This article discusses the Arabic writing system. It begins with linguistic description of the components of Classical and Modern Standard Arabic writing, followed by accounts of their use to represent the language and of the use of the script as art and in technology. The article concludes with summaries of both the past and prospects of the script.
Peter T. Daniels
Every writing system represents a “native-speaker analysis” of a language, and as such at every stage of its development it reflects what its users consciously “know” about their language. The histories of the developments of writing systems on the one hand, and the categories represented by writing systems on the other, reveal that “knowledge” and thus are keys to the “folk linguistics” of written languages, and also provide insight into the mental representations of language.
This chapter is designed to show some of the special properties of older, non-standardized orthographies, with nearly exclusive emphasis on early Middle English. In particular it shows that ‘emic’ analysis tends to break down, as the writers were rarely interested in biuniqueness or full representation, captured lexical diffusion in process, and did not use notions like phoneme and grapheme. Many of them were working in a way best characterized in terms of the Classical theory of littera. The paper deals with the typology of ‘economical’ and ‘prodigal’ systems, the nature of litteral substitution, and the kinds of evidence necessary to assign broad surface phonetic values to graphs in ancient systems.
J. Marshall Unger
All the world’s writing systems may be classified as compact or diffuse depending on the number of functional units they generally employ. The only diffuse systems were or are used in and around China. Not all Chinese characters represent whole words, let alone abstract meanings; they are in fact the counterparts of orthographic words in compact writing systems. Like them, they function both logographically and phonographically. Consequently, careful cross-linguistic and diachronic study of the structure of texts consisting wholly or partially of Chinese characters can, despite their superficial opacity, shed considerable light on the phonological histories of the texts’ languages.