Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics


While working on my Writing Systems of the World wallchart, the system I enjoyed learning about the most was Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics. It is categorized as an abugida rather than an alphabet because each letter is based on a consonant-vowel combination. But unlike other abugidas in which the consonant letter is simply changed slightly in order to indicate different vowel sounds, in Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics, the letter is instead rotated! So, for example, the letter 

ᐸ (pa) can be rotated to make 

ᐯ (pe), 

ᐳ (po), and 

ᐱ (pi).

Being that the four directions are so important in many North American native cultures, it is fitting that this writing system embodies the notion. This image by Blue Quills nicely demonstrates the direction-based nature of the writing system:

However, the system itself is not indigenous. It was developed in 1840 by a missionary named James Evans. But perhaps the strangest thing about this writing system is that the inventor based the letter shapes on a system from a totally different part of the world -- India! As you can see in the chart below (Source), the shapes are based on Devanagari, the system used to write Hindi and Sanskrit.

Although originally made for the Cree and Ojibwe languages, Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics are now used for many other native languages, most notably Inuktitut (spoken in Canada's far north). Since Inuktitut uses the symbols to stand for slightly different sounds than Cree and Ojibwe, in making my Writing Systems of the World wallchart, I aimed to make a section that covered both variations in a single chart. This is what I came up with:

The entire chart -- including 2000+ symbols and 51 different writing can be found here.

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  • Kyle RIchardson on

    Where can I find out more information on these symbols? Where in the 1960’s would I study this?

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