"One world, one alphabet."
Geoffrey Graham Tudor
November 15, 1995
Copyright © Geoffrey Graham Tudor 1995-2020. All rights reserved.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
C. Characteristics of PA
1. PA is featural in six ways
a. Element Level (Someme level)
b. Letter level (Phono-grapheme level)
(1) Letters encode sounds
(2) Letters encode body actions to produce sounds
(3) Letters encode instructions for pronunciation
(4) Letters encode spatial arrangement of body parts
c. Alphabet level (Phono-graphemaro level)
2. PA is universal in application
a. PA applies universally to all humans
b. PA’s decryption key is the human body
c. PA applies into the deep future
d. Culturally neutral
3. Single case letters
4. PA is easy to understand, teach, learn, remember and use
2. Speech therapy
3. Deaf education
4. Learning a first language
5. Learning a second language
6. One world alphabet for languages with and without a writing system
8. Alternative to International Phonetic Alphabet
E. PA letters
a. Table of consonant letters
b. Consonant elements
(1) Table of consonant elements
(2) Design of elements
c. Consonant letters
(1) Design of consonant letters
(2) Alphabetic ordering of consonant letters
a. Table of vowel letters
b. Vowel elements
(1) Table of vowel elements
(2) Design of vowel elements
(a) The midline
(b) Tongue vertical position (elevation or open/closed)
(c) Tongue horizontal position (front/mid/back)
(d) Lip roundedness
c. Vowel letters
(1) Design of vowel letters
(2) Alphabetic ordering of vowel letters
F. Examples of PA
G. Earlier featural alphabets
Physioalphabet (PA), also known as the Human Physiological Alphabet, is a universal featural alphabet based on the human physiology used to produce speech. An alphabet is technology, which ideally should be simple to understand and easy to use. Speech pronunciation is the product of human physiology. PA is designed so that the form of every letter encodes and communicates to a speaker six dimensions of information about the letter. No natural, organically evolved alphabet does this.
Each "letter" in PA is comprised of smaller “elements” that are assembled to form the letter. There are two systems of constructing letters in PA, one for consonants and one for vowels. For consonants, each element graphically represents specific body actions that combine to produce a specific speech sound. For vowels, each letter is comprised of different elements that communicate information about tongue position, lip roundedness and nasality. These unique features make PA a very useful and flexible tool with many valuable functions.
PA was created in 1994 by Geoffrey Tudor, an English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) instructor. His aim was to create a new international phonetic alphabet based solely on the sciences of linguistics and human physiology as universals of human speech. Tudor had previously taught ESL to Indochinese refugees at a university in Texas. His classes contained students from 3 countries: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Each country had its own unique alphabet, and each alphabet differed considerably different from the other two, as well as from the Roman alphabet used in English. With students from such radically diverse language backgrounds, Tudor realized that he really needed an alphabet that would be truly universal and would visualize the sound relationships among the letters. PA was designed to represent the sounds of any language on Earth. It turns out that in satisfying its original design purposes, PA possessed many features and characteristics for representing sounds in language that made it far superior to other alphabets.
PA's full, original name was (and remains) “Human Physiological Alphabet” because that name accurately described the most important features of the alphabet:
1. PA applies only to human beings. (Note: Any notation system for communication by any other species would ideally be based on its own physiology, as well. PA is the notation system based on our own, human physiology.)
2. PA originates from human anatomy and physiology.
3. PA’s writing system is an alphabet, not some other writing system.
The shorter term “Physioalphabet” was adopted for easier reference, and its abbreviation "PA" will be used throughout this article.
C. Characteristics of PA
PA is a universal, featural and single case alphabet that is easy to learn and use. In PA the letters ( and their component elements) are designed from the vantage point of a head facing left.
C.1 PA is featural in six ways
As an alphabet, PA is featural in six different ways graphemically, as a written alphabet. In a featural alphabet, the letters encode phonological features of the sounds they represent. See the APPENDIX for complete definitions and a discussion of PA’s phonological features, in the context of PA's perfect symmetry of phonological (sound) complexity to graphemic (writing) complexity. A thorough grasp of these concepts is essential to understanding how the concepts relate to one another.
In PA, the subphonemic phonological features of a phoneme (sound) are called "somemes." The written (graphemic) forms of somemes are called "elements.” Elements are assembled to make letters. And the set of all PA letters comprises the alphabet known as Physioalphabet.
Here is how PA is featural in six ways:
C.1.a. Element level (Soma-grapheme level)
Each PA element (soma-grapheme) is the written representation of a someme. A someme is one individual body action, among many, used to produce a sound. An element encodes a someme.
C.1.b. Letter level (Phono-grapheme level)
Each PA letter (phono-grapheme) is a written representation of, or encodes, a phoneme. Each letter in PA encodes 4 types of information relating to each phoneme.
C.1.b.(1). Letters encode sounds. Each letter, as a whole symbol, encodes the phoneme that the letter represents.
C.1.b.(2). Letters encode body actions to produce sounds. Each letter, as an assembly of elements, encodes somemes, or the body actions used to produce a phoneme.
C.1.b.(3). Letters encode instructions for pronunciation. Each letter, with its elements representing body actions, encodes instructions for pronunciation of the various phonological features that combine to form a phoneme. Letters in PA are “self-instructional.” PA allows a speaker to translate the information communicated by a letter itself into correct pronunciation of the corresponding phoneme. PA letters are anatomical descriptions of how to pronounce themselves. A speaker can see what body parts to use (or not use) to produce the phonemes represented by the letters.
C.1.b.(4). Letters encode spatial arrangement of body parts. Each letter displays a spatial arrangement of the PA elements that encodes the actual spatial arrangements of the speech-producing body parts within the head and neck. Just as the nose is above the mouth, which is above the throat, in PA the nasal element is above the mouth elements, which are above the throat elements.
C.1.c. Alphabet level (Phono-graphemaro level)
The set of all PA letters is an alphabet, in this case Physioalphabet. An alphabet, whether as PA or as an alphabet for any individual language, is also known as a "phono-graphemaro."
Physioalphabet, with all its letters taken together as a whole alphabetic system, encodes and displays the phonological relationships among all the different phonemes that the letters represent. That is, the design and construction of PA letters allow users to actually see the sound relationships among letters. This is not the case with organically evolved alphabets.
For example, the letters F and V in the Roman alphabet look nothing alike and convey no information about any relationship between the phonemes /f/ and /v/ that F and V represent. (Alphabets other than PA are dumb; they tell us nothing, give us no information about a language's phonology.) Both /f/ and /v/ are labiodental, aspirated fricatives: the upper teeth contact the lower lip, and breath moves out through the contact point. However, /v/ is voiced and /f/ is not. The letters F and V clearly reveal the phonological relationships between the two phonemes /f/ and /v/. Phonologically, the phonemes /f/ and /v/ are pronounced exactly the same way, except that /v/ is voiced. Graphemically, the letters F and V therefore look identical except for the addition of the base line showing that /v/ is voiced. This discussion highlights PA's perfect symmetry between phonological complexity and graphemic complexity.
C.2 PA is universal
C.2.a. PA applies universally to all humans
PA is based solely on human physiology, in particular, the body structures that all human beings share and use to produce speech. PA is an alphabet for all humankind, because it can be used to write any language in the world. This could go a long way toward giving all of humanity one common bond in a world of cultural and linguistic diversity. One world, one alphabet.
C.2.b PA’s decryption key is the human body
The decryption or decoding key for PA is the human body itself. Every person on the planet carries with them at all times the decoding key for converting PA letters into sounds. Each letter encodes the body parts and their actions that produce the corresponding speech sound. As a result, the PA system allows anyone at any point in time, whether in the present or some distant future, to decode PA and know the sound of any language.
C.2.c PA applies into the deep future
The speech-producing parts of the human body do not change or evolve over time. This means that PA applies universally to all past, present and future languages, and in fact into the deep future.
C.2.d. Culturally neutral
PA is totally culture neutral. PA is a script that was constructed based on the science of the human body. This means it is completely unrelated to any ethnic, national or cultural group, or to any group’s particular history. It did not evolve organically over time as did almost all writing systems on Earth, past or present. In short, PA carries no cultural baggage.
C.3. Single case letters
All PA letters are single case letters. Each letter has only one invariable form. In linguistics, this type of alphabet is described as unicase or unicameral. Alphabets whose letters have two forms are called bicameral alphabets. These two forms are described as majuscule or miniscule letters, as uppercase and lowercase letters, or, in everyday speech, as capital or small letters. The Roman alphabet used in English is just such a bicameral alphabet. But PA's single case form for its letters makes it much easier to teach and learn because a student only has to learn one, not two, sets of letters.
C.4. PA is easy to understand, learn, teach, remember and use
Because of its universality, featural nature and single case letters, PA is extremely easy to understand, learn, teach, remember and use (reading, writing and speaking). As a result, PA can easily be learned, mastered and applied in a few hours. And native speakers learning PA already have an in-grained sense of what their body is doing to produce speech, which accelerates their learning. Contrast this with the years that speakers now must take to learn the pronunciations of letters in an alphabet that evolved organically over time, in which the form of each letter is unrelated to the form of any other letters in the language, or in which one letter or letter combinations may have multiple pronunciations.
Linguists can use PA to record the sounds of any language - past, present or future.
D.2. Speech therapy
Speech therapists can use PA as a teaching tool to help students learn how to correctly pronounce sounds in English and any other language. Therapists can show via pictures and videos the speech-producing body parts and their actions, and then explain how PA letters depict these.
D.3. Deaf education
Using the same teaching technique, PA can help deaf students learn how to pronounce sounds in any language. Again, PA letters instruct the student, whether deaf or hearing, how to pronounce them.
D.4. Learning a first language
PA facilitates learning of a first language by native speakers. The speakers come to the learning table with fully functioning pronunciation of the language. This provides a readily available reference for learning the phonological features represented by the PA letters. This allows a native speaker to learn the PA letters in the alphabet extremely quickly.
D.5. Learning a second language
PA facilitates learning of a language by non-native speakers, in particular those whose original languages were not written in any alphabet. PA allows them to compare the set of sounds used in their native language with those of the target language they are learning. This enables more accurate pronunciation. For example, in ESL, students often have no reference point at all for pronouncing the Roman alphabet as used in English. And the wide irregularity of English spelling impedes their ability to learn pronunciation. PA solves this problem.
There would be no need for students to learn a new writing system for a second language. All students worldwide would learn PA for their own first language. In learning a second language, students would already know those PA letters that represent the sounds in their own language, and they would only need to learn those few PA letters representing unfamiliar sounds in the second language.
D.6 One world alphabet for languages with and without a writing system
Every language in the world that has an existing writing system could be written in PA as an alternative to its existing writing system. Since any language can be represented by letters in PA, parallel texts in all countries in both the native language and in PA would increase comprehension by non-native speakers with a knowledge of PA.
In addition, PA could easily become the writing system for the half of the world’s 7,000 languages that currently have no writing system.
A dictionary in any language can use PA to show the pronunciation of words in the language.
D.8. Alternative to the International Phonetic Alphabet**
PA is an alternative to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). PA can represent all the same sounds as the IPA, in any human language. IPA does not share many of the PA features listed above, and therefore has the same handicaps as other existing alphabets. Most importantly, there is no underlying unifying principle of letter design in IPA as there is in PA. IPA letters do not show how the letters relate to one another physiologically and phonologically. As a result, IPA letters give a speaker no information that would aid them in pronouncing the letters.
Unlike in PA, almost all IPA letters are based on the Roman alphabet. The IPA uses graphic gymnastics to amplify the Roman alphabet so that it has enough characters for all IPA letters. For example, the IPA:
a. adds to Roman letters tails curling forward and backwards,
b. uses capital and small letters, and
c. reverses and even inverts letters.
Compared with PA, the IPA is an unhelpful and uninformative system of symbols for speech sounds. PA is a far superior alphabet.
E. PA letters
E.1.a Table of consonant letters
Here is a table of all PA consonants:
E.1.b. Consonant elements
As mentioned above, PA letters representing consonants are an assembly of symbols called elements.
E.1.b.(1) Table of consonant elements
Here are tables of all elements that can be assembled into PA consonant letters.
The elements are displayed in the uppermost row and leftmost column of the PA consonant chart (see below D.1.b.(2)). The format of the PA consonant chart is almost identical to that of the IPA's. The uppermost row lists and shows the elements representing the individual body parts used to produce speech. The leftmost column lists and shows the elements representing individual body actions.
E.1.b.(2) Design of consonant elements
An "element" is a graphic symbol, or pictogram, that encodes and represents a body action that contributes to speech production. Here is a cross-section of the head and neck, showing the speech-producing body parts and their corresponding elements:
E.1.c. Consonant letters
E.1.c.(1) Design of consonant letters
PA consonants are combinations of elements, assembled spatially in a very specific order. The sound of any PA consonant comes from integrating the all the information communicated by the elements that comprise the letter.
Each PA letter is constructed in a rectangular area called a “letter field.” Consonants are assembled from elements. The elements are arranged spatially in the letter field to reflect their relative locations to one another in the body, i.e., in the head and neck. Assembly occurs from top to bottom, and right to left.
The nasal cavity is above the mouth and can only appear at the top of the field.
Just below comes the throat and mouth cavity, which occupy the wide middle area of the field, from top to bottom. In this area, from right to left, the glottis comes before the epiglottis, the soft palate comes before the hard palate, which comes before the alveolar ridge. Next come the teeth and the lips.
The vocal cords lie below them all, and can only occur at the very bottom of the field. The vocal cords are represented by a single horizontal line segment.
This modular assembly of letters from graphic elements is what makes PA so easy to learn and remember. For example, the PA letter for the M sound contains 3 elements, indicating that pronunciation of the M sound is nasal, bilabial, and voiced. The 3 elements are assembled into a single letter, itself a pictogram, that codes for the M sound.
The PA letters for vowels, while they clearly differ from one another, do look a lot alike. They do not share the visual variety of the consonants, since the parts of each symbol are not pictograms that reflect body parts. Vowel letters are therefore more difficult to learn than consonant letters and must be learned outright. However, in doing so, one learns how each vowel is pronounced and how all vowels relate to each other phonologically.
E.1.c.(2) Alphabetic ordering of consonant letters
PA consonants are generally recited in an order from bottom to top and from back to front. More specifically, the consonant phonemes are recited in the order of the location where they are produced: throat, mouth and nasal. Nasal phonemes are grouped together last in the series.
Here are the English consonants with their PA counterparts in PA order.
E.2.a. Table of vowel letters
Here is a chart vowels. Rounded vowels are shown to the right of the bullets, and unrounded vowels to the left. The chart orientation is with the head facing left.
E.2.b. Vowel elements
E.2.b.(1) Table of vowel elements
[table of vowel elements]
E.2.b.(2) Design of vowel elements
Vowel letters are comprised of only three elements.
The first element is a vertical line, known as the “midline.”
The second element is a projection, that can be either straight or curved. The straight projection indicates unrounded lips; the curved projection indicates rounded lips.
The third element indicates when a vowel is nasal, appearing as a curved line over the whole vowel. It is a consonant element, borrowed for vowels. Each of these elements is examined in more detail below.
Since all vowels are voiced, no element is necessary to indicate voicing.
E.2.b.(2).(a) The Midline
The midline represents the horizontal midpoint of the tongue in the mouth cavity when viewed from the side, and marks the highest elevation of the tongue when pronouncing central vowels. The midline is the same as the central line in the IPA vowel chart. Central vowels occur up and down the midline. The midline also serves as a reference point for frontness/backness of the tongue in the mouth. Note that the orientation of the PA vowel chart is the same as in the IPA: the left side of the chart represents frontal vowels, and the right side, back vowels.
[graphic of cross-section of head with superimposed vowel chart, with midline in bold, colored red]
E.2.b.(2).(b) Tongue vertical position (elevation or open/closed)
For any PA vowel letter, one defining factor is how open the mouth cavity is during pronunciation. In PA this is measured by height of the tongue within the mouth. In PA vowel letters, the top of the midline represents the fixed position of the roof of the mouth. The elevation of a projection represents the position of the surface of the tongue when pronouncing a particular vowel. The vertical distance from the bottom of the midline to the level of the projection is thus the measure of the tongue’s elevation within the mouth. The lower the tongue's elevation in the mouth, the larger the mouth cavity and the more open the pronunciation.
Projections can occur at one of four main elevations (0, 1, 2, and 3). 0 is the lowest tongue elevation and 3 is the highest. (In IPA, elevation 0 is called open, 1 is mid-open, 2 is mid-closed and 3 is closed.) There are also three subelevations (0.5, 1.5, and 2.5) that occur halfway between each of the main elevations 0 to 3. In PA vowel letters, subelevations are indicated by a short line segment drawn below the main elevation projection just above it. Taken altogether, there are 7 elevations.
Here are examples of PA vowel letters with their main and sub elevation projections:
E.2.b.(2).(c) Tongue horizontal position (front/mid/back)
Backness is represented by the projection appearing right, middle or left from the midline. This indicates whether the sound is a frontal, central or back vowel, respectively. Central vowels have projections that straddle the midline.
Examples of vowels front , mid and back:
E.2.b.(2).(d) Lip roundedness (rounded/unrounded)
Just as vowels can be unrounded or rounded, a projection can have two shapes: straight (not rounded) or rounded. The straight projection represents unrounded vowels, and the rounded shape, rounded vowels.
Examples of rounded and unrounded vowels:
E.2.c. Vowel letters
E.2.c.(1) Design of vowel letters
Every vowel letter consists of three elements:
a. a vertical line representing the midline of a vowel chart; and
b. a projection from the midline to the left or right, or on top of, the vertical line. This projection can be either straight or curved, indicating whether pronunciation is with lips unrounded or rounded. The projection can also be at different elevations up the midline, indicating tongue elevation; and
c. A curved element on top of the entire letter indicating nasality, if any. This element is optional, used only if nasality exists.
PA vowel letters therefore code for 4 bits of information:
1. tongue forwardness/backness in mouth
2. lip roundedness
3. tongue elevation
Keep in mind that since all vowels are voiced, there is no separate element necessary for indicating voiced.
E.2.c.(2). Alphabetic ordering of vowel letters
PA vowel letters are ordered by position in the mouth: bottom to top, back to front. PA vowels are ordered from the left bottom corner, up to the left top corner, to the midline bottom, up to the midline top, to the right bottom corner, up to the right top corner. Here are the PA vowels in order.
[add PA vowel order table]
F. Examples of PA
Here is the first sentence of Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in English and PA:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
G. Earlier featural alphabets
There are several other constructed alphabets that were designed to be featural like PA. (Remember that in a featural alphabet, letters encode the phonological features of the phonemes they represent.) The two most famous examples are Hangul, the Korean alphabet, first published in 1446 and still in use today in Korea, and Visible Speech, created by Alexander Melville Bell (Alexander Graham Bell's father) about 1864.
One clear difference between Hangul and Visible Speech on the one hand and PA on the other is that the first two have a system of notation for consonant pronunciation that focuses on the tongue and its orientation toward its contact points on the inside of the mouth. But rather than focus on the tongue for these actions, PA's notation focuses on the contact points themselves, the body parts inside the mouth which the tongue contacts in pronouncing a phoneme.
Physioalphabet is the ultimate technology for maximal flexibility and convenience in expressing any language on Earth. Its featural nature, universal application, and ease of learning and use make it the perfect choice for a writing system in today's world.
PA demonstrates perfect symmetry of phonological complexity and graphemic complexity
PA perfectly maps phonological (sound) complexity to graphemic (writing) complexity. PA operates on 3 different levels of phonological complexity to create 3 corresponding levels of graphemic (writing) complexity. Phonological complexity concerns the sounds of a language and how they are produced. Graphemic complexity concerns how those sounds are represented graphically, in writing, and how the letters are produced.
Here is a table representing these linguistic concepts and their correspondence:
Phonological complexity (Sounds) Graphemic complexity (Writing)
1. someme (body action) 1. soma-grapheme (element)
2. phoneme (sound) 2. phono-grapheme (letter)
3. phonemaro (language phoneme inventory) 3. phono-graphemaro (alphabet)
However, in order to have a discussion about phonological complexity in PA and its relationship to graphemic complexity, it is first necessary to define the terms and concepts set forth in the above chart. As of the time of this writing, there is no complete or consistent system of terminology in linguistics that would enable to enable an intelligent and meaningful analysis of these subjects. The necessary terms must be presented for the first time, defined and explained.
1. The three levels of phonological complexity are:
a. Someme level. The term “someme” is created from Greek soma body + -eme a contrasting unit of language. A someme is defined as a sub-phonemic phonological feature in speech production, which is the result of a single body action used in pronouncing a phoneme. A phoneme is produced by combining several somemes. Examples of some somemes are the dental, plosive, voiced, nasal, fricative or click aspects of pronunciation. The someme is the smallest functional phonological unit in a spoken language.
Heretofore, there was no single term in linguistics for the someme concept. The literature simply referred to it as a “feature.” See, for example, Sampson, Geoffrey (2014) Writing Systems: Methods for Recording Language, 3-4 and 7-8. [To be chapter 4 of Keith Allan, ed., Routledge Handbook of Linguistics, Routledge, 2014.], and Primus, Beatrice (2004), "A featural analysis of the Modern Roman Alphabet", Written Language and Literacy, 7 (2): 235–274.
b. Phoneme level. The term phoneme” is from Greek phono- sound + -eme a contrasting unit of language. A phoneme is a distinct unit of sound in a language. Phonemes are assembled to create spoken words.
c. Phonemaro level. The term “phonemaro” is from Greek phono- sound + -eme a contrasting unit of language + Esperanto -aro collection of. A phonemaro is defined as a language's complete phoneme inventory, that is, all the sounds found in a language. However, PA is a phoneme inventory (phonemaro) consisting of all of the phonemes found in all of the world’s languages.
For each level of phonological complexity there is a corresponding level of graphemic (writing) complexity. However, in order to discuss graphemic complexity, the term “grapheme” (from Greek grapho writing + -eme a contrasting unit of language) needs to be redefined. Heretofore, a “grapheme” has been defined as a unit of a writing system, consisting of all the written symbols or sequences of written symbols (such as letters and letter combinations) that represent a single phoneme. A grapheme has been a letter or combination of letters corresponding to a single phoneme. That is to say that a grapheme has been considered the written counterpart of a phoneme.
In this article, the term “grapheme” is defined as a unit of writing or any written symbol more generally. Here the term “grapheme” is used in defining each level of written complexity as explained below.
The three levels of graphemic complexity are:
a. Soma-grapheme level. A grapheme representing a someme is now called a “soma-grapheme.” The PA elements used to construct letters are soma-graphemes. Each PA someme has a corresponding written PA soma-grapheme. The soma-grapheme is the smallest unit of writing in an alphabetic writing system.
b. Phono-grapheme level. A grapheme representing a phoneme is now called a “phono-grapheme.” The PA letters are phono-graphemes, which are assemblies of PA soma-graphemes. Each PA phoneme has a corresponding written PA phono-grapheme. Phono-graphemes may be the same as individual letters in an alphabet.
c. Phono-graphemaro level. The term “graphemaro” is created from Greek phono sound + graph writing + -eme a contrasting unit of language + Esperanto -aro collection of. A phono-graphemaro is defined as the written (graphemic) representation of the complete sound inventory of a human language, or in the case of PA, of all human languages. An alphabet is a phono-graphemaro, but every phono-graphemaro is not necessarily an alphabet, because the alphabet may not represent all the sounds in a particular language. For example, the Roman alphabet as used in English lacks individual phono-graphemes, or letters, for many sounds, among them zh, sh, ch, th, dh, hy, and schwa.
** The International Phonetic Alphabet chart and all its subparts are copyright 2005 by the International Phonetic Association. As of July 2012, they are made freely available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA).
Copyright © Geoffrey Graham Tudor 1995-2020. All rights reserved.