AskDefine | Define syllabary

Dictionary Definition

syllabary n : a writing system whose characters represent syllables [syn: syllabic script]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Neo Latin syllabārium, from syllaba


  • IPA /ˈsɪləˌbɛri/ or /sɪˈlæbəri/ (plural /ˈsɪləˌbɛriːz/ or /sɪˈlæbəriːz/)


  1. A table or list of syllabic letters or syllables
  2. A writing system where each character represents a complete syllable

Related terms

Extensive Definition

A syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent (or approximate) syllables, which make up words. A symbol in a syllabary typically represents an optional consonant sound followed by a vowel sound.

Languages using syllabaries

Languages that use syllabic writing include Mycenaean Greek (Linear B), the Native American language Cherokee, the African language Vai, the English-based creole language Ndyuka (the Afaka script), Yi language in China, the Nü Shu syllabary for Yao people, China, and the ancient Filipino script Alibata. The Chinese, Cuneiform, and Maya scripts are largely syllabic in nature, although based on logograms. They are therefore sometimes referred to as logosyllabic. The Japanese language uses two syllabaries together called kana, namely hiragana and katakana (developed around 700 AD). They are mainly used to write some native words and grammatical elements, as well as foreign words, e.g. hotel is written with three kana, ホテル (ho-te-ru), in Japanese. Because Japanese uses a lot of CV (consonant + vowel) syllables, a syllabary is well suited to write the language. As in many syllabaries, however, vowel sequences and final consonants are written with separate glyphs, so that both atta and kaita are written with three kana: あった (a-t-ta) and かいた (ka-i-ta). It is therefore sometimes called a moraic writing system.

Difference between an abugida and a syllabary

Indian languages and Ethiopian languages have a type of alphabet called an abugida or alphasyllabary. These are sometimes mistaken for syllabaries, but unlike in syllabaries, all syllables starting with the same consonant are based on the same symbol, and generally more than one symbol is needed to represent a syllable. In the 19th century these systems were called syllabics, a term which has survived in the name of Canadian Aboriginal syllabics (also an abugida). In a true syllabary there is no systematic graphic similarity between phonetically related characters (though some do have graphic similarity for the vowels). That is, the characters for "ke", "ka", and "ko" have no similarity to indicate their common "k"-ness (e.g. hiragana け, か, こ). Compare abugida, where each grapheme typically represents a syllable but where characters representing related sounds are similar graphically (typically, a common consonantal base is annotated in a more or less consistent manner to represent the vowel in the syllable).

Comparison to English alphabet

The English language allows complex syllable structures, making it cumbersome to write English words with a syllabary. A "pure" syllabary would require a separate glyph for every syllable in English. Thus one would need separate symbols for "bag," "beg," "big," "bog," "bug" ; "bad," "bed," "bid," "bod," "bud," etc. However, such pure systems are rare. A work-around to this problem, common to several syllabaries around the world (including English loanwords in Japanese), is to write an echo vowel, as if the syllable coda was a second syllable: ba-gu for "bag", etc. Another common approach is to simply ignore the coda, so that "bag" would be written ba. This obviously would not work well for English, but was done in Mycenean Greek when the root word was two or three syllables long and the syllable coda was a weak consonant such as n or s (example: chrysos written as ku-ru-so).

See also

Other types of writing systems

External links

  • Syllabaries - Omniglot's list of syllabaries and abugidas, including examples of various writing systems
syllabary in Tosk Albanian: Silbenschrift
syllabary in Breton: Silabenneg
syllabary in Catalan: Sil·labari
syllabary in Cebuano: Silabaryo
syllabary in Welsh: Sillwyddor
syllabary in German: Silbenschrift
syllabary in Spanish: Silabario (sistema de escritura)
syllabary in Esperanto: Silabaroj
syllabary in French: Syllabaire
syllabary in Galician: Silabario
syllabary in Korean: 음절 문자
syllabary in Icelandic: Atkvæðatáknróf
syllabary in Italian: Sillabario
syllabary in Dutch: Syllabisch schrift
syllabary in Japanese: 音節文字
syllabary in Norwegian: Stavelsesskrift
syllabary in Polish: Sylabariusz
syllabary in Portuguese: Silabário
syllabary in Romanian: Silabar
syllabary in Swedish: Stavelseskrift
syllabary in Chinese: 音節文字

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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