Monday, April 12, 2010

[Baybayin] Character Order

Right then. Plainly, it seems then that the overwhelming order in related scripts is Brahmic -- letters are ganged up in groups, palatals, labials, whatnot. For examples, from the non-Javanese scripts Batak, Rejang, Kerinci, Lampung, and Bugis. I've filtered out many of the letters Baybayin doesn't have, but kept the remaining letters in order:

a(from h) h(from k) n m t d l r b p w y j s g ng ny i u
a(from h) h k b p n w g j d r m t s y ng l c nd mb i u
k g ng t d n p b m c j ny s r l y w h a
k g ng t d n p b m c j ny s r l w y h a(from h)
k g ng p b m t d n c j ny y a l r s w h
k g ng p b m t d n c j ny y r l w s a h
k g ng p b m t d n c j ny r l w s h a
k g ng p b m t d n c j ny r l w s a h y
k g ng p b m t d n c j ny y s w l (a?)

I've split the latter 7 into groups by sound-correspondence. And I'm going to try to analyze them in groups.

The first group is easiest, because all 7 start with the k-series: (K G NG). This group is present in Baybayin, and I hypothesize that Baybayin collation may have begun with K G NG.

The next three groups are nearly as easy, referring to labials (P B M) and dentals (T D N) and some sort of ts- or ch- series (C J NY NC). The C-series isn't in Baybayin. The other two are, but which order to use?

As a more remote cross-reference, here is Kannada, the precursor to Telegu, and the Granthas, the script used since the 5th century and a precursor to a lot of scripts in India. In both cases, I've excluded most of the letters that don't pertain to Baybayin:

K G NG C J Ny T D N P B M Y R L V Sh S H
K G NG C J Ny T D N P B M Y R L V Sh S H

So in other words, the older or more conservative scripts have T D N first, while the younger ones place P B M in front. Either way would be fine. For now I will collate P B M before T D N.

Now what to do with the remaining letters?
Granthas and Kannada somewhat loosely group them into [Y R L V] and [Sh S H].
I see R-L-W and Y-R-L-W. There's also a fair case for following with S, then H, then the vowels. But there's no compelling evidence to say if Baybayin actually followed the order of one of these, or went its own route. My preferred order would be traditional. And would probably be wrong.

So my hypothesis, for what it's worth, is:

Baybayin collation order hypothesis, mostly unsupported:


In grid form:

P (F) B (V) M
T (Th) D/R N
(Ch J Ñ)
Y (R) L W
(Sh) S H

Note that I've included slots for potential, non-existent F, Th, Ch, J, Ny(Ñ), V, and Sh characters, according to their places in related scripts.


  1. Note that there could be no true order at all.

    But I think it likely that there is/was an order.

    It's possible that the order was also a mnemonic; hence that order given in Doctrina Cristiana:

    A U E Ha Pa Ka Sa La Ta Na Ba Ma Ga Da/Ra Ya NGa Wa

  2. I suspect that the original order based on Paninian grammatical theory was most likely to be conserved in societies that were strongly imbued with Hindu-Buddhist cultural concepts. This doesn't mean that other, less "Indic" cultures would not have kept something similar to the original order, however it would not be surprising to see a drift away from the canonical back of the mouth to front of the mouth ordering like we see in Lampung and Sulawesi. Especially, where it is hard to remember (if you don't have the grammatical theory) exactly which group goes where, making up some kind of mnemonic like the Javanese "hanacaraka" rhyme or the Tagbanuwa "not to read" formula helps remember a particular order much more easily.

    All this being said, a specific order was probably most useful for learning and remembering all the letters, rather than for collation purposes in societies where there was little demand for alphabetical listing. (The only evidence I know of for use of these letters as listing numbers in one of the island scripts is from Rejang, and this is a relatively recent attestation from the mid 20th century, so it may quite likely not have been original, but rather borrowed in concept from European a-b-c-d or Arabic/Jawi alif-ba-jim-dal use of letters for listing.

  3. My thoughts as well. As you mentioned, sulat, 'to write' is in there, but as to the rest?

    Maybe someones fluent in Tagalog can guess...

    Ha Pa Ka Na Ba Ma Ga Da/Ra Ya NGa Wa