Letters to the Editor SpecGram Vol CLII, No 4 Contents Recision and Precall—Accuracy Measures for the 21st Century—Jonathan van der Meer
Text Tricks

The Sorno Script

As is glaringly obvious to the merest twit, a human utterance, objectively and dispassionately considered, consists chiefly of a series of vowels, interrupted occasionally by heterogeneous and evanescent perturbations of formant patterns, called consonants. Nothing could be clearer, than that speech is essentially a matter of vowels. It might even be said that a consonant is nothing but a gleam in the eye of a vowel.

Nonetheless, certain ancient peoples, innocent as the driven snow of the above fact, converged with one mind upon systems of writing in which only consonants were, for the most part, written. This perversity was so widely imitated, that all ancient writing systems, with the exception of the inscrutable Chinese, at one time or another fell into the error of taking that unit of sound which is as varied as the proverbial snowflake, and scarcely more lasting, to be the very building block of speech.

All, that is, but one. As the reader may schon already have surmised, I refer to the original writing system of Sorno, the Moundsbar relative spoken in late Roman times on Guam and Saipan, and researched extensively, as I have mentioned before, by my colleague Higgins. In this script, only vowels were represented; this constituted a very significant advancement, in anticipating the sound spectrogram by some two thousand years, and in representing a great step forward in economy to boot.

With regard to economy, we know well that a typical language has fewer, usually considerably fewer, vowels than consonants, and especially, if you don’t count the long vowels separately. Sorno, like modern Moundsbar, had seven vowels, and its consonants numbered about fifteen. The need to learn only seven symbols, rather than fifteen, in order to represent any utterance, is obviously to be preferred.

One should not be misled by the “silent” vowels of certain modern languages such as English. Few indeed could make out the message: o auae ae oe ooa a oe. But compare the same message in Spanish, which is not known for its silent letters: a aoia e o iioa iee a ooae e oae. It is thus astonishing that consonant writing is praised for its efficiency.

Unfortunately the Sorno script was rather short-lived (lasting according to Higgins only a few months) before being abruptly replaced by a system of pictographs. My own suspicion is that some natural cataclysm accounts for its sudden disappearance, while Higgins seeks a cognitive explanation.

The Sornos wrote by carving the vowels into solid rock with entrenching tools, so what data there is is in quite good condition. We also know that the vowel symbols were called “animals.” Why, is a mystery. I would gladly provide a specimen of the script, but for the limitations of the medium. We are in the process of wearing down the usual resistance of the scholarly journals to our findings, and some texts should appear shortly.


Letters to the Editor
Recision and Precall—Accuracy Measures for the 21st Century—Jonathan van der Meer
SpecGram Vol CLII, No 4 Contents