The Chraki Writing System

This post covers the general ideas that figure into writing in Chraki. To quote the post about basic phonetics:

One of the central notions of Chraki is that it is symbolic in nature. This can be seen in simply the difference between the idea of a codification versus a word [ed: see this post]. Languages are an interesting intersection of both utility and creative aesthetic, and in this Chraki continues the idea of representing things symbolically by employing a syllabary of symbols as opposed to an alphabet (transliteration can take the place of an alphabet).

Basic Phonetic StructureA Brief Relationship To Writing

In order to understand the Chraki writing system, one must understand its most basic element: the grapheme. A grapheme here is essentially the smallest unit of a writing system. In the case of Chraki, a grapheme corresponds to a single symbol which may either be a phonetic symbol (otherwise known as a syllabogram being part of a syllabary) or an encodification symbol (being an encoding of a codification).

To review the meaning of codification and encoding, see The Integrations and Disintegration of Codifications.

Introductory Definitions

Before we speed too far off with all these terms, let’s take a moment to make them specific with some definitions:

Grapheme
According to Oxford’s The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems: In linguistics, a grapheme is the smallest unit of a writing system of any given language. In Chraki, a grapheme is a visual symbol that relates to either a phonetic unit, or an encodification.
Phonetic Symbol (Syllabogram, see below)
A phonetic symbol, or grapheme, is a visual arrangement that represents a spoken phonetic unit (usually consisting of one, in the case of a vowel, or two, in the case of a consonant, phonemes). These are arranged in a syllabary. [Review the definition of a phonetic unit from Basic Phonetic Structure]
Encodification
This term is short for encoding of a codification, and consists of a logogram (a written symbol that traditionally represents a word or phrase.) In Chraki specifically, each one of these symbols represents the short root-form of a codification. [Review the definitions of codification and short root-form from The Integration and Disintegration of Codifications]
Syllabary
To quote Wikipedia: … a set of written symbols that represent the syllables … which make up words. A symbol in a syllabary, is called a syllabogram. In Chraki, the syllabary is a set of symbols that represent phonetic units (pseudo-syllables) as opposed to real (natural) spoken syllables due to the morphetic layer. [Review the definition of the morphetic layer from Basic Phonetic Structure]
Syllabogram
To further quote Wikipedia: … typically represents an (optional) consonant sound (simple onset) followed by a vowel sound (nucleus). The inset terms here can also be applied to Chraki syllabograms, as they are representations of phonetic units which follow the same pattern: an optional simple onset (consonant) followed by a nucleus (vowel).

In short, the Chraki writing system consists of a set of graphemes each indicating either a syllabogram in a syllabary or a logogram representing the short root-form of a codification.

Is It A Syllabary Or An Alphabet?

Please note the difference between an alphabet and a syllabary. In an alphabet, such as the English alphabet, a single grapheme (or character) only denotes a particular phoneme. For example, the character s equates to the phoneme / s / (and the sound [ s ]). You combine characters together to create whole syllables, such as the word sat. In a true syllabary (meaning one that contains true syllabograms), each syllable of the language can be represented by one syllabogram (such as Chinese).

However, if you are familiar with the pseudo-syllable nature of phonetic units, you’ll know that one phonetic unit does not contain the whole morphetic unit (which can include the end or coda). A phonetic unit consists of an optional consonant followed by a vowel, whereas a full morphetic instance would also include a consonant on the end of it (see Basic Phonetic Structure: Morphetic Layer for more information.)

So, if the phonetic symbols (syllabograms) of Chraki are contained in a syllabary but do not indicate full syllables (they are not true syllabograms) then, is it a syllabary or an alphabet? I prefer to call it a pseudo-syllabary, but use the term syllabary for short. In technical terms, the syllabary of Chraki is not a true syllabary (its syllabograms do not contain the full final syllable), is synthetic (elements of the grapheme indicate different onsets or nuclei), and uses echo vowels (see the / i / morphetic rules.)

As Chraki was inspired by a combination of languages of the East such as Chinese or Japanese (particularly Japanese), and West (in particular the Germanic families), it’s no surprise that the (pseudo-)syllabary in some ways acts as a false syllabary, and in some ways as an alphabet.

The Syllabograms

So let us move onward to the actual symbols employed in writing the different phonetic units!

First things first, if we count the possible combinations of all vowels (18) and consonants (21) we arrive at the computation 18 X 21 = 378. Now, three hundred seventy-eight syllabograms is obviously a lot of symbols to memorize. Considering that we’re already set to potentially memorize thousands of encodifications, just like Japanese Kanji or Chinese Hanzi, three hundred seventy-eight seems a bit much just to be able to pronounce sounds.

Accents / Diacritics

To alleviate this number we use two different accent marks (diacritics) akin to the Japanese dakuten and handakuten ( 濁点 and 半濁点 ). One diacritical placement indicates the form of vowel/nucleus (the upper right, distinguishes between two choices) and another diacritical placement indicates the form of the consonant/onset (directly above, distinguishing between up to three choices).

The vowel diacritical (the upper right) consists of either a blank space or the following (Japanese inspired) symbol (two vertical dashes). On the left is the diacritical symbol, and on the right is an example symbol with and without the diacritical (representing / ai / and / ay / respectively.)

/ ai / / ay /

The consonant diacritical (directly above) consists of either a blank space, a line, or a circle (Japanese inspired) symbol. On the left are the diacritical symbols, and on the right are example symbols with and without the diacritical (representing, / ha /, / ba /, and / pa / respectively.)

PhonemeDiacriticalSyllabogram
/ ha /
/ ba /
/ pa /

The Pure Vowels

The following table outlines the relationship between the pure vowel phonemes, their syllabograms (including diacritics), and finally their English transliteration (see below).

Phoneme Phoneme “ Syllabogram Syllabogram “
/ a / / aa /
“a(h)”

“aa”
/ ai / / ay /
“ai”

“ay”
/ e / / ee /
“e(h)”

“ee”
/ i /
“i(h)”
/ o /
“o(h)”
/ oo / / ow /
“oo”

“ow”
/ u /
“u(h)”

The Mixed Vowels

The following table outlines the relationship between the mixed vowel phonemes, their syllabograms (including diacritics), and finally their English transliteration (see below).

Phoneme Syllabogram
/ r /
“r(r)”
/ l /
“l(l)”
/ n /
“n(n)”
/ m /
“m(m)”
/ th /
“th(h)”

The Consonants

Because a consonant must always be followed by a vowel, and each different vowel used produces a different phonetic unit, any symbol representing only a consonant is not a “legal” or sanctioned syllabogram. However, it might help the reader if they are privy to the “base symbols” employed in creating the combined syllabograms.

That is, each syllabogram starting with a consonant/onset is (usually) a combination of both the consonant’s base symbol and the vowel’s syllabogram. Knowing this may help the reader remember which phonetic unit each syllabogram represents.

Consonant Base Symbol (Protosyllabogram)
The symbol that is associated with a given family of consonants which is combined with a given vowel’s syllabogram to produce another resultant syllabogram representing an onset with a nucleus.

The following table outlines the relationship between the consonant phonemes, their base symbols, and finally an example fully formed syllabogram (the / a / pure vowel).

Phonemes
& Transliterations
Base Symbol
Protosyllabogram
With / a / Vowel
( )
/ s / | “s*”
/ z / | “z*”
/ k / | “k*”
/ g / | “g*”
/ h / | “h*”
/ b / | “b*”
/ p / | “p*”
/ f / | “f*”
/ v / | “v*”
/ t / | “t*”
/ d / | “d*”
/ st / | “st*”
/ sh / | “sh*”
/ ch / | “ch*”
/ j / | “j*”
/ gh / | “*gh”

For a full and complete list of all resultant syllabograms consisting of a consonant onset and vowel nucleus please refer to The Chraki Syllabary.

The Modifier (Vowels)

Like the consonants, there are constraints on the modifier phonemes placement. However, they are very much like mixed vowels with the only difference being that they can’t “stand on their own.” That is, there is no syllabogram for a modifier to exist independent of a consonant or a vowel.

We are then in the same situation as the consonants since they can’t be printed independently either. So modifier (vowels) have base symbols (protosyllabograms) of their own that are then combined with either consonants or vowels. I have included the base symbols here so that the reader may observe the construction of the final symbols.

Modifier Base Symbol (Protosyllabogram)
The symbol that is associated with a modifier vowel which is combined with a given consonant’s or vowel’s syllabogram to produce another resultant syllabogram representing a modifier onset with a nucleus (consonant or vowel).

The following table outlines the relationship between the modifier phonemes, their base symbols, an example fully formed consonant syllabogram, and finally an example fully formed vowel syllabogram.

Phonemes
& Transliterations
Base Symbol
Protosyllabogram
With / a / Vowel With / s / Consonant
/ y / | “(*)y*”
/ w / | “(*)w*”

Notes On Transliteration

Transliteration
The process of transferring a word from the alphabet of one language to another. Unlike translation, this only indicates to the reader how a given utterance is pronounced.

In the above charts, you will have seen transliterations in the form of “a(h)”, “s*”, or “*w*”. What do all these annotations mean?

Direct Transliterations

When we transliterate Chraki we convert the given phonetic units (and codifications) into their respective parts and represent them using the English alphabet. Right off the bat, you can appreciate that the / s / phoneme corresponds with the letter ” s “ in transliteration, and the / a / phoneme corresponds equally as well to the letter ” a “. That’s handy!

But, it soon gets more complicated. Not all the vowel sounds in Chraki are represented best by a single letter in the alphabet. So, for instance, the / æ / phoneme sound gets transliterated to ” aa “ (as well as in its phoneme form / aa /). This is all well and good until…

What if I want to express two / a / phonemes next to each other (an elongated sound)? I can’t type ” aa “ since that means phoneme / aa /!

Optional Characters

You’ll notice that some transliterations (such as ” a(h) “ and ” o(h) “) have what I call “optional characters,” as indicated by the parentheses. This means that generally if the non-optional character is clearly encountered (the context is certain) then it indicates that phonetic unit. However, if the non-optional characters are encountered in another phonetic unit’s non-optional characters (such as ” aa “ or ” oo “), then that phonetic unit is indicated instead. To indicate an elongated, or double instance of the original phonetic unit, you can use the optional character to differentiate. So, ” aa “ would become ” ahah “ (both ” h “s are necessary since only having the middle h would indicate the phonetic units ” a “ and ” ha “.

Optional Character
As indicated by parentheses in the transliteration, an optional character is used to differentiate between phonetic units when the context is unclear.

Here is a list of examples of optional characters in use:

  • ” ahah “ to indicate / a / and / a /
    • ” aha “ indicates / a / and / ha /
  • ” ohoh “ to indicate / o / and / o /
    • ” oho “ indicates / o / and / ho /
    • ” ohoho “ indicates / o /, / o /, / o /
  • ” eheh “ to indicate / e / and / e /
    • ” ehe “ indicates / e / and / he /
  • ” ahih “ to indicate / a / and / i /
    • ” ahi “ indicates / a / and / hi /
    • ” aih* “ indicates / ai / and / h* /
  • ” ohwa “ to indicate / o / and / wa /
    • as opposed to ” owa “ which indicates / ow / and / a /
  • And so on…

Indications Of Placement / Wildcard

When writing a transliterated utterance, or a template of an utterance, you can use the wildcard character ” * “ (an asterisk) to indicate where something could be. This also is useful for indicating placement, as in the consonant and modifier transliterations given in the above charts. All consonants must be followed by some kind of vowel, except for / hg / which is preceded only by a pure vowel, so the first part of their transliteration is followed (or preceded) by an asterisk.

Likewise, a modifier (vowel) must be followed by a non-modifier vowel, and optionally preceded by a consonant. To indicate this there is an asterisk in parentheses before, and a required asterisk after.

In Chraki there are no required “spaces” between symbols. This works fine for block-like symbols such as the syllabogram, but it gets unwieldy when converting to characters (ex: ” kemenikarafalnregoikon “) In this case, one is free to use spaces to separate distinct terms. How this is done doesn’t have a standard, but the usual method is to separate by word boundary/particle boundary.

Purposes Of Transliteration

In order to fully/properly write in Chraki, you would, at the least, use the syllabary syllabograms to indicate the phonetic units you’re recording. This is fine if you’re writing them yourself on a physical medium where you can draw/mark whatever you want. Unfortunately, to write or store Chraki in its symbolic form on a computer and be able to read it in that form one requires the use of character encodings and fonts. Ideally, the characters would be encoded in an available space in the Unicode Standard, and there’d be a font file that maps those character codes to their syllabograms. Alternatively, the characters would be stored in an exclusively Chraki dedicated encoding format, and the computer would translate from there.

Character Encodings
Specific numerical codes that are meant to indicate some kind of displayable symbol according to some format, usually Unicode.
Fonts
The files the computer uses to draw the various displayable symbols above on to the screen. Each font contains instructions on how to draw each character.

If you’re using your own document editor, or building your own website, you will normally have access to the necessary capabilities for doing the above (computer fonts, and such). However, what if you wanted to write Chraki in a place where you don’t have control of those things, such as a social network? Or what about transferring Chraki through e-mail (plaintext) without necessarily hex-encoding it?

In these cases, you could just as easily convert the Chraki expression into its transliteration. The transliteration only uses a subset of the ASCII characters (with no diacritics). This format should be mostly universal across the board when it comes to electronic communication today (as it is compatible with Unicode UTF-8 encodings.)

As A Means Of Input

Transliteration also enables us to easily input phonemes into the computer which it can then transform into encoded Chraki symbols through a process called parsing using a parser.

Parsing / Parser
A Chraki Parser is a computer algorithm that can take transliterated text (ex: ” kemenikar “) and transform it into the actual Chraki syllabograms/encodifications either on-screen only, or by transforming them into a specific encoding (such as a custom space available in the Unicode Standard.)

If you’ve ever used a popular Western-style keyboard to input Chinese or Japanese characters into a computer, you’ve experienced something very similar. Kana symbols are matched against their romaji counterparts (such as ” ka “ or ” bo “) and converted automatically. As well, as the kana collect on the end, kanji replacements are suggested for the writer to use. You can imagine a very similar process when writing Chraki, where syllabograms automatically replace the western text and encodifications (see below) are suggested.

As A Means Of Storage

There can be cases where it becomes difficult to store specifically encoded bytes of data outside of the generally accepted ASCII table (more about ASCII). In these cases then, it is advantageous if we can store Chraki using only characters available in the ASCII encoding. With some modifications/escape codes to clarify encodifications (below), this can easily be done with transliteration. When the data is read or interpreted, a parser could then transform the text into true Chraki representations.

The Encodifications

In case you have not perused it, a good read for needed background information regarding encodifications (what they are, how they are used, etc.) can be found in The Integration And Disintegration Of Codifications.

Let’s review what a codification, and thus, what an encodification are with some definitions:

Codification
A delineated/distinguished thought(-form) which stands apart in abstraction/characteristics from other such thought(-form)s. A thought(-form) is what is conceived purely in the psychic processes of an individual, prior to expression. This would be considered Saussure’s signified component.

Encoding
A symbol, of any form, meant to indicate or refer to a codification in the eyes of the interpreter. This would be considered Saussure’s signifier component.
The Integration and Disintegration Of Codifications

We can expand on the encoding definition by applying it to codifications specifically, resulting in encodification:

Encodification
The official (canon) written encoding of a particular codification. This word serves the same purpose as the word kanji does in Japanese, or hanzi does in Chinese. It refers to the particular symbols used to indicate the codification. They are related to root-forms in that they indicate those pronunciations when written.

With these definitions, I can then state: a Chraki encodification is a visual symbol composed of radicals (see below) that refers to a codification. When encountered in writing they indicate the short root-form pronunciation of that codification, many times resulting in the long-form pronunciation of another codification (you can review root-forms here.)

Wait, I Only Pronounce The Short Root-Form?

Yep!

At first glance, you might be wondering what the point of a long root-form even is, but it should quickly become clear: the long root-form indicates how to essentially “spell” that part of the word using other encodifications.

Why? This is part of an effort to be inspired by the seeming mechanics of word composition I have observed in Japanese, but reign in the requirements of memorizing three to six different pronunciations of the same symbol depending on the context. In studying Japanese, one of the key difficulties many individuals have (particularly when coming from a Western language) is that one Kanji may be pronounced a various number of ways depending on where it is in the sentence, how it is used with other kanji or kana (okurigana), and so on. There are entire mobile apps (WaniKani) dedicated to not only help you learn the kanji but also their pronunciations without becoming too overwhelmed.

I find this kind of requirement unavoidable in an “unplanned” natural language, but since we are constructing our own “planned” artificial language I think we can do better. As I noted before, I really like the idea of word composition of a language like Japanese (which is what ultimately became the Integration And Disintegration method), but I disliked the idea of pronunciation ambiguity. I conclusively decided to limit the number of pronunciations to two.

This leads us back to where we started: you only have to pronounce (when reading) the short root-forms of the codifications. The long root-forms just get spelled out using the short root-forms. “Spelling” out the long root-form using the short root-forms enables the reader to begin to grasp how the word was composed (either integrated or disintegrated) and lends to greater understanding.

Shapes Of The Long Root-Forms

There are two “shapes” of long root-forms that have to do with whether the long root-form was formed through integration or through disintegration. When a long root-form is created through the process of disintegration, then the resulting construction consists of one encodification (pronounced like its short root-form) with syllabograms attached. Thus, when you see a single encodification with attached syllabograms, you are able to tell that it is a result of disintegration.

However, when a long root-form is created through the process of integration, the resulting construction consists of several encodifications (likewise pronounced like their short root-forms) with potential syllabograms attached/interspersed. When there are several encodifications together, you are able to tell that is a result of integration.

Examples are forthcoming!

Encodification Radicals

Much like Japanese kanji and Chinese hanzi are composed of smaller “parts” called radicals, so are Chraki encodifications. This is where we currently enter into an area that is currently being developed and finalized, so the information here is subject to change. In that light, I will write speculatively, covering the topics as more discussion than final results.

The exact, final, radicals

photo credit: tortipede Cypriot Syllabary via photopin (license)

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Asher Wolfstein

I am the original founder/creator of the Chraki language, and thus, I run this site. I am a creative entrepreneur time-traveling wunk (wolf skunk hybrid). Programming, technology, obscurity, history, cinema, costumes, furry, music, languages, manga, culture, philosophy, and communities. Code, write, draw, design, plan, invent, dream, blog, think, speak, observe, build, and grow.

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