 

1958. al-Muzhir fi 'Ulum al-Lughah (2vols). Edited by Muhammad Abul-Fadl 

et al. Cairo. 
Al-Shihabi, Mustapha. 1970. al-Mustalahat al-Tlmiyyah fi al-Lughah al-Arabiyah. 

Damascus: al-Taraqqi Press. 
Al-Yasu'I, Rafa'il Nakhla.1959. Ghara 'ib al-Lughah al-Arabiyyah. Beirut: Catho- 
lic Press. 
Anees, Ibrahim. 1961. Al-Aswat al-Lughawiyyah (2 n Impression). Cairo: Dar al- 

Nahdah al-Arabiyyah. 
Eid, Muhamad. 1980. al-Matahir al-Tariah 'ala al-Fusha. Cairo: 'Alam al Kutub. 
Fahmi. Hasan H. al-Marji' fi Ta'rib al-Mustalahat. 1961. Cairo: al-Nahdah al- 

Masriyyah Press. 
Ibn Jinni, Abul-Fath 'Uthman. 1952. al-Khasa'is (2 vols) edited by Muhammad al- 

Najjar. Dar al-Kutub al-Masriyyah. 
Shayr, Eddi. 1980 Mu'jam al-Alfath al-Farisiyyah al-Mu'arrabah. Beirut: Libraire 

du Liban. 
Sibawayh, Abi Bishr 'Umar.1317 AH. Kitab Sibawayh (vol 2).Bulaq, Egypt: al- 

Matba'ah al-Kubra al-Amiriyyah. 
Proceedings of the Symposium on the Status quo of Arabicization 1998. al-Watan 

Newspaper. Kuwait. 

d. Arabic dictionaries 

I Al-Fayruzabadi 1913. al-Qamus al-Muhit. Cairo. 
Al-Jawhari, Abi Nasr. 1956. al-Sihah. Cairo. 
Al-Khatib, Ahmad. 1 986. Mu'jam al-Mustalahat al- Tlmiyyah wa al-Fanni\yah wa 

al-Handasiyyah. Beirut: Libraire du liban. 
Almunjid ' fi al-Lughah wa al-Tlam. 1986. Beirut: Dar al-Mashriq. 
Al-Zubaydee.1306 AH. Taj al- Arus min Jawahir al-Qamus. Cairo. 
Baalbaki, Rohi.1997. al-Mawrid (Arabic-English Dictionary). Beirut: Dar El-Ilm 

Ibn Manthur. Lisan al-Arab. 1307AH. Bulaq, Egypt. 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 2 (Fall 2000) 


Arlene Clachar 

University of Miami, Florida 

This paper examines the plausibility of the Primacy of Aspect Hy- 
pothesis (POA) when it is applied to the interlanguage of Creole 
speakers who are acquiring English as a second dialect. The POA as- 
serts that emerging verb inflections in learners' interlanguage are gov- 
erned largely by aspectual distinctions inherent in the verb. That is, as 
verb morphology appears in interlanguage systems to mark temporal- 
ity, it is not evenly spread across all verbs, but rather, it initially marks 
lexical aspect — the temporal properties germane to the lexical mean- 
ing of the predicate (Robison 1995; Andersen & Shirai 1996; Bardovi- 
Harlig 1999). The purpose of the study is to investigate whether nas- 
cent English inflections do align with lexical aspectual categories in 
the interlanguage of Creole speakers in the same manner as is postu- 
lated by the POA. This investigation is prompted by the fact that Cre- 
oles (the subjects' LI) do differ from the other natural languages that 
have been researched in cross-sectional studies on the POA. The dif- 
ferences highlighted in this study include the lexico-semantic and 
morphological features of Creoles in the Anglophone Caribbean, as 
well as the particularities of the Creole continuum. The findings reveal 
that in earlier stages of acquiring literacy skills in standard English, 
Creole-speaking learners do not align English verbal morphology with 
lexical aspectual categories in a manner that is congruent with that 
posited by the POA. However, at the high-intermediate to the ad- 
vanced levels of proficiency, Creole speakers exhibit a distributional 
bias in verbal morphology consistent with that asserted by the POA. 

Background: The hypothesized relationship between the acquisition of tem- 
poral semantics and Creole languages 

This study arose out of a perceived need to foster an integration between Creole 
language research and second language acquisition (SLA) research. More spe- 
cifically, the study sought to investigate how the linguistic research on Creole 
languages, on the one hand, and the research on the acquisition of English tem- 
poral expression (specifically, the acquisition of aspect marking) on the other, can 
enable researchers and teachers to understand the nature of the challenges that 
Creole speakers face in acquiring English as a second language (L2). We have a 
rather thorough documentation on Creole studies and a principled explanation 

2 8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

for the genesis of Creole languages. Similarly, there is extensive documentation 
on the acquisition of aspect marking in English by speakers of various languages 
(Romance and other Indo-European, as well as non-Indo-European languages): 
from the very early stages, to the basic communicatively functional stage, to the 
emergence and spread of early acquired verbal morphology to mark aspect 
(Bardovi-Harlig 1999). However, these two areas of research have remained 
largely separate. The goal of this study is to explore how the existing research on 
Creole languages can inform SLA research. The purpose of the study is to exam- 4 
ine the effect of LI (in this case the Creole language) on the learning challenges " 
faced by Creole speakers in their acquisition of aspect marking in English. 

Creole speakers have remained underrepresented in the SLA research fo- 
cused on the acquisition of temporal semantics, namely, tense and aspect marking 
in English interlanguage, even though tense/aspect verbal morphology has occu- 
pied a focal place in the curricula of most language-instruction programs. The cur- 
rent study, one of a series on the acquisition of English by native speakers of 
Creole, is offered as a pioneering attempt to understand how Creole speakers ac- 
quire aspect morphology in standard English as they develop writing skills with 
the aim of identifying unique literacy challenges. Since this study represents the 
initial phase of systematic research on the acquisition of specific English struc- 
tures by native speakers of Creole, it seems logical to begin by focusing on the 
expression of temporality because it is so basic to human communication. Moreo- 
ver, the acquisition of temporality — tense and aspect systems — is influenced 
more by universal cognitive principles inherent in temporal semantics than by 
classroom instruction (Bardovi-Harlig 1996). In fact, Robison 1995 found that as- 
pectual distinctions tend to approximate cognitive universals and are cognitively 
more prominent than tense distinctions. In other words, learners associate emerg- 
ing verbal inflections with the inherent aspectual categories of verbs because 
they appear to be more salient than tense distinctions. 

The study is also motivated by the concern that Creoles do represent unique 
languages and differ from other natural languages in their historical evolution. 
While most languages evolve slowly, responding mainly to pressures found 
within a largely monolingual population, Creoles are the result of social confron- 
tation of many languages and the genesis of a Creole language is rather abrupt 
(Lumsden 1995). Creoles also differ considerably from any single one of the par- 
ent languages that contributed to their origin and, furthermore, they develop 
these distinctions in a fairly short period of time under unusual socio-historical 
conditions. As would be expected, the genesis of Creole languages is reflected in { 
their linguistic structures, and Creole speakers, due to their Creole LI, might ex- 
hibit a distinct route with respect to the acquisition of aspect marking in their 
English interlanguage from that articulated in the SLA literature. The following 
section highlights four major distinctive characteristics of Creole languages and 
the concomitant justification for studying the emergence of aspect marking in 
Creole speakers' English interlanguage. 

There is a consensus among linguists that Creoles, because of their unusual 
socio-historical emergence, tend to share four major properties. First, Creole Ian- 

Clachar: Acquisition of aspect marking 2 9 

guages have many structural features in common and as a result, these commonal- 
ties cannot be due to similarities among the languages of Western Europe (the 
languages of colonization) or accidental. Second, Creole languages have simpler 
internal structures than other languages. There is a general belief among linguists 
that Creoles are phonologically, morphologically, and syntactically simpler than 
other languages. Third, Creoles are often assumed to. have more mixed grammars 
than other languages: there appears to be a parallel between language and ances- 
try when alluding to Creole grammars. It is believed that in the same way that 
Creole speakers have 'mixed' African, European, and Asian ancestry, the lan- 
guages they speak represent a linguistic admixture of European lexicon along 
with African and Asian morphology, syntax, and semantics (Muysken & Smith 
1995:9). Fourth, Creoles often exhibit a much higher degree of internal 
variability than other languages. They are believed to be dynamic and analytic 
language systems (unlike their Romance and other Indo-European counterparts, 
which have synthetic language systems) and Creoles are usually in constant in- 
teraction with their lexifier languages (the languages that provide the greatest 
portion of their lexica) in the same speech community. 

It seems reasonable to assume that if the Creole LI has a simplified internal 
linguistic structure, a grammar system representative of an admixture of the mor- 
phology, syntax, and semantics of West African and Asian languages, and a high 
degree of internal variability (a conglomerate of linguistic factors that distin- 
guishes Creoles from other natural languages), then the route for the acquisition 
of temporal semantics in the L2 might be different from the acquisitional route 
taken by non-Creole speakers. The following section focuses on the research that 
has been conducted on temporal semantics and gives: a) a brief overview; b) op- 
erational definitions related to the research; and c) seminal research that has led to 
current perspectives on temporal semantics, specifically the Primacy of Aspect 
Hypothesis. The following section discusses some major factors pertinent to Cre- 
oles that are speculated to influence how Creole speakers acquire temporal se- 

Research on temporal semantics in SLA: A brief overview 

Much of our understanding o( how second language learners use the L2 to struc- 
ture discourse rests largely on our understanding of how they construct an inter- 
language of temporal semantics. In other words, there is a strong connection be- 
tween discourse and the inherent temporal properties of utterances or sentences. 
Thus, interest in the acquisition of temporal expression in L2 interlanguage has 
grown enormously over the past two decades with intense scrutiny on the order 
of acquisition of verbal morphology to mark aspect. This is partly due to the fact 
that research on the acquisitional order of aspect marking has been useful in un- 
derstanding literacy challenges of L2 learners. For example, with respect to writ- 
ten narratives, many L2 learners exhibit differential aspect marking for informa- 
tion that is foregrounded versus that which is backgrounded (Houscn 1993). 

There is also general consensus that emerging verbal inflections to mark 
aspect in learners' interlanguage appear to operate in ways that are distinct from 

3 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

the target language (Robison 1995). This emergence of verb inflections, which 
has come to be variously known as the Primacy of Aspect Hypothesis (Robison 
1990), the Aspect Hypothesis (Bardovi-Harlig 1992), as well as the Defective 
Tense Hypothesis (Andersen 1991), holds that nascent verb inflections are gov- 
erned largely by aspectual distinctions inherent in the verb. That is, as inflections 
appear in interlanguage systems, they are not evenly spread across all verbs, 
rather, they mark lexical aspect — the temporal properties germane to the lexical 
meaning of the predicate. Learners of English, for example, tend to use the perfec- 
tive aspect (past) most frequently with predicates marking 'telic' events that have 
an inherent end point as in (1) and the present participle is associated most with 
events of indefinite duration as in (2): 

1. But then he telled the story, as like to say it seems the truth. [= But 
then, he told the story as if it were true.] (SI 8:1 13-4) 

2. 1 want you to running in the marathon to support my organization. 
[= I want you to run in the marathon to support my organization.] 
(S23: 124-5) 

In short the Primacy of Aspect Hypothesis asserts that verbal inflections in early 
interlanguage systems function primarily as markers of lexical aspect irrespective 
of the target language. 

This association of verbal inflections with lexical aspect initially appeared in 
studies of first language acquisition (Bronckart & Sinclair 1973; Antinucci & 
Miller 1976; Bloom, Lifter, & Afitz 1980). Subsequent research identified parallel 
correlations in untutored second language acquisition (Kumpf 1982; Flashner 
1982). Robison 1995 examined oral interview data elicited from tutored ESL 
Spanish-speaking students representing four proficiency levels and found a simi- 
lar acquisition profile. Additional support has come from cross-sectional studies 
focusing on instructed ESL learners from a variety of language backgrounds. 
Bardovi-Harlig 1992, for example, studied the written and oral interlanguage of 
135 adult learners at six levels of proficiency, from beginning to advanced, who 
represented such native languages as Arabic, Japanese, Spanish, Korean, Thai, 
Chinese, Portuguese, Turkish, Indonesian, Persian, Russian, and Swedish. These 
cross-sectional studies have also revealed the pattern posited by the Primacy of 
Aspect Hypothesis that an emerging verbal inflection initially marks a given as- 
pectual category and then spreads to adjacent categories, expanding by one se- 
mantic notion at a time (Andersen 1991; Andersen & Shirai 1996). 


This paper examines the premises of the Primacy of Aspect Hypothesis (hereafter 
POA) based on the written interlanguage of Creole speakers acquiring writing 
skills in English. The main purpose of the study is to investigate whether Creole 
speakers do evidence a similar acquisitional pattern of verbal inflections as is dic- 
tated by the POA. More specifically, the study focuses on how speakers of an 
English-based Creole use verbal morphological inflections to mark aspectual 
categories when acquiring writing skills in English as a second dialect. Even 


Clachar: Acquisition of aspect marking 3 1 

though learners can also employ other means to signal temporality such as adver- 
bials, the study will limit temporality to explicit morphological encoding of aspect. 
Both tense and aspect are terms refering to the concept of temporality. Tense de- 
notes temporal deixis and locates a situation in relation to some reference of time, 
usually the time of the utterance — past, present, or future. On the other hand, as- 
pect is not concerned with locating a situation in relation to some reference of 
time, but rather characterizes 'different ways of viewing the internal temporal 
constituency of a situation' (Comrie 1976:3). For example, the difference be- 
tween she is singing and she was singing is that of tense because the contrast of 
is and was indicates the distinction between the two with respect to the time of 
the utterance. However, the difference between she sang a song and she was 
singing a song, is that of aspect, because the difference focuses on how the ac- 
tion of singing is interpreted by the speaker: the former views the situation in its 
entirety, whereas the latter conceptualizes the situation as having phases (Comrie 

There are two types of aspect: grammatical aspect and lexical aspect. Gram- 
matical aspect is the term for aspectual distinctions that are specifically marked by 
grammatical devices such as auxiliaries and inflections. The English progressive 
aspect and the perfective-imperfective aspect in Spanish and French are examples 
of grammatical aspect. Lexical aspect (Andersen 1990) refers to the semantic 
properties located in the meaning of the verb or verb phrase, irrespective of any 
grammatical marking or time reference. In other words, lexical aspect captures se- 
mantic properties such as whether a verb or verb phrase denotes an action with 
'inherent duration like talk and sleep', is punctual with an inherent end point like 
recognize and arrive, or has features of both duration and a specific end point 
like 'build a house and paint a picture' (Bardovi-Harlig 1999:342). Bardovi- 
Harlig 1999 also points out that the same verb may indicate differential grammati- 
cal aspect as in he was singing and he sang, but its inherent lexical aspect re- 
mains identical. In these two predicates, sing has inherent duration whether the 
grammatical aspect is past progressive or simple past. 

These conceptual distinctions in lexical aspect have been classified by 
Vendler 1967. He noted four basic distinctions inherent in the semantic properties 
of verbs or predicates: punctual, telic. activity, and stative. Punctual predicates 
describe situations or events that occur instantaneously and can be reduced to a 
single point in time (e.g., recognize, die, reach an agreement, arrive). Telic predi- 
cates denote situations or events that have some duration, but have clear end 
points (e.g., walk a mile, make a cushion, construct a monument, write an essay I. 
Activity predicates refer to situations or events that have duration, but with arbi- 
trary end points, and are homogeneous in nature (e.g., run, play, dance). Stative 
predicates denote situations that have no dynamics and continue without the in- 
fusion of effort or energy (e.g., love. hale, want) (Andersen & Shirai 1996). 

As illustrated in Table 1, Andersen ( 1991:31 1) mapped these four basic dis- 
tinctions into lour categories of lexical aspect based on Vendler's 1967 classifica- 
tion of the inherent semantic properties of verbs. 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

Table 1: 

Semantic properties for the four categories 
of lexical aspect 


Lexical Aspectual Categories 












(Source: Andersen 1991:311) 

Examining the Table, it can be seen (as is articulated in the literature related 
to the POA) that although telic has some duration, punctual and telic both share 
the feature of having a clear end point. A punctual differs from the other semantic 
categories in that it is not durative; stative is distinct from the other three semantic 
categories in that it is not dynamic. Therefore, the four lexical aspectual categories 
seem to have 'an implicational relationship' and create 'a linear classification of 
lexical aspect' (Robison 1995:346). 

Previous research 

Evidence of the POA phenomenon has surfaced repeatedly in both LI and L2 
acquisition. In the area of LI acquisition, Bronckart & Sinclair 1973 observed that 
French verb forms that adults use to mark tense appear to express aspect in the 
speech of very young children. Through elicitation tasks, these researchers dem- 
onstrated that children employed the past form (the perfective) for most situations 
that had a specific inherent end point, and mainly the present for situations/events 
with no clear end result. Other researchers such as Antinucci & Miller 1976 ob- 
served parallel results in their examination of longitudinal data elicited from seven 
Italian children. Before the age of two, the past tense inflection was used almost 
exclusively with telic verbs and activity and state verbs were not marked by the 
past tense inflection. Bickerton 1981 explained these findings by appealing to a 
language ontogenesis that postulates the existence of two innate aspectual dis- 
tinctions: stative/dynamic (state/process) and punctual/durative (punctual/ non- 
punctual). He used the data from the above two studies to support the punc- 
tual/durative distinction in young children. He proposed that Anglophone chil- 
dren conceptualize this distinction by initially employing -ing to indicate dura- 
tive events and the irregular past forms to signal punctual events. In addition, he 
pointed out that Anglophone children distinguish between stative and dynamic 
events by not using -ing with stative verbs. 

In the arena of second language acquisition, case studies have found similar 
correlations based on evidence from learners from a variety of language back- 
grounds. These learners used target inflections to mark aspectual categories in 
nonnative ways. Seminal research on the POA focusing on untutored learners 
and recent research on the POA have provided proof of the influence of aspec- 

Clachar: Acquisition of aspect marking 3 3 

tual distinction even with learners in instructional settings. Current studies on the 
POA have been extended to include foreign language learners (Bardovi-Harlig & 
Bergstrom 1996; Salaberry 1999) as well as tutored foreigners learning the lan- 
guages of the respective host countries (Shirai 1995; Shirai & Kurono 1998). In 
addition, these studies have made use of a wide variety of elicitation tasks such as 
oral and written personal and impersonal narratives, cloze passages in written dis- 
course (Bardovi-Harlig & Reynolds 1995), and exercises on grammatical judg- 
ment (Shirai & Kurono 1998). 

Robison 1990 found that adults learning English generally marked punctual 
verbs with the past inflection and activity verbs with the progressive inflection 
when verbal morphology appeared in their interlanguage. Similarly, Kaplan's 
1987 study showed that college students of French as a foreign language used 
the preterite to indicate perfective events and the present to mark the imperfec- 
tive. These findings were also supported by Giacalone Ramat & Banfi 1990 and 
Bayley 1994, who observed a distributional bias in the use of verbal morphology 
in the interlanguage of Chinese students learning Italian and English respectively. 
Bayley's study of Chinese learners of English as a second language, evidenced a 
perfective-imperfective aspectual contrast — the perfective aspect marker (unlike 
the imperfective aspect marker) showed an affinity for past events, an observation 
that was consistent at all levels of proficiency. 

The POA has been further endorsed by recent cross-sectional studies. Fo- 
cusing on the acquisition of Spanish as a second language by university students. 
Salaberry 1999 noted that learners at the beginning level used the preterit inflec- 
tion only for punctual verbs. Intermediate-level students used the imperfective, 
but only with nonpunctual verbs, while still limiting the preterit to punctual verbs. 
The most advanced students employed both inflections with verbs in each aspec- 
tual category, however, the majority of punctual verbs were still marked perfec- 
tive, and most nonpunctual verbs were marked imperfective. 

Bardovi-Harlig 1992 made use of cloze passages to elicit verbal inflections 
from English learners representing several language backgrounds at six different 
proficiency levels. She observed that learners distinguished two punctual verbs 
from three durative verbs using the progressive/nonprogressive inflectional dis- 
tinction, punctual verbs being marked for the simple past more frequently than 
durative verbs. Similarly, Bardovi-Harlig & Reynolds 1995 found that at all levels 
of proficiency, a higher incidence of accurate use ol' past tense with punctual and 
telic predicates than with statives and activities. 

The findings in these SLA studies parallel the pattern for first language ac- 
quisition (Robison 1995). The emergence of verbal morphology to mark aspectual 
categories in interlanguage systems has been conceptualized by the POA as fol- 
lows (cited in Andersen & Shirai 1996:533): 

/. Learners first use perfective ( past) marking on punctual and telic 
verbs, eventually extending use to activities and statives. 

3 4 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

2. In languages that encode the perfective/imperfective contrast, 
the imperfective appears after the perfective, and imperfective 
marking begins with statives, extending next to activities, then to 
telic and punctual predicates. 

3. In languages that have progressive aspect, progressive marking 
begins with activities and then extends to telic and punctual 

4. Progressive markings are not incorrectly overextended to sta- 

Thus, the underlying premise of the POA is that when verbal morphology 
emerges, the acquisitional pattern is clear: the perfective (past) first marks punc- 
tual and telic verbs and eventually spreads to activities and statives; the progres- 
sive aspect first marks activities and then extends to telic and punctual predicates; 
the progressive aspect is not incorrectly overextended to statives. In addition, 
Bardovi-Harlig & Reynolds 1995 observed the use of the present or base with 
statives. The question now becomes: Do Creole learners evince the same acquisi- 
tional pattern of verbal inflections as is dictated by the POA? 

Motivation to explore this question stems from the fact that there are some 
major factors pertinent to Creoles that might influence how Creole learners use 
inflectional morphology to mark lexical aspect in their interlanguage. Following is 
a description of the linguistic-oriented characteristics of the Creole speaker and 
implications of these characteristics for the premises of the POA. 

Creoles: The product of language systems in contact 

Creoles arose from contact among typologically very different languages, such as 
West African, East Indian, and European languages, during the slave trade and 
plantation periods of the 17th and 18th centuries. Although much of the vo- 
cabulary of Creoles is taken from European languages (English in the case of the 
Creoles in the Anglophone Caribbean and French in the case of the Francophone 
Caribbean), their underlying grammars come mainly from West African languages. 
For example, in the Anglophone Caribbean, Creoles have a predominantly Eng- 
lish lexicon drawn from the lexifier language, British English (a factor that ex- 
plains why Creole speakers continue to label their language as English), but have 
morphological and syntactic systems showing considerable affinities with many 
West African languages, such as Twi and Ewe. These Creoles also lack a mor- 
phological inflectional system to mark tense and aspect. Therefore, although the 
Creoles show a lexical affinity with the standard English variety (hence English- 
based Creoles), they manifest an incongruence with the verbal inflectional system 
of the standard. 

This linguistic phenomenon is likely to create a blurring or even confusion 
on the part of the Creole-English-speaking learner concerning what constitutes 
the Creole and the creolized varieties on the one hand, and the standard English 
variety, on other. It is hypothesized that the Creole speaker may have specific 
challenges aligning standard English inflections with lexical aspect categories, 

Clachar: Acquisition of aspect marking 3 5 

thus, exhibiting a distinct pattern of aspect marking from that posited by the POA. 
(For further discussion, see the section 'Rationale for the study', below.) 

The Creole continuum 

Another important characteristic that is related to Creole speakers in the Anglo- 
phone Caribbean is the unique sociolinguistic environment in which they acquire 
their native Creoles. This environment has been described as a Creole continuum 
representing a range of speech varieties from the basilect (most conservative Cre- 
ole), to the mesolect (intermediate, less creolized varieties), to the acrolect (the 
standard variety) (see De Camp 1971; Alleyne 1980; Rickford 1987). Below is a 
brief description of the Creole continuum along with its speculated effect on the 
acquisition of verbal inflections to mark lexical aspect in Creole learners' inter- 

The Anglophone Caribbean represents a linguistic contact zone in which 
Creole languages evolved as a consequence of European-controlled plantations 
that brought Africans, as slaves, in contact with European colonizers. The result- 
ing languages were an admixture of the syntax, morphology, and phonology of 
West African languages and the lexicon of British English — thus, the term Eng- 
lish-based Creoles (Nero 1997). The history of slavery and British colonization in 
the Caribbean has 'forced' the continuous interaction of standard English and 
Creoles into an unequal relationship that has 'privileged' the standard variety 
and prejudiced the Creole variety (Nero 1997:7). This interaction of the two va- 
rieties has led to what De Camp 1971 calls a Creole continuum. The underlying 
notion of the continuum is that there is no clear-cut division between the Creole 
and the standard. Instead, there is a spectrum of speech varieties ranging from the 
basilect (the Creole in the strict sense), to the mesolect (the intermediate creolized 
varieties), to the acrolect (the standard variety). Most people in the Anglophone 
Caribbean speak either the basilect or the creolized varieties of English (the 
mesolect), but consider their language to be English because Creoles and creo- 
lized varieties of English are linked to low social status. 

The particularity of the Anglophone Caribbean continuum is that it consists 
of polar varieties, (the Creole and standard English), which are typologically and 
genetically distinct from one another. There are intermediate speech varieties that 
lie between the Creole and standard English poles of the continuum. The phe- 
nomenon of the continuum exists in countries like Jamaica, Antigua, and Guyana 
and is characterized by tremendous variability. That is, any variable, whether it be 
phonological, morphosyntactic, or lexico-semantic, can have as its variants, Fea- 
tures that are identifiable with the conservative Creole variety, features identified 
with the standard variety, and several other variants diagnostic of the intermedi- 
ate zone of the continuum. These intermediate variants are generally representa- 
tive of a scale of different approximations to standard English or, conversely, ap- 
proximations to the Creole with respect to their formal characteristics and gram- 
matical features. One way of interpreting the continuum as it exists in Jamaica 
Antigua, and Guyana is in terms o( three codes (Creole, intermediate, and standard 
English) and then in terms of a 'gradual shading-off from one end of this scale to 

3 6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

the other by a 'series of minimal shifts at all grammatical levels' (Alleyne 
1980:192). In this systematic shading-off, linguistic features that can be traced to 
a West African historical origin (the Creole or basilectal forms) are gradually sub- 
stituted by English-like structures (the acrolectal forms). 

Sometimes there is no clear-cut code to identify which variant in the contin- 
uum is closer to standard English than the other. For example, in the variation mi 
ben kom ~ mi did kom ~ mi kyeem i came' (perfective past to mark a punctual 
event), the second alternant is not closer to standard English than the first, even 
though most people would assume so. On the contrary, in the variation mi a kom 
~ mi da kom ~ mi komin ~ a komin 'I am coming' (progressive to mark activity 
predicates), the third and fourth variants are clearly closer to English than the first 
two (see Alleyne 1980). 

It should be noted that variations such as those mentioned above are not 
logically ordered, nor are there discrete groups of speakers identified with ordered 
registers represented by the above variations. The fact is that a speaker will some- 
times use mi ben kom ~ mi kyeem or even ay kem (the standard acrolectal variety). 
The same speaker will variably use mi a kom, alongside mi da kom, mi komin, a 
komin, or even the standard acrolectal variety aym komin. Thus, there is a tremen- 
dous amount of bidirectional style shifting along the continuum as the need arises 
to adjust to social context or to assert social and ethnic solidarity or distinctive- 
ness. This means that in the speech of English-based Creole speakers in the An- 
glophone Caribbean, a given lexical aspectual category can have several variants 
representing the basilectal, mesolectal, and acrolectal varieties. 

The above description of the Creole continuum in countries like Jamaica, 
Guyana, and Antigua suggests that native speakers of Creole may evidence a pat- 
tern for aspect marking distinct from that submitted by the POA. As stated earlier, 
English-based Creoles in the Anglophone Caribbean show similarity at the lexical 
level with the standard English variety, but draw much of their morphology and 
syntax from West African languages. It is, therefore, speculated that these Creole 
speakers, in acquiring writing skills in standard English, may process the temporal 
features resident in the lexical meaning of the verb in order to mark lexical aspect, 
but may not align the standard English morphological inflections with lexical as- 
pectual categories in ways that have been posited by the POA. 

This study examines the plausibility of the POA based on written English 
data collected from Jamaican Creole speakers who are acquiring writing skills in 
English as a second dialect in an adult basic education program. The major pur- 
pose of the study is to investigate whether developing English inflections align 
themselves with lexical aspectual categories in these subjects' written interlan- 
guage, as is dictated by the POA. While previous research has focused largely on 
cross-sectional studies of aspectual marking in the interlanguage systems of 
learners acquiring English as a second or foreign language, this paper takes the 
position that because English-based Creoles show lexical similarity to the stan- 
dard English variety, manifest a great deal of morphosyntactic affinity with West 
African languages, and lack morphological inflections, its speakers may provide 

Clachar: Acquisition of aspect marking 3 7 

additional factors likely to put the underlying premises of the POA under further 
scrutiny. In other words, Creole speakers' written interlanguage will be examined 
in order to ascertain whether emerging inflections mark aspectual categories in 
the way proposed by the POA. In addition, the effect of the Creole continuum on 
the subjects' written interlanguage will be examined in order to explain the pos- 
sible role that the continuum plays in the manner in which inflections are associ- 
ated with lexical aspectual categories. 

Rationale for the study 

Most studies supporting the tenets of the POA have focused on how acquirers of 
English as a second or foreign language use inflectional morphology to mark 
lexical aspect in their developing interlanguage systems. This study takes the po- 
sition that Creole learners acquiring writing skills in the standard English variety 
may exhibit a distinct pattern from that postulated by the POA as they use stan- 
dard English inflections to mark lexical aspectual categories in their developing 

This speculation is based on the fact that there are characteristics of perti- 
nence to the Anglophone Caribbean that are likely to influence how the Creole 
learner of standard English uses English verbal inflections to mark lexical aspec- 
tual categories. First, for the Creole-English learner, the linguistic system to be ac- 
quired — standard English — represents a dialect rather than a distinct language, 
as was the case in previous research supporting the POA (see Alleyne's 1980. 
1987 discussion on English-based Creoles as dialects of English). Creoles in the 
Anglophone Caribbean have a predominantly English lexicon (a factor that par- 
tially explains why Creole speakers continue to label their language as English), 
but have morphological and syntactic systems that show affinities with those of 
West African languages. These Creoles also lack morphological inflections to 
mark temporality. In other words, unlike standard English, the Creole verb stem is 
largely unmarked for tense and aspect: the various meanings that the zero form 
may express are determined by context (Winford 1997). For example: 

Yesidey Jan waak a mayl. 

Yesterday John walk (0 past) a mile 

Yesterday John walked a mile. 

Him ben claym op 

ina di tri. 

He anterior climb up 

in the tree. 

He climbed the tree. 

Mi a pik 


I progressive pick 

plum (0 plural) 

1 am picking plums. 

Thus, the Creoles show a lexical affinity with the standard English variety but, 
unlike English, lack an inflectional morphological system. 

The confluence of this linguistic phenomenon is a blurring or even confu- 
sion on the part of Creole learners concerning what constitutes the Creole and 

3 8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

the creolized varieties on the one hand, and the standard English variety on the 
other, when they become involved in a formal learning situation. It is hypothe- 
sized that these Creole speakers, in acquiring writing skills in standard English, 
may process the temporal features resident in the lexical meaning of the verb, but 
may not align the standard English morphological inflections with lexical aspec- 
tual categories in ways that have been posited by the POA. 

The second factor that may affect the emergence of inflections marking as- 
pectual categories in Creole learners' interlanguage is the Creole continuum. As 
stated earlier, the continuum is characterized by tremendous variability. The same 
speaker will variably use mi don iit ~ mi did iit ~ mi iit i ate' (perfective aspect 
to mark a punctual event) or mi a iit ~ mi da iit ~ mi iitin ~ a iit in 'I am eating' 
(progressive aspect to mark activity). This means that in the speech of a Jamaican 
Creole speaker, a given lexical aspectual category can have several preverbal 
variants representing the basilect, the mesolect, and the acrolect. If we allude to 
the One-to-One Principle that learners expect each new morpheme to have only 
one meaning and function (Andersen 1993) and a prototypical meaning for each 
tense and aspect morpheme (Giacalone Ramat 1997), then we might predict chal- 
lenges for Creole learners when they are exposed to standard English, since the 
Creole LI has several preverbal variants to mark one aspectual category. In 
other words, since each tense or aspect inflection in English is associated with a 
prototypical meaning, learners are expected to infer a prototypical meaning for 
each inflection from the standard English input, such as 'action in progress at that 
moment' for progressive marking, 'completed action' for perfective past marking, 
and 'continued existence' for present marking. The import of this is that Creole 
speakers who come from an LI background in which there are several preverbal 
variants to mark one aspect category might be constrained by the One-to-One 
Principle to associate an English inflection with its prototypical meaning. 

Research questions 

This study attempts to investigate the underlying premises of the POA in terms of 
the formal characteristics of English-based Creoles as well as the sociolinguistic 
particularities of the Creole continuum. The following specific questions are ad- 

1. In the acquisition of writing skills in English as a second dialect by 
Creole speakers, how is lexical aspect marked in the early distribu- 
tion of verb morphology? That is, do Creole learners mark lexical 
aspect categories in their written interlanguage in a manner distinct 
from that posited by the POA? 

2. What verbal morphology pattern emerges in their written interlan- 
guage at different stages of the acquisitional process? 

3. What justifications can be offered for the observed developmental 
pattern? s 

Clachar: Acquisition of aspect marking 3 9 


The subjects were 37 Jamaican Creole speakers enrolled in an adult basic educa- 
tion program. In order to identify clear acquisitional profiles of the subjects, two 
distinct groups at very different stages of the acquisition process were identified 
— intermediate-level students who had been enrolled in the program for 14 
months, and high-intermediate to advanced students who had been in the pro- 
gram for approximately 27 months. All subjects ranged in age from 19 to 25. They 
were shown a 19-minute silent film and asked to retell the story in writing. They 
were given one hour and fifteen minutes to complete the assignment. The 37 
writing samples were used to rank the subjects on the basis of their use of past 
verb morphology in obligatory contexts (see Table 2). The intermediate-level 
subjects' scores ranged from 25-49 and 50-69 representing cohorts 1 and 2, and 
the high-intermediate to advanced subjects' scores ranged from 70-79 and 80-89 
representing cohorts 3 and 4. This division of subjects allowed for a more effec- 
tive comparison across groups. 

Coding procedures 

Following Bardovi-Harlig & Bergstrom 1996, each verb was coded according to 
morphology: perfective past; progressive (past/ present/ and progressive); sim- 
ple present; and base forms. All verbs that were marked for the perfective, in- 
cluding overgeneralized forms such as catched and singed were coded as perfec- 
tive. Verb forms were coded as past and present progressive if they indicated 
was/were and is/are distinctions along with the -ing participle. Instances of the 
participle without the auxiliary, such as + sleeping were coded as + pro- 
gressive. Simple present forms reflected the third person singular morpheme {she 
sleeps/goes), and base forms were not marked (she sleep/go). Verbs such as cost 
and put, whose past and base forms cannot be differentiated, were excluded from 
the data. There were four lexical aspectual categories to which each verb phrase 
was assigned: punctual, telic, activity, and stative. This classification was used by 
Bardovi-Harlig & Bergstrom 1996 and is adopted in Table 3. 

Results and discussion 

Spread of perfective-past marking 

The POA was partially upheld: there was no distributional bias of the perfective 
past for punctual, telic, and activity verbs in cohorts 1 and 2, that is, the subjects 
at the intermediate level with lower writing proficiency in English. However, in 
cohorts 3 and 4, the high-intermediate and advanced subjects, there was evidence 
of the POA. For cohort 1 (see Table 3), punctuals, telics, and activities showed ba- 
sically the same level of perfective past marking with 38%, 36.6%, and }?<.(v , ol 
all verbs carrying the perfective past, respectively. Cohort 2 also exhibited the 
same trend with punctuals. telics. and activities carrying 50.2%, 49.7'/l , and 
47.2% of the perfective past, respectively. In cohorts 1 and 2. the perfective 
marking is applied to punctuals, telics, and activities in nontarget-like grammatical 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 20(X)) 

Table 2: Percentage use of verb morphology scores in obligatory 

contexts and number of predicates per subject. Mean number 

of verbs per narrative: 55.4.; total number of verbs: 2,053. 



%of Verb Morph 

# Predicates 

Cohort 1 








































Cohort 2 



















Cohort 3 































Cohort 4 
























5 8 

Clachar: Acquisition of aspect marking 4 1 

1. While they talked on the phone. Iris was studying for the exam and 
Sonia played in the garden . . . 

2. ... And her brother helped her with the homework, during that time 
they worked on the car and played the music so loud. 

3. He is not working anymore and it seem that he studied all the time 
even though his wife not worked either. 

4. My impresion [sic] was that he prepared the breakfast and baked 
the bread when the daughter entered the house . . . 

5. ... they talking for a while and during that time she also talked to 
the girl who did her homework. At the same exac [sic] moment 
those who talked also looked at what the televishon [sic] showed. 

6. ... While she lived in the city, her two sons were operating the 
biznes [sic] and saved a lot of money. For this reason, during the 
time while she worked in the city, they enjoyed themselves very 
much at the same time . . . 

In both cohorts states showed no use of the perfective. Basically, what this 
reveals is that in the earlier stages of acquiring literacy skills in standard English, 
the Creole learner does not align English verbal morphology with lexical aspec- 
tual categories in a manner that is congruent with that posited by the POA. How- 
ever, at the high-intermediate and advanced levels of proficiency, the effects of 
the POA become apparent. 

This observation appears to constitute counterevidence to the tenets of the 
POA, which posits that as perfective marking emerges, it does not spread evenly 
across all aspectual categories, but spreads from punctual and telic verbs and 
eventually extends to activity and stative verbs. What we observe with Jamaican 
Creole speakers who exhibit a lower level of writing proficiency in English is an 
even spread of the perfective past across all aspectual categories (punctual, telic, 
and activity verbs). On the contrary, cohorts 3 and 4 (the most proficient groups) 
exhibited primacy of aspect distributions for punctual, telic. activity, and stative 
verbs. Table 3 shows that for cohort 3, there was greater use of the perfective for 
punctuate (86.5%) and telics (79.2%) than for activities (50.7%). Statives had the 
lowest percentage (43.6%). Cohort 4 also exhibited the same primacy of aspect 
distributions: predominant use of the perfective for punctuals (84.19? > and telics 
(81.3%); and eventually spreading to activities (56.39; ). Again, states showed the 
lowest marking (47.1%). 

In an attempt to explain the counterevidence to the premises of the POA 
observed with the less proficient Creole speakers, it is essential to allude to the 
structure of the Creole as well as to the theoretical import of the Creole contin- 
uum. Jamaican Creole, an English-based Creole (the subjects' LI ). shows a lexical 
affinity with the standard English variety, but, unlike the standard, it lacks inflec- 
tional morphology to mark aspectual categories. It seems, therefore, that these 
Creole-speaking subjects are able to accurately identifj temporal semantic dis- 
tinctions in aspectual categories because of lexical similarity of the base form of 
the verb in both the Creole and the standard. However, since the Creole lacks an 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

=> o 

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Clachar: Acquisition of aspect marking 4 3 

inflection system to mark aspect, when Creole-speaking learners are exposed to 
English inflections in formal learning situations, they are likely to use these inflec- 
tions indiscriminately. In other words, what we are probably observing with Cre 
ole speakers (at the earlier stages of acquiring writing skills in English) is the af- 
fixing of English inflections indiscriminately across lexical aspectual categories. 
Therefore, punctual, telic, and activity predicates show the same level of perfec- 
tive marking: there is no distributional bias in which the perfective marks punc- 
tual and telic predicates first and then eventually spreads to activity and stative 

The more proficient Creole learners (high-intermediate and advanced), who 
exhibited the effects of the POA, are more likely to look for iconicity between 
form and function, a phenomenon that tends to promote functional differentia- 
tion. That is, more proficient learners do look for associations between form and 
function. This process takes on a great deal of significance in understanding why 
the more proficient learners showed primacy of aspect distributions: the more 
learners use language to construct discourse, the more proficient they become, 
and, therefore, the more they are likely to make productive inferences about a 
prototypical meaning for each inflection and use the inflection with verbs that 
most closely share its meaning (the Relevance Principle, see Andersen & Shirai 
1994). This process may be in contrast to that used by the less proficient learners. 

A second plausible reason for the observed counterevidence to the POA 
among Creole speakers at the intermediate level (cohorts 1 and 2) may be attrib- 
uted to the effects of the Creole continuum. As stated earlier, the continuum is 
characterized by tremendous variability. This means that in the speech of a Jamai- 
can Creole speaker, a given aspectual category has several preverbal variants to 
mark the perfective past — aspectual categories in the Creole are not marked by 
morphological inflections as in standard English, but by preverbal particles. It 
would seem, therefore, that when Creole speakers are exposed to the standard 
variety in a formal setting, they do not identify the affinity of specific inflections 
for verbs of particular aspectual classes. Also, the One-to-One Principle (Andersen 
& Shirai 1994) that learners expect a prototypical meaning and function for each 
aspect inflection, such as 'completed action' for perfective marking, has some ex- 
planatory power. If we rely on this Principle, it may be that the less proficient 
Creole learners do not make functional differentiation with respect to inflections 
for verbs of different lexical aspectual classes, since in the Creole continuum, a 
given aspectual category has several preverbal variants. Moreover, at the lexical 
level, Creole verbs show a great deal of similarity with those of the lexifier lan- 
guage (standard English), but mark a given aspectual class not by a specific mor- 
phological inflection (as is the case with standard English), but by the use of sev- 
eral preverbal variants. The result is the blurring of the distinctness between as- 
pect morphology and lexical aspectual categories when the Creole-English 
learner is exposed to the standard in a formal setting. This blurring may lead to the 
indiscriminate affixing of the perfective across lexical aspectual classes such that 
punctual, telic, and activity predicates show the same level of perfective marking, 
resulting in the observed countereffects ot the POA. It is onl) later, at the high- 

4 4 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

intermediate and advanced levels, when Creole-speaking learners are more profi- 
cient (as we observed with cohorts 3 and 4), that they are able to match features 
that are semantically congruent (such as telicity, perfectivity, and pastness) and 
use morphology that is relevant to the verb closest to the verb. Thus, punctuals 
and telics are marked by the perfective past first, and then later, activities are 
marked. In other words, the POA effects begin to emerge. 

Spread of the progressive marking 

The POA posits that as the progressive emerges, it marks activity verbs first and 
then extends to punctual and telic verbs. Table 3 indicates that in cohorts 1 and 2 
(the learners with less writing proficiency in English), the progressive marking 
does not show a distributional bias. In cohort 1, the progressive is used in 20.1% 
of activities. 17.2% of punctuals, and 17% of telics. In cohort 2, activities show 
only a slightly higher use than punctuals and telics (30.1%, 29.8%, and 25.4%, 
respectively). This pattern represents counterevidence to the spread of the pro- 
gressive as postulated by the POA (see Bardovi-Harlig, 1999). Cohorts 1 and 2 
applied the progressive to punctuals, telics, and activities in nontarget-like con- 

7. It appear that she was recognizing what happening in the house 
but they are not noticing her ... they were arriving too late to 
stopping anything. 

8. I think that the businesman [sic] reaching an agreement with her 
but she was deciding not to acepting [sic] the offer. 

9 Because they were making a garden and building the wall in 

three weeks. 

10. At that time she went inside and was writing a note to her friend 
then she finished and was playing the music and singing . . . 

Subjects in cohorts 1 and 2 applied the progressive in contexts that generally re- 
quire third person singular marking: 

1 1 . The wife work very hard . . she is working ten hours a day, is go- 
ing to college to study and looking after a family. . . . 

12. 1 am not quite shure [sic] about what his job is but I know that an 
owner usually is managing the finansiz [sic] of his own store. 

13. ... Based on what I remember, he is working in his mother's shop 
everyday and he studying half of the time at a near institute. I 

The bare progressive (0 + progressive) emerged very early, but contrary to 
what Bardovi-Harlig & Reynolds 1995 found for the lowest-level learners in their 
study, the past progressive was much more dominant than the present progressive 
in the written data produced by the Creole speakers. Of all verbs exhibiting the 
progressive, 39.4% (cohort 1) and 36.8% (cohort 2) were past progressive com- 
pared with 26.2% (cohort 1) and 22.1% (cohort 2) for the present progressive. 
The higher proficiency cohorts (3 and 4) showed no evidence of + progressive. 

Clachar: Acquisition of aspect marking 4 5 

but, like the lower-level learners, the past progressive remained dominant. This 
dominance of the past progressive is probably due to the proliferation of punctu- 
al and telics, which are typical of narratives. It is also worth pointing out that in 
Creole cultures where story telling plays a central role, the structure of narrative 
discourse is salient. Thus, the high percentage of past progressive in the data 
(contrary to Bardovi-Harlig & Reynold's 1995 findings) may be attributed to 
morphosyntactic features of oral narratives in Creole English. 

With respect to the more proficient learners, the progressive showed clear 
primacy of aspect effects for activity predicates. In other words, activity predi- 
cates appeared with the highest level of progressive marking (41.2% for cohort 3 
and 39.2% for cohort 4), followed by punctuals (8% for cohort 3 and 10.3% for 
cohort 4) and telics (12.1% for cohort 3 and 8.1%- for cohort 4). The results indi- 
cate that Creole speakers at a higher level of proficiency exhibited an acquisi- 
tional pattern of progressive aspect marking consistent with the tenets of the 
POA. However, as stated earlier, the postulates of the POA were not observed 
with Creole learners at the lower level. Like the perfective past, the progressive 
marker in Jamaican Creole has several variants (diagnostic of the Creole contin- 
uum) to mark a given lexical aspectual class (a ~ da + V; + V + {-in}; dida + V). 
Since there are several variants of the progressive marker (unlike English), it 
seems plausible to assert that when Creole speakers are exposed to standard 
English in a formal setting in the early stages, they may have difficulty identifying 
and abstracting a prototypical meaning and function for the English progressive 
aspect marker. As a result, it may be challenging in the earlier stages of the acqui- 
sitional process to assign the progressive marker to features that are semantically 
congruent with activity predicates, such as 'that which connotes dynamicity and 
duration'. Therefore, activity verbs do not attract the progressive marker any 
more than punctual and telic verbs — a phenomenon that has led to counterevi- 
dence to the POA observed among the Creole speakers with the lowest writing 
proficiency in English. Once Creole-speaking learners are able to infer a proto- 
typical meaning for the progressive and identify features semantically congruent 
with activity predicates, then activities are more likely to attract the progressive 
marker than are telic and punctual predicates, thus exhibiting the effects of the 

Present and base forms 

In the four cohorts none of the aspectual categories showed an affinity for third- 
person singular marking (-.v). The only noticeable use of the .s-markim,' appeared 
with state verbs and was accounted for by 5 subjects in cohort 3 (31 A c i >. In 
these specific cases -.s differentiates state verbs from nonstates : 

14. ... And she wants him to building a house lor her in the city but he 
loves the rural area and made the decision to lived there. 

15. The friends likes to write letters among themselves. . . . 

16. . . .Then the woman sees how she can helps her son and recognized 
the idea and so she talking to the lawyer to planning the documents. 

4 6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

The appearance of a-marking with states in this study, albeit slight, seems to 
concur with Bickerton's 1981 claim that in the morphosyntactic systems of many 
Creole languages (among them Hawaiian Creole English, Guyanese Creole Eng- 
lish, Sranan, and Saramaccan), the stem form of stative verbs expresses present 
tense. This phenomenon may explain why the Creole-speaking learners in this 
study linked the emerging ^-inflection to states. Of the four aspectual categories, 
the base forms occurred predominantly with states for the two lower-level co- 
horts (77.6% for cohort and 88.1% for cohort 2 — see Table 3). Since stative 
verbs connote a timeless situation that continues to exist, it seems feasible to as- [ 
sert that Creole-speaking learners are not likely to mark state verbs, hence the 
strong affiliation of base forms with state predicates. 


The important finding in this study is that the morphological structure of Creole 
languages, as well as the Creole continuum may have contributed to counterevi- 
dence to the POA in the earlier stages of the acquisition of English as a second 
dialect. From the morphological perspective, Caribbean English Creoles have a 
predominantly English lexicon but, unlike the lexifier language, English, they lack 
morphological inflections to mark aspect. The effect of this linguistic phenome- 
non is a blurring of distinctness between the two codes (the Creole and the stan- 
dard) or even confusion on the part of Creole-English-speaking learners con- 
cerning what constitutes the Creole and the mesolectal varieties on the one hand, 
and the standard English variety on the other, when they are exposed to standard 
English in a formal academic setting. Based on the analysis of the data elicited 
from the subjects, it appears that Creole learners in the earlier stages of acquiring 
the written form of standard English as a second dialect, tend to process the tem- 
poral features resident in the lexical meaning of the verb (since the Creole verbs 
show lexical affinity with those of the standard variety), but do not align the 
standard English morphological inflections with lexical aspectual classes in ways 
posited by the POA (since the Creole morphological system for marking aspect is 
incongruent with that of the standard). This blurring of distinctness between the 
two codes, the Creole and standard English, may have led to the indiscriminate 
affixing of inflectional morphology across aspectual categories. This explanation 
is also supported by Wolfram & Schilling-Estes (1998:287): 

When two systems are highly similar, with minor differences, it is some- 
times difficult to keep the systems apart. ... In some ways, it may be 
easier to work with language systems that are drastically different, be- < 

cause the temptation to merge overlapping structures and ignore dif- ' 
ferences is not as great. 

The Creole continuum appears to be an influential factor in the observed 
counterevidence to the POA. The continuum is characterized by tremendous 
variability in that a given aspectual category is marked by several preverbal vari- 
ants. Therefore, it seems plausible to submit that in the earlier stages of acquiring 
English as a second dialect, Creole-speaking learners have challenges identifying 
and abstracting a prototypical meaning and function for each inflectional aspect 

Clachar: Acquisition of aspect markin* i 4 7 

marker and matching it to features that are semantically congruent with the re- 
spective aspectual category. 

The most proficient Creole learners did exhibit a distributional bias of verb 
morphology with aspectual categories, i.e., the effects of the POA. As learners be- 
come more proficient, the semantic import of the aspectual categories becomes 
more salient and, therefore, learners begin to associate emerging inflections with 
the meaning inherent in the aspectual classes. In other words, the learner tends to 
link an inflection with a verb according to its closeness to the meaning of the 
verb. This explains, as Andersen 1993 states, why morphological inflections 
match up with lexical aspectual categories in the manner that is postulated by the 
POA: the inflection to mark the perfective past connotes completeness, and, thus, 
is associated with punctuals and telics; the progressive inflection implies duration 
and, therefore, is associated with activity predicates; the present .v-marker is clos- 
est to states, since both indicate a timeless situation that continues to exist. It 
seems, therefore, that there are cognitive principles underlying the aspectual cate- 
gories that tend to exert more influence over the learners* interlanguage than do 
the linguistic features of the Creole and the Creole continuum. However, in the 
earlier stages, the role of interference from the Creole and the mesolectal variants 
diagnostic of the Creole continuum appears to be more influential than cognitive 


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Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 2 (Fall 2000) 




Hans Henrich Hock 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

The well-known misuse of linguistic prehistory and early history 
in 19th and early 20th century Europe, especially in support of the 
racist 'Aryan' ideology of the Nazis, requires linguists to consider the 
potential impact of their claims and to counter misrepresentations 
based on linguistic and textual evidence and its relation to archaeo- 
logical findings. The present paper addresses this issue in reference to 
modern South Asian identity movements, with special focus on indi- 
genist claims that identify the civilization of the earliest, Vedic San- 
skrit texts as identical to that of the Indus Civilization and thus as the 
original, 'authentic' source of all South Asian civilization. I conclude 
that much of the evidence cited for and against these claims is too 
weak to be cogent. However, a comparison of the textual evidence of 
the Rig-Veda, the earliest Vedic text, with the archaeological remains 
of the Indus Valley Civilization shows that the two civilizations can- 
not be identified with each other. Moreover, the social and religious 
significance of early Indo-European horse culture in the Rig-Veda 
and the total absence of evidence for this culture in the rich iconog- 
raphy and artefacts of the Indus Civilization (except in its final 
phases and on the western periphery) provides conclusive support 
for the view that an outside, non-indigenous origin of the speakers of 
Sanskrit/Indo-Aryan is still the best hypothesis. 

1. Introduction 

The misuse of linguistic prehistory and early history in the Europe of the 19th and 
early 20th centuries is well known. A racial interpretation of the earliest stages of 
Vedic Sanskrit, projected back to Proto-Indo-European, formed fertile ground for 
the racist 'Aryan' ideology whose most terrible consequence consisted in the 
genocide of Jews, Gypsies or Roma, and other so-called 'inferior' races committed 
by the Nazis, in the name of Germany. 1 

It is also true that a somewhat milder racism characterizes a large part of all 
of the Indology of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This racism has led Indians 
of the most varied backgrounds to reject as racist all of western Indology and the 
theory of an Indo-Aryan invasion or immigration to South Asia, proposed by most 
western [ndologists. Significantly, this rejection is not limited to partisans of Hin- 
dutva, the exclusionary Hindu nationalist movement (such as Sethna 1992, Ta- 

5 2 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

lageri 1993ab, Frawley 1994, Feuerstcin, Kak & Frawley 1995, Rajaram 1995, 
Rajaram & Frawley 1997), but is found also with other national-minded Indians 
(such as the national-communist Singh 1995, the politically rather moderate ar- 
chaeologist Chakrabarti 1997, and the linguist Misra 1992; see also Sharma 1995 
and most of the contributions in Deo & Kamath 1993 2 ). 

Developments of this type raise doubts about the comfortable assumption 
that linguistics and philology are 'harmless', in contrast to other sciences, and do 
not have the same potential for horrible consequences as, e.g., nuclear physics.. 
Our statements on prehistoric and early historic issues have their consequences. 
The only thing is that they do not show up so much in linguistic controversies, 
but rather in public debates of questions such as 'Whose past is it?' To make cer- 
tain that our statements are not misused, we must understand the nature of these 
debates more clearly, including the non-linguistic criteria that are introduced. 

In this paper I try to live up to this task in the area of early history and pre- 
history and their role in the self-identification of Hindu and Dravidian 3 national- 
ists, 4 with focus on the former. 

2. Early Indologist perspectives and the 'Aryan Invasion Theory' 

As is known, William Jones 1786 assumed that Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin derive 
from a language 'which, perhaps, no longer exists'. Schlegel's 1808 opposing 
opinion that Sanskrit is older and all the other languages derived from it led to the 
early tendency to consider India as the original home and the European members 
of the language family as victorious conquerors. As is known, in the German- 
speaking area this assumption played a role in creating a certain counterweight to 
the French and English self-derivation from Rome and Greece. 

Early on, however, doubts arose about the assumption that Sanskrit was 
identical with the proto-language or at least most closely related to it. For in- 
stance, Pott 1833 proposed that the contrast dental : retroflex of Sanskrit was in 
part due to the influence of the autochthonous languages, and in 1836 he identi- 
fied these as Dravidian. Especially the discovery of the so-called Law of Palatals 
toward the end of the 19th century (discussion in Collinge 1985) led to the fact 
that Sanskrit was considered a sister language and not the mother of the Indo- 
European languages. In this context the assumption became increasingly popular 
that the original home of the Indo-Europeans had to be sought outside of India 
and that the Indo-Aryans had conquered India and subjugated the indigenous 
Dravidians (and other populations). (See for instance the discussion in Childe 
1926.) I 

The 'Aryan Invasion Theory' (AIT) quickly found proponents even outside 
linguistic and philological circles, no doubt aided by the fact that it was consid- 
ered a parallel and prelude for the western, especially English, conquest of India. 
(See the extensive discussion and references in Chakarbarti 1997.) Also the sub- 
jugation of the non-white population of India by the British seemed to find a par- 
allel in certain Rig-Vedic passages in which the enemies of the Vedic Aryas, often 

Hans Henrich Hock: Whose past is it? 5 3 

designated Dasas or Dasyus, are characterized as black or even as black-skinned. 5 
See, e.g., example (1). 

(1) aryarh prdvad ... .vrannijhesv ... I 

. . . tvacaih krsnam arandhayat (1.1 30.8) 

Geldner: indra half dem ... Arier ... in den Kampfen um das Sonnen- 
licht. ... machte er ... die schwarze Haut untertan [Indra helped the ... 
Arya ... in the battles for the sunlight. ... he made ... the black skin 
subject (to Aryan control)]' (With the added remark that the black 
skin refers to the black aborigines) 

Linguistic support for the AIT was found above all in theories that proposed 
a Dravidian substratum explanation for features such as the contrast dental : ret- 
roflex (see (2a), the use of gerunds (or absolutives) instead of dependent clauses 
(2b), and the use of iti as 'quotative\ i.e., as marker of cited discourse (2c). The 
Dravidian substratum theory found further support in the fact that an apparent 
Dravidian relic language. Brahui, is to be found in the northwest, in present-day 
Baluchistan; and it also seemed to be supported by various Dravidian loan words 
believed to be found in the Rig-Veda and later. (See Hock 1975, 1984, and 1996a 
with further references.) 

(2) a. -vit 'finding' : vit 'community, clan' 

b. adaya syeno abharat somam (RV 4.26.7a) 

'Having taken [it] (= After he had taken it), the eagle brought the 

c. nakir vakta nadaditi (RV 8.33.15 ) 
'Nobody will say, "He shall not give'" 

The discovery of the Indus Civilization and of its demise at about the time oi 
the assumed Aryan invasion seemed to further support the ATT, especially when 
Wheeler 1947 believed to have found evidence of murder and mayhem in the last 
phases of the civilization. In this context it was assumed that the purs, which in 
the Rig-Veda are frequently destroyed by the Aryas or their God Indra, refer to 
the cities or forts of the Indus Civilization. 

Finally, the AIT also seemed to be supported by the fact that the most seri- 
ous attempts at deciphering the Indus script started from the assumption that the 
language was Dravidian; see above all Parpola 1994. 

As it appeared, then, the AIT was linguistically and archaeologically com- 
pletely justified. Since in this context Dravidian gives the impression of a pre- 
Indo-Aryan presence in India, it is easy to understand that Dravida-nationalists 
consider the AIT as proof that the Indian past belongs to the Dravidians, and not 
to the Aryan invaders. (See, e.g., Arooran 1980:33-4, Venn 1987:10-1 1. and Pillai 

5 4 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

3. Indologist arguments against the 'Aryan Invasion Theory' 

But this appearance did not remain unchallenged for long. Since the last century, 
doubts have been raised about the linguistic foundations for the assumption of a 
Dravidian substratum in the Rig-Veda. I myself have contributed to these doubts 
on several occasions (see above all Hock 1975, 1984, 1996a with references) and 
limit myself here to a short summary. 

The assumption that Brahui constitutes a relic of an originally much more 
widely distributed northwestern Dravidian presence is made dubious by the fact j 
that according to their own traditions, the most closely related languages, Kurux " 
and Malto, have moved to their present areas in northern India from Karnataka, in 
the south, and the Brahuis, too, believe in an immigration from outside (except 
that they rather fancifully locate their origin in Aleppo, Syria. See also Elfenbein 

The alleged Dravidian loans in early Vedic are similarly questionable, since in 
every case a different explanation is possible. Kuiper 1991, to be sure, attempts to 
plead for large-scale non-Indo-European elements in the Rig- Vedic lexicon; but 
Oberlies 1994 and Das 1995 have raised important questions about his findings 
and his methodology. And what remains of the non-Indo-European elements is 
not necessarily Dravidian; see also Witzel 1999 with references. 8 

The structural evidence for Dravidian influence on Vedic is likewise open to 
question. The contrast dental : retroflex can be explained language-internally, or 
perhaps as a convergent innovation in Dravidian and Indo-Aryan (and partly also 
in East Iranian); see above all Hock 1996b. And as I show in Hock [Forthcoming 
a], the syntactic parallels of Dravidian and Vedic can be considered innovations 
which can be explained in terms of a syntactic typology that was similar even be- 
fore contact. 

Finally, attempts at deciphering the Indus script based on the assumption 
that the language was Dravidian are just about as unproved as attempts to inter- 
pret it as Indo-Aryan; see above all Possehl 1996. 9 

If these arguments are accepted (and scholars such as Emenau are not pre- 
pared to do so 10 ), does this prove that the Indo-Aryans had no early contact with 
Dravidians or with other non-Indo-Aryan languages? Of course not. It only 
means that the evidence for early Dravidian/Indo-Aryan contact is not cogent. As 
the American linguist Paul Postal is said to have expressed k, 'you can't prove 
that the platypus doesn't lay eggs by showing a picture of a platypus not laying 
eggs.' | 

The textual testimony for a 'racial' difference between Indo-Aryan immi- 
grants or invaders and the autochthonous people is likewise questionable." This 
can be illustrated by our example (1). Significantly, the krsna tvac 'black skin' of 
the second line corresponds to svar 'sun' in the first line. A more detailed investi- 
gation of all passages that offer enough context for interpretation shows that the 
black or dark color of the Dasas/Dasyus is contrasted not with a light or white 
skin-color of the Aryas, but with their light, sunny WORLD. (Similar conclusions 

Hans Henrich Hock: Whose past is it? 5 5 

are already found in Schetelich 1991. 12 ) Even the expression tvdc 'skin' need not 
be understood literally, but can refer to the surface of the earth. In fact, the as- 
sumption of a racial self- and other-identification, as well its alleged parallel in the 
English conquest of India, is extremely questionable for the time of the putative 
Indo-Aryan immigration. We only need to consider the multicultural, multiethnic, 
multilingual armies of the Huns and of their Roman opponents (where, e.g., Ger- 
manic people fought on both sides) to understand how little such concepts as 
'race' and 'national identity' are applicable for earlier times. In South Asia, by the 
way, this non- or pre-nationalist tradition extends into the early modern period, as 
can be seen in the well-known fact that the Hindu-controlled Vijayanagara em- 
pire had Islamic auxiliaries and population (Gollings, Fritz, & Michell 1991:43, 96) 
and its Islamic opponents, the Bahmani sultans, Hindu auxiliaries. 13 - 14 

Finally, since Wheeler's time, archaeology, too, has offered fundamentally 
different interpretations of the demise of the Indus Civilization; see, e.g., Shaffer 
1982, 1984, Shaffer & Lichtenstein 1995, 1999, Kennedy 1995. Thus. Wheeler's 
murder and mayhem scene is chronologically and areally much too limited to sug- 
gest wide-spread hostile destruction. Rather, the civilization seems to have per- 
ished on account of internal or environmental developments. In addition, the 
Vedic purs do not refer to the cities and forts of the Indus Civilization, but more 
likely to small strongholds surrounded by earthen embankments; see above all 
Rau 1957, 1976. 

Even more significant is the archaeological realization that the skeletal evi- 
dence does not offer any indications of immigration of a new population; see, e.g., 
Shaffer 1982, 1984, Shaffer & Lichtenstein 1995, 1999, Kennedy 1982, 1995. 

4. The indigenist responses and the 'Aryan Emigration Theory' 

Under these circumstances it is understandable that nationally-minded Indian 
scholars and interested laypeople, especially partisans of Hindutva, consider the 
entire AIT as questionable and racist or hegemonic and, in order to explain the 
linguistic relationship of Sanskrit with the other Indo-European languages, pro- 
pose a theory which can be called the Aryan Emigration Theory (AET). For ad- 
herents of this movement, therefore, there is no doubt that the Indian past belongs 
to the Aryas. (True, the Hindutva movement often assumes an inclusive position, 
according to which distinctions such as 'Aryan' : 'Dravidian' have been intro- 
duced by the British in the name of 'divide and conquer'; 15 but when the issue of 
the decipherment of the Indus script comes up, an Indo-Aryan interpretation is 
always preferred, and Dravidian interpretations are either rejected 16 or passed 
over in silence.) 

On the other hand, since as already indicated, many linguists still consider 
the linguistic evidence for early Dravidian substratum influence on Sanskrit to be 
valid, and since scholars such as Parpola 1994 advocate a Dravidian interpreta- 
tion of the Indus script, partisans of the Dravida movement are able to hold on to 
the AIT and hence can consider themselves the original Indians. 

5 6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

5. A critique of the 'Aryan Emigration Theory' 

For reasons of space I will limit myself in the remainder of my presentation to a 
discussion of the AET, without detailed consideration of the possible conse- 
quences for the Dravida movement. (As already mentioned, the rejection of the 
linguistic arguments for Dravidian influence on Vedic does not exclude the as- 
sumption of an Aryan immigration and of early contact between Dravidian and 
Indo- Aryan.) 

5.1 The skeletal archaeological evidence I 

First, it is important to note that archaeology not only does not offer skeletal evi- 
dence for the AIT; it also offers no evidence for the assumed AET. The latter fact 
is significant, since the AET would have to postulate repeated emigrations which 
could be expected to have left much more robust traces than an Aryan in- 
migration. 17 

To this must be added the fact that the historically attested incursions of 
Greeks, Sakas, Hunas, and various Islamic invaders likewise do not change the 
northwestern skeletal profile or even the cultural profile; see, e.g., Shaffer & 
Lichtenstein 1999:256 18 and Chakrabarti 1997:225; similarly also Dhavalikar 

Chakrabarti (1997:225) tries to explain this situation as follows: 

Looked at from this point of view, the invasions, which are considered 
foreign invasions in the study of Indian history, all originated precisely 
in this interaction area [between the Oxus and the Indus]. Geopoliti- 
cally, these invasions, inclusive of the Muslim invasions right up to the 
invasion of Nadir Shah .... can hardly be called entirely alien in the 
subcontinental context. 

Interestingly, however, Chakrabarti fails to draw the logical conclusion that an 
Aryan invasion would have had to be of the same nature. 

The evidence of the archaeology of the subcontinent thus does not con- 
tribute anything to the debate about AIT and AET. Apparently, incursions of this 
type do not leave the kind of traces that traditional archaeology would expect — 
and this expectation is perhaps again a questionable inheritance from the 19th 
century. In this context I find Ratnagar's discussion (1995:222), with reference to 
similar difficulties outside South Asia, to be especially a propos. 

5.2 Textual evidence and the AIT vs. AET i 

Proponents of the AET, however, attempt to support their theory by means of a 
number of further arguments. 

A common argument is that there is no textual evidence in the Sanskrit tra- 
dition for an in-migration to India, but that the Puranas offer support for an out- 
migration; and although the extant Puranas are quite late, it is suggested that they 
preserve Vedic traditions; see, e.g., Rajaram & Frawley 1997:233. Rajaram and 
Frawley further claim that the Zoroastrian tradition, in contrast, does recognize an 

Hans Henrich Hock: Whose past is it? 5 7 

external origin, the airiiandm vaejah. The latter suggestion goes back to Bhar- 
gava 1956 via Talageri ( 1993a: 180-1, 1993b: 140-1), and is also advocated by Elst 
( 1999a:197-8). 19 In Talageri's interpretation of Bhargava, the airiiandm vaejah 'is 
obviously Kashmir', and the next region inhabited by the Iranians is 'The Hapta 
Hindu ... obviously the Saptasindhu (the Punjab region).' Put differently, under 
this interpretation the Iranian tradition offers clear evidence, not only for an out- 
side origin, but for one inside India. 

A closer examination of the Iranian tradition (the late Avestan Videvdad 
l 20 ) shows a rather different picture (for further details see Hock 2000). The se- 
quential list of areas is as follows (with indications in the right column of the geo- 
graphical identification where such an identification is possible): 

(3) First, there is the Airiianam Vaejah of the Good Daitiia river 

Second, there is the progression: 

1. Airiianam Vaejah 

2. Gava inhabited by the Sogdians (NE, north of the Oxus) 

3. Margiana 

4. Bakhtria/Balkh r S. of the Oxus 

5. Nisay between Margiana and Bakhtria J 

6. Haroiium (Modern Herat) 

7. Vaekarata 

8. Urva 

9. Xnanta, inhabited by Hyrcanians 

10. Harax v aitl = Arachosia , The area around the 

1 1 . Haetumant modern Helmand 

12. Raga 

13. Caxra 

14. Varana 

15. Hapta Handu Ved. Sapta Sindhavah 

16. Rarjha Ved. Rasa (uncertain location) 

As can be readily seen, the first identifiable area after the airiiandm vaejah is 
'Gava inhabited by the Sogdians", which is located north of the Oxus and clearly 
outside India. The areas 3 - 11 are all located beyond the mountain ranges that 
separate the Indian subcontinent from Iranian territory. It is only toward the very 
end of the enumeration, when we get to Hapta Handu and the Rarjha, that we 
arrive at the Vedic horizon and, in the case of Hapta Handu, in a clearly identifi- 
able part of India. 

Whatever the intended meaning of this list of areas may have been, then, the 
one least likely to be correct is the one advocated by Talageri, Rajaram & 
Frawley, and Elst. If anything, it might suggest an origin yet farther north of the 
Oxus than 'Gava inhabited by the Sogdians' — unless Gnoli (1989:38-51) is 
right in assuming that the airiiandm vaejah was a priestly invention 'to place 
their Prophet at the centre of the world'. 

In fact, no early Indo-European tradition offers references to an external 
origin, except for the Roman attempt at a dynastic self-derivation from Troy. The 

5 8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

assumption of immigration of, say, the Greeks, or of the Anatolians, rather goes 
back to the same linguists who have produced the AIT. Why then should we give 
credence to the 'Greek or Anatolian Invasion Theory', but not the AIT? 

Just like the evidence of archaeology, the absence of credible references to 
outside origin in the various early Indo-European textual traditions contributes 
nothing that would help resolve the AIT vs. AET debate. 

5.3 The river Sarasvati 

A second argument for the AET is connected with the river Sarasvati. Rajaram ( 
1995 claims that a catastrophic desiccation of the Sarasvati around 1900 BC 
caused the demise of the 'Indus-Sarasvati' Civilization. Since the Sarasvati is one 
of the most important Vedic rivers, and since one Rig-Vedic hymn (see 4) men- 
tions its flowing to the sea, it is assumed that the Vedic tradition in South Asia 
goes back to a time before 1900 BC, that it thus is contemporary and identical 
with the Indus Civilization, and that therefore there can be no truth to an ATT af- 
ter the collapse of this civilization. 

(4) ekacetat sarasvati nadinam sucir yati girfbhya a samudrat I 

rayas cetanti bhuvanasya bhurer ghrtarh payo duduhe nahusaya II 
(RV 7:95:2) 

'Pure in her stream, from the mountain to the sea, filled with bounteous 
abundance for the worlds, nourishing with her flow the children of 
Nahusa.' (Rajarams translation; emphasis supplied) 

Now, it is indeed true that the Sarasvati is one of the most important Vedic 
rivers. It is also true that one hymn (see 4) mentions its flowing to a samudra. And 
it is further true that samudra in later Sanskrit means 'sea, ocean'. Beyond these 
facts, however, there are numerous problems with Rajaram's hypothesis; and 
some of these are fatal. 

It is, first of all, doubtful whether the date of 1900 B.C. for the Sarasvati 
desiccation is correct. Rajaram (1995:xvi) simply claims that the 'dates found in 
Indian publications' are underestimates — without furnishing any evidence for 
this claim, except for the additional claim that astronomical evidence argues for 
much earlier dates. 21 Mughal, whose excavations laid the foundation for the in- 
sight that a large number of Indus-Civilization settlements are situated in the pre- 
sent-day Hakra, a remnant of the former Sarasvati, finds evidence for a slow dry- 
ing-up process which was completed only toward the end of the second or the 
beginning of the first millennium B.C., and believes that it is this final desiccation . 
which 'forced the people to abandon most of the Hakra flood plain' (1993:94). 22 | 
Possehl's recent extensive discussion (2000:462-84, with references to earlier 
and divergent views) recognizes multiple alignments and realignments of rivers in 
the area, which I believe makes it difficult to be certain as to what is the Sarasvati, 
at what time, and where. The area of heaviest settlement along the putative 
Sarasvati continues to be settled into the second millennium, or even to its end. In 
both Mughal's and Possehl's account, there is no evidence for a 'catastrophic' 

Hans Henrich Hock: Whose past is it? 5 9 

desiccation. To support his proposed date of 1900 B.C., Rajaram would have to 
provide explicit and convincing evidence that falsifies these observations. 

Possehl (2000:372) further notes that There is no direct, physical evidence 
to suggest that the Sarasvati ever flowed uninterrupted to the Arabian Sea'. 
Rather, there is evidence for 'an inland delta in the vicinity of Fort Derawar . . . 
that can be sustained on the scene by anyone with a knowledgeable eye. An- 
other delta feature can be seen on landsat imagery.' The area was 'densely settled 
during Hakra Wares times as well as during the Mature Harappan' (373). Possehl 
concludes that this inland delta 'suggests that all, or most, of the Sarasvati's water 
was "sopped up" in this area where it would have been used for intensive agri- 
culture and pastoralism', but that not enough water would have remained for a 
flow beyond the delta area and 'through to the Eastern Nara' (373). Under the 
circumstances, we must consider that the meaning 'ocean, sea' (in the modern 
sense) may be inappropriate for the samudra of example (4) above. Support for 
this view comes from the fact that the Pali outcome of the word, samudda, means 
not only 'sea' but also 'large river' (Hock 1999b). Similarly, there is Senanayake 
Samudra, an inland LAKE in Sri Lanka (Gal Oya National Park) and at least one 
other Sri Lankan Samudra lake (Pariskrama (?) Samudra near Polonnaruwa). Fur- 
ther, there are Jai Samand and Raj Samand. artificial lakes in Rajasthan, where 
Samand looks like a regional, simplified variant of samundr, samandr, the 
Hindi/Panjabi reflexes of Skt. samudra. These facts suggest that the samudra of 
(4) may have referred to an inland lake at the end of the Derawar delta. The pas- 
sage in (4) thus cannot be considered to provide incontrovertible evidence that 
the Sarasvati flowed to the sea in Vedic times. 

Further problems for Rajaram' s hypothesis arise from the availability of an 
alternative hypothesis according to which some of the Vedic references to the 
Sarasvati — including possibly the present one — may refer to East Iranian terri- 
tory (Witzel 1995b:343). In that area, 23 we find a river Harax v aitl (Avestan) or 
Harauvati (Old Persian) — a perfect cognate of Skt. Sarasvati — now called Hel- 
mand, which flows into a large inland salt lake (Hamun-i Helmand or Daryache-ye 
Sistan). If the 'East Iranian hypothesis' is correct, 24 it may be this lake that corre- 
sponds to the samudra of our text (Hock 1999b). We thus cannot even be certain 
that the Sarasvati or the samudra of the passage in (4) are to be located in the In- 
dian subcontinent. 

The 'East Iranian hypothesis' of course implies a transfer of the river name 
Sarasvati from Eastern Iran to South Asia, i.e., from west to east. The transfer 
could have been motivated by the fact that, like the Indian Sarasvati, the Avestan 
Harax v aiti is a holy river that Hows into an inland lake. Moreover, the spread 
would be paralleled by that of several other river names with cognates both in 
Eastern Iran and South Asia. Consider the Gumal in Afghanistan (< *gaumati), a 
western tributary of the Sindhu, and the Gom(a)ti of Uttar Pradesh, a tributary of 
the Ganga (beside a Gomti Creek near Dwarka and a Gumti in Bangladesh). Or 
consider the *Harayu contained in the Haroiium 'Herat' of example (3) and the 
modern river name Hari Rud (< *Sarayu) and the Rig-Vedic Sarayu, or its modern 
counterpart Saiju, the name of rivers in Nepal/Uttar Pradesh (tributary of the 

6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

Ghaghra and in Pithoragarh district (tributary of the Ramganga, which in turn is 
part of the Ghaghara system, and also contained in Chhoti Sarju (Uttar Pradesh 
between Ghaghara and Gomti). (See also Witzel 1995a: 105.) 

There are many other examples within South Asia of the transfer of river 
names from west to east, such as the Ghaggar/Ghaaghar of the Panjab, a relic of 
the old Indian Sarasvati, beside the Ghaghara/Ghaghra in Uttar Pradesh, 25 or the 
Sindh(u), of the Panjab beside a Sind(h) which runs from the Vindhyas to the Ya- 
muna, 26 and the Yamuna/Jamna of the Doab, which finds an eastern counterpart, 
in the Jamuna of modern Bangladesh. 27 ' 

The eastern extension of river names also agrees with the eastern expansion 
of Indo-Aryan civilization, as it is attested by the Vedic texts. Even the late 
Satapatha-Brahmana (1:4:1:14-16) still mentions an eastern extension of the 
brahmins, beyond the Sadanira, which they did not use to cross before. 28 

Even more interesting in the present context, the name Sarasvati, too, has 
spread farther east, to West Bengal. But in addition, it is also found farther south 
and southeast than the Vedic Sarasvati: A Saurashtrian Saraswati flows into the 
Arabian Sea (after forming a triveni tirtha with the Hiran and Kapil); another 
Saraswati is found in Madhya Pradesh, near Mandla (forming a triveni tirtha with 
the Banjar and Narmada); a Saraswati Nadi, tributary of the Luni, flows near 
Pushkar (another tirtha); and there is also a Saraswati near Palampur, west of 
Sabarmati, which flows into the Little Rann. Perhaps significantly, most of these 
Sarasvatis are associated with tirthas and thus share the element of holiness with 
the Vedic Sarasvati. 

The existence of Sarasvatis not only to the east but also to the south and 
southeast of the Vedic Sarasvati further provides support for the view that in 
South Asia the name did indeed fan out from the relatively northwestern Rig- 
Vedic area, in so far as the Vedic Sarasvati is the earliest and holiest of the rivers 
and thus is more likely to have been the source for naming the other rivers than 
the other way around. 

Basically, then, the evidence of river names and their spread argues in favor 
of an expansion to the east and against the western expansion postulated by the 
AET. This is certainly true for within South Asia; but given the general west-to- 
east direction of the spread, it also is eminently compatible with the hypothesis 
that the Iranian-Indian river-name cognates result from a similar west-to-east 

5.4 The 'horse culture complex' I 

AIT proponents find support for their theory in the expansion of horse domestica- 
tion, of the horse-drawn two-wheeled battle chariot, and of the religious signifi- 
cance of horse and battle chariot (see, above all, Anthony & Brown 1991), 29 and 
above all in the fact that all three features play a prominent role in early Vedic, as 
well as in Avestan. 30 Clear traces of horses, by contrast, are at best limited to the 
latest stages 31 of the Indus civilization (Dhavalikar 1997, Chengappa 1998, as 
well as Ratnagar 1999) and on the periphery of the Indus Civilization, in Pirak, 

Hans Henrich Hock: Whose past is it? 6 1 

near the Bolan Pass, and in Swat, near the Khyber Pass (Kenoyer 1995:226-7, 
Kennedy 1995:46) — i.e., in areas that would have been first affected by an in- 
migration. 32 And up to now, no certain indications of two-wheeled battle chariots 
and the religious significance of horses and battle chariots have been discovered 
in the Indus Civilization. 

Adherents of the AET attempt to counter this argument with the claim that 
traces of horses can be found already during the Indus Civilization period and 
even earlier. Thus Misra (1992:58) states, "... the evidence of horse in the form of 
terracotta figures or equine bones have [sic] proved that there is a greater possi- 
bility for considering the Indus Valley civilization to be Aryan'. 

Sethna 1992 and Singh 1995 make even stronger claims. Sethna points to 
signs of the Indus script, which in his view represent spoked wheels, and to an 
Indus symbol that he considers proof of the use of such wheels (1992:51, 173), 
and he gives a depiction of an alleged horse figure (419-20). Singh (1995:169) 
further adds 'wheeled objects including toys' as proof for the use of 'carts and 
chariots with spoked wheels'. 

But there are numerous problems with these claims. First, the only uncon- 
troversial horse figures (Misra) that have been unearthed are the ones that come 
from the periphery of the latest Indus stages in Pirak. Sethna offers an apparently 
earlier image of what he claims is a horse figure, and Possehl (2000:189) repro- 
duces several other examples of such claimed horse figures. Possehl is no doubt 
correct in admitting that they 'seem to represent some form of equid', but adding 
that 'they are not sufficiently realistic in their rendering of an animal that one 
could distinguish Equus hemionus from E. caballus. Jha & Rajaram, (2000:177) 
to be sure, offer an 'artist's reproduction' of a reconstituted 'Horse Seal'; but 
comparison of the original seal with their reproduction/reconstitution has been 
met with extensive, and as far as I can see, justified criticism on the Indology List 
and elsewhere; see for instance Steve Farmer (7/24/00, 9:31, 9:37, 9:41 p.m.), 
Witzel (7/25/00, 1:40 a.m.), both on the Indology List. 33 

As for the 'equine bones', Chengappa 1998 points out that it is impossible 
to be certain whether they come from hemiones (i.e., onagers) or from true horses. 
Possehl (2000:185-9) similarly argues that, given the fragmented nature of bone 
remains, it is difficult to determine whether fragments belong to the hemione/ 
onager — which is indigenous to India — or to the true horse — which is not. 

Sethna admits that the 'spoked wheel' symbol of the Indus script can be in- 
terpreted in a different way — one might for instance consider the 'spoked 
wheel' to be a symbol for the year and its six seasons. Moreover, the so-called 
spoked wheels are not always round but may be oval, a fact that diminishes their 

Sethna further admits (173) that the correctness of his rendition of the sec- 
ond symbol has been doubted (apparently one of the two 'wheels' in the draw- 
ing, which he has taken over from somebody else, is missing in the original). 
Much more important is the fact that where there is enough evidence for judg- 

6 2 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

merit, the so-called 'chariots' of the Indus Civilization turn out to be ox-drawn 
carts and not battle chariots drawn by horses. 

In fact, it is remarkable that the Indus Civilization does not offer clear traces 
of horses (except for skeletal evidence in the latest stages). For many other ani- 
mals, including various kinds of bovine animals, buffaloes, lions, tigers, and even 
elephants, the Indus Civilization offers not only skeletal evidence but also many 
figurines and graphic depictions (see the survey in Possehl 2000:173-230). 
Moreover, even if incontrovertible evidence for horses should be found, what is 
conspicuously absent in the artifacts and iconography of the Indus Civilization is ' 
the cultural and religious 'horse culture complex' of the Vedas and of early Indo- 
European. Given the rich attestation for other animals and other cultural artifacts 
and iconography, this cannot simply be due to accident. 34 And as long as these 
facts do not change, we must continue with the assumption that in this respect 
the Vedic and Indus civilizations differed so much that there can be no question 
of an identity between the two. 

5.5 More differences between the Vedic and Indus civilizations 

This assumption is supported by further facts. As is well known, Vedic culture 
also differed from the Indus Civilization by being oral, not written (Falk 1993). 
The wide-spread Hindutva or Hindu-nationalist view that the Indus script is to be 
interpreted as Indo- Aryan and that Vedic culture therefore was a written one is, at 
best, moderno-centric, in that it is considered inconceivable that such a developed 
linguistic culture as the Vedic one could have been able to function without 
writing. Moreover, under this view, the oral features of Vedic tradition, such as 
the multiple 'backup' versions of the texts (Sarhhita, Padapatha, and various 
krama-versions) and the complete lack of allusions to writing in the entire Vedic 
tradition must be implicitly considered a colossal scam by the brahmins who main- 
tained the tradition. I would not be prepared to make such a judgment. (See also 
Hock 1999b.) 

Further, Vedic culture, in contrast to the Indus Civilization, was not urban- 
ized and perhaps not even completely sedentary. As Rau (1957, 1976) shows, 
based on Vedic testimony, even the word grama, which later means 'village', 
seems to have meant only something like 'clan, tribe' in the Vedic tradition. Con- 
sider also the expression samgrama 'conflict, battle', whose meaning is best de- 
rived from sam- 'together, coming together' and grama 'clan, tribe', as the 
'coming together or clash of clans/tribes'. 

Finally, the Vedas offer testimony for extensive hostile interaction of thei 
Aryas with the Dasas/Dasyus as well as amongst each other, and also for the fre-' 
quent destruction of hostile purs. As mentioned earlier, evidence for murder and 
mayhem in the Indus Civilization is chronologically and areally extremely limited 
— which is why the earlier assumption of a destruction of the civilization by the 
Aryas is generally rejected by the scholarly community. The AET adherents have 
appropriated this finding and are trying to refute the ATr by means of it — with- 
out realizing that exactly the dearth of evidence for hostile destruction in the In- 

Hans Henrich Hock: Whose past is it? 6 3 

dus Civilization argues against identification of this civilization with the Vedic 

Altogether, the differences between Vedic and Indus civilization favor the 
traditional ATT and not the nationalistically motivated counter-hypothesis of an 

In a recent electronic review, Koenraad Elst 1 999b tries to avoid this diffi- 
culty with the assumption that the Vedic tradition was not contemporary with the 
Indus Civilization, but must be posited PRIOR to that civilization. 35 This hypothe- 
sis would be able to explain the oral and non-urbanized nature of the Vedic tradi- 
tion, but it would certainly fail because of the 'horse argument'. If Elst were cor- 
rect, we would have to make the counterintuitive assumption (a petitio principii) 
that the pre-Indus Civilization knew horses, horse-drawn two-wheeled battle 
chariots, and the religious significance of horses, that for unknown reasons the 
entire horse culture complex later was lost in the Indus Civilization, and that only 
at a later stage (in the final stages of the Indus Civilization) were horses reintro- 
duced. 36 

In fact, the evidence of the 'horse culture complex" strongly favors the AIT. 
As Anthony & Brown 1991 show, the domestication of horses took place only at 
about the beginning of the 4th millennium BC, in the present-day Ukraine; and 
Anthony 1990 convincingly demonstrates that the words for the horse culture 
complex are semantically deeply moored in Indo-European. To this must be 
added that the first signs for horse culture in Mesopotamia apparently coincide 
with the first signs of Indo-European linguistic groups — about the beginning of 
the 2nd century BC. These facts suggest that horse culture in general was spread 
by speakers of Indo-European languages from the Ukrainian area of origination, 
and these languages also included Indo-Aryan or Indo-Iranian. 

Such an expansion from the Ukraine would be easily compatible with the 
arguments in Hock 1999a, that the dialectal relationships of the Indo-European 
languages can be best explained in terms of origination somewhere in the large 
area between eastern Central Europe and the Urals. In a recent argument, which 
is not yet accessible to me, 37 Koenraad Elst tries to pinpoint the Indo-European 
original homeland South Asia, by adapting a theory proposed by Gamkrelidze in 
Ivanov 1994 in the interest of their Caucasus homeland hypothesis, according to 
which the dialectal relations of the Indo-European languages are to be explained 
by means of migrations. At best, Elst in this way succeeds in proposing an alterna- 
tive solution; but the question arises not only why this one should be preferred to 
that of Gamkrelidze and Ivanov. but also whether other, non-Caucasus, non- 
South Asia original homes could be proposed along the same lines of reasoning, 
and based on which criteria we should prefer one of these theories to the others. 
Moreover it seems to me that historical cases of similar migrations, such as that of 
the West Greeks in ancient Greece, did not produce the kind of dialectological 
layering that we find in early Indo-European. Finally, as far as I can see, Elst's 
counter-hypothesis cannot be reconciled with the evidence for an expansion of 
Indo-European horse culture from the Ukraine. 38 

6 4 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

6. Conclusion 

After all this, what remains in order to answer the question whether the Indian 
past belongs to the Hindu or Dravidian nationalists? 

One great difficulty is presented by the fact that archaeology does not offer 
any clear evidence, either for the AIT or for the AET, and not even for the histori- 
cally attested, multiple later immigrations or invasions into South Asia — at least 
when we limit ourselves to the evidence of skeletal types and general cultural 
tradition. As indicated earlier, incursions of this sort apparently do not leave the | 
kind of traces that traditional archeology would expect. 

The evidence so far advanced for Dravidian substratum influence on Vedic 
and for an assumption that the Dravidians were the original inhabitants is not 
probative. This does of not mean of course that there has been no early or prehis- 
toric contact between the two linguistic groups. As in a court case based on cir- 
cumstantial evidence, the non-existence of probative arguments means no more 
than an absence of probative arguments. New facts or theories could easily 
change the picture. For instance, I have proposed (Hock 1996b) that the devel- 
opment of the contrast dental : retroflex (± alveolar) represents a convergent in- 
novation in Dravidian, Indo- Aryan, and partly also in East Iranian. If correct, this 
theory would suggest at least indirect contact between Dravidian and Indo- 

Even if this theory should not be accepted, this does not in any way affect 
the question whether the Dravidians represent the original inhabitants of South 
Asia, for even a priori it would be possible that the Dravidians immigrated from 
the outside. In this respect the various attempts to connect Dravidian with 
Elamite or Uralic are of special interest; see, e.g., MacAlpin 1974, 1981, and Tyler 

The cultural differences between the Vedic and Indus civilizations and the 
evidence for expansion of the Indo-European and also Vedic horse culture com- 
plex from the Ukraine raise questions about the Hindutva thesis that all Hindus, 
whether Aryan or Dravidian, are original in India; and they also make dubious the 
thesis, maintained not only by Hindutva partisans, that the AIT is untenable and 
that Vedic culture is identical with that of the Indus Civilization. (The skepticism, 
however, of Hindu nationalists regarding the racial and racist interpretations of 
Vedic texts in the western Indology of the 19th and early 20th centuries is fully 

We can thus conclude that the ATT is preferable to the AET. But this con-| 
elusion is justified only as long as there is no change in our knowledge of Indo- 
European civilization and expansion, or of the Indus Civilization. If, e.g., a deci- 
pherment of the Indus script should receive the same general acceptance as that 
of Linear B or Mayan writing, and if based on this decipherment the language of 
the Indus Civilization should turn out to be unambiguously Indo-Aryan, then our 
conclusions would of course have to be completely revised. 

Hans Henrich Hock: Whose past is it? 6 5 

All serious interpretations of the early and prehistory of South Asia that 
have been proposed so far are, after all, at best scientific hypotheses that differ 
only in the degree of their probability. Faced with the often tense political situa- 
tion in India as regards Hindutva and Dravida self-identification, it is, I believe, 
proper to remember the hypothetical nature of these hypotheses. It would be im- 
proper to impute to these hypotheses an unwarranted reality that justifies one or 
another group's claim to being autochthonous. And it would be even less proper 
to derive from this claim an entitlement for one group to oppose or exclude other 
groups. If the now current hypothesis remains viable that all of humanity has its 
origin in Africa, then all Eurasians (and Americans) in the last analysis are immi- 
grants and not authochthonous. 


* This is an expanded English version of Hock [Forthcomming b]. 

1 The blame for laying the foundation for Nazism or worse, giving direct support 
to it, does not rest solely with philologists, linguists, and anthropologists (as 
claimed by authors such as Riencourt 1986 or Poliakov 1971). Goodrick-Clarke 
1985 and Liitt 1987 show that another important factor was a break-away. 
'Ariosophisf branch of Theosophy which took as a starting point for its racist 
ideology the Theosophist theory of an Out-of-India migration of various 'Arians'. 
among whom the Semites, especially the Jews, were considered the despised caste 
of Candalas. (Interestingly, Thapar 1999a:20, with ref., speculates that the The- 
osophists' views on Aryans as the indigenous race of northern India and their 
identification of 'Aryan' and 'Hindu' 'could well have influenced Hindutva 

2 Exeptions are the contributions by Mehendale and Mukherjee. 

3 Interestingly, there are attempts in Pakistan to align the languages of the coun- 
try with Dravidian; see above all Faridkoti 1992, and the less extreme view in 
Rahman n.d. 

4 A further development is that of the Dalits, which will be briefly discussed fur- 
ther below. 

5 As far as I know, this interpretation goes back to Zimmer 1879. While the view 
still lurks around in many linguistic and historical publications (see the references 
in Hock 1999b), it is necessary to note that Murray B. Emeneau, one of the main 
proponents of the thesis of a Dravidian substratum in Vedic, does not accept the 
racial interpretation (personal communication 1995). 

6 Arooran and Pillay provide only vague references to scholars who advocate 
such an opinion. In general, it is remarkable that reports which 1 have seen about 
Dravida-nationalists such as Annadurai and Periyar have nothing to say about 
the early history in the north, but give the appearance that the contrast Aryan : 
Dravidian is limited to more recent history, and above all to South India. On the 
other hand I have found that the AIT and a belief in the Dravidians as the 

6 6 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

autochthonous people of India have adherents among Dravidian scholars. When 
in a talk at Pondicherry in 1987 I stated the opinion that Dravidian influence on 
Vedic cannot be considered established, a professor at the newly founded local 
Tamil university stormed out of the hall, shouting that Professor Emeneau has 
proved Dravidian influence and that to doubt this theory constitutes an insult to 
Dravidian identity. 

7 Adherents of the Dalit movement also tend to accept the ATT and a racial differ- 
ence between Aryans and authochthonous peoples, but often do not deal with' 
the question of the indigenous language(s); see already Phule 1873:xxix-xxx 
(Preface) and see also, e.g., Carvalho 1975. Biswas 1995 likewise starts out from 
the AIT, but assumes that the Aryan invaders communicated only with 'voice of 
sound-value' (2-3), that their Sanskrit language was artificially developed from 
indigenous Prakrits (35), that indigenous Prakrit speakers in reaction to the Aryan 
invasion spread to Iran and there founded the Zoroastrian tradition [!] (135), and 
that the Dravidian languages rather belong to the south (202). Biswas's assump- 
tion that the Indus script was retained among the [Munda] Santals at the Bihar- 
Bengal border (13-34), might indicate that for him the Indus Civilization also in- 
cluded Munda speakers; but he does not say anything further about this matter. 

8 RV lingala, for instance, is more likely a Munda/Austric word. But note that its 
presence in the Rig-Veda does not, strictly speaking, constitute compelling evi- 
dence for direct contact with speakers of Munda languages, since words can be 
borrowed through intermediaries, as in the case of Engl, sugar and candy which, 
though ultimately derived from Skt. sarkara and khanda, came into English via 
Persian, Arabic, and Mediterranean mediation. 

9 This holds true too for the recent claim by Jha & Rajaram 2000 to have success- 
fully deciphered the script and to have identified the language as sutra-period 
Sanskrit. One of the fundamental problems of this proposal has been noted in a 
number of recent contributions to the Indology List, especially by Michael Witzel 
and Steve Farmer (see the Indology Discussion Archives at,gy.html) : 
Even if Jha & Rajaram should be correct in their phonetic interpretation of the 
Indus signs, the decipherment leaves far too much latitude for interpretation in 
that it postulates a single sign for all vowel-initial aksaras and assumes that vow- 
els elsewhere are left unindicated. A sequence of V (= any vowel) + p (= p fol- 
lowed by any vowel) therefore could designate Skt. upa, apa, api, apo, apo. 
Moreover, since Jha & Rajaram assume that inflectional endings often are not. 
written out, the same sequence could additionally be read as apih and all other 
inflected forms of the word, all inflected forms of ap- 'water' — or even as Engl. 
up or ape. Especially disconcerting is the fact that many of the proposed Sanskrit 
interpretations are not well-formed Sanskrit. For instance, Jha & Rajaram offer a 
reading isadyattah marah which they interpret to mean 'Mara (forces of destruc- 
tion) controlled by Ishvara', referring 'to the cosmic cycle of creation and de- 
struction.' By way of grammatical explanation they add that "Yattah is derived 
from the root 'yam', meaning to control ...' (2000:167-8). Setting aside faulty 

Hans Henrich Hock: Whose past is it? 6 7 

transcriptions such as isad for intended isad, we can observe at least two viola- 
tions of rather elementary facts about Sanskrit structure. One of these is the im- 
plicit assumption that the ablative case (isad) can be used to designate the agent 
of a passive construction with the participle yata 'controlled' (the correct case is 
the instrumental). The other is the belief that consonant doubling applied freely in 
Vedic and thus could also apply to single consonants between vowels (hence 
yatta can be read as a variant of yata- 'controlled'), whereas the Vedic 
pratisakhyas agree on permitting such doubling only in consonant groups (as in 
attra for atra 'here'). 

10 See also Southworth 1995. 

11 The following discussion draws on Hock 1999b, which should be consulted for 
further details. 

12 Hindutva adherents likewise tend toward this interpretation (see above all Ra- 
jaram & Frawley 1997:63-7). However, these authors do not support their view 
through careful philological (re-)examination of the relevant Rig- Vedic passages. 
Recently, Thapar (1999a:34-5) has come to a similar conclusion, based on the fact 
that Sayana's commentary 'explains the term tvacam krsnam ... as a reference to 
the name of an asura and there is no mention of skin pigmentation'. 

13 Similarly, Thapar 1999b presents detailed documentation that even after 
Mahmud of Ghazni's destruction of the Somanatha temple in 1026, local relations 
between Hindus, Jains, and Muslims remained quite amicable, and a Muslim, Vo- 
hara Farid, on behalf of the local ruler, Brahmadeva, helped defend the town of 
Somanatha against an attack by the Turks. 

14 This fact probably will run into opposition among the more radical elements of 
the Hindutva movement, since they assume an irreconcilable difference between 
Islam and Hinduism. Most of the Hindutva publications discussed here, to be sure, 
do not openly express this attitude. (Golwalkar at one point even acknowledges 
Shivaji's Muslim army officer Ranadulla Khan (1996:131). But elsewhere 
(1996:125-6) he asks whether Muslims and Christians 'feel that they are the chil- 
dren of this land and its tradition, and that to serve it is their great good fortune? 
Do they feel it a duty to serve her?', and his answer is an emphatic 'No! Together 
with the change in their faith, gone is the spirit of love and devotion to the na- 

A major exception to the general reticence on the issue of Hinduism and Is- 
lam (or Christianity) are the three chapters of Section I in Talageri 1993a, which 
contain an extensive diatribe against the foreign, colonialist invader religions of 
Islam and Christianity, which moreover are characterized as 'Semitic' (e.g.. p. 42) 
— an unfortunate choice ol' terminology at best (which is incidentally not limited 
to Talageri). The possible objection that the Syrian church of Southern India is 
pre-colonial and was not introduced by invaders, is rejected as 'the Christian ca- 
nard that it was not European invaders, but an 'apostle' of Jesus Christ, who first 
introduced Christianity into India." (p. 17) (While the claim that the disciple Tho- 
mas brought Christianity to Southern India is of course apocryphal, this does not 

6 8 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

invalidate the fact that Syrian Christianity was introduced in the first millennium 
A.D., before Islam and long before western colonialist rule.) 

In one of his early publications, Elst goes even as far as comparing Islam to 
Nazism (1991:224-6). 

See also the indirect reference to the Hindu-Muslim divide in the citation 
from Jarrige 1994 by the national-communist Singh 1995: 

Before the Muslim invasions and to be more precise the Mughal con- 
quest of India, depictions of Indian kings or rulers trampling enemies, j 
hunting wild enemies or diffusing their own glorified image all over 
their kingdom or any other symbol of their authority, are almost un- 

It is of course true that the Islamic invasions and conquest, especially in the 
early stages, were accompanied by destruction, rape, and other horrors; but such 
behavior was not at all limited to Muslims. The complete destruction of Kalinga 
by Emperor Asoka is well known from his 13th Rock Edict: 150,000 were de- 
ported, 100,000 were slain, and even greater was the number of those who died; 
among the latter were also brahmins and monks. In similar manner Indra III de- 
stroyed the yard of the Kalapriya temple in the early 10th century and completely 
devastated the city of Mahodaya (see the quote in Willis 1993:59). 

15 See, e.g., Golwalkar 1996:114-15; Jha & Rajaram 2000:9-10 w. note 5. But as 
pointed out by Trautmann 1999 with ref., the British orientalists were themselves 
originally divided on whether the Dravidian languages can be derived from San- 
skrit (the Calcutta position) or whether they are a separate group, not related (or 
relatable) to Sanskrit (the Madras position). The linguistic evidence soon settled 
the issue in favor of the Madras position — pace (Jha and) Rajaram. 

16 E.g., Jha & Rajaram 2000:9-10. 

17 Further problems are pointed out in Hock 1999a. 

18 'an identifiable cultural tradition has continued, an Indo-Gangetic Tradition ... 
linking diverse social entities which span a time period from the beginning of 
food production in the seventh millennium BC to the present.' 

19 Without reference to either Talageri or Bhargava. 

20 A shorter version is found in Yast 10. 

21 On the questionable nature of Rajaram 's astronomical claim see Hock 1999b 
and MS (which adds to and supersedes Hock 1999b). Kak's proposed Rig-Vedic 
numerical code (1994) which supposedly provides further evidence for the astro-, 
nomical dating of the Vedic texts must be met with great caution and skepticism' 
in light of the recently published scientific critique of a similar numerical code 
proposed for the Jewish Bible (McKay et al. 1999). 

22 Similarly Possehl & Raval 1989:20-4. 

23 See the areas 10 and 1 1 in (3) above. 

Hans Henrich Hock: Whose past is it? 6 9 

24 The discussion in Macdonnell & Keith (1912, svv. Sarasvati and Divodasa) 
shows that the hypothesis has not been accepted by most early Indologists; but 
Witzel 1995b resurrects it with partly new arguments. 

25 There is also a Ghaghar Nadi in Eastern UP (tributary of the Son) and a Ghagra 
in UP, tributary of the Sarda, which in turn is a tributary of the Ghaghara. 

26 Note further the Kali Sindh of Madhya Pradesh/Rajasthan (tributary of the 
Chambal), the Sindhu Khola (Nepal; a tributary of the Indrawati which in turn 
flows to the Sun Kosi; Khola = River), and the Landay Sind (Afghanistan, 
tributrary of the Darya-ye Konar, which flows into the Kabul). 

27 Other Yamunas/Jamnas, etc., are found in Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar (near 
Bodh-gaya and near Dhanbad), Uttar Pradesh (near Jhansi), Nepal (near Bihar). 
Gangas are found throughout South Asia, including the Buri Ganga of Nepal 
(tributary of the Seti), Bangangas in Nepal and Rajasthan, the Wain-Gahga and 
Pen-Gahga in Madhya Pradesh und Maharashtra, the Panch Ganga and Dudh 
Ganga of Maharashtra, and the Manawali Ganga in Sri Lanka. 

28 Talageri 1993, to be sure, assumes a reverse expansion to the west, based on 
the names of Vedic seers as they are given in the later tradition. But when the 
later tradition is in conflict with the early Vedic textual evidence, it is methodol- 
ogically sounder to rely on the latter. 

29 There is, to be sure, a certain controversy on the question whether these fea- 
tures belong to the time before or after the departure of the Anatolians; see the 
discussion and references in Hock & Joseph 1996:514-5. But this does not 
change the fact that the features are found in Indo-Iranian. (A renewed reading of 
Melchert 1985 convinces me that the linguistic evidence of the Anatolian lan- 
guages does not create an obstacle to the assumption that the domestication of 
the horse took place before the departure of these languages.) 

30 For Avestan, see, e.g., radaestd 'standing on the chariot' = 'warrior (caste)'. 

31 Dhavalikar's conclusion that the horses and chariots of this later period are to 
be attributed to an Aryan 'infiltration' is however not a necessary one. The pos- 
sibility of indirect commercial contact cannot be excluded. I find this especially 
likely in the case of the late horse figurines from Pirak which, to me, have a (late) 
Indus Civilization character and thus seem to represent an integration of a new 
element into the existing Indus tradition. The case is different for the horse burials 
in Swat, which seem to be culturally quite different from Indus practices and thus 
may well reflect the arrival of a new culture group. 

32 Singh (1997:57-8) attempts to reduce the value of this fact by denying the im- 
portance of the horse in Vedic culture and claiming that asva at first means 
'donkey' and, in this meaning and form, has wide-spread parallels in other Indo- 
European languages, such as Old Engl, assa/assen, Goth, asilus ... Lith. asilas, 
Gael, asal, Welsh asyn, Lat. asinus, words which he derives from asva (fn. 4). In 
addition he claims that the words for horse, with few exceptions, do not concern 
its speed and then contradicts himself with the claim that "all the synonyms of 

7 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

horse — vaji, haya, hari, paidva, sapti, arva, maya, atya, vahni — denote either 
its carriage capability or superiority in speed in comparison to other animals.' 
Elsewhere (especially 62-3) he proposes that the horse is indeed imported from 
outside — by the Vedic Aryans, whom he identifies with the Harappans. Con- 
cerning the linguistic value of Singh's suggestions, it is to be noted that the 
European words for 'donkey' all are direct or indirect loans from Lat. asinus, 
which in turn appears to be of 'Mediterranean' origin. Words that are genuinely 
related are of the type Lat. equus, Goth, aihwa- 'horse'; the sand the a-vowelsi 
of Skt. asva are the result of specifically Indo-Iranian or Indo- Aryan innovations. 

33 It is irrelevant for present purposes whether Jha & Rajaram's reproduc- 
tion/reconstitution was a 'hoax', as claimed by many of their detractors, or simply 
a case of being misled by an excessive zeal to prove the existence of horses in the 
mature Indus Civilization. 

34 Elst (1999a: 182) tries to account for this fact by assuming that there was a ta- 
boo on horses. But without supporting evidence, this account must be consid- 
ered a petitio principii. 

35 Similar claims are found in most other recent Hindutva accounts. 

36 Moreover, the chronology implicit in Elst's hypothesis causes difficulties. The 
Vedas would have to be placed before the early 3rd millennium BC, the approxi- 
mate beginning of the Indus Civilization. Since the Vedic tradition exhibits lin- 
guistic and other developments that must have taken several hundred years, the 
beginning of the tradition would have to be set to at least the middle of the 4th 
millennium. In order to explain the great linguistic differences between Vedic and 
the other, related languages, and the differences of all these languages from the 
Indo-European proto-language at least another millennium would be required. 
(The current view is rather that two millennia are necessary: from the early 4th 
millennium to the first attestations of the individual languages at the beginning of 
the 2nd millennium.) In this manner, then, we would get at least to the middle of 
the 5th millennium. This time, however, and the assumption of a South Asian 
original home are incompatible with the fact that according to archaeological evi- 
dence the domestication of the horse took place only in the early 4th millennium, 
and in the present-day Ukraine. To justify his hypothesis, Elst would have to be 
able to furnish clear and uncontrovertible evidence for an earlier domestication of 
the horse in South Asia. 

37 Up to now, his claims have come to my attention only through the discussion 
by Edwin Bryant in the manuscript of his soon-to-be-published monography on| 
the AIT. 

38 For reasons of place I limit myself to the above remarks on the Indo- 
Europeanist issues regarding the AIT/AET and refer to Hock 1999a for further 

Hans Henrich Hock: Whose past is it? 7 1 


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ZIMMER, Heinrich. \%19.Altindisches Leben. Berlin: Weidmann. 

Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 2 (Fall 2000) 


Jung-Min Jo 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

In this paper. I argue that there is do (ha) -support in Korean, 
which is strong evidence that verbal inflectional elements are 
independently projected as formatives in syntactic structure. Pointing 
out that ambiguities shown in so-called 'VP-focus' constructions 
containing *ha-' result from structural ambiguities, this paper has 
reinterpreted 'ha-' either as being one of 'VP-focus' in which case it 
functions as a main verb, or as being one of 'event-focus' in which case 
it functions as a dummy verb to spell out the XP left behind by XP 
localization. Focusing on various 'event-focus' constructions, this 
paper argues that under the 'Ha-support' analysis and the assumption 
that verbal roots as well as verbal inflectional affixes are independently 
projected to the syntactic structure we can precisely capture a close 
relationship between 'event-focus' constructions and the corresponding 
simple sentences, and also correctly predict the distribution of aspect, 
tense and mood affixes, each of which is assumed to be the head of an 
aspect phrase, tense phrase, and mood phrase, respectively. 

1. Introduction 

This paper argues that there is a phenomenon in Korean similar to English 
"do-support". This argument will then be used to show that verbal inflectional 
affixes in Korean such as aspect, tense and mood are independently projected as 
formatives in the syntactic structure, counter to the lexicalist hypothesis and the 
Lexical Integrity Principle (Lapointe 1980, Selkirk 1982, Di Sciullo and Williams 
1987). 1 which prohibit syntax from building or manipulating word-internal 

"Do-support" has been considered as evidence for the syntactic separability 
oS. 1NFL and V in English. For instance, in a sentence like (la), a tense affix is 
attached to the verb root, but in (lb) these elements are separated due to the 
intervening negative particle "not". Hence a dummy verb 'do' is inserted for the 
tense affix to attach to. 

78 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

(1) a. John walked to the store. 

b. John did not walk to the store. 

Similar arguments have been made for Korean on the basis of so-called 'VP- 
focus' constructions like (2b) and VP-fronting constructions like (2c). As shown in 
(2a), tense and mood affixes are suffixed to the V-root. Under the assumption that 
the V-root and inflectional affixes are separate, if VP is focused as shown in (2b), 
the tense and mood affixes are separated from the V-root. So a dummy verb 'ha-' 
is inserted to provide a V-stem for the affixes to attach to. 

(2) a. John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ta. 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Past-Decl 
'John read the book' 

b. John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ki-nun ha-ess-la 
J-Nom the book-Ace read-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 

'It is the case that John read the book.' ('John DID read the book') 

c. ku chayk-ul ilk-ki-nun John-i /?a-ess-ta 
the book-Ace read-Nml-Top J-Nom do-Past-Decl 
'As for reading the book, John did.' 

Y-J Kim 1990 questioned this analysis on two grounds - (a) the construction in 
(2b) is not or need not be VP-focus, as elements other than those in VP can be 
focused; (b) the construction provides no evidence for the syntactic separability of 
V and INFL, since INFL can be included in the focus. That is, as shown in (3), 
with regard to a simple sentence (3a), we have a VP-focus construction (3b), 
where a V-root and tense and mood affixes are separated. However, in addition to 
(3b) we have a similar construction (3c), where a V-root and tense affix are not 

(3) a. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ta 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Past-DecF 
'Chelsu drank beer' 

b. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun ha-ess-ta 
C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
'It is the case that Chelsu drank beer' 

c. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ki-nun ha-e 

C-Nom beer- Ace drink-Past-Nml-Top do-Decl. informal 
'It is the case that Chelsu drank beer' 

Hence, Y-J Kim claims that 'ha-' is not a dummy verb root inserted to carry TensdJ 
separated from the V-root. Y-J Kim suggests instead that the relevant V\-ki and 
V 2 (=/za)-INFL in (2) and (3) should be analyzed as complementation; that is, "ha-' 
is a lexical V which takes a nominalized '-ki' complement. According to this 
analysis, then, a sentence like (3b) will have a structure similar to (4). 


(4) S 


maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun ha-ess-ta 

I refer to this analysis as the Complementation Hypothesis in this paper. 

In this paper. I re-examine the above constructions and present new 
arguments for the original conjecture that sentences like (2b) provide evidence that 
a V-root and INFL elements are separately projected in the syntax. The 
constructions in (2b) and (3b-c) are not just of VP-focus; instead, I claim that what 
is focused is a VPSC (VP with an internal subject), an AspP, or TP, etc. Whenever 
an XP is focalized and hence the V-root or V-root-affix sequence is separated 
from other affixes by '-ki' (or other nominalizers), a dummy verb root 'ha-' is 
inserted to occupy the original XP position. I call this analysis the 'Ha-support' 

In section 2, I examine various types of focus constructions similar to (2b-c) 
and (3b-c) and their relationship to simple declarative sentences. I point out that 
the verb 'ha-" is ambiguous between a dummy verb in 'event-focus' constructions 
and a main verb taking a complement in the 'VP-focus' construction. In section 3, 
I examine those sentences which unambiguously have the dummy verb reading of 
'ha-' and argue that the distribution of the dummy verb 'ha-' and verbal 
inflectional elements can be construed as providing strong support for the 
syntactic independence of verbal inflections in Korean. 

2. 'Event-focus' vs. 'VP-focus' constructions 

Section 2.1 looks more closely at the 'VP-focus' construction accompanied 
by the verb 'ha-'. I argue that the verb 'ha-' is ambiguous between a dummy verb, 
which is found in 'Ha-support', and a main verb taking a complement. Section 2.2 
argues that the ambiguities pointed out in section 2.1 with regard to sentences 
containing the verb 'ha-' originate from structural ambiguity as well as lexical 

2.1 The distinction between dummy verb 'ha-' and main verb 'ha-' 

As already pointed out with regard to the sentences in (3), here repeated in 
(5), Korean has focus constructions like (5b). These seem closely related to simple 
declarative sentences like (5a). 

(5) a. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ta 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Past-Decl 
'Chelsu drank beer' 

80 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

b. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun ha-ess-ta 
C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Nml-Top do-Past-Dec 
"It is the case that Chelsu drank beer" 

c. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ki-nun ha-e 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Past-Nml-Top do-Decl. informal 

"It is the case that Chelsu drank beer' 

That is, as the English translation shows, by uttering (5b). the speaker (or hearer in 
the question) confirms the event denoted by the corresponding simple declarative 
sentence (5a). In addition to (5b), we have a similar construction (5c). which also 
expresses a speaker's confirmation of the event denoted by a simple sentence (5a). 
Hence, I will call both (5b) and (5c) 'event-focus' constructions. As pointed out in 
the introduction, there is a difference in verbal morphology between (5b) and (5c). 
In (5b) the tense affix is attached to the verb 'ha-' and the nominalized root verb 
does not contain tense. On the other hand, in (5c) the tense affix is attached to the 
nominalized root verb and the verb 'ha-' does not contain tense. This difference in 
verbal morphology also brings about a difference in meaning. That is. while (5c) 
has an 'event-focus' reading only, (5b) has an additional reading, which I will call 
the 'VP-focus' reading, as represented in (5b'). 

(5b') Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun ha-ess-ta 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
'Chelsu performed/was engaged in the act of drinking beer"' 

That is, in contrast to the verb 'ha-' in (5b-c), 'ha-' in (5b') is used as a transitive 
(main) verb, which corresponds to the transitive verb 'do' in English. Hence it has 
the same meaning and function as the verb 'ha' in the sentence (6). 

(6) Chelsu-ka pap-ul /?a-ess-ta 
C-Nom rice-Ace do-Past-Decl 

'Lit: Chelsu did rice' (= 'Chelsu cooked rice") 

Just as the transitive verb usage of the verb 'ha-' in (6) can be confirmed by the 
accusative case marker in the object, so the main verb usage of 'ha-' in (5b') can 
be confirmed by the availability of the accusative case marker attached to the 
nominalized V and by the fact that only the 'VP-focus' reading is available in this 
case, as we can see in (7). 

(7) Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ki-lul (pam-nac-epsi) ha-ess-ta 
C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Nml-Acc night-day-without do-Past-Decl 
'Chelsu performed/was engaged in the act of drinking beer (day and night)' , 
(=/= It is the case that Chelsu drank beer) \ 

However, in (5c) where the nominalized verb contains the tense affix, the verb 
"ha-' functions as a dummy verb only. Contrary to (7), the attachment of the 
accusative case marker to the nominalized verb in (5c) is not allowed, as shown in 

(8) *Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ki-lul ha-e 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Past-Nml-Acc do-Decl 
"It is the case that Chelsu drank beer' 


The contrast between (7) and (8) follows from the plausible assumption that only 
the main verb usage of 'ha-' licenses structural case while the dummy verb 'ha-' 
does not. 

The discussion so far suggests that the verb *ha-' in focus constructions is 
ambiguous between a main verb and a dummy verb. In the following section, I 
argue that the two different readings of 'ha-' originate from structural ambiguity of 
the relevant sentences. 

2.2 Two different readings of 'ha-' from structural ambiguity 

The observation in the preceding section naturally raises questions of why 
ambiguities arise in (5b). but not in (5c). I claim that the two different readings in 
(5b) result from the two different syntactic structures as represented in (9). 

(9) a. [vpsc Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi]-ki-nun ha dummv -ess-ta 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
'It is the case that Chelsu drank beer' 

b. Chelsu-ka [ V p maykcwu-lul masi]-ki-nun ha main -ess-ta 
C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 

'Chelsu performed/was engaged in the act of drinking beer' 

In (9a), the affix '-ki' nominalizes the VPSC. which is the VP containing the 
subject. On the other hand, in (9b) '-ki' nominalizes the VP excluding the subject. 
Here I assume that the nominalizer '-ki" and the topic marker '-nun' attach to 
phrases in syntax, like clitics, and hence in (9). '-ki' attaches to VP or VPSC. and 
that only the XP to which the affixes '-ki'/'-nun' are attached can be fronted. 
Therefore, the fronting of object and nominalized verb as a unit will be allowed in 
(9b) only. It is then predicted that we should have only main verb reading of 'ha-' 
with the scrambled sentence, which is the case, as shown in (10). 

( 10) a. [maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun] Chelsu-ka ha-ess-ta 

'As for drinking beer. Chelsu did." 
(=/= It is the case that Chelsu drank beer) 
b. [maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun], [Chelsu-ka t, ha-ess-ta] 

The reason that the scrambled sentence (10a) has just one reading is that it is 
derived from its corresponding underlying structure (9b). which has a 'main verb' 
reading, and allows scrambling of the nominalized phrase, as represented in (10b). 
On the other hand, it cannot be derived from the underlying structure (9a) which 
has a 'dummy verb' reading because the affix '-ki" attaches to the VPSC which 
includes the subject, and the object and nominalized verb as a unit, excluding the 
subject, cannot be fronted in the given structure. Hence, the structures represented 
in (9) naturally provide an account of why we get just one reading in ( 10a). As the 
structures in (9) show, since I have assumed the phrasal nominalization of " ki' 
despite its lexical attachment to the verb root, it is predicted that the nominalized 
verb itself cannot be scrambled because '-ki' does not attach to V but onh to 
phrase lev els. This prediction is borne out as shown in ( 1 1 ). 

82 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

(11) a. *Chelsu-ka masi-ki-nun, maykcwu-lul t, ha-ess-ta 

C-Nom drink-Nml-Top beer-Ace do-Past-Decl 

b. *masi-ki-nun, Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul t, ha-ess-ta 

drink-Nml-Top C-Nom beer-Ace do-Past-Decl 

c. *masi-ki-nun, maykcwu-lul t; Chelsu-ka ha-ess-ta 

drink-Nml-Top beer-Ace C-Nom do-Past-Decl 

Therefore the nominal ized verb alone cannot be scrambled, but the XP to which , 
the affixes '-kiV'-nun" are attached can be fronted. 4 \ 

What if in (9) only the object maykcwu-lul is scrambled to the front? Both 
structures in (9) allow the object maykcwul-lul to scramble out of its base position 
and hence the resulting (scrambled) sentence is predicted to have both readings, 
which is the case as shown in (12).' 

(12) a. maykcwu-lul Chelsu-ka masi-ki-nun ha-ess-ta 

beer-Ace C-Nom drink-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 

'It is the case that Chelsu drank beer." 

'Chelsu performed/was engaged in the act of drinking beer.* 

b. maykcwu-lul, [Chelsu-ka tj masi-ki-nun] ha dumm> -ess-ta 
beer-Ace C-Nom drink-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
'It is the case that Chelsu drank beer" 

c. maykcwu-lul, Chelsu-ka [ tj masi-ki-nun] (cacwu) ha main -ess-ta 
beer-Ace C-Nom drink-Nml-Top (frequently) do-Past-Decl 
'Chelsu performed/was engaged in the act of drinking beer (frequently)' 

The main verb reading of 'ha-' in (12c) can also be confirmed by the sentence 
(12c'), which is the same as (12c) except that the accusative case marker is 
attached to the nominalized verb. In this case the verb 'ha-' is used as a main verb 

( 1 2c' ) maykcwu-lul Chelsu-ka masi-ki-lul (pam-nac-epsi) ha-ess-ta 

beer-Ace C-Nom drink-Nml-Acc (night-day-without) do-Past-Decl 
'Chelsu performed/was engaged in the act of drinking beer (day and night).' 

Therefore this observation suggests the correctness of the structures represented in 
(9), which consequently supports the claim that the two different readings of the 
sentence containing the verb 'ha-' originate from structural ambiguities. 

The discussion in sections 2.1 and 2.2 have suggested that the verb 'ha-' in^ 
focus constructions is ambiguous between a main verb and a dummy (or auxiliary )^ 
verb and that the Complementation Hypothesis does not always work, as there are 
instances of a true dummy 'ha-'. 6 


3. 'Event-focus' constructions and their implications for verbal inflections 

So far this paper has discussed sentences where a nominalized verb root does 
not contain a tense or aspect affix in it. It has been shown that those sentences 
have two readings, i.e. 'event-focus' vs. 'VP-focus'. This section and the 
remainder of this paper focus on 'event-focus' constructions and their implications 
for Korean verbal inflections. I provide the empirical evidence for the 'Ha- 
support' Hypothesis and against the Complementation Hypothesis and lexicalist 

3.1 'Event-focus" constructions with active predicates 

As pointed out with regard to (5c), repeated here in (13a), the ambiguities 
observed in (5b) do not arise when a nominalized verb root is inflected for tense or 
aspect as shown in (13b). 

(13) a. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ki-nun ha-e 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Past-Nml-Top do-Decl 
'It is the case that Chelsu drank beer' 

b. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-e 
C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Perf-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
it is true that Chelsu had drunk beer' 

c. *Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ki-lul (pam-nac-epsi) ha-ess-e 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Perf-Nml-Acc do-Past-Decl 

'Chelsu was engaged in the act of drinking beer (day and night)' 

That is. sentences (13a-b) have just one reading such that the speaker of the 
sentence confirms the event denoted by the nominalized phrase, which is what we 
call 'event-focus' reading. The lack of main verb reading can be confirmed by the 
ungrammatically of the sentence in (13c). in which the nominalized phrase carries 
accusative case which in turn can be assigned by the main verb 'ha-' as pointed 
out in the preceding section. The only difference between the sentences in (13) and 
(5b) is that the nominalized verbal root is inflected for aspect or tense in (13). At 
first sight, sentence (13b) does not seem to have any meaning difference from 
(5b), where a nominalized verb root is not inflected for aspect/tense, except that 
the latter has two readings. However, there are speakers who judge that meaning 
differences exist between the two sentences even in this dummy verb usage of 'ha- 
'. Presumably this may be related to the meaning differences between the 
following simple sentences: 

( 14) a. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul maM-css-c 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Past-Decl 
'Chelsu drank beer." 

84 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

b. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ess-e 
C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Perf-Past-Decl 

'Chelsu had drunk beer' 
*I recall that Chelsu drank beer' 

By uttering ( 14a). a speaker simply reports the event which occurred in the past or 
has just been completed, while by (14b) a speaker recalls the past event (or a fact) 
that he or she has witnessed (retrospective mood or evidential mood in Cinque 
1999), or it can represent an anterior past in the sense of Reichenbach 1947, i.e., 
the past of the past: Chelsu-ka yek-ey tochakha-ess-ul ttay, kicha-nun (imi) ttena- 
ss-ess-ta "When Chelsu arrived at the station, the train had (already) left'. The 
crucial difference in this tense between English and Korean is that Korean entails 
a retrospective meaning. 7 This meaning difference, including the anterior past, 
may probably be reflected in the intuition of the speakers who feel the difference 
between two sentences: (5b) Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ki-min ha-ess-e. vs. 
(13b) Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-e. 

Noting these meaning differences between the two sentences and the close 
relationship between simple sentences and the corresponding 'event-focus' 
constructions, let us take a closer look at the 'event focus' constructions in (15). 
First, as shown in (15), inflectional elements can appear inside the nominalized 
verb root or affixed to the verb 'ha-'. In (15a) the nominalized verb root contains a 
tense affix, in (15b) it contains both aspect and tense affixes, in (15c) the verb 'ha- 
' contains a tense affix, and in (15d) the verb 'ha-* contains both aspect and tense 

(15) a. John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ki-nun ha-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Past-Nml-Top do-Decl 
"It is the case that John read the book' 

b. John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ess-ki-nun ha-e 
J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf-Past-Nml-Top do-Decl 
'I recall that John had indeed read the book' 

c. John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ki-nun ha-ess-e 
J-Nom the book-Ace read-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
'It is the case that John read the book' 

d. John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ki-nun ha-ess-ess-e 
J-Nom the book-Ace read-Nml-Top do-Perf-Past-Decl 
i recall that John had indeed read the book' 

Since both aspect and tense affixes can appear in either verb, a simple 
complementation analysis predicts that both the verb root and the verb 'ha-' 
should allow both aspect and tense affixes. However, as the data in (16a-c) show, 
this prediction does not seem to be borne out. In (16a) the verb root is inflected for 
both aspect and tense, while at the same time the verb 'ha-' is inflected for aspect 
or tense. In (16b), the verb root is inflected for aspect or tense, while the verb 'ha-' 
is inflected for both aspect and tense. In ( 16c). both the verb root and the verb 'ha' 


are intlected for both aspect and tense. These sentences are marginal or 
ungrammatical. On the other hand, the addition of a single affix '-ess' to 'ha-' in 
(13a) sounds perfect, as shown in (16d), in which case the affix '-ess' in the verb 
root can be analyzed as an aspect affix, while the one in the verb 'ha-' is a tense 

(16) a. *? John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf-Past-Nml-Top do-Perf/Past-Decl 

I b. ??John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-ess-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf/Past-Nml-Top do-Perf-Past-Decl 

c. *?John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-ess-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf-Past-Nml-Top do-Perf-Past-Decl 

d. John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-e 
J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
T recall that John indeed read the book' 

Confronted with this problem, the lexicalist analyses such as that of Kim 
1990 may postulate different kinds of the verb 'ha-'. For instance, the verb 'hal' 
as shown in (17a) is not inflected for aspect and tense and it is subcategorized for 
the nominalized complement whose verb root contains a tense affix. This .will 
license the sentence (15a). The verb 'ha2' as shown in (17b) is not inflected for 
aspect and tense and it is subcategorized for the nominalized complement whose 
verb root contains both aspect and tense affixes. This will license the sentence 
(15b). The verb 'ha3' as shown in (17c) is inflected for tense and it is 
subcategorized for the nominalized complement whose verb root does not contain 
any verbal affixes. This will license the sentence (15c). 

(17) a. 'hal': *VFORM[PERF: -. FIN: -. MOOD: decl]. 

SUBCAT[VP[NML: -ki. VFORM[FIN: +]]_]) 

b. 'ha2': {VFORM[PERF: -. FIN: -. MOOD: decl]. 

SUBCAT[VP[NML: -ki. VFORM[PERF: +. FIN: +]] _]} 

c. 'ha3': {VFORMfPERF: -. FIN: +. MOOD: decl]. 

SI :BCAT[VP[NML: -ki, VFORM[PERF: -, FIN: -]]_]) 

In a similar manner, to license other grammatical sentences and to rule out the 
sentences like (16a-c), the lexicalist analysis may be able to posit the verbs 'ha4\ 
'ha5\ 'ha6'. etc. Eventually this way of stipulation in the lexicon may be able to 
describe the distribution of verbal affixes in the 'event-focus' constructions, but it 
also results in massive redundancy by positing various types of the verb 'ha-'. 
Also it does not capture the fact that all these verbs have the same function as a 
dummy verb in 'event-focus' constructions despite their differences in inflectional 
morphology and subcatcgorization. Consequently this cannot capture a close 
relationship between simple sentences and the corresponding focus constructions. 

In addition, since the Complementation I lypothesis assumes a biclausal 
structure for sentences like (2b), repeated here in (18a), the nominalized 

86 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

complement clause can contain tense and aspect elements as pointed out with 
regard to (17). Hence, just as the nominalized complement clause can be fronted 
as in (18b), it also predicts that the nominalized complement containing 
aspect/tense can be fronted. However, fronting is not allowed with a focused root 
verb which contains aspect/tense affixes as shown in (18c). 

(18) a. John-i [ku chayk-ul ilk-ki-nun] ha-ess-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
'It is the case that John read the book.' 

b. [ku chayk-ul ilk-ki-nun]j John-i t; /?a-ess-e ' 
the book-Ace read-Nml-Top J-Nom do-Past-Decl 

c. *[ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ki-nun]j John-i tj ha-ess-e 

the book-Ace read-Perf-Nml-Top J-Nom do-Past-Decl 

In ( 1 8c), the focused verb root is inflected for aspect and the fronting of that phase 
results in ungrammaticality. Furthermore, since the Complementation Hypothesis 
treats the nominalized phrase as the complement of the verb 'ha-', whether it 
contains verbal affixes or not, it cannot account for the contrast shown in (19) 
where the accusative case-marked nominalized verb without verbal affixes is 
allowed but its counterpart with verbal affixes results in ungrammaticality. 

(19) a. John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ki-lul ha-ess-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Nml-Acc do-Past-Decl 

b. *John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ki-lul (pam-nac-epsi) ha-ess-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf-Nml-Acc (day and night) do-Past- 

Under the 'Ha-supporf analysis, however, we can capture a close 
relationship between focus constructions and the corresponding simple sentences, 
and also correctly predict the distribution of aspect, tense and mood affixes. After 
the 'event' focalization process applies to a simple sentence at the phrase level, 
which includes an internal subject, the dummy verb 'ha-' is inserted to spell out 
the original XP position. I will show how this analysis works for sentences like 
(20a). The simple declarative sentence (20a) has the syntactic structure shown in 
(20b), where verbal inflectional elements are separately projected as formatives. I 
assume that the nominalizer '-ki' and the topic marker '-nun' attach to phrases in 
the syntax, like clitics. Hence in (20b) we have three possible constituents for the 
'event' focalization, as the dotted lines show. After the focalization process 
applies at the phrase level, the dummy verb root 'ha-' is inserted to occupy the XP 
position left behind by XP focalization. This suggests that the dummy 'ha'^ 
functions as a pro-XP. not pro-X. I 

(20) a. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ess-e 8 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Perf-Past-Decl 
T recall that Chelsu drank beer 



maykcwu-lul masi- 

Of the three possible 'event' focus constructions from (20b), I represent two of 
them in (21) for illustration. Since the landing site of the focused phrase 
accompanied b> nominalization is not an issue here and does not affect the 
purpose of this paper. I simply assume that it is positioned in the Spec of a higher 
functional phrase (FocP). What is important is that the relationship between 
sentences (20a) and (21) can be naturally captured by the assumption that each 
inflectional affix is projected to a syntactic head and whenever an XP position is 
focalized, a dummy verb root 'ha-' is inserted to occupy the original XP position. 
Hence. (21a) corresponds to "event-focus' in VP with an internal subject while 
(21b) is 'event-focus' in AspP." 

(21) a. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun ha-ess-ess-e 
'I recall that Chelsu indeed drank beer' 



Chelsu-ka NP 

maykcwu-lul masi- 





s\ r 

AspP F -e 

VPSC, Asp -ess 

1 1 


1 1 
' -> t, -ess 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

b. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-e 
"I recall that Chelsu indeed drank beer' 

Chelsu-ka N 

maykcwu-lul masi- 

As the two structures in (21) show, 'ha-* is inserted as a dummy verbal stem for 
the trace of VPSC and AspP, respectively. I assume that the dummy verb 'ha-' is 
not inserted in the syntax but at the spell-out in order to satisfy- the morphological 
requirement in the morphological structure in the sense of the Distributed 
Morphology (Halle & Marantz 1993). Hence the verb 'ha-" in 'event-focus* 
constructions is not base-generated but inserted to occupy the original XP position 
or support the affixes stranded as a result of the syntactic process. 10 

The 'Ha-support' analysis can also account for why (16a-c), repeated here, 
are degraded in acceptability. 

(16) a. *? John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ess-ki-nun ha-m-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf-Past-Nml-Top do-Perf/Past-Decl 

b. ??John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-ess-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf/Past-Nml-Top do-Perf-Past-Decl 

c. *?John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-ess-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf-Past-Nml-Top do-Perf-Past-Decl 

d. John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ew-ki-nun ha-ess-e 
J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
'It is the case that John had read the book' 

The marginal acceptance of these sentences seems to be related to the fact that the^ 
simple sentence (22a) is marginal or ungrammatical. Since I have assumed so far 
that in Korean, aspect and tense affixes '-ess-ess' are each projected to the 
corresponding head in the syntactic structure, the ungrammatically of the sentence 
(22a) becomes immediately obvious. That is, there is no syntactic head for the 
projection of an additional affix '-ess' whatever its function, other than aspect and 
tense. Hence a sequence of three affixes '-ess-ess-ess' is not allowed. Therefore 
the focus constructions (16a-c) derived from (22a) are bad. On the other hand, 


(16d) is grammatical because its corresponding simple sentence (22b) is 

(22) a. *?Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ess-ess-e 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-?-Perf-Past-Decl 

b. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ess-e 
C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Perf-Past-Decl 
'Chelsu had drunk beer' 

The 'Ha-supporf analysis can also account for why (18c), repeated here, is 

(18) a. John-i [ku chayk-ul ilk-ki-nun] /za-ess-e 

J-Nom the book-Ace read-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 

b. [ku chayk-ul ilk-ki-nun], John-i t, ha-ess-e 

the book-Ace read-Nml-Top J-Nom do-Past-Decl 

c. *[ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ki-nun], John-i t, ha-ess-e 

the book-Ace read-Perf-Nml-Top J-Nom do-Past-Decl 

As shown in (20) and (21), phrases equal to or larger than VPSC, which include a 
subject, are focused as 'event-focus' constructions. The nominalizer '-ki' and the 
topic maker '-nun' attach to phrases in syntax, like clitics." The scrambled 
sentence (18c) is derived from the structure (21b). In this structure, the fronted 
materials in (18c) are not a constituent syntactically. Therefore, they cannot be 
fronted. 12 On the other hand, in (18b) the fronting is allowed because 'ha-' 
functions as a main verb, which takes the fronted phrase as a complement, not as 
the dummy verb 'ha-', as pointed out in section 2. That is, the verb 'ha-' in ( 18b) 
corresponds to the one in (5b') and (7), which I call 'VP-focus' construction." 
Finally the contrast shown in (19). repeated here, results from the differences in 
the verb 'ha-': the one in (19a) functions as a main verb and hence can assign 
accusative case to the nominalized phrase and can be modified by an adverb as 
pointed out in section 2. while the one in (19b) functions as a dummy verb, which 
cannot assign structural case and cannot be modified by an adverb. 

(19) a. John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ki-lul (pam-nac-epsi) ha-css-e 

J-Nom the book- Ace read-Nml-Acc (day and night) do-Past-Decl 

b. *John-i ku chayk-ul ilk-ess-ki-lul (pam-nac-epsi) ha-ess-e 
J-Nom the book-Ace read-Perf-Nml-Acc do-Past-Decl 

Therefore, the 'Ha-support' analysis provides a systematic account of the 
distribution of the dummy verb 'ha-' and inflectional affixes, captures a close 
relationship between simple sentences and corresponding focus constructions, and 
accounts for why scrambling is allowed in some cases but not in other cases. This 
argument has been made possible under the assumption that Korean verbal 
inflectional affixes are independently projected as syntactic formatives. In the 
following three sections, I argue that the 'Ha-support' analysis can also provide a 
systematic account of morpho-syntactic properties of sentences whose verb is 
stative and contains other inflectional affixes such as progressive aspect. Then I 

90 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

address the possibility of different interpretations depending on the different 
domains of focalization. 

3.2 'Event-focus' constructions with stative predicates 

This section examines cases which have only the 'event-focus" (i.e.. dummy 
verb 'ha-') reading: i.e.. sentences whose main verbs are stative predicates, as the 
following sentences show. 

(23) a. Younghee-ka yeyppu-ki-nun ha-ess-ta 

Y-Nom pretty -Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 

'It is the case that Younghee was pretty.' 

b. Younghee-ka haksayng-i-ki-nun ha-ess-ta 
Y-Nom student-be-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
it is the case that Younghee was a student." 

c. Younghee-ka cip-e\ iss-ki-nun ha-ess-ta 
Y-Nom home-Loc stay-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
it is the case that Younghee was at home." 

Since we have assumed that the nominalizer '-ki" is attached to a phrase including 
a subject in 'event-focus" constructions, it is predicted that a nominalized stative 
predicate alone cannot be scrambled. This prediction is borne out as the 
ungrammaticality of the sentences in (24) shows: 

(24) a. *yeyppu-ki-nun Younghee-ka ha-ess-ta. 14 

Pretty-Nml-Top Y-Nom do-Past-Decl 

b. *haksayng-i-ki-nun Younghee-ka ha-ess-ta 

student-be-Nml-Top Y-Nom do-Past-Decl 

c. *cip-ey iss-ki-nun Younghee-ka ha-ess-ta 

home-at stay-Nml-Top Y-Nom do-Past-Decl 

d. * Younghee-ka yeypp-ki-lul ha-ess-ta 

Y-Nom pretty-Nml-Acc do-Past-Decl 

(24d) is ungrammatical due to the lack of the dummy verb's ability to assign 
structural case. In addition, since 'ha-' as a main verb requires an Agent subject, 
the lack of an agent role in the subject of simple sentences corresponding to focus 
constructions in (23) rules out the possibility of 'ha" as a main verb. Therefore 
with regard to stative predicates in focus constructions, 'ha-' has the dumm\ verb 
usage only. 

Stative predicates also show the same morphosyntactic properties as the non- 
stative predicates with respect to 'event-focus' process. A simple sentence (25a) 
contains a stative verb, which is inflected for aspect/tense, retrospective mood, and 
declarative mood. Since each of these affixes is projected to the syntactic head as a 
phrasal affix, the syntactic structure will be like (25a") and the focalization process 
at the phrase level results in sentences (25b-d). So. (25b) corresponds to the 


localization of VPSC. and (25c) corresponds to the focalization of TP. (25d) 
corresponds to the focalization of the retrospective mood phrase but it is 
ungrammatical due to the independent reason, i.e.. semantic incompatibility, or 
morphological restriction. 

(25) a. Younghee-ka yeypp-ess-te-la 

Y-Nom pretty-Past-RetMood-Dec I 

'(1 noticed that) Yonghee was pretty" 

a*. [mp[mp[tp[vpsc Younghee-ka yeypp]-ess]-te]-la] 

b. Younghee-ka yeypp-ki-nun ha-ess-te-la 

Y-Nom pretty-Nml-Top do-Past-RetMood-Decl 

'(I noticed that) it is the case that Younghee was pretty* 

c. Younghee-ka yeypp-ess-ki-nun ha-te-la 
Y-Nom pretty-Past-Nml-Top do-RetMood-Decl 

d. * Younghee-ka yeypp-ess-te-ki-nun ha-ta 

Y-Nom pretty-Past-Nml-Top do-RetMood-Decl 

e. *yeypp-ki-nun Younghee-ka ha-ess-te-la 

pretty-Nml-Top Y-Nom do-Past-RetMood-Decl 

Despite the morphological attachment of the retrospective suffix '-te' to the verb, 
it is not directly related to the event (Sohn 1995: 42). That is. it is a speaker- (or in 
the question, hearer-) oriented suffix. Since "event-focus' constructions are to 
confirm the event related to the subject of the sentence, the inclusion of the 
retrospective suffix in focus constructions results in semantic incompatibility. This 
predicts that the inclusion of any speaker- (or hearer-) oriented suffixes, e.g., 
evidential mood suffix '-keyss*. into focus constructions results in 
ungrammatically, which seems to be the case. Finally, since the entire phrase 
including a subject, i.e. the phrase equal to or larger than VPSC, is focused and the 
nominal affix is attached to the phrase in the syntax, the root verb and the 
nominalizer '-ki* syntactically never form a constituent and hence, it has been 
predicted that scambling is not allowed in "event-focus" constructions. This 
prediction is also borne out as shown in (25e). 

The predicate in (26a) is inflected for aspect, tense, and mood. Since all of 
these are projected to syntactic heads, three 'event-focus* constructions are 
predicted to be derived, and this prediction is borne out as shown in (26b-d). 

(26) a. Younghee-ka yeyppu-ess-ess-e 

Y-Nom pretty-Perf-Past-Dccl 

'Younghee was pretty (but not any more)' 

b. Younghee-ka yeyppu-ess-ess-ki-nun ha-e 
Y-Nom pretty-Perf-Past-Nml-Top do-Decl 

"It is the case that Younghee was pretty (but not an) more)' 

92 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

c. Younghee-ka yeyppu-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-e 
Y-Nom pretty-Perf-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 

d. Younghee-ka yeyppu-ki-nun ha-ess-ess-e 

Y-Nom pretty-Nml-Top do-Perf-Past-Decl 

e. ?* Younghee-ka yeyppu-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-ess-e 

f. * Younghee-ka yeyppu-ess-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-e 

g. * Younghee-ka yeyppu-ess-ess-ess-ki-nun ha-e i 

(26b) corresponds to TP focalization and the dummy verb 'ha-' is inserted to 
occupy the original TP position. (26c) corresponds to AspP focalization and the 
dummy verb is inserted to occupy the original AspP. (26d) corresponds to VPSC 
focalization and the dummy verb is inserted to spell out the original VPSC 
position. Similarly to ( 16a-c), the addition of the aspect or tense affix '-ess-' to the 
nominalized predicate root or to the dummy verb renders the sentences marginal 
or ungrammatical like those in (26e-g). These sentences are bad because their 
corresponding simple sentences are ungrammatical. 

3.3 'Event-focus' constructions with the progressive aspect 

The same analysis can also be extended to sentences whose main verb is 
inflected for progressive aspect, as well as perfective aspect or tense and mood, as 
shown in (27). 

(27) a. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ko iss-ess-e' 5 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Prog-Past-Decl 
'Chelsu was drinking beer' 

b. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ko iss-ki-nun ha-ess-e 
C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Prog-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 
'It is the case that Chelsu was drinking beer' 

c. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ko iss-ess-ki-nun ha-e 
C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Prog-Past-Nml-Top do-Decl 
'It is the case that Chelsu was drinking beer' 

d. *Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun ha-ko iss-ess-e 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Nml-Top do-Prog-Past-Decl 
'It is the case that Chelsu was drinking alcohol' 

The main verb root in (27a) is inflected for progressive aspect as well as tense and^ 
mood. (27b) corresponds to the focalization of the progressive aspect phrase andfl 
the dummy verb is inserted. to spell out the original AspP. (27c) corresponds to TP 
focalization and the dummy verb is inserted to spell out the original TP position. 
VPSC focalization in (27d). however, is ungrammatical. It is obvious that the 
dummy verb 'ha-', which does not involve activity at all, cannot convey the 
progressive aspect. Therefore this sentence, in which the dummy verb is inflected 


for progressive aspect, is ungrammatical. In a given context, however, (27d) 
sounds ok. But in that case the verb 'ha-' does not have dummy verb usage but a 
transitive (main) verb usage, as shown in (28a). The scrambled sentence (28b) 
only has a main verb reading for 'ha-*, as we have already observed in the 
previous sections. That is, its derived representation would be (28c). 

(28) a. ?Chelsu-ka tambay-lul an phiwu-ko iss-ess-ciman, 

C-Nom cigarette-Ace not smoke-Prog-Past-though 
i maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun ha-ko iss-ess-e 

' beer-Ace drink-Nml-Top do-Prog-Past-Decl 

'Though Chelsu was not smoking, he was drinking beer'. 

b. maykcwu-lul masi-ko iss-ki-nun Chelsu-ka ha-ess-e 
beer-Ace drink-Prog-Nml-Top C-Nom do-Past-Decl 
'Lit: as for being drinking beer, Chelsu did' (It was Chelsu 

who was drinking beer). 

c. [maykcwu-lul masi-ko iss-ki-nun], Chelsu-ka t, ha-ess-e. 

Finally, sentences which contain progressive aspect, anterior (perfective) 
aspect, tense, and mood heads are examined. Sentence (29a) contains progressive 
aspect, anterior aspect, tense, and mood heads. Hence, under the current 
assumption in which each bit of verbal morphology is independently projected to 
the syntactic head, it should be possible to derive four 'event-focus' contructions. 
followed by 'ha-' insertion. 

(29) a. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ko iss-ess-ess-ta 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Prog-Perf-Past-Decl 
'Chelsu had been drinking beer' 

b. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ko iss-ess-ess-ki-nun ha-ta 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Prog-Perf-Past-Nml-Top do-Decl 
it is the case that Chelsu had been drinking beer' 

c. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ko iss-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-ta 
C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Prog-Perf-Nml-Top do-Past-Decl 

d. Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ko iss-ki-nun ha-ess-ess-ta 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Prog-Nml-Top do-Perf-Past-Decl 

e. *Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun ha-ko iss-ess-ess-ta 16 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Nml-Top do-Prog-Perf-Past-Decl 

} (29b) corresponds to TP focalization. and the dummy verb is inserted to occupy 
the original TP position. (29c) corresponds to (Perf)AspP focalization, with the 
dummy verb inserted to occupy the original AspP. (29d) corresponds to 
(Prog)AspP focalization. with the dummy verb inserted for the AspP. (29e) 
corresponds to VPSC focalization, followed by 'ha-' insertion. (29e) is ruled out 
for independent reasons as already pointed out with regard to (27d). 

Therefore with regard to sentences whose verb contains progressive aspect as 
well, the i la-support' Hypothesis can provide a systematic account of the 


distribution of verbal inflectional affixes in focus constructions and capture a close 
relationship between simple sentences and focus constructions. With respect to the 
various 'event-focus" constructions examined in this section, they can be 
represented schematically as follows in association with the corresponding simple 
sentence in (30a). 

(30) a. [[[[[ V]-ProgAJ-PerfA]-Tense]-Mood] 17 

b. [[[[[[ V]-ProgA]-PerfA]-Tense]-Nml-Top] ha-Mood] 

c. [[[[[ V]-ProgA]-PerfA]-Nml-Top] /ia-Tense-Mood] | 

d. [[[[ -V]-ProgA]-Nml-Top] /m-PerfA-Tense-Mood] 

e. *[[[ V]-Nml-Top] //o-ProgA-PerfA-Tense-Mood] 

There are four logically possible event-focus constructions, followed by "ha-' 
insertion. However, (30e) is ruled out due to the independent reasons pointed out 
with regard to (27d) and (29e). 

3.4 Different interpretations with the different domains of focalization 

Finally, the analysis of 'event-focus* constructions in this paper leads to the 
conjecture that depending on the domain of focalization. focus constructions may 
have different interpretations. It seems we get a difference, though it is subtle. Tag 
questions, which are similar to 'Ha-support' constructions in relevant respects (the 
'ci-" nominalizer is the negative counterpart of '-ki' and 'anh-* is the negative 
counterpart of 'ha-* - cf. Sells 1995). provide a clearer contrast, as shown in (3 1 ). 18 
The sentence (31a), whose nominalized constituent does not contain a tense affix, 
has only the negative interrogative reading, not the tag reading. On the other hand. 
The sentence (31b). whose nominalized root verb is inflected for tense, has only 
the tag question reading, not the negative interrogative reading. Hence, the 
different domains of nominalization give rise to different interpretations. The 
sentence in (31c). which is present tense, however, is ambiguous between the two 
readings. This ambiguity seems to be due to the different possibilities for the 
attachment of the present tense affix which is a null form in Korean, as shown in 
(31c'). That is, the null tense affix may or may not be included in the 
nominalilzation, with the result of two alternative interpretations, i.e., tag or 
negative interrogative reading. 

(31) a. [pi-ka o]-ci anh-ass-e? 

rain-Nom fall-Nml don't-Past-Q 
'Didn't it rain?/*It rained, didn't it'?' 

b. [pi-ka o-ass]-ci anh-a? " 

rain-Nom fall-Past-Nml don't-Q? 
it rained, didn't it? / *Didn't it rain?' 

C. [pi-ka oj-ci anh-a? 
rain-Nom fall-Nml don't-Q 
'Isn't it raining?/It"s raining, isn't it?' 


c'.pi-ka o-0-ci anh-a vs. pi-ka o-ci anh-0-a? 

fall-Pres-Nml don't-Pres-Q 

While not showing contrasts as clearly as the tag questions, some 'event- 
focus' constructions also suggest different interpretations depending on the 
domain of localization. In (32). the main clause verbs negate the subordinate 
clause verbs. When the root verb in the subordinate clause contains the affix '- 
ess*, the negation of the root verb sounds awkward. By contrast, when the dummy 
verb 'ha-', not the root verb, contains the affix '-ess', the negation of the root verb 
sounds fine. This contrast suggests that the affix '-ess' in the root verb functions 
as the perfective aspect, which denotes the completeness of the event. That is why 
the negation of the root verb sounds unnatural when it contains the affix '-ess'. On 
the other hand, the affix "-ess" in the dummy verb 'ha-' functions as the past affix, 
which does not necessarily denote the completeness of the event. Hence, the 
negation of the root verb sounds okay when it does not contain the affix '-ess'. 
This also suggests the possibility of different interpretations of 'event- focus' 
constructions depending on the domain of focalization. 

(32) a. ?Chelsu-ka cip-ul ci-ess-ki-nun ha-0-ciman. ta an ci-ess-ta 
C-Nom house-Ace build-Perf-Top do-Pres-though not-completely 

a". Chelsu-ka cip-ul cis-ki-nun ha-ess-ciman. ta an ci-ess-ta 

C-Nom house-Ace bulid-Nml-Top do-Past-though, not-completely 
'Though Chelsu bulit the house, he didn't build it completely' 

b. ?kkoch-i phi-ess-ki-nun ha-0-ciman. ta an phi-ess-ta 

flower bloom-Perf-Nml-Top do-Pres-though, not-completely 

b". kkoch-i phi-ki-nun ha-ess-ciman. ta an phi-ess-ta 

flower bloom-Nml-Top do-Past-though not-completely- bloomed 
'Though the flower bloomed, it didn't completely bloom' 

4. Summary 

In this paper. I have shown that there are two functions of 'ha-': as a main 
verb and as a dummy verb. Pointing out that ambiguities shown in so-called 'VP- 
focus' constructions, this paper has reinterpreted 'ha-' either as being one of 'VP- 
focus' in which case it functions as a main verb, or as being one of 'event-focus" 
in which case it functions as a dummy verb, focusing on various 'event-focus' 
constructions. I have pointed out that the simple complementation plus lexical 
verb 'ha-' analyses such as that of Kim 1990 and lexical analyses positing 
different kinds of verb 'ha-' cannot adequately capture a close relationship 
between simple sentences and corresponding 'event-focus" constructions, and 

96 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

cannot predict systematic distribution of verbal inflectional affixes across the 
nominalized verb root and dummy verb 'ha-', and furthermore cannot account for 
why scrambling in some cases is not allowed in 'event-focus' constructions. Under 
the Ha-supporf analysis and the assumption that verbal roots as well as verbal 
inflectional affixes are independently projected to syntactic structure, however, we 
can precisely capture a close relationship between 'event-focus' constructions and 
the corresponding simple sentences, and also correctly predict the distribution of 
aspect, tense and mood affixes, each of which is assumed to be the head of an 
aspect phrase, tense phrase, and mood phrase, respectively. This paper has also | 
pointed out that under 'Ha-supporf analysis and assumed structures of 'event- 
focus' constructions, fronting is not allowed since the fronted materials are never a 
constituent in the structure of 'event-focus' constructions. Finally, this paper has 
pointed out that it is possible to have different interpretations depending on the 
domain of localization. 


* An earlier version of this paper was presented at the CLS36, 2000, University of 
Chicago. I would like to thank James Yoon and Elabbas Benmamoun for valuable 
suggestions and encouragement. 

1 Refer to Yoon 1994b, 1997 for arguments for the syntactic independence of 
verbal inflectional affixes on the basis of Korean verbal (affixal) coordination. 
Yoon proposes that tense and mood affixes are syntactically separate from the 
verb, projecting as independent syntactic atoms on a par with the verbal root. 
Hence, verbal affixes in Korean combine with roots not by verb raising, but by 
Phrasal Affixation, a process that is distinct from head movement in the sense of 
Baker 1988, and fundamentally akin to cliticization in its properties. 

: The affix '-ess-" can denote perfective aspect or past tense as pointed out in Sohn 
1995. Hereafter, I will gloss it simply as past tense. Please refer to Sohn for the 
distinction between perfective aspect and past tense. 

3 At first sight, this reading does not seem to be obvious but in a given context the 
suggested reading becomes clearer: tambay-lul phiwuci-nun anh-ass-ciman, 
Chelsu-ka swul-nl masi-ki-mm ha-ess-ta 'Though he didn't smoke. Chelsu 
performed the act of drinking alcohol'; Chelsu-ka caknyeney maykcwu-lul masi-ki- 1 
nun ha-ess-ciman, whisky-nun an masi-ess-ta 'Though Chelsu performed the act 
of drinking beer last year, he didn't drink whisky'. In addition, the main verb 
usage seems to denote properties of the subject, one of which is in particular 
'habitual', not about a single event related to the subject. 


4 This lack of lexical attachment of '-ki' in the syntax is probably responsible for 
the existence of the reduplicative verb construction in Korean. That is. in order to 
focus a verb only, due to the lack of lexical nominalization in the syntax, Korean 
has a compensator) strategy, which reduplicates a verb as follows: 

(i) Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ki-nun masi-ess-ta 

C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Nml-Top drink-Past-Decl 
'As for drinking, it is the case that Chelsu drank beer' 
Since only the verb is focused, it is predicted that it will be freely scrambled, 
which is the case as the following sentences show: 

(ii) a. Chelsu-ka masi-ki-nun maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ta 

C-Nom drink-Nml-Top beer-Ace drink-Past-Decl 
b. masi-ki-nun Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ess-ta 
drink-Nml C-Nom beer-Ace drink-Past-Decl 
If this corresponds to the nominalization of V . it may not be argued that '-ki' 
attaches to XP only. Instead it may be argued that 'ha-' cannot 'replace'/'spell- 
out' an X° (V u ) but only a phrase. An alternative view would be that PF, rather 
than syntax, is responsible for this reduplication phenomenon. Hence, we can still 
hold the view that '-ki' attaches to only a phrase in syntax. 

5 With regard to the position of the scrambled object maykcwu-lul in (12). it is 
clearly out of the nominalized VP in (12c) since the subject intervenes between 
them. In (12b). however, it is unclear that the object must be outside of 
nominalized VPSC. If an element, which is clearly positioned higher than VPSC. 
can appear after the scrambled object, it could be evidence for its positioning out 
of the nominalized phrase in (12b). Probably pragmatic adverbs such as 'frankly', 
'truthfully', etc. which are kinds of sentential adverbs, could be those kinds of 
elements. In particular. Cinque 1999 argues that these adverbs are positioned in 
the Spec of higher functional phrases. Then the following sentence could be 
positive evidence for this claim: maykcwu-lul, solcikhi [Chelsu-ka t, masi-ki-nun] 
ha-ess-ta 'Frankly, it is the case that Chelsu drank beer". Therefore. I assume that 
the scrambled object in (12b-c) occupies the same position. 

6 The existence of a true dummy 'ha-' itself does not necessarily provide argument 
against the Complementation Hypothesis. In section 3. however, we will see why 
a dummy "ha-" does not work for the Complementation Hypothesis. 

' Sohn 1995 does not address the retrospective meaning of '-ess-ess-', noting that 
it denotes pluperfect (past perfective) and that the First '-ess-' corresponds to 
perfective aspect and the second '-ess-' to past tense. Here noting that it can also 
denote a retrospective mood. I will follow her analysis with regard to the affixes '- 


98 Studies in the Linguistic S( iences30:2 (Fall 2000) 

8 I assume that subjects in Korean are generated internal to VPSC and that they 
may stay inside VPSC in overt syntax (= S-structure), following Yoon (1994a-b). 

9 The analysis suggests the following difference between English 'do-support' and 
Korean 'ha-support': the former is inserted in T (or Agr) (Pollock 1989). while the 
latter is inserted to spell out different kinds of XPs left behind by XP focalization. 

"' With regard to the nominalizer *-ki\ I have assumed that it is a phrasal affix 
attached to the phrase levels in the syntax, projecting to the syntactic head as 
shown in (21). An alternative view would state that '-ki' is never projected in the 
syntax but inserted at the PF/Morphological Structure as the spell-out just like the 
insertion of the dummy verb 'ha'. That is, suppose that the topic marker '-(n)un' 
projects to the head of the FocP above the MP and focalized phrases such as VP, 
AspP. etc. occupy the Spec of FocP. However, the head of FocP, i.e., topic marker 
'-(n)un', cannot attach to verbal elements. Hence, at the spell-out '-ki' is inserted 
for the nominal affix '-(n)un' to attach to, satisfying the morphological 
requirement. Consequently, the 'event-focalization' process is accompanied by 
two dummy elements, i.e., one is a dummy verb 'ha-', which functions as a pro- 
XP, and the other is a dummy nominalizer '-ki', both necessary for the satisfaction 
of the morphological requirement. 

" As already pointed out in the preceding section, this predicts that the 
nominalized verb itself cannot be scrambled because '-ki' does not attach to V 
but only to phrase levels. This prediction is borne out as shown below: 

(i) *masi-ki-nun, Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul t, ha-ess-ta 

(ii) *masi-ki-nun, maykcwu-lul t, Chelsu-ka ha-ess-ta 

12 In the proposed analysis, it is predicted that the object alone can be scrambled. 
This prediction is borne out as shown in the following sentences where (i) 
corresponds to (21a) and (ii) to (21b): 

(i) maykcwu-lul Chelsu-ka masi-ki-nun ha-ess-ess-e 
(ii) maykcwu-lul Chelsu-ka masi-ess-ki-nun ha-ess-e 

13 (18b) is derived from the following structure: [mp[tp[vpsc Chelsu-ka [kp[vpsc P r0 
maykcwu-lul masi-]ki-nun/lul] ha]-ess]-e]. That is, the KP is the object 
complement of the transitive verb 'ha-'. In this structure, just as normal object 
noun phrases can be fronted, so the KP can also be fronted. Hence, not only for the 
"event-focus" construction, but also for the 'VP-focus' construction, the 
nominalizer '-ki' attaches to the XP, not X' or X in the syntax. 

14 According to the analysis proposed in this paper, there is a possibility of deriving 
(24a) as follows: first, scramble out the subject of VPSC, and then focalize VPSC | 
which contains a subject trace and stative predicate. This will result in the 
following structure: [t, yeyppu-ki-nunj, Younghee-ka, t, ha-ess-ta. However, this is 
independently ruled out. That is. in this configuration a subject trace is not 


c-commanded by its antecedent, violating the ECP. 

15 In Korean, progressive aspect is represented periphrastically, that is '-ko iss-' 
together conveys the progressive aspect of the event. It may be argued that '-ko 
iss-' is projected together to the progressive aspect head, or 'iss-' alone rather than 
'-ko' is projected to the head of the progressive aspect and subcategorized for the 
verb whose form is suffixed with '-ko.' In a latter view, (27a) will have the 
following structure: [mp[tp[aspp[vpsc Chelsu-ka maykcwu-lul masi-ko] iss] -ess] - 
e]. This structure predicts an additional focus contstruction: Chelsu-ka maykcwu- 
lul masi-ko-mm iss-ess-e. If this is also an instance of 'event-focus' constructions 
corresponding to (27a). it seems to be allowed due to the fact that the root verb 
suffixed with '-ko' can be attached to the nominal affix '-nun' without '-ki' and 
that the verb 'iss-' can be a host of verbal affixes without the dummy 'ha-'. 

16 Though it is slightly difficult, it is not entirely impossible for a given context to 
improve the degree of the acceptability of this sentence. However, this is only in a 
main verb usage of 'ha-', as pointed out with regard to (27d). 

17 This order of verbal inflectional affixes conforms to the hierarchy of functional 
categories that Cinque 1999 observed cross-linguistically. 

18 The data in (31) are adapted from Chang (1986: 16). 


BAKER. Mark. 1988. Incorporation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
CHANG. Suk-Jin. 1986. Tag questions in Korean: Form and function. Studies in the 

Linguistic Sciences 1 6:2.1 5-26. 
CHOMSKY. Noam. 1957. Syntactic Structures. Mouton: The Hague. 
CINQUE. Guglielmo. 1999. Adverbs and Functional Heads: A Cross-Linguistic 

Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
DlSCIULLO. Anna-Marie. & Edwin WILLIAMS. 1987. On the Definition of Word. 

Cambridge. MA: MIT Press. 
HALLE. Morris. & Alec MARANTZ. 1993. Distributed morphology and the pieces 

of inflection. The View from Building 20: Essays in Linguistics in Honor of 

Sylvain Bromherger. cd. by S. Kevser and K. Hale. 111-76. Cambridge. MA: 

MIT Press. 
Kim. Young-Joo. 1990. The syntax and semantics of Korean case: The interaction 

between lexical and syntactic levels of representation. Harvard University, 

Ph.D. dissertation in Linguistics. 

100 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

LAPOINTE, Steven. 1980. A theory of grammatical agreement. University of 

Massachusetts. Amherst. Ph.D. dissertation in Linguistics. 
POLLOCK, J.-Y. 1989. Verb movement, universal grammar, and the structure of IP. 

Linguistic Inquiry 20.365-424. 
RE1CHENBACH, 1 1. 1947. Elements of Symbolic Logic. New York: Macmillan. 
SELKIRK, Elizabeth. 1982. The Syntax of Words. Cambridge. MA: MIT press. 
Sells. Peter. 1995. Korean and Japanese morphology from a lexical perspective. 

Linguistic Inquiry 26:2.277-325. 
Sohn. Sung-Ock S. 1995. Tense and Aspect in Korean. (Center for Korean 

Studies Monograph 18.) University of Hawaii at Manoa. 
YOON. James H-S. 1994a. Lexical integrity and the morphosyntax of verbal 

inflection in Korean Coordination. L'npublished ms. 
. 1994b. Korean verbal inflection and checking theory. The Morphology- 
Syntax Connection. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics. 22.251-70. 

Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. MIT, Cambridge, Mass. 
. 1997. Coordination (a)symmetries. Harvard Studies in Korean Linguistics 


Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 2 (Fall 2000) 


Shiun-Zu Kuo, Chin-Chuan Cheng, Robert C. Bilger and Cynthia J. Johnson 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,,, 

Cheng 1992, 1994a, 1996, 1999 has proposed calculating mutual 
intelligibility of Chinese dialects in terms of the characteristics of 
sound correspondence patterns based among cognates. Patterns are 
classified into three categories according to the properties of the pho- 
nemes in a pattern, whether they are identical or not and whether the 
perceived phoneme occurs in other cognate words in the listener's 
dialect. However, within each category, patterns are given the same 
weight regardless of the perceptual distance between the two pho- 
nemes in a pattern. An experiment in which Cantonese speakers 
judged the similarity and difference of two sounds in Cantonese and 
Southern Min was carried out to determine the perceptual distance 
between two initial consonants. The experimental results show that the 
sound system of a listener's native dialect influences judgment of the 
distance between stimuli. Use of the perceived phoneme in other cog- 
nate word correlates only weakly with the perceptual distance judged 
by subjects. Calculation of the perceptual distance between two initial 
consonants was accomplished by multiple regression analysis. The 
weight assignment for patterns is therefore examined and discussed in 
light of the results of the present experiment. 

1. Purpose 

Cheng 1992, 1994a, 1996, 1999 proposed a way to quantify phonological 
aspects of mutual intelligibility of Chinese dialects, in terms of sound correspon- 
dence patterns that stem from cognate pairs of words. When a word in one dialect 
is also present in a second dialect, the two words can be paired and considered 
cognate words. These cognate words can be pronounced with the same or differ- 
ent phonemes in the two dialects. Two phonemes occurring in the same word 
position in a pair of cognate words can be called cognate pairs (of phonemes). 
When a bidialectal speaker recognizes that two sounds form a cognate pair. 
Cheng proposes that the speaker has become aware of a 'correspondence pattern' 
between the two dialects. Mutual intelligibility becomes an issue when a speaker 
of one dialect tries to communicate with a speaker of another. When two pho- 
nemes in a cognate pair resemble one another, communication should be facili- 
tated, because each speaker can interpret words pronounced in the second (unfa- 
miliar) dialect in terms of words already known from the native dialect. 

102 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

Another factor that may influence the success of communication is the fre- 
quency with which a correspondence pattern occurs in the two dialects. When a 
speaker of one dialect tries to interpret another dialect (i.e., acts as a listener), he 
or she is more likely to be aware of highly frequent correspondence patterns. 
Highly frequent patterns would occur in many words in the two dialects and the 
listener wound thus gain much exposure to these correspondence patterns and 
acquire the patterns quickly. Cheng calls these frequent patterns 'signal patterns,' 
because they enhance communication. In contrast, listeners would have little ex- 
perience with correspondence patterns with low frequency (i.e., occur in few 
words in the two dialects.) These patterns would be easy to miss in the continuos 
flow of conversation and thus would act like 'noise'. 

Cheng & Kuo 1999 examined how Cantonese-speaking subjects begin to 
formulate correspondence patterns when given some exposure to cognate words 
in Southern Min and Cantonese. In the quantified model of mutual intelligibility 
originally proposed by Cheng, correspondence patterns are first designated as 
signals or noises and then further divided into three categories as given in (1) and 
(2) below. Categories and their respective pairs are ordered from most to least 
intelligible. A speaker's native dialect is considered the 'source dialect' and 
whereas a new dialect he or she is trying to interpret is considered the 'target 
dialect.' Categories were quantified by assigning the weighted values in (2). Sig- 
nals and noises are assigned weighted values in a similar manner, except that sig- 
nals are given positive weights and noises are given negative ones. 

(1) Pairs with same phonemes > Pairs with different phonemes, when a 
corresponding target phoneme does not occur in the source dialect 
> Pairs with different phonemes, when the target phonemes occur 
elsewhere in the source dialect 

(2) Signal Noise 
For each item in a pattern, the target-dialect: 

a. element is the same as that of the source dialect 1.00 -0.25 

b. element is different from that of the source dialect 

i. and does not occur in the source dialect 0.50 -0.50 

ii. and occurs elsewhere in the source dialect 0.25 -1.00 

(Cheng 1996, 1997) 

Three problems hidden here concern the criterion used to separate the second 
category, (b i) and the third category, (b ii), reduced weighting from one category 
to the next one; and the assignment of the patterns within each group. In the for- 
mulation experiment, we only encountered one pattern, /t h -ts h /, that contained a 
target sound, /ts h /, which was different from the corresponding sound in the sour- 
ce dialect and did not occur in the source dialect. This pattern belongs to the sec- 
ond category (b i) and is expected to cause less confusion and obtain a higher 
percent correct score in the formulation of patterns than patterns in the third cate- 

Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants 103 

gory (b ii). Nevertheless, our results showed that the percent correct score for /t h - 
ts h / was not significantly higher than patterns in the third category. In fact, percent 
correct for /t h -ts h / falls in the range of the third category, from 0% to 46%. This 
might imply that the perceptual distance between two sounds in a pair is more 
important than whether or not the corresponding sound occurs in the source dia- 
lect. We should be cautious about drawing conclusions from the results of one 
pattern, however. Further investigation of the distance between cognate pairs is 

The second problem is that the weighting currently assigned to the three 
categories is only a temporary solution. Reducing the value by half in adjacent 
categories, as seen in (2), was done only to ensure that successive categories re- 
ceived less weight. To the authors' knowledge, research is lacking at the moment 
for empirically determining the value of such weights. 

The third problem concerns patterns grouped into the same category. Such 
patterns may not enhance communication equally, but they are temporarily treat- 
ed as equivalent in Cheng's model. Some of the pairs might be perceptually closer 
to each other than others. According to the results of a previous experiment pre- 
sented in Cheng & Kuo 1999, subjects formulate noise patterns within a category 
quite differently, even though they might fall within a single category by Cheng's 
definition. Fourteen Cantonese-speaking subjects were asked to listen to words 
from Southern Min. They were given seven Chinese characters in a speech iden- 
tification task. One character correctly represented a 'target' word. The other six 
characters represented Cantonese words that were selected to be perceptually 
close to the Southern Min 'target.' Subjects were asked to identify from the un- 
familiar Southern Min dialect which word they have heard. Interestingly, the per- 
cent correct score within a single noise category, from correspondence patterns 
where the two phonemes differed, ranged from as little as 0% to as high as 46%. 
Consequently, it is essential to look into these discrepancies carefully. One of the 
possibilities to account for this is the different perceptual distance between pairs 
of sounds. The different distances between pairs of sounds were found to affect 
the perception of sounds under different degrees of masking noise (Wang & Bil- 
ger, 1973). We believe that different distance between sounds will also influence 
cross-dialectal perception when the dialect, which is different from the speaker's 
dialect, functions similarly to a masking noise. This is the main reason for us to 
investigate cross-dialectal perception, as presented in this paper. We will concen- 
trate on a cross-dialectal test for perception of initial consonants between South- 
ern Min and Cantonese. 

2. Design of the experiment 

2.1 Subjects 

Two males served as speakers, for recording the perceptual stimuli. These 
two speakers were chosen from among faculty and graduate students at the Uni- 
versity of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign to represent speakers of Southern Min 
dialect spoken in Taiwan and Cantonese dialect spoken in Hong Kong. Another 

104 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

twenty people, six males and twelve females, served as listeners, for determining 
cross-dialectal perceptual distance of phonemes. They were selected from Uni- 
versity of Illinois students who were originally from Hong Kong. They were re- 
quired to be speakers of Cantonese (the source dialect), who reported having little 
or no knowledge of Southern Min (the target dialect). 

2.2 Stimuli 

Cantonese has 17 initial consonants, /p, t, k, m, n, n, p 11 , t h , k h , tf, tf\ f , /, h, 
1 , j , w/, and some words without initial consonants, which will be marked with 0. 
On the other hand, Southern Min has 16 initial consonants, /p, t, k, b, g, m, n, n, 
p h , t h , k h , ts, ts h , s, h, 1 / and some words without initial consonants. Matching the 
initial consonants of the two dialects in pairs, we create 306 potential pairs 
(=18*17) including the possibility of matching words with non-initial consonants. 
Nonetheless, many of the 306 pairs will not occur in cognate words in actual 
conversation between Cantonese and Southern Min. When correspondence pat- 
terns are obtained by inputting data from Hanyu Fangyin Zihui 1962, 1989 to the 
computer software program, we get 114 correspondence pairs or patterns. The 
remaining 192 pairs do not appear to have any function in conversation between a 
speaker of Cantonese dialect and a speaker of Southern Min, if speakers try to 
communicate based on cognate words. Including the 192 pairs in the experiment 
might help us to understand the mutual intelligibility of other dialects if two pho- 
nemes occur as a correspondence pair between other dialects. Phonotactic prop- 
erties differ from dialect to dialect, however. Consequently, we may not be able to 
generalize results convincingly and successfully from the 192 pairs to the mutual 
intelligibility of other dialects. Therefore, only the perceptual distance of the 114 
correspondence pairs will be examined in the present experiment. 

Thirteen pairs out of the original 114 pairs of initial consonants are pre- 
sented as examples in Table (3). The first column lists corresponding pairs be- 
tween Cantonese and Southern Min. Since we take Cantonese as the source dia- 
lect and Southern Min as the target dialect, the sounds are paired by Cantonese 
first and then Southern Min. The second and the third columns give the sound in 
phonetic transcription and the character used for each pair in Cantonese and 
Southern Min, respectively. Great effort was taken to form minimal pairs by con- 
trolling for vowels and tones (i.e., keeping them identical within the pairs) to en- 
sure that subjects were responding to initial differences instead of vowel or tone 
differences. An effort also was made to keep vowels and tones consistent be- 
tween pairs. Unfortunately, it was not possible to find minimal -pair cognate 
words for some of the potential pairs, with a close match of vowels and tones. 
These are marked 'omitted' in the last column. It was impossible to accomplish 
this goal because Cantonese and Southern Min are two southern dialects, which 
differ from each other quite a bit. There are only three tone values shared by the 
two dialects: 11, 33, and 55. When we select stimuli from lists of words with the- 
se three tone values and control for tone, we find that most cognate words in 
Cantonese and Southern Min, based on the initial consonant pair, do not have the 
same final elements (i.e., vowels or consonants). Because we present the stimuli 
auditorially, without showing the characters to the subjects, some initial phoneme 

Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants 105 

pairs occur with identical vowels and tones but the words do not share the same 
meaning. That is why some pairs are given different characters in the second and 
the third column. 

The fourth column is marked 'No' for a pair when the sounds in Southern 
Min (the target dialect) are not used in Cantonese (the source dialect). Those 
sounds which do not exist in the Cantonese inventory are considered to be new 
sounds to Cantonese-speaking people and these patterns belong to the second 
category in (2 i). We hypothesize that our listeners will detect those sounds as 
something new and process them uniquely. These pairs should also be judged to 
have a shorter perceptual distance between pair members than patterns in the 
third category in (2 ii). If listeners do not confuse new sounds with other sounds 
in their own dialects, it should cause less confusion in communication. Therefore, 
we assigned greater value to the pairs with these sorts of sounds than other non- 
identical pairs, as explained in (1) and (2). The fifth column indicates whether the 
pairs used as stimuli are minimal pairs or not. We intended to include only mini- 
mal pairs as stimuli in the experiment but 33 of the 114 initial consonant pairs did 
not have minimal pairs. Ten out of the 33 pairs of initial consonants constituted 
partially minimal pairs, however, with differences only in the nasality of the 
vowels. Because Cantonese does not have nasalized vowels, the nasality of vow- 
els probably should have little effect on the perception of initial consonants. The 
ten partial minimal pairs were included in the experiment as a pilot test. If no 
partial minimal pairs could be found, the pairs of initial consonants are marked 
'omitted' in the last column. No stimuli could be formed to test these pairs of ini- 
tial consonants in the experiment. 

(3) Cantonese vs. Southern Min 



Southern Min Not 


pa55 £ 

pa55 £ 


pan55 Jft 

pten55 $. 

3. p-h 

pa33 m 

ha33 I 

4. ^'-p 

^55 $. 

pan55 $L 

5. r/'-ph 

^■ax\55 $ 

pJ'anSS % 

6. p>Mi 

pte33 <f& 

ha33 t 


8. m-p 

ma55 4% 

pa55 C. 

9. m-b 

m3k5 m 

bok5 @ No 

1J1D55 % 

b^55 & No 

10. m-m 

ma55 4S* 

ma55 4% 


ma55 A 

ta55 £. 

Not in C? Not minimal Pair? Omitted? 



106 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

12. m-n ma22 % na33 % No 

13. m-h mc55 £ ho55 «f 

marj55 $ harj55 & 
mok5 9H hok5 Jig. 

Seven pairs of initial consonants, as in number 9 and 13, had more than one 
pair of words tested in the experiment. Additional pairs were included as pilot 
data to test the effect of change in the vowel or consonant endings. Because 
sounds were presented in pairs in the experiment (first the word from one speaker, 
then from the other), the slight difference in tone between the two speakers be- 
came very obvious. These tone differences were perceptible to the third and the 
fourth authors whose native language is not tonal. In pairing the sounds on the 
computer, it appeared that words with the 55 tone had the largest range of differ- 
ence. If they occurred in a natural speaking context, however, all the 55 variables 
would be considered acceptable high level tones. Thus, quite a few words with 55 
tones were recorded several times before being used in the experiment. As the 
sounds were paired and played back on the PC computer with Pentium II 300 
processor, 100 milliseconds of silence preceded the first sound and 450 millisec- 
onds intervened between the two sounds in a pair. 

2.3 Procedure 

In total, 9 1 pairs of initial consonants were examined in this experiment, 7 
of them containing more than one test item. One hundred initial pairs were pre- 
sented to subjects for judgment of the perceptual distance between the two 
sounds. All of the stimuli were recorded in a noise-proof booth with Sony recor- 
der designed for laboratory recording. Judgments of distance were made on a 9- 
point scale. All of the pairs were tested 4 times (*2 (Southern Min-Cantonese, 
Cantonese-Southern Min) *2 (Similarity, Difference). Thus, each subject was 
tested 400 test items. Subjects were randomly assigned to two groups. One group 
made similarity judgments (the similarity test) first, while the other made differ- 
ence judgements (the difference test) first. The reason to ask subjects to do the 
experiment on two reversed scales (i.e., judging similarity versus difference) was 
to make sure that subjects had a consistent criterion forjudging sounds instead of 
assigning the values randomly. If subjects made judgments consistently, we ex- 
pected there to be a strong negative correlation between the results of the two 
tests. In the similarity test, subjects were given a 9-point scale from low to high 
similarity. They were asked to choose a high value if the two given sounds tend 
to be similar, and a lower value otherwise. In the difference test, the scale was 
reversed. The higher value was to be given when two sounds were very different, 
and a lower value when they were similar. In order to help subjects not to confuse 
the end points and not to spend a long time figuring out what each end point rep- 
resented, two colored balls were given at each end of the scale. Two identical 
colored balls were given at the end point that indicated similar sounds, and two 
different colored balls were given at the other end point referring to different 
sounds. Some subjects did report that the balls helped them to respond faster. The 

Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants 107 

screens shown to subjects are given in (4). 

aide, number. Similarity 

| ; :|: A Low 1 I I 3 ' 4 [ 4 [fTlj f | « :f j Hit 


Click a n.nnhr 


L.« 1 i 1 ; j 4 : 5 ! * 5 7 » . » | High 

'-* ' 

Since the one hundred stimuli were reversed once, to present each stimulus pair 
in the opposite order, (SM-C versus C-SM), both the similarity and difference 
tests had 200 test items. Before the actual testing started, there were 20 practice 
items were selected randomly from the 200 test items and presented to subjects, 
to familiarize them with the experimental procedure. Half of the practice items 
were pairs with identical initial consonants such as 1^55 -^--k h a55 8§p, and the 
other half were pairs with different initial consonants such as wo55 ^-ho55 *%-. 
Though the proportion of the pairs with same and different initial consonants in 
the practice test is not the same as that in the actual experiment, presenting half 
same and half different pairs to subjects avoided biasing to subjects use one end 
of the scale more than the other. In addition, because practice items were selected 
from stimuli appearing in the experiment, subjects were asked to count backward 
from 100 by three to prevent rehearsal or memorization of the test items. Moreo- 
ver, subjects were given a 10-minute break between the similarity and difference 
tests to help reduce confusion of the first scale with the second. 

Two people participated in the experiment to see if the procedures were 
manageable. Since the program was modified after their participation, their re- 
sults are not included here. Originally the plan was to include 20 subjects in the 
experiment. However, results from some of the subjects indicated they were 
having difficulty working with a numbered scale. Results from these subjects 
yielded a fairly low negative correlation. Those who did not do well in the ex- 

108 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

periment often had a hard time counting backward or frequently made mistakes. 
Thus, backward counting could be used in related experiments in the future to 
fdter out those who are not gifted in managing numbers. Because results from 2 
of the first 20 subjects could not be used, 22 subjects in total were asked to do 
this experiment in order to obtain 20 valid sets of results. Both speakers and lis- 
teners were paid $10 after their tasks were done. 

3. Results and discussion 

When we calculate mutual intelligibility, we divide the correspondence 
patterns into three groups according to how much the patterns enhance communi- 
cation as given in (2). Among the three problems mentioned earlier was the tem- 
porary weighting of the categories in (2), due to a lack of available empirical re- 
search to suggest appropriate values. We would like to examine this weight as- 
signment in the next three sections based on the results we obtained in an investi- 
gation of the perceptual distance between initial consonants in Cantonese and 
Southern Min. The first section starts with the first category in (2 a) and deter- 
mines what should be included in this category. The next section examines pairs 
originally belonging to the two categories in (2 b) and redefines the criteria for 
these two categories. The following section will discuss salient features that can 
be used to explain different perceptual distances between sounds and to further 
refine the calculation of mutual intelligibility. 

3.1 Analysis on the identical pairs and pairs judged as similar as the 
identical pairs 

All of the valid results were tabulated in EXCEL and the results of the 
similarity test were all converted to the scale used in difference test by subtract- 
ing from 10. After the scale was converted, all of the results were averaged for 
each stimulus item. Each stimulus item received a score averaged across 80 raw 
data points (20 subjects * 2 orders (SM-C, C-SM) * 2 tests (similarity, differ- 
ence)). The results are sorted according to the average value given by the 20 
subjects, as shown in the third and sixth columns in (5). The lower the value, the 
closer is the distance between the two sounds in a pair, as determined by the sub- 
jects. On the left half of the page, the first column gives the stimuli, with Can- 
tonese listed first and then Southern Min. The second column, S/D, refers to 
'same' or 'different' initial consonants. The third column gives the average of the 
80 raw data points. The three columns continue on the right half of the page. 

(5) Results in the order of subjects' judgment 




1^55 ^55 




Iau55 Iau55 






pa55 pa55 




t h a55 t h a5 




ka55 ka55 




ku33 gu33 



tan55 tan55 




tji55 tsi55 


Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants i°9 


1^55 [PanSS 




k h oq33 hor)33 



har)55 har)55 




wo55 ho55 






ji55 nr55 



wa55 Oua55 



wu33 bu33 



pha33 ha33 



mo55 bo55 



nin55 Iin55 



tan55 kan55 



ji55 Oi55 



tik5 lik5 



nin55 niz55 




fa33 ha33 



ma55 ma55 




ji33 1i33 



mok5 bok5 



ji55 ki55 



wu33 hu33 



tor)33 n633 



ji33 r)r33 



Ji55 1^155 



^55 hu55 



fan55 p h an55 



^55 1^155 



tim33 Iim33 



pan55 p^r^ 



ma22 na33 



ka55 1^55 



^55 hi55 



wu33 gu33 



qo33 ko33 



1^55 si55 



ji55 tshi55 



ji33 gi33 



fa55 pa55 



tfi55 si55 



ji55 1^55 



0^55 tsi55 



Iai55 tai55 



tan55 t h an55 



mo55 ho55 



t h a55 ta55 



tan55 tsan55 



hang5 pf'arjSS 



ka33 ha33 



1^55 ka55 



ha55 ka55 



p^ar^ pan55 



t h an55 t^an55 



pa33 ha33 



ji55 si55 



nim55 Isim55 






ji55 hi55 






lji55 t^i55 



U"i55 ki55 



tiu33 nK3 






mok5 hok5 



0*155 k h i55 



nim55 him55 



Iji55 ti55 


no Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 


tin55 nr55 



tf h i33 li33 



ha55 1^355 



1^55 t h a55 



ma55 pa55 






jin33 bin33 



nin55 tsin55 



tji33 1133 



Ja55 t h a55 



ka55 ta55 



wa55 1^355 



Ji33 1i33 



lja33 ns33 



Ua55 t h a55 






fa55 1^355 



jii]55 t h ii]55 



t h a55 Ia55 



fa55 ta55 



1^155 ti55 



fa55 ks55 



wa55 ka55 



W355 la55 



ma55 ta55 



man55 han55 


Because the vowels and tones of the stimuli in each pair were matched to 
the extent possible, when the tested initial consonants were identical, we expected 
subjects to judge them to be highly similar. Therefore, we could use the value 
given for the pairs with identical initial consonants as an index to check if there 
are other pairs to which subjects will assign similar values. If so, it means that 
such pairs, although differing in the initial consonants are perceived as the same. 
It further implies that the initial consonants occurring in those pairs enhance 
cross-dialectal communication as well as identical pairs. Therefore, these corre- 
spondence patterns should be given the weight assigned in the first category in 
(2). Thus, if we use the last pair with identical initial consonants, 90. /ma55 - 
ma55/, as the cutoff point for 'same' and 'not same' pairs, we find seven pairs 
with different initial consonants judged as similar to the same degree as those 
with identical initial consonants. They are 72. /k-g/, 48. /tj-ts/, 66. /J-s/, 82. /w-0/, 
6. /p^h/, 96. /n-I/, 35. /j-0/. Several different factors are needed to account for 
the low similar value of these pairs. 

(i) Missing category: 

Many studies have found that after a certain critical period of development 
human beings lose the ability to distinguish acousitc dimensions not used to dif- 
ferentiate sounds in the native language (Lenneberg 1967; Oyama 1979; Flege 
1987; Snow 1987). Some kind of training is needed to retrieve this ability 
(Bradlow et al. 1997; Lively et al. 1993; Lively et al. 1994; Logan et al. 1991; 
Strange and Dittmann 1984; Yamada 1993). Three pairs out of the seven pairs 
judged highly similar, i.e. /k-g/, /tT-ts/, /J-s/, can be explained from this point of 
view. The voiced stop /g/, and the dental affricate /ts/ and fricative I si are used in 

Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants m 

Southern Min but not in Cantonese. Since the category of voiced stops, /g/, is 
missing in Cantonese, the closest initial consonants to /g/ in Cantonese is Ikl, 
which is different from /g/ only on voicing and is the closest option in terms of 
voice onset time. An acoustical measurement done previously (Kuo 1997) sug- 
gested that voiced stops in Southern Min have negative values of VOT, which are 
very different from the other two groups, unaspirated and aspirated voiceless 
stops, which have positive VOTs of differing length. In the absence of /g/, /k/ and 
/g/ were considered to be the same by Cantonese-speaking listeners based on the 
results obtained in this experiment. 

Furthermore, among Chinese dialects Cantonese is the only Chinese dialect 
that does not have dental affricates and fricatives, /ts, ts h , s/. It has /tf, tf h , J7 in- 
stead. We suspect that /tj~, tf h , //are probably very similar to /ts, tf, s/ in some ways 
and slightly different in other ways, so that these sets are transcribed differently. 
In fact, Bauer & Benedict 1997 suggest that the affricates used in Cantonese 
should be /ts, ts h /. Bauer & Benedict 1997 mention that /ts, ts h / become palatalized 
to /tf, tl h / when they precede the high front vowel, l\:l and the front and central 
rounded vowels, /y, ce, 0/. This should also apply to fricative III as well. We 
would suggest that the highness of the following vowels contributes to the pala- 
talization of the initial consonants. The close relationship between /ts, ts h , s/ and 
/tf, tf h , 1 1 can be explained not only in terms of phonology, as suggested by Bauer 
& Benedict 1997, but also in terms of cognate words they shared as we tabulate 
their correspondence patterns. When we took Cantonese as the source dialect and 
Southern Min as the target dialect, we found that the most frequent correspon- 
dence patterns for the /tf, tl h , II set were cognate words that began with /ts, ts h , s/, 
respectively. This indicates that these pairs of sounds share many cognate words, 
that is, most of the words with /tj", tf h , II initial positions in Cantonese are pro- 
nounced with /ts, ts h , s/ in Southern Min. The results from this perceptual experi- 
ment suggest that /tf, tj h , 1 1 should be treated as allophones of /ts, ts h , s/ in Can- 

(ii) Semivowels versus vowels 

Two corresponding patterns considered highly similar by subjects involved 
two semivowels in Cantonese and the absence of an initial consonant in Southern 
Min, as in /w-0/ and /j-0/. Most of the cognate words pronounced with the ini- 
tial consonants /w/ and 1)1 in Cantonese start with /u/ and /i/, respectively, in 
Southern Min. Therefore, when 82. /wa55 - ua55/ and 35. /ji55 - i55/ were pre- 
sented to subjects, they judged those pairs highly similar. Consequently, though 
the semivowels, /w, j/, are different from the vowels, In, i/, in terms of articula- 
tion and position in a syllable (onset versus nucleus), subjects perceive them 
nearly identical. 

(iii) Loss of contrast 

According to Bourgerie's 1990 sociolinguistic study of variation between /n/ 
and IV, the substitution of l\l for /n/ is highly correlated with gender and age of 
the speaker. Most young and/or female Cantonese-speaking people do not distin- 

112 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

guish IV and Inf. In this experiment, although all the subjects were told that the 
stimuli were pairs of sounds from Cantonese and Southern Min, they still did not 
distinguish IV and In/. Instead, they judged the pair, /1-n/ highly similar. Thus, 
phonological inventory and contrast in a listener's native language greatly influ- 
ence the perception of another dialect or language. The effect of native language 
or dialect can account for cases resulting from missing categories as discussed 
earlier in 3. 1 (i) as well as loss of a contrast given here. 

(iv) Nearly indistinguishable articulatorily and acoustically 

The last correspondence pattern with different initial consonants judged 
highly similar was /p h -h/ where /p h / was in a word pronounced in Cantonese and 
IhJ was pronounced in Southern Min. The similarity between these two sounds 
could result from the similarity of shape of the vocal tract when producing them, 
except for the closure and sudden release of lips for /p h /. Moreover, both /p h / and 
Ihl have low noise frequency. Consequently, they are nearly indistinguishable to 
listeners with only the burst difference. 

All the patterns with different initial consonants but judged as highly similar 
(i.e., assigned values comparable to pairs with identical initial consonants) should 
be grouped into the first category of Cheng's mutual intelligibility modal (1996, 
1997). Though several factors are needed to explain why these patterns are given 
fairly low values, most of the factors result from the effect of the listener's native 
dialect. In brief, the first category of Cheng's modal needs to be expanded by in- 
cluding the influence of the listener's native dialect. Although many of these pat- 
terns were originally placed in the second category, not all patterns in the second 
category should be reassigned to the first category. In addition, some patterns 
from the third category may be judged as comparable to patterns with identical 
pairs and should therefore be reassigned to the first category as well. Analysis of 
non identical pairs will now be presented. 

3.2 Analysis on Non Identical Pairs 

The voiced stops lb, g/ and the dental affricates Its, ts h /, and alveolar frica- 
tive Is/ appear in Southern Min but not in Cantonese. All the patterns containing 
these sounds belong to Cheng's second category in (2 b i) and they are listed in 
(6). The difference between the highest value and the lowest value within each 
group is given in the last column called 'Difference.' If there is only one test item 
in a group, no value of 'Difference' is given. Each group is separated with a 
blank row. 

(6) Results from the second category given in terms of groups 

Corresponding Pairs S/D Avg. Difference 

8. mok5bok5 3.3611 2.4167 

9. mo55 bo55 5.7778 

22. tan55 tsan5 6.6667 

Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial, Consonants 113 


28. t h an5 ts h an 




39.ji55ts h i5 


40. ji55 si55 




36. jin33 bin33 


30. nim55 tsim5 


31. nin55 tsin5 


48. tfi55 tsi55 


50. tfi55 si55 


49. t/i55 ts h i5 


56. tf h i5 ts h i5 


57 J h i5 si55 


55. J b i5tsi55 


66. Ji55si55 


65. Ji55ts h i5 


64 Ji55tsi55 


72. ku33 gu33 


87. wu33 gu33 


83. wu33 bu33 




1 4028 



As the results show, although these patterns all fall in the same category and 
originally would have been given equal weight in the quantification of mutual 
intelligibility, the values assigned by subjects can be very diverse. The grand 
mean of these average values is 5.36. The minimum value for a pair is 1.7778 
(for pair 72), the maximum is 7.4167 (for pair 31), and the standard deviation is 
1.61. Even if we compare average values within a group, differences between the 
highest pair and the lowest one can be between 0.7917 and 4.3056. This suggests 
that it is necessary to set up further criteria for the assignment of weight instead 
of merely grouping all patterns where a corresponding sound in the target dialect 
does not occur in the source dialect. A detailed solution for this will be discussed 

If collect all the patterns containing corresponding sounds in Southern Min 
which do occur in other words in Cantonese, as in (7), we find the results are very 
diverse as well. 

114 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

(7) Results from the third category given in terms of groups 




2. pan55 f^anSS 



3. pa33 ha33 

5 5694 

6. p 1, a33 ha33 



4. r/'anSS pan55 


13. mok5 hok5 



91. ma22na33 


1 1 mo55 ho55 


7. ma55 pa55 


10. ma55 ta55 


12 mar)55 han.55 


19. fa33 ha33 

5 9306 


15. fan55 p h an55 


14. fa55 pa55 


18fa55k h a55 


16 fa55ta55 


17. fa55ka55 


21. tan55 t h an5 


1 4861 

92. tiu33 nlu3 


25. tan55 kan55 


23. tik5 lik5 


93. torj33 no33 


24. tim33 lim33 


94. tin55 nr55 


26 t h a55 ta55 


1 6528 

29. t h a55 la55 


96. nin55 lin55 



32. nim55 him55 


33. Iai55tai55 


Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants H5 


35.ji55 0i55 


98. ji33 qr33 


45. ji55 hi55 




41. ji33 1133 


42 ji55 ki55 


43 ji55k h i55 


37jii]55t h ir)55 


52. tji55 ki55 


46. tji55 ti55 


51tji33 H33 


47. Ija55 t h a55 


99. tja33 na33 


60. tf h i55 hi55 


59. tf h i55 k h i55 


53. lf h i5 ti55 


58. ^i3 H33 


54. tl h a5 t h a55 


68. Ji55hi55 


67. Ji33 li33 


61. Ji55pi55 


63. Ja55t h a55 


62. Ji55ti55 


71. ka55k h a55 


73. ka33 ha33 


69. ka55 ta55 


77 k h u55 hu55 


74 k h a55 ka55 


76 k h or)33 hoq33 


78. har)55 ^1355 


79. ha55 ka55 








116 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

80. ha55 k h a55 7.0278 


82. wa55 0ua55 


89. wu33 hu33 


88. wo55 ho55 


85. wa55 ka55 


86. wa55 k h a55 


84. wa55 la55 


100. no33 ko33 


The grand mean of these average values is 6.23. The minimum value is 2.47, the 
maximum is 8.76, and the standard deviation is 1.36. Even if we compare average 
values within a group, differences between the highest pair and the lowest one 
can be between 0.6666 and 5.75. This also suggests that further criteria are need- 
ed for determining mutual intelligibility, rather than grouping all these pairs into a 
single category. 

Before searching for criteria to explain such discrepancy in the distance 
between sounds, more comparison was done to examine the division of the sec- 
ond and the third categories. According to the calculation of mutual intelligibility 
proposed by Cheng (1990, 1992, 1994a, 1996, 1997), we would expect the pat- 
terns belonging to the second category listed in (2 b i) to serve communication 
better then those in the third group. In other words, we would expect that sounds 
in the patterns from the second category would not sound as different as those in 
the third category and therefore they would not hurt communication as much. It 
was hypothesized that subjects would give lower values to patterns in the second 
category compared to those in the third category. In order to compare results for 
patterns in the second and third categories, groups of sounds containing patterns 
from both categories are given in (8), with patterns from the second category (2 b 
i) marked by *. The patterns without * belong to the third category in (2 b ii). 
Within each group, the patterns are sorted according to the ascending order of the 
average perceptual value. 

(8) Results from the second and the third categories given in terms of groups 

Corresponding Pairs 



7. ma55 pa55 


*8. mok5 bok5 


10. ma55 ta55 


13. mok5 hok5 


12. maq55 harj55 


*9. mo55 bo55 


21. tan55 t h an5 


91. ma22na33 


92. tiu33 niu3 


11. mo55ho55 


25. tan55 kan55 


Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants H7 

23tik5 1ik5 


47. tja55 t h a55 


93. tong3 n633 


99. tfa33 na33 


24. tim33 lim33 


*56. tf h i55ts h i55 


*22. tan55 tsan55 


*57. tP«i55 si55 


94. tin55 m55 


*55. ^55 tsi55 


26. t h a55 ta55 


60. tfhi55 hi55 


*28. t h an55 ts h an55 


59. 1^55 k h i55 


29. t h a55 la55 


53. t/ h i55 ti55 


96. nin55 lin55 


58. ^33 H33 


*30. nim55 tsim55 


54. tPaS t h a55 


32. nim55 him55 


*66. H55 si55 


*31. nin55 tsin55 


*65. Ji55 ts h i55 


35ji55 0i55 


*64. Ji55 tsi55 


98 ji33 rp33 


68. Ji55 hi55 




67. Ji33 li33 


45. ji55 hi55 






63. Ja55 t h a55 


41.ji33 1i33 


62. Ji55 ti55 




*72. ku33 gu33 


*39. ji55 ts h i55 


71ka55k h a55 


43ji55 k h i55 


73. ka33 ha33 




69. ka55 ta55 




82. wa55 0ua55 


*36. jin33 bin33 


89. wu33 hu33 


37. jiq55 t h ii]55 


*87. wu33 gu33 


*48. lji55 tsi55 


88. wo55 ho55 


*50. di55 si55 


*83. wu33bu33 


*49. tji55 ts h i55 


85. wa55 ka55 


52. U"i55 ki55 


86. wa55 k h a55 


46. tli55 ti55 


84. wa55 la55 


51.tTi33 H33 


118 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

The results show that patterns in both categories are mingled together: In the data 
displayed in (8), patterns from the second category do not necessarily rank above 
patterns from the third category. Although patterns from the second category rank 
near the top for half of the 10 groups displayed, for the other half patterns, the 
second category rank near the middle or bottom. This suggests that some per- 
ceptual features are salient and are probably more important to listeners when 
judging similarity or difference of sounds than whether the corresponding sound 
in the target dialect appears in the source dialect or not. It is assumed that the i 
closer the two sounds are in a pattern, the more they contribute to communication. " 
In the next section, some features will be introduced and examined with respect 
to the results to see which features might be perceptually salient and useful in 
accounting for discrepancies of the distance of sounds. 

3.3 Features Examination 

Wang & Bilger 1973 found that voice, nasality, and probably rounding fea- 
tures were the last remaining features used by English speaking listeners to dis- 
criminate two sounds under distorted listening conditions, when speech was in- 
creasingly masked by noise. These features are considered to be perceptually sa- 
lient in distorted speech while other features are lost after masking noise is ap- 
plied. Furthermore, Singh and his colleagues (Singh et al. 1973; Singh & Singh 
1972) found that the feature 'sibilant', which differentiates /tf, d$, s, z, J, 3/ from 
other consonants, is a salient perceptual feature for both English and Hindi. Dif- 
ferent features could be more or less salient (i.e., have different weights) in dif- 
ferent languages, however. Instead of adopting the results from previous studies 
of other languages in the calculation of mutual intelligibility, we will examine all 
the features based on the results of the experiment presented in this paper, so that 
we can obtain the perceptual features that Chinese dialect-speakers apply in proc- 
essing another dialect. In the table in Appendix 1, the first twelve features are 
proposed by Chomsky & Halle 1968. The features of frication, duration and place 
feature as labeled as PL1 were adopted from Miller & Nicely's 1955 study. Singh 
& Black 1966 proposed one more place category (labeled as PL2) than Miller & 
Nicely, while Wickelgren 1966 differentiated consonant place into five categories 
(labeled as PL3). 

After going through the results, the feature of 'voice' was modified as 
'voice 2' (VOC2) by extending the categories from two categories to three. All 
the initial consonants given as '0' in 'voice' (i.e., voiceless) remain as '0' except 
voiceless unaspirated stops and affricates. Voiceless unaspirated stops and affri- 
cates are assigned a value of T in 'voice 2'. All other initial consonants origi- | 
nally assigned a T in 'voice' were changed to a value of '2' in 'voice 2'. The rea- 
son for extending the category of 'voice' was that aspiration seems to have had 
some influence on our results. There are several pairs of initial consonants in 
Chinese dialects that are distinguished by aspiration, such as /p, p 11 , t, t h , ts, ts h , tf, 
tl h , k, k h /. However, from pilot analysis, it appeared that aspiration alone cannot 
explain or predict the discrepancies we found in perceptual distance. In order to 
accommodate this, a different approach is needed. Pairs of voiceless phonemes 
distinguished by aspiration can also be differentiated by their voicing quality: 

Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants H9 

Unaspirated ones have shorter VOTs while aspirated ones have longer VOTs. 
However, voiceless unaspirated stops and affricates are not as loud in voicing as 
voiced stops or other voiced initial consonants. Consequently, the distinction of 
aspiration can be combined with the voicing distinction was done for the feature 
of 'voice 2'. 

In addition, differences among initial consonants in terms of their sonority 
hierarchy are included in the last column of (11) called 'sonority'. Sonority was 
originally used to describe the nature of syllable structure and to examine which 
phonemes could serve as the nucleus of a syllable. Sonority in general refers to 
the higher degree of voicing and stricture (Carr 1993). The sonority of sounds in 
English is given in (9). 

(9) Sonority Scale in English 















e, o 

i, u 



m, n 

3> v, z, 3 

e, f, s, / 



(Ladefoged 1993; Carr 1993) 

Because there are a few phonemes in Chinese that do not occur in English, the 
sonority scale is modified as in (10). 

(10) Sonority Scale in Chinese 













r, 1 

m, n, n 

S, v, z, 3, ts, ts h , tj", tl h 

e, f, s, J, h 


p, t, k 

ph, t h , k h 

After each phoneme was characterized in terms of features like Appendix 1, 
we needed to further calculate the distance between initial consonants in terms of 
features. Since the initial consonants were presented in pairs to subjects, the dis- 
tance between initial consonants in terms of features was calculated by subtract- 
ing the value of the second phoneme from the value of the first phoneme in Ap- 
pendix 1 . For example, the value of the first pair /p-p* 1 / in Appendix 2 was ob- 
tained by subtracting the value of the second row for /p h / in Appendix 1 from the 
first row for /p/ in Appendix 1. In this way, the larger the value in Appendix 2, 
the farther distance between the two initial consonants for that particular feature. 
It is assumed that the distance between /p-pW and /p^-p/ is the same. Thus, the 
value in Appendix 2 is the absolute value after subtraction. The pairs with identi- 
cal initial consonants are removed from Appendix 2, so there are a few numbers 
missing in Appendix 2. 

After the distance between initial consonants was calculated in terms of 
features as in Appendix 2, the correlation between each feature and the average 
perceptual value given by subjects was computed using SPSS. The correlation 
between each feature and the average value of subjects' response (SUBJR) is 
listed in (11). 

120 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

(11) Correlation between features and average value of subjects' response 

feature vs SUBJ R 






2. CONS vs SUBJ R 



3. HIGH vs SUBJ R 


.004 < .05 

4. LOW vs SUBJ R 



5. BACK vs SUBJ R 



6 COR vs SUBJ R 



7. ANT vs SUBJ R 


.004 < .05 

8. VOI vs SUBJ R 



9. NAS vs SUBJ R 








.000 < .05 

12. RNDvsSUBJ R 



13. FRIC vs SUBJ R 



14. DURvsSUBJ R 



15. PL1 vsSUBJ R 



16. PL2 vs SUBJ R 



17. PL3 vs SUBJ R 



18. SIB vs SUBJ R 


.000 < .05 

19. OP vs SUBJ R 



20. VOICE 2 vs SUBJ R 


088 <1 



.009 < .05 

Unfortunately, none of the correlation values are greater than 0.5, so we can- 
not determine which features account for a certain percentage of the data. How- 
ever, seven of them have a positive correlation and p-value less than 0.05, which 
means that there is a significant positive relationship between that feature and the 
subjects' perceptual judgment. Including the feature 'voice 2', which shows some 
positive relation to the subjects' judgment, yields eight features with which to run 
a multiple regression. Before the features and subjects' judgment can be run 
through a multiple regression, however, some data reduction was necessary. 
Features, which overlap with each other in most situations, needed to be reduced. 
Consequently, the features 'friction' and 'sibilant' were replaced by the feature 
'strident' because they differ from it only for one phoneme pair and these two 
features were less correlated with subjects' perceptual judgment than was the 
feature 'strident'. Thus, 6 out of the 21 features listed in (11) were selected as 

Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants 121 

independent factors and subjects' perceptual judgment was chosen as the depen- 
dant factor in a stepwise multiple regression. If the value of F is set at 1.000 for 
features to enter the equation and 0.500 for features to be excluded from the 
equation, then all six features will be included in the equation. The results of the 
stepwise multiple regression, and the features entered the equation, and the se- 
quence in which they were entered are listed in (12). If the value of F is increased 
up to 3.87, then only the first three features will enter the equation, in the order. 
The earlier the feature entered the equation, the more important it is in predicting 
the distance between two initial consonants. 

(12) Results of the last step of the stepwise multiple regression 

* * 



* * * * 

Multiple R 


R Square 


Adjusted R Square .39728 

Standard Error 


Analysis of Variance 


Sum of Squares 











F= 9.34919 SignifF = 


— V 

'ariables in the Equation 
















































Variable entered 

on step number: 

1 . Strident 

2. Sonority 

3. Coronal 

122 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

4. Anterior 

5. Voicing 

6. High 

Y' = 4.44+.98*Strident+.23*Sonority+.80*Coronal+.37*Anterior+.32*Voicing+.39*High 
(Y' refers to the predicted distance on a 9-point scale.) 

Results of the stepwise multiple regression results show that all six of the features I 
are important in predicting the distance between two initial consonants (F=9.3492, 
Significant F=.0000< .05). The results also suggest that the feature 'strident' is 
the most important factor in distinguishing different initial consonants in Chinese 
dialects. This phenomenon is somewhat similar to what Singh and his colleagues 
(Singh et al. 1973, Singh & Singh 1972) found for English and Hindi: The salient 
feature 'sibilant' in English and Hindi differs from 'strident' for only one conso- 
nant, If/. However, except for voicing findings for other features do not corrobo- 
rate previous research. The significance of voicing is similar to the results 
provided by Wang & Bilger 1973, although this feature was modified slightly in 
the present study because some Chinese dialects, such as Southern Min, divide 
voiceless stops into two categories instead of just one, as in English. The other 
feature that was found significant in Wang & Bilger 1973 but did not enter the 
equation in this experiment was 'nasal'. As a matter of fact, the feature 'nasal' 
had a negative relation with subjects' judgment: -.0912. This implies that Chinese 
listeners or at least Cantonese-speaking listeners do not use this feature to distin- 
guish sounds. This may be explained by the mixture of /n/ and IV in several Chi- 
nese dialects including modern Cantonese. Most female and young people tend to 
use IV for /n/ (Bourgerie 1990). In fact, the frequency of initial nasal consonants, 
/m, n, rj/, has been found to be comparatively lower than that of other consonants. 
Moreover, the frequency of /n/ is lower than IV in both Cantonese and Southern 
Min. Thus, the perceptual distance between /n/ and IV should be reduced and the 
use of nasality to distinguish sounds should diminish as well. This indicates that 
to some extent languages use features differently in perception 

3.4 The Effect of Following Vowels and Final Consonants 

Originally, it was planned that only one stimulus would be formed for each 
phoneme in a corespondent pair between Cantonese and Southern Min. Never- 
theless, because these two dialects are very different from each other and have 
different co-occurrence constraints between initial consonants and following 
vowels, it proved impossible to ensure that the following vowel or the final por- 
tion of the syllable, including a final consonant, would be the same across all the 
testing pairs. Although the vowel was controlled whenever possible, (as the 
vowel /a/ or I'll for most pairs), five other vowels were needed to form cognate 
pairs including lot, laV, /au/, lul and /hi/. The distribution of these seven vowels is 
displayed in (13). 

Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants 123 

(13) Distribution of pairs in terms of vowels 

/a/ for 43 pairs / 100 pairs in total 

l\l for 41 pairs / 100 pairs in total 

/o/ for 8 pairs / 100 pairs in total 

/u/ for 5 pairs / 100 pairs in total 

/ai/ for 1 pair / 100 pairs in total 

/au/ for 1 pair / 100 pairs in total 

/iu/ for 1 pair / 100 pairs in total 

According to Wang and Bilger (1973), and Singh and Black (1966), onset conso- 
nants followed by F\l were more poorly discriminated by English-speaking listen- 
ers than consonants followed by /a/. Perception of initial consonants seems to be 
affected by the following vowel. Consequently, seven pairs were examined in a 
pilot analysis. These particular phoneme pairs were tested with more than one 
stimulus item in the experiment (i.e., they appeared in a set of two or three cog- 
nate words, with varying vowels or consonantal offsets). The results are given in 

(14) Phonemes pairs tested more than once 






1 . mok5 bok5 




2. mo55 bo55 




3. mo55 ho55 




4 mar)5 han5 




5. mok5 hok5 




6 tik5 lik5 




7. tim33 lim33 




8. nim55 tsim5 




9. nin55 tsin5 




10. k h u55hu55 




1 1 k h oi)3 hor)3 




12. wo55 ho55 




13. wu33 hu33 




124 Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 30:2 (Fall 2000) 

14. tiu33 nis3 




15. ton3 n633 




16. tin55nr55 




The results show that the pairs with final consonant /k/ were consistently as- 
signed lower values by the subjects than pairs without final endings or pairs with 
a final nasal consonant (e.g. 1. /k/ versus 2. /0/). In other words, when stimuli 
appear with the final consonant /k/, subjects tend to consider the initial phonemes 
more similar than in the other two situations. This could be explained by the 
shortened word duration resulting from the final oral consonant. As the word is 
shortened, it could be more difficult for listeners to detect differences between 
two initial sounds. In contrast, pairs with nasal endings tended to be assigned 
higher values (representing greater difference) than those without endings (e.g. 
10. /0/ versus 11. /rj/). Nasal endings seem to lengthen the word, so that it is 
easier to detect differences in the initial consonants. In addition, pairs with differ- 
ent nasal endings and different vowels were judged to vary in similarity (e.g. 8. 
/m/ versus 9. /n/ and 12. /o/ versus 13. /u/). Further study is required to explain 
the last several findings. 

4. Conclusion 

Because of the confounding effect of vowel and final consonant variation, 
we were not able to provide a complete modification of Cheng's model of mutual 
intelligibility, based on the results of the current experiment. It can only be con- 
cluded that the weight assignment for identical pairs as in (2 a) needs to be ex- 
tended to include some other perceptually similar pairs that are affected by the 
native dialect. These corresponding pairs could represent a missing category or 
missing contrast in the target dialect. In addition to the extension of a full point in 
weight to both perceptual identical pairs and highly similar pairs, weights need to 
be assigned to all other pairs in terms of the perceptual distance between two 
sounds in a pair instead of whether or not a corresponding sound appears in the 
source dialect. In other words, a subject's judgements of similarity rely more on 
the perceptual distance between sounds than on whether or not a sound in another 
dialect is new to him/her or not. Thus, the weight assignment in (2) should be 
modified as in (15). 


Kuo, Cheng, Bilger, Johnson: Perceptual Distance of Initial Consonants 125 
(15) Modified model for quantification of mutual intelligibility 

Signal Noise 
For each item in a pattern, the target-dialect: 

a. element is the same as that of the source dialect 1.00 -0.25 

b. element is different from that of the source dialect: 

i. and is perceptually highly similar to that of the source 

dialect because of the effect of native dialect 1.00 -0.25 

ii. and is perceptually different. Weights assigned 
to these remaining patterns should depend on the 
perceptual distance between the two sounds. 

determined from equation 

The equation in (12) is provided to function temporarily for calculating the dis- 
tance between two sounds in a correspondence pattern. As mentioned earlier, 
further more complete study is required to improve the equation so that it can 
account for variation in the following vowel and final consonants. 


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Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 
Volume 30, Number 2 (Fall 2000) 


Reiko Makino 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

This paper provides a pragmatic account of the uses of the Japa- 
nese abstract nouns koto (intangible'thing' such as 'situation') and 
no (indefinite pronoun) that have traditionally been categorized as 
complementizers. Koto and no, when they take a clausal complement, 
have been analyzed in terms of notions such as factive presupposi- 
tion or concreteness/abstractness of an eventuality denoted by the 
complement clause. This paper shows that the key issue in explaining 
the distribution and interpretation of koto and no is the speaker's be- 
lief concerning whether or not eventuality denoted by their comple- 
ment clause has been in the addressee's focus. It also demonstrates 
that the use of koto or no is a function of the speaker's goal and in- 
tention in making the utterance, as well as societal aspects. 

1. Introduction 

The lexical noun koto and the indefinite pronoun no occur in the head position of 
noun phrases taking sentential complements as their sister, as shown in (1) and 
(2). 2 

(1) Watasi-wa [Taroo-ga Amerika-e itta] koto-o sitta. 
I-TOP Taroo-NOM USA-to wentsituation-ACC got to know 
'I got to know that Taroo went to the USA.' 

(2) Watasi-wa [Taroo-ga Amerika-e itta] no-o sitta. 
I-TOP Taroo-NOM USA-to went one-ACC got to know 
'I got to know that Taroo went to the USA.' 

Previous accounts of the