When we talk about "the English alphabet", for example, we mean the set of letters needed to write English, in a particular order, with a spelling name for each one: "Ay Bee See ...". The ICAO alphabet has different names for those same letters: "Alfa Bravo Charlie ...".
The Shwa alphabet works a little differently. First of all, there's no definitive list of all possible letters: each language just uses the letters it needs. However, there is a definitive list of shapes, and the two shapes that combine to form a letter - one on top and one on the bottom - are the basis both for alphabetical order and for the letter names :
|Shape||Name||Alone||Slender||As Top||As Bottom|
|chī||Dot||Long Mark||low vowel||high vowel|
|djō||punctuation||low rising tone||high rising tone|
|rē||low level tone||high level tone|
|zhū||low falling tone||high falling tone|
|lū||e||vw||aspirated plosive||labiodental or
|wī||Syllabic Nasal||Nasal Vowel||nasal|
|pū||u||w||voiced lateral||lateral release|
|bā||oh||Backing||ejective fricative||hissing sibilant|
|mī||o||h||voiced fricative||hushing sibilant|
|vō||ah||Yawn||unvoiced fricative||retroflex sibilant|
|fē||ue||yw||unvoiced lateral||palatal sibilant|
The name of each shape is a nonsense syllable, like Alpha. The name of a letter is then just the name of the top followed by the name of the bottom, with the stress on the second syllable. So for example, the word Shwa would be spelled out loud as "vōmī shāpū zīchī".
The last four columns - what each shape means in each position - is the real "alphabet" : what you have to learn to read and write Shwa.
Here is a simplified version of that chart to help you learn the shape names.
Since the names of Shwa letters are two syllables, it makes no sense to abbreviate longer phrases by their initials. Instead, we abbreviate them by their first syllables, as we now do in Russian (Komsomol) or the US Navy (CincLant). So instead of saying you-ess-ay for USA, we'd say you-stay-am. We never make a new word from the initials, either (like URL pronounced url).
The alphabet also sorts in the same order. Note that :
To illustrate, consider the following list, which is in alphabetic order:
We mentioned on the Principles page that spacing is left to the font designer, but there are some basic ideas that are common to all Shwa fonts. Shwa is written on a grid whose cell size corresponds to the size of a Shwa vowel - tall letters are twice as tall, and fill a domino (a 2x1 rectangle). It's the height of this domino that is the named size of the font; for example, a 12-point font will have cells 6 points x 6 points. A line of Shwa text will come pretty close to the height of a line of text of the same font size in other scripts.
But the letters don't completely fill the cell or domino : there is spacing around them (like CSS margin). The space between letters depends on the font, with half of it in each domino. Adjacent letters are in adjacent cells. Shwa is monospace, with fixed-width letters.
In Alphabet gait, ascenders and descenders extend half a cell beyond other letters, into the space between lines of text. Here's a diagram - the black grid shows the borders between cells, and the gray grid shows the centers of cells :
In Syllabary gait, the kana fill 2x2 cells.
In Character gait, the characters fill 3x3 cells, with double margin all around and a space between characters, but centered on the same centerline as other gaits.
Abjad spacing depends on the font - vowels may be written inside the consonants or above them - but the line of consonants is always two cells tall.
The space between words is always one cell wide, and lines of text are 3 cells apart, center to center, for all gaits except Character gait, which has four cells between centers. Thus, the gap between lines of text is one cell tall.
|< Gaits||Letter Reference >|
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