Every script in the world challenge

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Deinonysus
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Every script in the world challenge

Postby Deinonysus » Thu Oct 21, 2021 12:53 pm

There are few things more satisfying than being able to read a new script that was once a bunch of unintelligible squiggles the day before. I experienced it last year when I learned the Arabic script, which was shockingly easy, and again when I recently learned Devanagari. Yesterday an idea popped into my head:

It doesn't take long to learn a non-logographic script. Why not learn them all?

Now of course, there's no knowing how many obscure scripts there are in the world, so for this project it is necessary to make some exculsions:
  • No conlangs: There is no limit to the number of conlangs out there, and many conlangs have at least one custom script (such as tengwar, sitelen pona, Ithkuil morphophonemic script..) so for this project to have a closed set of scripts I must exclude them.
  • Only living languages: There are lots dead languages, many of which are obscure, and I think it would be impossible to learn the scripts for every dead language.
  • No logographic scripts: A logographic script is too time consuming to learn. Since I am sticking to living languages, this only excludes Chinese characters. I plan to learn them in a few years when I seriously tackle the Sinosphere languages, but not now.
  • No alternative scripts: There are many new scripts that have been proposed for spoken languages (such as Quickscript for English), but including such scripts would make it impossible to have a closed set, so I am sticking to widely adopted, conventional scripts.

I found an interesting list of the world's most popular scripts here. I have no idea how reputable the site is but it seems reasonably exhaustive and includes several scripts that I had never heard of. There are a couple of errors I noticed: 1) they say that the Javanese script is actively used by 80 million people, but as far as I know it has mostly been replaced by the Latin alphabet for Javanese speakers, 2) They list "Inuktitut" as a writing system, but it should more properly be called Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics, as Inuktitut is just one of many indigenous Canadian languages that use it, and in fact it was originally designed for Cree, and 3) their Mongolian writing seems to be horizontal and I think it's supposed to be vertical? But other than that, the list seems fine, so I will use it as my to-do list for this project. But if you can think of another non-logographic script that is conventionally used for a living language, please let me know!

RankName of scriptTypePopulation actively using (in millions)
1Latin LatinAlphabetover 4900
2Chinese 汉字 漢字Logographic1340
3Arabic العربيةAbjad660+
4Devanagari देवनागरीAbugida608+
5Bengali-Assamese বাংলা-অসমীয়াAbugida300
6Cyrillic КириллицаAlphabet250
7Kana かな カナSyllabary120
8JavaneseAbugida80
9Hangul 한글 조선글Alphabet, featural78.7
10Telugu తెలుగుAbugida74
11Tamil தமிழ்Abugida70
12Gujarati ગુજરાતીAbugida48
13Kannada ಕನ್ನಡAbugida45
14Burmese မြန်မာAbugida39
15Malayalam മലയാളംAbugida38
16Thai ไทยAbugida38
17SundaneseAbugida38
18Gurmukhi ਗੁਰਮੁਖੀAbugida22
19Lao ລາວAbugida22
20Odia ଉତ୍କଳAbugida21
21Ge'ez ግዕዝAbugida18
22Sinhala සිංහලAbugida14.4
23Hebrew אלפביתAbjad14
24Armenian ՀայոցAlphabet12
25Khmer ខ្មែរAbugida11.4
26Greek ΕλληνικόAlphabet11
27LontaraAbugida7.6
28Tibetan བོད་Abugida5
29Georgian ქართულიAlphabet4.5
30Modern Yi ꆈꌠSyllabary4
31Mongolian ᠮᠣᠩᠭᠣᠯAlphabet2
32TifinaghAbjad1
33SyriacAbjad0.4
34ThaanaAbugida0.35
35Inuktitut ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦAbugida0.035
36Cherokee ᏣᎳᎩSyllabary0.02


Chinese is out of scope for this project so that leaves 35.

Now to list the scripts I already know. I would divide them into three categories:
  1. Native
  2. Quite comfortable (can sound out fairly quickly and doesn't need to be refreshed)
  3. Moderately comfortable (can sound out slowly and/or needs to be refreshed periodically or symbols will be forgotten)

Native:
  • Latin

Quite Comfortable:
  • Greek
  • Cyrillic
  • Hebrew
  • Arabic
  • Hiragana

Moderately comfortable:
  • Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics: Pretty slow to sound out but doesn't need to be refreshed very often. I can only read Inuktitut syllabics, not any variety of Cree, Ojibwe, or any other language that might use this brilliant script.
  • Katakana: Half of these symbols look exactly the same. I swear, I must have learned Katakana a dozen times and I always forget half of the symbols after a few months.
  • Hangul: I remember the consonants pretty well, but I do have a tendency to forget the vowels.
  • Devanagari: I can read it reasonably well, but there are a bunch of consonants that I keep having to look up.

My goal is to bring all 35 of the non-logographic scripts on the list to the "Moderately Comfortable" level (or maybe to a lower level, let's call it "Basic Familiarity"), so hopefully when I see any script that is in general use, I will be able to identify it on sight and make at least some attempt at sounding it out. Since 10 of the scripts are already known, that leaves me with 25 to learn. Of these, 17 are Brahmic scripts! So if I am going to embark on this project, it will be necessary to bring Devanagari from "Moderately Comfortable" to "Quite Comfortable" so that it can serve me as an "anchor" script. I've had half a mind to spend some time on Hindi anyway, so I don't have to twist my arm about it. I am a bit worried about all of the Brahmic scripts running together so hopefully that won't be too much of a problem.

I don't expect much trouble from the remaining 8 non-Brahmic unknown scripts, as they are mostly alphabets. I expect the biggest challenge to be the Cherokee Syllabary, not only due to the large number of symbols, but also due to the fact that Sequoyah used many symbols from the Latin alphabet but was not literate and designed the system from scratch, so the Latin symbols don't match up with their conventional values.

One bane of my existence is that I can never tell the difference between the Georgian and Armenian scripts. Hopefully that will soon be remedied.

Duolingo Hindi will probably be the biggest help in learning mastering the Devanagari script, but before I work on that I want to finish off the Duolingo Arabic course. I am just over 3/4 of the way through it at the moment and there are only 8 skills left that I haven't started, so hopefully it shouldn't be too much longer.

I am currently working on refreshing Hangul (watching some videos and also using Duolingo), and at the same time I am continuing to study Arabic using Duolingo and Assimil. I may take a break from Pimsleur Modern Standard Arabic and spend a little time on Pimsleur Hindi, but I plan to continue to work on Assimil Arabic for the duration of this challenge.

Known scripts: 10 / 35
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Corrections welcomed!

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Re: Every script in the world challenge

Postby rdearman » Thu Oct 21, 2021 2:48 pm

Good luck!
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Re: Every script in the world challenge

Postby lichtrausch » Thu Oct 21, 2021 2:58 pm

Interesting project. It seems like the main difficulty would be maintaining those 8 non-Brahmic unknown scripts you mentioned. I've found it difficult to maintain scripts that aren't tethered to a language or anchor script.
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Re: Every script in the world challenge

Postby Deinonysus » Thu Oct 21, 2021 4:13 pm

lichtrausch wrote:Interesting project. It seems like the main difficulty would be maintaining those 8 non-Brahmic unknown scripts you mentioned. I've found it difficult to maintain scripts that aren't tethered to a language or anchor script.
That is a fair point! I think I will need to give some languages a wee dabble so I'm not learning the scripts in a vacuum. Luckily I have access to Mango Languages and Pronunciator via local libraries, so I will be able to quickly and conveniently study Amharic (Ge'ez script), Armenian, Georgian, Mongolian, Chaldean Aramaic (Syriac script), and Cherokee.

Unfortunately it will be a bit harder to find resources for Maldivian and a Berber language. But the Thaana script (used for Maldivian) seems to have heavy Arabic influence, although it is an Abugida. So that one might be pretty learnable without having to get too far in the language.

I took a look at the Yi syllabary and... yikes! There are over 1,000 symbols and they all look pretty complicated. I might have to throw up my arms and skip that one.
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Re: Every script in the world challenge

Postby iguanamon » Thu Oct 21, 2021 5:03 pm

Does "Hebrew" include the variants of "Solitreo"- Ladino cursive; "Rashi"- Ladino print; and Yiddish cursive? They would be a relatively easy jump from modern Hebrew (square; meruba) print script.
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Re: Every script in the world challenge

Postby Deinonysus » Thu Oct 21, 2021 5:35 pm

iguanamon wrote:Does "Hebrew" include the variants of "Solitreo"- Ladino cursive; "Rashi"- Ladino print; and Yiddish cursive? They would be a relatively easy jump from modern Hebrew (square; meruba) print script.
I wouldn't call those different writing systems any more than I would consider print vs cursive Latin letters to be different writing systems, or say, Arial vs. Times New Roman font, or even Fraktur blackletter. It's all the exact same letters. Generally Hebrew letters are not handwritten using block characters so you can't get by without knowing cursive as well as block. I believe that goes for Yiddish too as well as Hebrew.

I suppose the argument could be made that the Phoenician/Paleo-Hebrew script is also the same writing system as Modern Hebrew since it also has the exact same set of letters as the Modern Hebrew Alphabet, but it looks so different that someone who can fluently read the Modern Hebrew alphabet would have no idea what a Paleo-Hebrew inscription says, whereas any proficient user of the Hebrew script should be able to read any of the variants you just mentioned with no trouble, with the exception of Solitreo which does look pretty different, but I do think someone who knows Yiddish/Modern Hebrew cursive should be able to figure it out eventually. So maybe Solitreo is the Hebrew equivalent of Fraktur.
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Re: Every script in the world challenge

Postby luke » Thu Oct 21, 2021 6:02 pm

Bene vale!
祝你好运!
حظا طيبا وفقك الله!
শুভকামনা!
Удачи!
幸運を!
Muga-muga sukses!
అదృష్టం!
સારા નસીબ!
ಒಳ್ಳೆಯದಾಗಲಿ!
ကံကောင်းပါစေ!
നല്ലതുവരട്ടെ!
ขอให้โชคดี!
Sing salamet!
ਖੁਸ਼ਕਿਸਮਤੀ!
ໂຊກ​ດີ!
ଶୁଭଫଳ!
වාසනාව!
בהצלחה!
Հաջողություն!
សំណាងល្អ!
Καλή τύχη!
Semoga beruntung!
Წარმატებები!
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Re: Every script in the world challenge

Postby Deinonysus » Fri Oct 22, 2021 2:20 pm

The Syriac script seems like a good candidate for my first new script in this project. It should be by far the easiest. Its letters map one-to-one to Hebrew letters and many of them resemble the corresponding Hebrew or Arabic letter. I took a quick look at the Mango Languages course in Chaldean Aramaic and it does include the Syriac script. I may start going through a bit of the course next week.

I imagine that Armenian alphabet will be the second easiest new script, considering that Armenian is an Indo-European language and a couple of the letters resemble Latin or Greek letters with the same sound value.

I'm thinking of how I can determine whether or not I have learned a given script, and I can think of two possible ways:
  1. Achieve a certain typing speed (say 20 wpm) in my chosen language for that script on one of the three typing sites I use. I have achieved this with three scripts so far (Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic), and I can already type proficiently in Russian and Greek so those should fall shortly, and I used to be able to type in Korean but I'd have to relearn. Typing tests are not available for all of the scripts but they are available for 13 scripts (excluding Chinese characters):
    • Latin
    • Arabic
    • Devanagari
    • Bengali
    • Cyrillic
    • Kana
    • Hangul
    • Tamil
    • Thai
    • Hebrew
    • Armenian
    • Greek
    • Georgian
  2. Post a recording of myself sounding out Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in my chosen language for that script. This should be available in a language for every script. I suppose you'll have to trust me not to peek at a transliteration or listen to a recording.

I'm rephrasing my criteria so that I will be learning scripts that can be reasonably learned in a couple of days. The Yi syllabary would be quite an endeavor to learn even though it isn't logographic so now my target number has gone down to 34 scripts.

Known scripts: 10 / 34
Typed at 20+ WPM: 3 / 13
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Re: Every script in the world challenge

Postby Deinonysus » Mon Oct 25, 2021 7:19 pm

Oops, I only know 9 scripts, not 10. I got confused because I counted Kana twice as Hiragana and Katakana to indicate my different levels of comfort.

Here are recordings of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to demonstrate proficiency in my best known scripts. I'm going to start with Latin script, not to prove proficiency since it's the script of my native language, but to demonstrate that even if you know a script very well, it can be hard to sound out passages in a language you don't know well. So I'm not lying when I say that I know some scripts well, but I don't know their languages that well so I'm slow! I'll be starting with my strongest languages and going down to my weakest, so you will see that my reading gets progressively more slow and tortured. For features such as tone or stress that are not marked in the language, don't expect any accuracy!

Latin script:

And here are my other best scripts:

I'm working on reviewing Hangul so that should be coming up soon. I also started doing Pimsleur Armenian and oops, I accidentally fell in love with the language! I'll be posting about that within the next day or two, with Syriac to follow shortly after Armenian.

It may take me a while longer to get to Hindi because now I'm thinking I want to finish Pimsleur MSA levels 2 and 3 before working on Hindi, and I won't work on any of the Brahmic scripts other than Devanagari until I'm comfortable with Hindi.

Scripts recorded: 7 / 34
Scripts typed: 7 / 34
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Re: Every script in the world challenge

Postby David27 » Tue Oct 26, 2021 2:22 am

Interesting project. I love different writing systems, and recently have been reviewing the Arabic script (my personal favorite from a subjective aesthetic point of view) and Bengali (which I also like a lot). But I also hope to someday put more time into those languages.
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