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Home > Ilatamiutitut > Ilatamiutitut in Greek letters

Ilatamiutitut in Greek letters

June 23rd, 2011

I’ve been thinking about how to write Ilatamiutitut in the Greek alphabet.

After all, if they had influence from Greece, then perhaps they would write the language in (a variation of) the Greek alphabet (rather than, say, in Syllabics or in Roman).

On the other hand, while Unicode has a whole lot of precomposed Roman letters with diacritics, and even a fair number of Cyrillic letters with diacritics, there are next to no Greek letters with diacritics, so font support for Greek letters with diacritics is likely to be poor. So for OOC reasons (I’d like the result to look nice given the fonts I have), I’d probably have to stick to the basic Greek alphabet.

(Historically, I suppose the reason for the lack of letters is the fact that the Greek alphabet wasn’t used much for other languages – and especially not as the official orthography of a language after the day of computing. For example, the use of Greek to write Albanian is quite a while ago, and Greek dialects aren’t written much except by specialists.)


Some of the phoneme-to-letter assignments seem fairly straightforward; others are more difficult.

For example, the three vowels /a i u/ most obviously map to α ι υ, respectively. (Or, theoretically, α ι ου, but having one vowel be a digraph, especially when neither ο nor υ will be used by itself, seems ugly. Though I suppose that didn’t stop the French from using “ou” to transcribe Arabic /u/.)

Long vowels could be αα ιι υυ, like in Roman-script Inuktitut. Or possibly some diacritic, perhaps even the tone: ά ί ύ. Or, I suppose, a macron ᾱ ῑ ῡ or circumflex ᾶ ῖ ῦ. (Here, it comes in handy that α ι υ are the vowel letters that could be either short or long in Ancient Greek.)

The nasals /m n/ are fairly obviously μ ν, respectively, and the voiceless stops /p t k/ are π τ κ. Also, the voiceless fricative /s/ will presumably be σ, and the voiced lateral /l/ will be λ.

That’s about where the easy bits end.

For /q/, it’s tempting to use χ, since that used to be /kʰ/ and is nowadays /x/, so a kind of dorsal consonant (albeit still a velar, rather than uvular, one).

An alternative would be not to differentiate between /k/ and /q/ (which is what many Europeans did at first when writing down Eskimo-Aleut languages), but that seems unsatisfactory to me.

Another alternative is inspired by the Syllabics orthography: introduce a digraph along the lines of “rk”, with the first letter showing the place of articulation (uvular) and the second showing the manner of articulation (voiceless stop).

But that runs into problems with gemination; you’d need to decide whether to write “rkrk” or “rrk” (syllabics uses the latter route, and it parallels the use of “nng” for geminate /ŋ/ in the Latin orthography).

And that’s even before you run into the problem of how to represent the voiced uvular in the first place. (I’m not quite sure what its value is; in Greenlandic, my understanding is that it’s a voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] or possibly an approximant [ʁ̞], while in Canada, it seems to be a voiced uvular stop, [ɢ].)

Apparently, one reason why the letter “r” is used for this sound is that Samuel Kleinschmidt, when he drew up his orthography for Greenlandic, was influenced by Danish and/or German (his other languages), in which /r/ is often [ʁ]. And then this convention simply stuck and became used even in Canada, where the phoneme is a stop and where the local qallunaaq language had a completely different typical sound value for “r”.

But I’m not sure whether ρ would be a natural choice for Greek philologists coming across the Ilatamiut; their /r/ would presumably be an alveolar trill rather than anything uvular.

So I’m tentatively assigning ρ to the voiced uvular, but I’m not sure whether that will stay. (I’m also not sure whether in Ilatamiutitut, the voiced uvular will be a stop, a fricative, or an approximant. I’m leaning to one of the latter two, though; that is, a continuant.)

That leaves the voiced sounds /v j g/ (which are, apparently, all approximants in Greenlandic, so [ʋ j ɰ] rather than [v j g] or even [v j ɣ]; Wikipedia implies that /g/ is typically [g] in Inuktitut but may be [ɣ] “between vowels or vowels and approximants”, though the fricative pronunciation is said to be universal for Siglitun); the voiceless lateral /ɬ/, and the nasals /ŋ/ and [ɴ].

For the voiced continuants (which is how I’ll treat them), I’m tempted to use β γ, based on their modern Greek fricative sound values, for /v g/, but that leaves open the question of how to represent /j/; modern Greek would point towards γ again, but /ja ji ju ga gi gu/ all exist (as far as I know), whereas in modern Greek, you could only have γα γι γυ /ga ji gu/—or if you use a digraph, για γι γιυ γα γυ /ja ji ju ga – gu/, which still leaves a gap for /gi/ [ɣi ~ ɰi] that I’m not sure how to spell. So I’d prefer to have separate letters for /j/ and /g/. Maybe something completely off-the-wall for /j/ such as ζ or ψ?

For /ŋ/, the obvious Greek solution would be—yet again!—γ, which obviously won’t do. (Especially since /ŋ/ can occur at the beginning of a syllable in Ilatamiutitut.) Maybe a digraph νγ as in Latin Inuktitut? (And Syllabics, for that matter, though there the spelling is arguably even worse: a “ng” ligature in front of a “g”, with the geminate being “nng” ligature + “g”.) One good thing about the phonology is that “ng” would be unambiguous, since /ng/ can’t occur due to manner-of-articulation (MOA) assimilation.

The next sound, the uvular nasal [ɴ] is a special case; it’s not a phoneme in its own right and can’t start a syllable, but only occurs before other nasals. Wikipedia treats it as an allophone of /ʁ/ in that position (and that is also how it is spelled in Inuktitut orthography).

However, due to the pervasive MOA assimilation, one could do away with two separate letters and simply use one letter for the first component of clusters with a uvular first component; as far as I know, this is indeed done in Nunavik (in Quebec), where “r” is used in all cases, being automatically read as a voiceless uvular stop, a voiced uvular (stop?), or a voiced uvular nasal, depending on the following letter.

(This could theoretically also work for the labial place of articulation [POA], with—say—”mn mt ml” being read /mn pt vl/, respectively, and the velar POA, with—say—”gm gp gv” being read /ŋm kp gv/, respectively. A bit more difficult for the POA in between labial and velar since alveolar nasal and stop /n t/ can correspond either to alveolar continuant /s/ or to palatal continuant /j/.)

So. Even though this phone can’t occur syllable-initially, it would be nice to have three separate letters for the three manners of articulation of uvular sounds, but I don’t know what a good Greek letter for [ɴ] could be.

The final sound is /ɬ/; again, nothing obvious jumps to mind, though I lean towards using θ for it since both sounds are coronal fricatives. (And Welsh “ll”—which represents this same sound—sounds like “thl” to at least some English speakers.)


Another thought that came to me was to use υ ι to represent the approximants I write /v j/; then I’d have to think of some other way to write the vowels.

Unless I can convince myself that the spelling would be unambiguous. But looking through my Spalding, I see quite a few occurrences of /vv/, which would be ambiguous with /uv/. These are mostly if not exclusively North Baffin forms, according to the notes there, typically alternating with /bv/ or simply /v/ in other places. (For example, in the suffix “place where something is done”: (pi)vik, (pi)bvik, (pi)vvik.) But there are even more occurrences of /jj/ (including _ijji_ “foreign body in the eye”!).

So that could only work if I used different letters for the vowel phonemes—say, η for /i/ and ω for /u/, or something. (Or even something silly like α αα ε η ο ω for /a aː i iː u uː/.)


So with a tentative orthography, here’s an attempt at a transcription of the Lord’s Prayer in “Eastern Arctic Eskimo”:

Ατάταβυτ χιλανγμίτυτιτ: ανγινιχπανγυνίτ ικπιγιζαυττιαρλι,

ατανιυβίτ χαιλαυρλι, πιζυμαζαιτ ατυχταυλι νυναμι σύχλυ χιλανγμι ατυχταυνγματ.

Υβλυμι νιχικσαπτιννικ τυνισιβιτιγυτ.

Ταμμαρνιπτιννικ ισυμαχαχβινγιζυνγνίρλυτα σαιμμαυτιτιγυτ, σύχλυ ινύχατιπτα υβαπτινγννυτ ταμμαρνγνινγιτ σαιμμαυτιζαράνγαπτιγυτ ισυμαχιχβιγιζυννιχπακ καττιγυτ.

Ύκτυχταυτιτταιλιτιγυτ αζυχταπτιγυτ, σαπυτιτιγυβλι σάτάνασιμιτ. (Ατανιυνιχ, αζυγαχανγινιρλυ, ινυχανιρζυαρνιρλυ πιγιγαβιγιτ, ισυχανγιτυμυτ.)

Original:

ᐊᑖᑕᕗᑦ ᕿᓚᖕᒦᑐᑎᑦ: ᐊᖏᓂᖅᐸᖑᓃᑦ ᐃᒃᐱᒋᔭᐅᑦᑎᐊᕐᓕ;

ᐊᑕᓂᐅᕖᑦ ᖀᓚᐅᕐᓕ; ᐱᔪᒪᔭᐃᑦ ᐊᑐᖅᑕᐅᓕ ᓄᓇᒥ ᓲᖅᓗ ᕿᓚᖕᒥ ᐊᑐᖅᑕᐅᖕᒪᑦ.

ᐅᑉᓗᒥ ᓂᕿᒃᓴᑉᑎᓐᓂᒃ ᑐᓂᓯᕕᑎᒍᑦ.

ᑕᒻᒪᕐᓂᑉᑎᓐᓂᒃ ᐃᓱᒪᖃᖅᕕᖏᔪᖕᓃᕐᓗᑕ ᓰᒻᒪᐅᑎᑎᒍᑦ, ᓲᖅᓗ ᐃᓅᖃᑎᑉᑕ ᐅᕙᑉᑎᖕᓐᓄᑦ ᑕᒻᒪᕐᖕᓂᖏᑦ ᓰᒻᒪᐅᑎᔭᕌᖓᑉᑎᒍᑦ ᐃᓱᒪᕿᖅᕕᒋᔪᓐᓂᖅᐸᒃ ᑲᑦᑎᒍᑦ.

ᐆᒃᑐᖅᑕᐅᑎᑦᑏᓕᑎᒍᑦ ᐊᔪᖅᑕᑉᑎᒍᑦ, ᓴᐳᑎᑎᒍᑉᓕ ᓵᑖᓇᓯᒥᑦ.  (ᐊᑕᓂᐅᓂᖅ, ᐊᔪᒐᖃᖏᓂᕐᓗ, ᐃᓄᖃᓂᕐᔪᐊᕐᓂᕐᓗ ᐱᒋᒐᕕᒋᑦ, ᐃᓱᖃᖏᑐᒧᑦ.)

Ataatavut qilangmiitutit: anginiqpanguniit ikpigijauttiarli;

ataniuviit qailaurli; pijumajait atuqtauli nunami suuqlu qilangmi atuqtaungmat.

Ublumi niqiksaptinnik tunisivitigut.

Tammarniptinnik isumaqaqvingijungniirluta saimmautitigut, suuqlu inuuqatipta uvaptingnnut tammarngningit saimmautijaraangaptigut isumaqiqvigijunniqpak kattigut.

Uuktuqtautittailitigut ajuqtaptigut, saputitigubli saataanasimit. (Ataniuniq, ajugaqangirnirlu, inuqanirjuarnirlu pigigavigit, isuqangitumut.)

(There are undoubtedly errors, either in my transcription or possibly already in the source document; there are a few places where the combination of letters used looks doubtful to me. There are also a few marks where I’m not sure whether I interpreted them correctly; for example, whether some of the dots above are open circles instead and if so, whether they stand for “ai”, or what the occasional lone open circle in the middle of a word means.)

  1. Jack
    July 22nd, 2011 at 20:29 | #1

    Wow, as a native Greek speaker, I found this article(and blog) to be pretty interesting! The actual language is REALLY hard to read without getting a headache, wether written in the latin or greek alphabet. Good job, though, looking forward to get into alternative scripts and conlanging in the near future!

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