English in blocks – An overview of the ESA project

Thanks for reading polyglot_ESA2  I know, that does look a bit strange! But in reality, it isn’t anything special, just ‘I wish to be a polyglot!’ written in the English Syllabic Alphabet. You’ve heard of the ESA, haven’t you? Well, if you happen to be nodding, I can guarantee that you are confusing it with a similar script. The only reason why I declare this with so much confidence is that this article is the first ever written mention of my newest project. So what is ESA about?

As you may have noticed already, the English Syllabic Alphabet resembles Korean Hangul to some extent. And although the letter forms have nothing to do with those of 한글 (Hangul), the similarity is not a work of coincidence! ESA is a syllabic alphabet, just like Korean. It allows the letters to be clustered into syllabic blocks, as in Hangul. But why shall we write English in syllabic blocks? Clearly, this is just an experiment. If you are familiar with Colin Harrison’s Engul from Omniglot, you are probably aware that I’m not the first one to come up with this idea. Nevertheless, the thought of “English in blocks” was conceived in my head without the influence of this or any other existing alternative alphabets.

Engul seems incredibly complicated in comparison to the ESA, but – regardless of this – it would be inconsiderate to say that the latter one is a simple writing system. I have borrowed several ideas from Korean orthography and typology, some of them you may recognise as we get into more detail. Above all, let me state that the ESA is not a phonetic alphabet. Each jamo-like “letter” corresponds to an English vowel or consonant (except the few orthographic symbols, such as the silent symbol and the conjunctive mark). Secondly, the letter placement within a block is relatively simple. Each block may contain up to three letters, read from the top in all cases. There are no distinctive initial, medial and final (Hangul) or heavy and light (Engul) letter forms, the number of letters in the block determines the height of each one. For example, in a block with two letters, each one will take up half of the avaiable space, whereas in a block with three letters, the space is restricted to one third per letter. Let’s look at the sentence ‘I wish to be a polyglot!’ again, this time with its transcription.

polyglot_ESA3

Some of the letters have no intention to conceal their origin. The ‘t’, for example, is more or less identical to its Roman equivalent, while the silent symbol (which I will talk about later) was based on the Hangul ㅇ (null/ng). As in Korean, the formation of vowels is rather simple. ‘A’ is a, ‘e’ is e, ‘i’ is i (a horizontal form of both the Roman and the Hangul equivalents), ‘o’ is o and ‘u’ is u. Since the characters represent syllables, each block must contain only one vowel.

But then how do we write ‘wish’ in the English Syllabic Alphabet? It consists of four letters, so one syllablic block will not be enough. We start by creating a block for ‘wi’ (see above). Then we create a three-letter block with ‘s’, ‘h’ and a silent symbol. Simple, isn’t it? Since each block must contain a vowel, ‘sh’ will be followed by a letter that holds the missing vowel’s place. Thanks to this, the reader will not find it difficult to pronounce the syllable, as the enormous circular symbol allows him to assume that the block contains additional consonants to be pronounced together with the preceding or succeeding syllable. Similarly, a stand-alone vowel, such as ‘i’ or ‘a’ in the example above, has to be followed by a silent symbol. Believe it or not, this latter rule has been taken from Korean Hangul, together with the symbol itself. 언어 (eon-eo) is the Korean word for language. As the syllables begin with vowel sounds, a so called “null symbol” is placed at the beginning of the blocks (in ESA, it is always the last letter). In the case of the first syllable, the ESA would not need a silent symbol. This is because the syllable includes both a vowel and a consontant, so the two letters can form a block of their own. However, the second syllable would have to be transcribed as an a at the top and a ㅇ at the bottom.

I hope that it’s all a lot a clearer now! Oh, I have yet to explain the use of conjunctive marks. In the example above, can you see the little black lines that connect the letters within a block? There is only one key rule here: no letter in the block may float! As opposed to Hangul, ESA requires the letters to be joined up. I have developed two types of conjunctive mark: exclusive and inclusive. A syllable may use either one, depending on the case. In some instances, a three-letter block has to apply both. Firstly, let’s have a look at the exclusive conjunctive mark. In ‘I wish to be a polyglot!’ (above), all but three (‘to’, ‘po’ and ‘g’) syllables have one of these. They are independent from the letters and are slightly bent, in order to avoid confusion between the mark and the natural vertical line of ‘t’ (‘t-‘ could be easily mistaken for ‘i-‘ otherwise). In some cases, however, an inclusive conjunctive mark is more appropriate. This extends a line of an existing letter in order to join it to another one. The syllable ‘g’ above is a perfect example of this: the line on the left has been extended by an inclusive conjunctive mark that joins it to the silent symbol.

And finally, punctuation. The exclamation mark in the example looks familiar, doesn’t it? Not all elements of punctuation are the same as in standard English though! This symbol is only used for direct speech, sentences in the imperative end with a ex sign instead. Questions are marked with a qu sign, unless they appear in the form of indirect speech. In the latter case, ‘ ? ‘ can be used. (For example, “She asked him if he wanted to go to the cinema?”, as opposed to “Do you want to go to the cinemaqu“) A coma becomes a dot at the top, abbreviations are marked by ‘ : ‘, apostrophes are replaced by interpuncts (‘ · ‘), primary quotation marks are presented as forward slashes (‘ / ‘) and so on. I believe this is enough for a brief introduction.

Before I finish, here is a bit of calligraphy! The text says “The English Syllabic Alphabet”, arranged into syllabic blocks as “the eng-li-sh sil-la-bic al-pha-bet”. Yes, ㄹ is the correct form of the letter ‘s’, and the s-like symbol in the first example has since become ‘z’, for stylistic reasons.

ESA1

And the same text showing the letters in each block. Silent symbols and exclusive conjunctive marks are purposely black. As for inclusive conjunctives, you may find some hiding in the second, third, fourth, seventh, eighth and nineth syllabic blocks. In the fourth block (‘sh’ of ‘English’), the first two letters are joined by an exclusive conjunctive mark and the second letter is connected to the silent symbol by an inclusive one.

ESA2

And to finish with, let me give you a challenge! The following hand-written paragraph reads “The English Syllabic Alphabet is an alternative script for English and other languages originally written in the Roman script.”

scan0009

  1. With the help of this and the other samples, read the word below and paste its standard English transcription as a comment.
  2. Identify a conjunctive mark in the word, locate it (first or second block?) and state its type.

challenge

I am looking forward to your answers! As usual, thoughts about the article are also welcomed. That’s it for today, thanks for reading!

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2 thoughts on “English in blocks – An overview of the ESA project

  1. I believe it is “where”. There is an exclusive conjunction mark in the first block. Did you substitute k for c in “script”?

  2. *conjunctive. Also, how do you handle diphthongs? Dividing them between syllables would seem to indicate individual pronunciation.

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