Identifying languages by their writing
I recently read a couple articles on how to identify many languages by how they are written. Harbeck offers good, often cheeky mnemonics for recognizing languages based on Roman lettering (Western and European languages), as well as Asian, Middle Eastern, Cyrillic, and North African languages. Helpful, although I would like to see tips for identifying languages in Southeast Asia (e.g., well known Malay languages), the Americas, and Indigenous languages in Australia and the South Pacific (e.g., Māori).
Around the same time, I saw Baker’s video (maker of Useful Charts) that grouped and defined the world’s writing systems into the following:
- abjads: primarily consonant-based, like Hebrew and Arabic;
- alphabets: where one letter corresponds to one phoneme (sometimes! just look at English and French);
- abugidas: an intermediate category between alphabets and syllabaries — includes South Asian (e.g., Tamil), Southeast Asian (e.g., Cambodian), and Amharic (spoken in Ethiopia);
- syllabaries: namely Japanese — I’d like to know what the other syllabary examples are in the sky blue box, but it’s illegible even when zoomed in;
- and logo-syllabics: covers ideographic languages like Chinese, as well as pre-Colombian Nahuatl and Maya.
Interestingly, Baker categorizes Korean as an alphabet. But given its construction as a combination between an alphabet and syllabary, wouldn’t it be an abugida? I also noticed he placed Egyptian hieroglyphs under abjads, although it could be seen as a logo-syllabic.