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Syllables And Syllabaries: What Writing Systems Tell Us About Syllable Structure

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Chapter Summary

The central claim of this chapter is that a writing system is by its nature a theory of processing: in writing, language is analyzed into discrete structures, encoded into signs, and then decoded into language again by the reader. The encoded structures must be ones that the reader and writer can access and manipulate. The evidence from writing systems therefore suggests that syllables are if anything more linguistically real than segments, despite the fact that early generative phonology ignored them. The first question to consider is whether syllabaries actually encode a structural unit or whether they merely encode strings of segments, and if a structure, then is it really the syllable and not, say, the mora? Any writing system encodes only some subset of a language's phonological structures, generally unmarked ones or ones that are of particular importance to the language for which they are designed.

Keywords: phonology; syllable structure; writing systems

10.1163/ej.9789004187405.i-464.118
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