Alternate history for phonetics nerds

I wish Google Books would let you download things to read at home, because they really have some fascinating stuff in there. The other day I found A Standard Alphabet for Reducing Unwritten Languages and Foreign Graphic Systems to a Uniform Orthography in European Letters, by Karl Richard Lepsius.

Lepsius's alphabet predated the IPA by a good few decades and apparently got some practical use (check out the lists on the first few pages) but, as you may have noticed, lost out in the end. I personally suspect that this is because Lepsius burdened his letters with endless diacritics instead of giving them zany dangling hook-legs, failing the Fun Test.

Ah, the days when linguists said things like this...

In the first edition of the Standard Alphabet only the ancient pronunciation of the Sanskrit was taken into consideration, which, if we treat the language in a strictly scientific manner, must indeed still be regarded as the Standard; but it cannot be denied that the present pronunciation of the Brahmans must also be taken into consideration.

The section on Japanese starts on page 245 by the Google count. Notice the use of what looks like 子 instead of ネ for the ne in the katakana chart. That's hentaigana, baby. For me, seeing that was like noticing a Tasmanian Tiger peeking out from the underbrush in some old landscape photograph.

Popularity factor: 2


Whenever I'm inclined to share the wonders of hentaigana with fellow Japanese students (which is surprisingly often), I always get a snickering response. No, you silly otaku, it doesn't not mean "perverted kana"! I suppose those kids aren't too interested in reading classical texts anyway . . .


Maybe you could lure them in gently by showing them hentaigana as used in proto-tenctacle porn octopus shunga.

Nice livejournal!

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