English, and many other languages, have alphabets, wherein each symbol stands for a discrete sound. Other languages have glyphs, wherein each symbol stands for an idea. Still others have syllabaries, wherein each symbol stands for a syllable. The only language I am familiar with which uses a syllabary is Japanese. And I don't speak Japanese, so I can't read their various writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. If you're interested in this, go to the Japanese Language Meta Node, which can tell you much more than I can.

The reason why I found it useful to know that Japanese uses a syllabary is that it explains some pronounciation quirks characteristic of Japanese English, or Nihonglish, as I've heard it called. For example, Japanese tend to pronounce hot "hot-toe" and ice "ice-su". Nihonglish can sound a little weird, until you realize that it's a function of the assimilation of English into the Japanese paradigm. The extra sound is a function of the difficulty for the Japanese of producing a consonant sound without a vowel attached.

Devanagari is another syllabary (or at least looks a lot like one in the most common letter forms), and is used to write such languages as Sanskrit and Hindi. Cherokee is another language that is actually a syllabary.

Syl"la*ba*ry (?), n.

A table of syllables; more especially, a table of the indivisible syllabic symbols used in certain languages, as the Japanese and Cherokee, instead of letters.

S. W. Williams.

 

© Webster 1913.

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