This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Nuts and Bolts: abugida.

Ge'ez script, an abugida of Eritrea and Ethiopia

An abugida is a method of writing.

Being English, I'm used to using an alphabet, where each different sound (more or less) is represented by a different letter. But there are plenty of other systems for putting down words on paper. Some rely on drawing simplified pictures of the word they represent, for instance.

Some have symbols, not for individual sounds, but for syllables. Japanese works like that.

An abugida is a syllable-based system, but instead of having a different sign for each syllable, it has a sign for each consonant (a consonant is pretty much any sound apart from those represented in English by a, e, i, o, or u) and then makes some sort of a change to it to show what vowel sound (that's the a, e, i, o and o) comes next.

It means that in an abugida all syllables starting with an n sound, for instance, will look very much the same. Sometimes the difference in vowel sound will be marked by an accent (something like ń, ň, ŋ, or ņ, for instance) as in the Brahmic languages of India and South West Asia; sometimes the difference in vowel sound will be marked by changing the shape of the consonant a bit, as in Ethiopic languages; and sometimes the difference in vowel sound will be marked by which way up the mark is written, as in Cree family languages.

There we are. Completely different from an alphabet, and completely brilliant.

And, do you know something? I want an abugida system for English. And I want it now!
Nuts and Bolts: abugida. This term first used in this sense in 1990 by Peter T. Daniels. Abugida is an Ethiopian name for the Ge‘ez script, being the name of four of its letters: ’ä bu gi da.


  1. A truly new word and concept. I 've always thought Hebrew was mad to have no vowels, except for a system of dots under the consonants for those learning the kids of below 6 or so! Everyone else has to sort of guess but they do it so I suppose it's possible could after all do it in English mostly, if they took the vowels out...still I like a nice vowel, me!

    1. Ah, but even Hebrew has vowels, now, Adele: there's some more about it here: