The World’s First (and Only) Truly Phonemic Alphabet

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An Introduction to NAVLIPI

The gist of NAVLIPI: A phonemic alphabet, and one that addresses phonemic idiosyncrasy
  • NAVLIPI is the world’s first and only practical phonemic script (alphabet), conveying phonemic information.
  • A phoneme is a phone (sound) with a linguistic significance. Two (or more) phones can be part of the same phoneme in a language, while they are different phonemes in another language. A good test for this is if substitution of one phone by another changes the meaning of a word in a language. In English, substitution of the [p] phone by the [b] phone completely changes the meaning of a word, as in pit vs. bit; so the phones [p] and [b] are different phonemes in English. However, substitution of [p] by [b] in Mandarin does not change the meaning of a word, as in pu (“no, not”) which can also be pronounced bu, so [p] and [b] belong to the same phoneme in Mandarin. Similarly, substitution of [t] by its aspirated counterpart, [th], in Tamil or in English does not change the meaning of a word, so these two phones belong to the same phoneme in Tamil and English; however, this substitution does change the meaning of a word in Hindi/Urdu (e.g. taali, “clap” vs. thaali “plate”), so these two phones are separate phonemes in Hindi/Urdu. For a more detailed definition of phoneme, see here.
  • NAVLIPI is a new, universal script (alphabet) addressing the phonemic idiosyncrasies of all the world’s languages. It is the only world script conveying information on phonemic idiosyncrasies specific to individual languages.
  • Phonemic idiosyncrasy can be defined as the existence of very different sets (usually, pairs) of phones (sounds), present as allophones of the same phoneme in one language, whereas the same phones exist as distinct phonemes in another language:
    • One example is the bilabial sound [p] and its aspirated counterpart, [ph], which are allophones of the same phoneme, /p/, in English, whereas they are distinct phonemes in Hindi/Urdu: that is to say, substitution of [ph] by [p] in a word in Hindi/Urdu completely changes the meaning of the word (e.g. phal, “fruit, vs. pal “an instant of time”).
    • Another example is the unvoiced and voiced bilabial phones, [p] and [b], which are allophones of the same phoneme in many Chinese languages, whereas they are of course different phonemes in nearly all Indo-European languages; that is to say, substitution of [p] by [b] and vice versa completely changes the meaning of a word in nearly all Indo-European languages (e.g. English pet vs. bet), but doesn’t in many Chinese languages (e.g. pu, “no, not”, also articulated as bu in Mandarin).
    • As a more peculiar example we can cite [x] (uvular/velar fricative, the famous “throaty r” of Parisian French and also much modern German, a sound coming from deep within the throat), and [r], the rolled or trilled r-sound. These are two radically different phones of modern French and German but are, nevertheless, part of the same phoneme in Parisian French and standard German.
    • Among other things, phonemic idiosyncrasy makes writing diverse languages (e.g. Mandarin and English or Hindi/Urdu and Tamil) in the same script extremely difficult. NAVLIPI overcomes this difficulty in a very simple, intuitive and practical way.
  • NAVLIPI means “new script” in Sanskrit and the Sanskrit-descendant languages of the Indian subcontinent.

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Also a precise phonic (phonetic) alphabet addressing the serious drawbacks of the IPA and other “universal” alphabets
  • NAVLIPI is also nevertheless a precise phonetic (phonic) script that very accurately transcribes the sounds and features found in all the world’s languages, from the more common ones such as tones to the less common ones such as clicks, ejectives and implosives. It is thus applicable to all the world’s languages: It is capable of transcribing equally well a tonal language such as Mandarin and a click language such as !Xo Bushman, in an extremely “user-friendly”, intuitive and practical way.
  • Far more thorough, complete, distinct and practical than the alphabet of the International Phonetic Association (IPA), the Americanist alphabet, and other “universal” world scripts, it addresses the serious drawbacks of these scripts even in standard phonetic (i.e., non-phonemic) transcription.
  • Based on the Roman (Latin) script, in which this English is written, NAVLIPI uses just five new or transformed letters (glyphs) in addition to the 26 letters of the Roman script.
  • NAVLIPI uses no cumbersome diacritics, rather making heavy use of “post-ops”, post-positional operators. A typical NAVLIPI post-op is hₒ, which indicates aspiration, e.g. as in phₒ, the aspirated counterpart of the p sound. Another typical NAVLIPI post-op is  (a subscripted infinity sign) which indicates a combination of unvoiced (as in the p sound) and voiced (as in the b sound) phones; this is useful for transcription in a language such as Mandarin, where unvoiced and voiced sounds are frequently part of the same phoneme (in this example transcribed as b).

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Some Uses of NAVLIPI
  • NAVLIPI is useful as a single script (alphabet) for all languages of the Indian subcontinent. At present, the 37 or so distinct languages of the Indian subcontinent are written in more than 10 different scripts. If one wants to learn a neighboring province’s language, one frequently has to first overcome the hurdle of learning its different alphabet. More importantly, there is a North/South divide in the Indian subcontinent, whereby it is difficult to write a South Indian language such as Tamil in the same script as a North Indian language such as Maraathi or Hindi/Urdu, due primarily to phonemic idiosyncrasy; for example, Hindi/Urdu recognizes aspirates, e.g. [bh] and their corresponding non-aspirates, e.g. [b], as different phonemes, whereas Tamil does not, so it is hard to write Tamil in Dewanaagari script or Hindi in Tamil script. NAVLIPI overcomes this critical problem of phonemic idiosyncrasy.
  • NAVLIPI is extremely useful in a globalized world, which direly needs a single script in which it is easy and intuitive to transcribe all of the world’s languages, taking into account phonemic aspects.
  • NAVLIPI is also a precise phonetic script that very accurately transcribes the sounds and features found in all the world’s languages. It is thus highly useful for precise phonetic transcription.
  • NAVLIPI also serves uses such as phonemic transcription of endangered languages. Some examples of this are:
    • Many endangered, dying or already dead languages are critically in need of a means of phonemic transcription. This need is not addressed by the alphabet of the IPA, the Americanist alphabet, and other “universal” alphabets. Indeed, NAVLIPI is currently used in some of the work sponsored by the Foundation for Endangered Languages (FEL), one of the world’s leading organizations active in the preservation of endangered and dying languages (http://www.ogmios.org/ ). It is currently promoted by FEL for one of its two grant schemes.
    • Many residents and governments in the post-Soviet Central Asian republics are said to be searching for a new script for their distinct Turkic languages which is not based on the Cyrillic or Arabic scripts (used historically); they are however shy of the version of the Roman script used today for Turkish, which they find has serious limitations for their languages.

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Keyboarding
  • Free keyboarding software is available for NAVLIPI (click on link above or here).

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What NAVLIPI Looks Like
  • What does NAVLIPI look like? Here are some examples of what NAVLIPI looks like for the five most widely spoken languages of the world (listed sequentially, in decreasing order of speakers, Mandarin, Hindi/Urdu (Dewanaagari transcription), English, Arabic and Spanish). For a more detailed explanation of these transcriptions into NAVLIPI, see the Legends directly below the transcriptions and also in About Navlipi.
你 不 认 识 他 吗 ?
N bu qnshi taa, maa?बच्चे खेलते रहे ।
bacce khₒƐltƐ rahƐ.beautiful, sunny day
bjₒiful, sani ₒƐi

occurrido la semana pasada
okurrdo l sƐmn psd

استيقظ الشاب الطويل القامة فجأة وكأنه يكمل آخر ماتبقى
ƆstƆjaak..ata eshbu awilu alk..amati FƆƆ:Ɔten wo knnu
jukmelu a: axƐrƆ mƆtƆbƆk..Ɔ

Legends for Above Transcriptions

Mandarin:

  •  =3rd tone (falling, mid-to-low + rising, low-to-mid). This is an example of a NAVLIPI post-op, a post-positional operator, positioned after the phone it is describing (“operating on”).
  • b indicates voiced + unvoiced, i.e. that this can be uttered as a b or a p sound without changing the meaning of the word. (This is an example of the transcription of phonemic idiosyncrasy in NAVLIPI.) (), the subscripted infinity sign, is another NAVLIPI post-op, indicating (voiced + unvoiced).
  •  = 2nd tone, rising mid-to-high.
  • q = the sound of the e in English father.
  • = 4th tone, falling high-to-low.
  • sh = the sound of the sh in English shoot.
  • thₒ = aspirated t.
  • aa= the sound of the a in English father.
  • = 1st tone, level, high.

Hindi/Urdu:

  • c = sound of ch in English child or of c in Italian duce; emulates Italian.
  • khₒ = aspirated k.
  • Ɛ = sound of é in English and French fiancé; distinguished from the e of English pet.

English:

  • j = sound of y in English yes.
  • uu = long u.
  • = alveolar plosive, the t sound of English stop, distinguished from the dental t sound of Spanish or Hindi/Urdu tu. In ₒ, the added subscripted circle indicates that this sound can be uttered unaspirated or aspirated, without changing the meaning of the word. (This is an example of the transcription of phonemic idiosyncrasy in NAVLIPI.)
  • = alveolar plosive, the d sound of English wordy, distinguished from the dental d sound of Spanish diente or Italian dente or Hindi/Urdu daant. In ₒ, the added subscripted circle indicates that this sound can be uttered unaspirated or aspirated, without changing the meaning of the word. (This again is an example of the transcription of phonemic idiosyncrasy in NAVLIPI.)
  • Other NAVLIPI letters already explained above.

Spanish:

  • aa= sound of a in English father.
  • Other NAVLIPI letters already explained above.

Arabic:

  • Ɔ = sound of a in English Jack or hat. One of the only five new letters (glyphs) of NAVLIPI, supplementing the 26 glyphs (letters) of the Roman (Latin) alphabet.
  • k.. = pharyngeal/uvular k sound, usually transcribed into Roman script as q in current usage.
  • b = indicates voiced + unvoiced, i.e. that this can technically be uttered as a b or a p sound without changing the meaning of the word; but more precisely, in most Arabic, the p sound simply does not exist. (This is an example of the transcription of phonemic idiosyncrasy in NAVLIPI.)
  • t.. = the characteristic “pharyngealized” dental t sound of Arabic, of course phonemically distinguished from the “standard” dental t sound.
  • : = the glottal stop, like the sound of the elided t of English Cockney lot of money, or of the in the original pronunciation of Hawaii’i.
  • Other NAVLIPI letters already explained above.

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NAVLIPI is…

  • …the world’s first and only practical phonemic script (alphabet), conveying phonemic information.
  • …a new, universal script (alphabet) addressing the phonemic idiosyncrasies of all the world’s languages.
  • …the only world script conveying information on phonemic idiosyncrasies specific to individual languages.

Navigation

NAVLIPI: A New, Universal Script (“Alphabet”) Accommodating the Phonemic Idiosyncrasies of All the World’s Languages.

VOLUME I: Another Look at Phonic and Phonemic Classification: Navlipi.

VOLUME II: Navlipi Companion: A Primer in Linguistics, Phonetics, Phonemics and Writing Systems with a Difference.

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NAVLIPI, the world’s first and only practical phonemic script (alphabet), hopes to eventually become one of the world’s alternatives for accurate linguistic, phonetic and most importantly, phonemic expression and transcription.

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