Sunday, April 27, 2014

Syncing with the Syllabary

Well, it happened sooner than I expected. Anemo took an interest in what I was studying this morning on the couch.

As I mentioned in the last post, I've decided to tackle the sprawling Amharic syllabary, and so yesterday I picked out a few of the easier Amharic letters to memorize first, namely the seven vowel sounds associated each with the sounds 'b', 's', and 'sh', for a total of 21 letters. (They are more appropriately called 'syllabograms' but I'll stick with the word 'letters' for simplicity.) This morning, while Suzanne and her sister Nicole were out buying food for Anemo's birthday party at the beach, I asked Anemo to quiz me on the 21 letters I've learned. I gave him the flashcards and he read aloud the English transliteration of the Amharic letters (like 'bih', 'shay', or 'soo'). By the time I had written ten of them, Anemo asked if he could try. He obviously needed a few hints about where to put the vowel marks but he did remarkably well:
Anemo drew a line under my letters, labeled each section, and asked me to quiz him. He was delighted to learn that the first two letters of his second line actually spell "seesaw," which is the same word in both English and Amharic.
I chose to learn these three consonant sounds first because I thought they showed clearly how vowel sounds are indicated by the marks added onto the basic consonant forms. (Anemo caught on to the pattern of vowel markings quickly.) However, there is one discrepancy that I have yet to figure out. You'll notice in the screen shot below that the seven vowel sounds (basically 'uh', 'oo', 'ee', 'a', 'ay', 'ih', 'o') look the same on the consonant forms (ignore the 'q' form for the moment) except the sixth one (the 'ih' sound). Why, instead of having a line jutting out from the left side of the consonant as on the 'b' form, do the 's' and 'sh' forms turn their top line diagonal to represent that particular vowel sound? It doesn't make any sense. Either I'll learn the logic of this inconsistency later, or, what's more likely, I'll find out that's just the way it is with no rational explanation. (In fact, taking the longer view, I'm sure most of these musings on Amharic will seem absolutely silly once I've gotten a decent handle on the language. Nevertheless, I want to document my own process of discovery.)
I started with the 'b', 's', and 'sh' groups of letters (ignore 'q'). The sixth column is the one that befuddles me with its inconsistency.
Considering how much Anemo was anticipating his afternoon party, I was thrilled that he showed such a focused interest in the Amharic script this morning. Anemo's A.M. today may have been quiet and academic, but his P.M. at the beach was a celebration of joyful physicality. The party could not have been more fun.
Anemo is at the far right in the orange sweater. The boys did more digging of holes than building of sand castles at the beach, but they all had a blast!

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