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PHYSIOALPHABET






"One world, one alphabet."





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by
Geoffrey Graham Tudor 

November 15, 1995



Copyright © Geoffrey Graham Tudor 1995-2019. All rights reserved.

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PHYSIOALPHABET

TABLE OF CONTENTS

A.    Introduction
B.    History

C.    Features, characteristics and uses
    1.    PA is featural
    2.    PA is universal in application
        a.   PA applies universally to all humans
        b.   PA applies into the deep future
        c.   PA’s decryption key is the human body
    3.    PA is easy to understand, learn and use
        a.   Sound relationships
        b.   Self-instructional
        c.   Single case letters
        d.   Culturally neutral
    4.    Uses
        a.   Speech therapy
        b.   Deaf education
        c.   Learning English as a first language
        d.   Learning English as a second language (ESL)
        e.   One world alphabet
        f.    Parallel texts worldwide
        g.   Linguists
        h.   Languages with no existing writing system
        i.    Dictionaries

        j.    Alternative to International Phonetic Alphabet
D.    PA letters
    1.    Consonants
        a.    Elements
            (1)    Coding parameters
            (2)    Tables of elements
            (3)    Design
        b.    Consonant letters
            (1)    Coding parameters
            (2)    Table of consonant letters
            (3)    Design
        c.    Order of PA consonants
    2.    Vowels
        a.    Coding parameters
        b.    Table of vowels
        c.    Design
            (1)    The midline   

            (2)    Tongue openness/elevation
            (3)    Tongue backness
            (4)    Lip roundedness
        d.    Short forms of vowels
        e.    Order of PA vowels 
E.    Examples of PA
F.    Earlier featural alphabets
G.    Applications of PA
H.    Conclusion


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A.   Introduction 

Physioalphabet (PA), also known as the Human Physiological Alphabet, is a universal featural alphabet based on the human physiology used to produce speech.  Speech pronunciation is the product of human physiology.  PA is designed so that the form of a letter encodes and communicates to a speaker five dimensions of information about the letter.  No naturally, 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 a specific body part or body action used 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.​     

B.    History

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 writing system, with each considerably different 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.  Even though PA was originally conceived as a tool to help language learners more easily learn to pronounce and speak English, PA was quickly expanded to represent the sounds of any language on Earth.  It turns out that in satisfying its original design purposes, PA possesses many features and characteristics for representing sounds in language that make it far superior to other alphabets.

PA's original name was “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 "PA" will be used throughout this article.​


C.    Features, characteristics and uses


PA is a featural alphabet that is universal and easy to learn and use. 

C.1      PA is featural

PA is uniquely featural on five different levels.

​1.  Each PA element that comprises each letter encodes a phonological feature of the phoneme that the letter represents.

2.  Each PA element encodes the body part used to produce each phonological feature.  The elements are designed as abstract graphic representations of those body parts, from the reference point of a head facing left.

3.  The spatial arrangement of the PA elements within each letter encode the physical location of the body parts relative to each other within the head and neck.  Just as the nose is above the mouth, which is above the throat, the nasal element is above the mouth elements, which are above the throat elements.

4.   Each PA letter, as a unit, encodes the combining in pronunciation of the various linguistic and physiological features that form individual phonemes.  Some examples of these features would be voiced, aspirated, dental, glottal, and trilled.

5.  The PA letters, as a whole system, encode and display the phonological relationships between the different phonemes that the letters represent.  For example, the letters F and V in the Roman alphabet look nothing alike and convey no information about any relationship between the phonemes they represent.  In contrast, the PA letters representing the phonemes /f/ and /v/ clearly reveal the phonemic relationship between the two letters.  The letters look identical except for the addition of the base line showing that /v/ is voiced. 

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 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 applies into the deep future 

Those 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… into the deep future.  

C.2.c   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 speech-producing body parts and body actions for the corresponding 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.3.   PA is easy to understand, learn and use  

PA is extremely easy to teach, learn, remember and use (reading, writing and speaking).  This is because PA is a featural alphabet.*  The letters encode the phonological features of the phonemes they represent, so each letter codes for a particular pronunciation and sound.  The PA accomplishes this with letters that are both graphic and modular.  Each PA letter is an assembly of modular elements.  As a result, PA can easily be learned and applied in an hour.  Contrast this with the years that speakers now must take to learn the pronunciations of letters in an alphabet that evolved organically over time, an alphabet in which the form of each letter shares nothing in common with the form of any other letters in the language.  In addition, in a language such as English where one letter may have multiple pronunciations, the problem becomes even more difficult.

C.3.a  Sound relationships  

The design and construction of PA letters allow users to see the sound relationships among letters. For example, the sounds “F” and “V” in the Roman alphabet are physiologically identical, with one exception. The only difference is that V is voiced and F is unvoiced.  With V the vocal cords vibrate and produce sound, or voice; with F, they do not.  Otherwise, the human body produces both letters exactly the same way.  Both are labiodental, aspirated fricatives: the upper teeth contact the lower lip, and breath moves out through the contact point.  We can clearly see and understand the sound similarities and the difference in the PA letters for F and V.

However, in the Roman alphabet and in the IPA, F and V look nothing alike.  The letters convey no information whatsoever to a reader or speaker as to how either one is pronounced, or how they may be related.  Alphabets other than PA are dumb; they tell us nothing.

C.3.b.  Self-instructional  

Letters in PA are “self-instructional.”  PA allows a speaker to translate the information communicated by the letters themselves into correct pronunciation.  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.3.d.   Single case letters

PA letters are single case letters.  (In linguistics, the alphabet is described as unicase or unicameral.)  Each letter has only one form, with no majuscule or minuscule forms.  That is to say, PA has no separate upper- or lower-case letter forms, no capital or small letters, but only one form.  This makes PA easier to learn because a student only has to learn one, not two, sets of letters.

C.3.c.  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 any group’s particular history.  It did not evolve organically over time as did almost all writing systems on Earth, past or present. 

C.4.   Uses 

C.4.a.  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.

C.4.b.  Deaf education  

PA can help deaf students learn how to pronounce sounds in English and any other language.  There is no easily applied or consistent way to represent English pronunciation to ASL students other than through pictures or films of a cross-section of the human head, showing the body parts that produce a certain sound. PA does this.  With PA letters, a speaker (deaf or hearing) can see how to pronounce them. 

C.4.c.   Learning English as a first language 

PA facilitates learning of a first language by native speakers.  The speakers come to the learning table with a 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.

C.4.d.   Learning English as a second language (ESL)

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. 

C.4.e.   One world alphabet 

If every language were written in PA, students of foreign language would have one less barrier to learning a foreign language.  There would be no need for them to learn a new writing system for the new language. 

C.4.f.   Parallel texts worldwide 

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.  This could be used for many purposes, for example, in street signs, maps, advertising, dictionaries and technical information. 

C.4.g.   Linguists 

Linguists can use PA to record the sounds of any language. 

C.4.h.   Languages with no existing writing system 

About half of the world’s 7,000 languages currently have no writing system.  PA could serve this purpose. 

C.4.i.   Dictionaries 

A dictionary in any language can use PA to show the pronunciation of words in the language.

C.4.j.  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.  They give a speaker no information to aid 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 sounds.  PA is a far superior alphabet.​


D.    PA letters

D.1.    Consonants

As mentioned above, PA letters representing consonants are an assembly of symbols called elements.  

D.1.a.    Consonant elements

D.1.a.(1)  Coding parameters

An "element" is a graphic symbol, or pictogram, that represents a body part or body action.  PA elements code for 2 parameters:

D.1.a.(1).(a)    Body parts used to produce speech. (Many elements represent body parts that the tongue approaches or contacts when pronouncing a consonant.)


                    i.    nasal cavity
                    ii.    vocal cords
                    iii.    all other body parts: throat, mouth, tongue, teeth, lips


D.1.a.(1).(b)    Body actions to control air flow.
 
D.1.a.(2)    Tables of elements

Because the elements are abstractions of the body parts they represent, they are extremely easy to learn and remember.  Here are tables of all elements that can be assembled into PA consonant letters. 


The elements are also contained 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.  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 the individual body actions.



























D.1.a.(2)   Design

          Body parts and their corresponding elements:    

















D.1.b.  Consonant letters

D.1.b.(1)  Coding parameters        

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.

D.1.b.(2)  Table of consonants

Here is a table of all PA consonants.

  























D.1.b.(3)  Design

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.

D.1.c.  Order of PA consonants

PA consonants are recited in an order from bottom to top and from back to front.  Here are the English consonants with their PA counterparts in PA order.

   















​​​D.2.​  Vowels

D.2.a.  Coding parameters

​Every vowel consists of a vertical line representing the midline of a vowel chart, and either a straight or curved line projecting on either side of the vertical line, representing whether the vowel is rounded or unrounded. An element can be added to indicate nasality.  HPA vowel symbols may code for 4 bits of information:

       1.    nasality
       2.    tongue height in mouth
       3.    tongue forwardness/backness in mouth
       4.    lip roundedness


Remember that all vowels are voiced, so there is no separate element for voicing with vowels.


D.2.b.  Table of vowels

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.  




















D.2.c.    Design


D.2.c.(1)  The Midline

Vowel letters are comprised of a vertical line, known as the “midline”, with straight or curved projections in three possible positions: right of the midline, straddling the midline, or left of 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.    

D.2.c.(2)  Tongue openness/elevation

For any vowel, the vertical distance of a projection from the bottom of the midline indicates 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 on one of four main elevations, from 0-3 (indicating low to high).   Elevation 0 is called open, 1 is mid-open, 2 is mid-closed and 3 is closed.

Example of vowels with main elevation projections:














There are also three subelevations that occur halfway between each of the elevations 0-3.  They are numbered 0.5, 1.5, and 2.5.  The subelevations are indicated by a short line segment drawn below the elevation projection just above it.

Examples of vowels with subelevation segments are: 













Altogether, this system allows notation of 7 levels in all.  

D.2.c.(3)  Tongue frontness/backness  

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:











D.2.c.(4)  Lip roundedness  


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 vowels front , mid and back:













         



D.2.d.      Short forms of PA vowels

Some PA vowels also have “short forms”, as shown in the vowel chart below in section D.2.e.  In short forms, the midline stem above the projection has been eliminated…thereby making them shorter than their full forms.  Yet they convey exactly the same information as the full forms.  Not all vowels have short forms.  When the short forms have projections at elevation 3, the short forms are identical to their full forms.


The exception to the rule for forming short forms occurs when the projection is at elevation 0. Then the midline stem is left on from elevation 0 to 1.  Some midline stem had to be preserved to indicate where in the vowel chart the letter occurred: left, mid or right.


D.2.e.    Order of PA vowels 

PA vowels 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 English vowels with their PA counterparts in PA order.
































E.    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 dignity and rights.  They are         endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one               another in a spirit of brotherhood.




​​F.    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 about 1864.  Both alphabets used separate systems for representing vowels and consonants.  The vowel systems in both used a system of vertical and/or horizontal lines.


H.    Conclusion


Physioalphabet is a creation that allows for ultimate flexibility and convenience in understanding, learning, speaking, reading and writing any language.




**  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 1995-2019. All rights reserved.