Writing Systems and Linguistic Structure
  • ISSN 1387-6732
  • E-ISSN: 1570-6001
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In the study of writing systems, there is an ongoing debate what qualifies an alphabet as featural. De Francis (1989) claims that Alexander Melville Bell’s Visible Speech (VS) is featural because Bell idealized the consistency of his VS’s C-shaped letters, which resemble the general shape of the consonants. But this consistency overwhelms the usefulness of the script. As a result, this consistent iconic alphabet ends up with many similar C-shapes that prove confusing. Therefore, it cannot be used as a universal phonetic writing system. The topic of the present paper is the Korean alphabet called Hangeul (= Han’gul). Sproat (2000: 138) classifies Hangeul as “an intelligently constructed segmental alphabet.” Against this view I will argue that Hangeul is not just a segmental alphabet, but the optimal featural system; that is, more than a segmental system that comes close to being a featural system but one that intentionally avoids becoming completely featural by including considerations of practicability.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): feature system; Hangeul; iconicity; Korean; phonetic writing system; syllable
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