Phonetic Symbols in Unicode - Semantic Phonemes and Character Names

Semantic Phonemes and Character Names

Unicode includes letters and marks from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and those supporting other phonetic writing systems too. Essentially these characters are used as graphemes for phonemes. In terms of script or writing system, these phonetic alphabets are basically one writing system. What distinguishes the various phonetic alphabets are their glyphs. However, as with numerals, the UCS often focus more on the presentational forms or glyphs given to these phonemes by the various phonetic alphabets. This is in contrast to the alternate names of these characters provided by Unicode NamesList property which typically reflects the common phoneme semantics shared by those various writing systems regardless of the glyphs used. So these differences manifest in the alternate names given to these characters: the canonical UCS name and the NamesList property names. Similarly, Unicode assignees the value of “Latin” to the script property of many of these characters. However, the primary purpose for these characters inclusion in the character set is to support the various phonetic writing systems. These phonetic writing system, in many ways, constitute a single unified writing system on its own: despite borrowing glyphs from other Latin, Greek and Cyrillic scripts.

This possibly results in a larger than necessary allocation of characters, but it is likely due to the practice where the UCS often inherits character distinctions from other legacy character sets. However, this practice also raises other complications because the vast majority of changes in phonetic alphabets is in altering slightly or even completely changing glyphs. Seldom do these phonetic alphabets alter or change the underlying phonemes those glyphs represent. Such glyph changes would be better handled through font updates than through changes to the UCS and Unicode. The semantic phonemes have been fairly stable for decades: especially in the theoretically potential phonemes from our understanding of human aural anatomy. The phonemes have names like “labiodental flap” while the glyph character might be called “right-hook” in IPA informal usage (“v”). For example, the UCS name for character U+1D18, is a “Latin Letter Small Capital P” while the semantic phoneme name added by Unicode is a “semi-voiced ”.

The alternate names provided by UCS and Unicode provide an excellent example of the motivation and benefits of semantic unification like that used for Unihan characters. If the phonemes themselves were semantically encoded in Unicode rather than the glyphs used in one or several semantic alphabets, the text processing would occur independent of its visual presentation. One person could view phoneme writing using a font created with IPA glyphs while another could read the same text with a font created for Americanist phonetic notation glyphs. In performing searches, sorting text and the like, the glyphs representing the phonemes would be independent of the characters. When the various phonetic associations alter the glyphs for a phoneme grapheme, the updates can take place in the fonts used to display the text and not in the underling characters. Archived text would display with the new glyphs simply by selecting the updated font for display.

Read more about this topic:  Phonetic Symbols In Unicode

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