Your "nit-pick" is indeed the point I was making - while the idea of a semantographic writing system that communicates ideas independently of language is clearly nonsense, it would make perfect sense for a semantographic writing system to be a language in its own right. Anyone attempting the former would at best achieve the latter. However, much better results may be achieved by attempting the latter in the first place.

Pete Bleackley
The Fantastical Devices of Pete The Mad Scientist -
Emily Semantic Recommendation -

-----Original Message-----
From: R A Brown <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Mon, 03 Aug 2015 12:11 pm
Subject: Re: No Phonology!

On 03/08/2015 07:59, Pete Bleackley wrote:

> What Wilkins and others failed to do was create a writing
> system that could represent concepts independantly of
> language - ie one where I could write a letter, thinking
> in English, and a monoglot Xhosa speaker could read it,
> thinking in Xhosa. A purely semantic writing system has
> to be a language in its own right.

Like Blissymbols.

Nit pick: in that scenario, neither you nor the Xhosa
speaker are monoglot; to communicate you must both be able
to use the semantographic language in which you are
communicating and which you say "has to be a language in its
own right."

I suspect in the modified meaning of 'phonology' which is
now being bandied about in this thread, someone could give a
meaning to the 'phonology' of Blissymbols      ;)

It seems to me that there are two problems (at least) being
discussed here.  One is what we mean by 'phonology' and the
other is what we mean by 'phoneme' on the assumption, it
seems to me, that phonology implies phonemes.  It does not.


The etymology of 'phonology' suggests that it means the
study of sounds; it does not.  That is 'phonetics.'

The word 'phonology' was coined to denote a branch of
linguistics which dealt with the _sound systems_ of
languages.  Out of the very wide range of possible sounds
produced by the human vocal apparatus (which is what
phonetics studies), only a relatively small number are used
_distinctly_ in any one language.  The sounds of this set
used by a language are organized into a system of contrasts
which are analyzed in terms of phonemes, distinctive
features or other such phonological units, *according to the
theory used.*

I.e. although the term 'phoneme' is widely used, it is not
_universally_ accepted and other theorists have used
different systems of analysis.

In 1960 by William Stokoe of Gallaudet University coined the
term 'cherology' to denote the study of 'cheremes', i.e.
basic elements of gesture and location, in sign languages.
At the time it was controversial as many still did not
consider these as languages per_se, but as derivative of
"real" spoke/written language.

Now sign languages are now considered as full languages in
their own right. As such the terms 'cherology' and 'chereme'
have become deprecated in favor of 'phonology' and 'phoneme'
of mainstream linguistics.  As far as I know, this is now
generally accepted (though whether, as with spoken
languages, there are theories that do not use the term
phoneme, I do not know - but there could well be).

If we have a language for extraterrestrial beings then it
seems to me that, just as we have extended phonology to mean
the study and analysis of elements of gesture and location
in sign languages, we should use it of the study of the
study and analysis of whatever medium of communication is
used by these aliens.  Therefore IMHO it is meaningless to
say the alien language has no phonology; whether it
necessarily has phonemes is another matter.

As Plan B has been brought into the discussion, I'll just
add a few points.

The aims of Plan B, as given by its creator, are that the
* Is simple enough to be parsed by a couple of hundred
lines of straightforward C.
* Is simple for humans to learn and use.
* Allows for unambiguous resolution of continuous
human speech.
* Offers near-optimal conciseness and simplicity.
- the

It achieves the first aim. That surely suggests that it has
more in common with programming languages than with
human-to-human languages.  In my opinion it fails on the
second aim. Indeed, the eminent French linguist, Jacques
Guy, clearly showed the failings of the language in his
parody 'Plan C'.  There are links to both 'Plan B' and 'Plan
C' here:

The language, in fact, consists of bit streams. *For
convenience* the author breaks up the bit stream into
quartets so that he may assign a separate character to each
quartet (i.e. a hexadecimal system).  That this is done
_purely for reasons of convenience_ is surely clear from the
author's own words:
It is handy to have the alphabet size be a power of two.
Eight letters would be less concise, thirty-two would
be tough to map onto the standard twenty-six char
character set. The particular sixteen letters chosen don't

But of this alphabet, the author says:
... the particular letters and pronunciations chosen don't
matter much.

Thus as the "pronunciations chosen don't matter much" and
breaking the bit streams into quartets rather than triplets
(eight letters) or quintets (thirty two letters) or even
bytes (256 symbols - quite possible) is just a matter of
convenience for people using ASCII, it seems to me that
talking about the phonology of Plan B in the original and
traditional sense of 'phonology' is meaningless.

The subset of American English (for it is clear he treats
the vowels of FOUGHT and PROP as identical) which he assigns
to his sixteen symbols has nothing to do with a language of
bit streams and is just a convenience.  As both Jacques Guy
and I show, there are neater ways it could be done.

If we use 'phonology' in its broader sense, then IMO talking
about the arbitrary division of a bit stream into quartets
as sixteen phonemes also does not make sense.  The smallest
significant unit in Plan B is a bit, i.e. it has only two
'phonemes' - 0 1

Nid rhy hen neb i ddysgu.
There's none too old to learn.