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meaning, visual access to

Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


The principal function of all writing is to convey linguistic meaning, but writing systems vary greatly in how they encode meaning. In a purely phonetic transcription, access to meaning is mediated through sound representation, while a purely ideographic notation bypasses representation of sounds, encoding concepts instead. Actual writing systems belong to neither of these ‘pure’ categories, but are located somewhere along a continuum which ranges from sound-centred to meaning-centred. An example of the former is serbo -C roatian writing with its closely phonemic alphabetic system, whereas the latter is exemplified by characters in chinese scripts which consist of mutually disambiguating components, one indicating sound and the other meaning. Other ancient systems such as Egyptian and Sumerian cuneiform, in order to help interpret phonetically written words, make use of semantic key signs called determinatives . In contradistinction to Chinese, these are written separately rather than as components of logograms. The Semitic consonant scripts , too, include a strong element of semantic coding, since there is a high degree of orthographic similarity between semantically related words. The written representation of words as C roots in unvocalized texts makes direct access to meaning feasible. Other sound-centred writing systems also afford direct visual access to meaning by a ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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