Roman or Latin alphabet?

Bendy's picture

Quick question:

Bahasa Malaysia uses the Roman alphabet.
Bahasa Malaysia uses the Latin alphebet.

Which is correct? Or are they the same?

praitsidis's picture

Wikipedia says that both are correct. Both of these lead to the same page:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_alphabet
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_alphabet

In this context, I've only heard "roman" being used for numerals...

Andreas Stötzner's picture

It’s the *Latin alphabet* or Latin script. I’ve never encountered this being “also called Roman alphabet” like the Wiki article suggests.

clauses's picture

"Bahasa Malaysia uses the Latin script" would be correct.

dan_reynolds's picture

Andreas, in English, the alphabet used to write the Latin script is often called "the Roman alphabet." This is much more commonly heard (outside of the letter world!) than the terms "the Latin alphabet" or "the Latin script." However, in type circles, we have completely coalesced around "the Latin script." One just has to be aware that this terminology is not necessarily 100% clear to English-speakers. But it should be clear enough to literate designers or font purchasers.

eliason's picture

To me, "using the Latin alphabet" means AaBbCc..., as opposed to kanji, Cherokee, etc. "Roman alphabet" (again, to me) says a particular kind of AaBbCc..., as opposed to blackletter, uncial, etc.

Bendy's picture

Seems to me that 'Latin' is technically correct whereas 'Roman' is more conventional. I'm writing for non-type people whose first language is not English.

What's the distinction between an alphabet and a script? I wish I knew more about everything...

Don McCahill's picture

Just to throw a wrench into the works: isn't Western alphabet more common (if not as precise)?

eliason's picture

I’m writing for non-type people whose first language is not English

Instead of trying to guess which word would make sense to them, perhaps this is an opportunity to teach them the correct term by defining and then using it! :-)

DTY's picture

The standard traditional term in English is "Roman alphabet". However, in computer typography this is both ambiguous (as eliason points out) and badly framed, since many scripts are not alphabetic. Thus, "Latin script" is the correct term for a technical audience.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

What’s the distinction between an alphabet and a script?

When SCRIPT means “a conventional system of a limited range of graphical characters to visually represent a language” then ALPHABET is *one kind* of script. To be more precise, the term “Alphabet” ought to be used for those scripts only which descend from Phenician (like Latin).
The so-called Latin (or Roman) alphabet common to us today is actually the English alphabet. The W was invented on the British isle, J and U are medieval additons, too. Even K, Y and Z are only lean-letters to the “Latin” alphabet (from Greek).

The only genuin Latin letter is the G, which has been invented by a Roman scribe.

nina's picture

There's a pretty nice explanation of the term "alphabet" (as opposed to syllabaries and other writing systems) at Omniglot, with tons of examples too:
http://www.omniglot.com/writing/definition.htm

John Hudson's picture

Common usage is 'Latin Script', although 'Roman script' makes at least as much sense.

Alphabets are language specific; scripts are culture specific.

So I would understand 'Latin alphabet' to mean specifically the set of letters used to write the Latin alphabet, as distinct from e.g. the English alphabet, the German alphabet or the Wolof alphabet. All these alphabets are subsets of the same script, which is that which we inherit from the Romans.

Charles Leonard's picture

In school, many years back, I was taught that Latin alphabet referred to the 26/52 alpha characters commonly used in English and their derivatives in related languages. Roman--cap R--meant inscriptional capitals circa first century. However, roman--lower case--referred to style of script developed in the vicinity/sphere of Rome in the 15th century and used to distinguish from venetian scripts of the same era, as well as separated from italic.
Western alphabet forces us to draw too many geographic demarcations, e.g. does German use the western alphabet--ß--or Swedish, or Czech?

Jongseong's picture

There is an additional wrinkle that in classifying writing systems, 'alphabet' in the narrow sense has the technical definition of a script that has graphemes representing both consonant and vowel phonemes in a single system. It is by this criterion that the script used by the Romans to write Latin is properly called an alphabet, not by its descent from the Greek alphabet. The Phoenician script, from which the Greek alphabet derives, is not an alphabet in this sense because it records only consonant sounds (it is classified as an 'abjad'). There are true alphabets that are not derived from the Greek alphabet, such as hangul, the Korean alphabet.

A looser linguistic definition of 'alphabet' includes any writing system with symbols for separate sounds rather than syllables or words. So Chinese logographs and Japanese kana are excluded, but examples like the Phoenician script are included. This seems to be how Wikipedia uses the term in its entries.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

It is true that nowadays *alphabet*, as a terminus technicus, gets distinguished from Abjads and Abugidas. And yet, stemming from aleph–beta the term seems suitable for Phenician offsprings much more than for a script like Hangul, which I would call *Korean script* much rather than “Korean alphabet”.

DTY's picture

If you include Phoenician, which is an abjad, it seems singularly pointless to exclude from the term "alphabet" such scripts as the South Arabian abjad and the Ethiopic scripts, which are closely related to Phoenician but not descended from it (they are separately descended from Proto-Sinaitic).

DTY's picture

Also, I might note that some scripts descended from the Phoenician are not alphabets by any criterion, such as the Iberian syllabary.

Jongseong's picture

Well, the term alphabet comes from alpha and beta of the Greek alphabet, of course, so it is not obvious that it should be applied retroactively to the Phoenician script either. If alphabet is taken to be a term comparable to abugida (from the Ethiopean name of the ge'ez script) or abjad (adapted from a name for the Arabic script), then it makes more sense to use all those terms as purely structural categories regardless of the origins of the specific examples.

What would the proto-Canaanite script be, for instance? The Greek, Ge'ez, and Arabic scripts are all ultimately derived from it, after all. And as far as I've seen the most common use for the term abugida is for various Indic scripts, which have very little to do with Ge'ez. The names are best thought of as being taken from well-known examples of each category, and not meant to restrictive to scripts actually derived from the said examples.

Bendy's picture

Ok so I understand that an alphabet is one kind of script, but I'm not quite clear why we should prefer 'the Latin script' over 'the Latin alphabet'. Surely the Latin script is only represented by the Latin/Roman alphabet? Or have I missed something?

Jongseong's picture

Oh, I don't see why we should generally prefer 'the Latin script' over 'the Latin alphabet'. The Latin script just happens to be an alphabet, and both names are unambiguous. You would prefer one over the other only in certain contexts, for example when you would want to emphasize the alphabetic nature of the script.

Now, John Hudson makes a distinction that I think could be useful in many respects, but as far as I'm aware it's not one that's made conventionally. If I were to employ that distinction, I would explain it beforehand so the reader understands what I'm talking about.

Surely the Latin script is only represented by the Latin/Roman alphabet?
John means that subsets of scripts derived from that originally used to record Latin ('the Latin script') may be used for different languages ('the English alphabet', 'the Welsh alphabet', 'the Vietnamese alphabet'). He would understand by 'Latin alphabet' only the collection of graphemes used for writing the Latin language. Again, a useful distinction, but probably too subtle for general discourse.

In this case, 'alphabet' is one of these general terms that different people have adopted to use in a technical sense, but with different distinctions in mind. Linguists will care about the sense of having signs for consonants and vowels in the same system, while others will see the opportunity to use the term to describe each case where the same script is adopted for a number of different languages.

Bendy's picture

Aah, thank you for the explanation. In such terminology it would be inappropriate to use the term 'the Latin alphabet'. So we are left with 'Roman alphabet' or 'Latin script' or 'Roman script'. Though I now understand the correct term is 'the Latin script' and will use that in type circles (thank you), as a pragmatist in this instance I'm favouring 'Roman alphabet'. The word 'alphabet' seems cognitively easier: everyone knows what an alphabet is. Asking someone to write in the Latin script might well lead to confusion.

John Hudson's picture

‘Script’ is a tricky term, because it also comes with multiple meanings and sometimes requires explanation. It gets used a lot in contemporary font making, and also in text encoding and processing circles, to refer to writing systems e.g. ‘Latin script’, ‘Arabic script’, etc.. I'm as guilty of this as anyone.

If I want to be very precise in this context, though, I use the term ‘writing system’ rather than script: the Latin or Roman writing system, the Arabic writing system, and so on. The nice thing about this term is that it doesn't have multiple meanings and it specifically references the system of signifiers and signifieds that make up that system, without reference to the forms of those signs. This also means that one can sidestep the classification issues of e.g. alphabet vs. abjad (which arise from the fact that there are almost no perfect abjads, and what seems to me the inevitable conclusion that an abjad is a subcategory of alphabet); ‘writing system’ can accomodate e.g. the use of matres lectiones (letters as vowels) in classical Hebrew or the rôle of the alif in Arabic.

The biggest difficulty of the word ‘script’ is its use, both common and specialist, in labelling of specific styles of writing, e.g. the Carolingian Script (a stylistic category of the Roman writing system) or the Nas'taliq Script (a stylistic category of the Arabic writing system). The fact that these script styles were not developed by Romans or by Arabs only adds to the nomenclatureal fun.

John Hudson's picture

Jongseong: ...a useful distinction, but probably too subtle for general discourse.

Hehe. I think I want that written on my gravestone when I die.

Jongseong's picture

I've seen it pointed out that English doesn't have a neat term corresponding to 'écriture'. 'Writing system' works best, but is rather cumbersome.

Getting back to Roman vs Latin, in Japanese the term 'romaji' or 'roma moji' appears more common than 'raten moji', and in Korean 'romaja' or 'roma munja' is heard more often than 'ratin munja'. But both terms are understood and neither is held to be more correct.

John Hudson's picture

Getting back to Roman vs Latin...

Both terms originate with geographic place names (Latium, Roma) and, by association, the people who lived in and identified with those places (Latins, Romans). This is why I believe ‘Roman writing system’ makes at least as much sense as ‘Latin writing system’.

johnnydib's picture

Can I say that etymology is different than definition; antisemitism for example refers to hostility against Jews and not semitic people.
The source of the word Alphabet is clearly related to Alpha Beta, the Greek alphabet and ultimately the Phoenician. But I always thought its definition is pretty much this and so any set of symbols that fit that definition is an alphabet even if it had no connection to the Phoenician.
When you say Roman alphabet or Latin alphabet I tend to think that it's missing J and U but when you say English alphabet or Icelandic alphabet it's more clear as to what the character set is.

Surely the Latin script is only represented by the Latin/Roman alphabet?
I thought it was the other way around, you use the Latin script to represent the English Alphabet, or the Vietnamese alphabet.

Alphabet in Arabic is "Abjadiyyeh" so I find it funny when people try to distinguish Adjadi from Alphabets. I always thought that the distinction is made to say that in an Abjadi a vowel is not necessarily a letter.

It's interesting when I explain the job function of a type designer to non-designers I always say 'they draw alphabets'

Bendy's picture

>I thought it was the other way around, you use the Latin script to represent the English Alphabet, or the Vietnamese alphabet.

Well if that's the case I'm mistaken in writing 'Bahasa Malaysia uses the Roman alphabet' since it must use the Malaysian alphabet?

dberlow's picture

The Roman Alphabet is A-Z. The Latin Script is now much bigger with the addition of Carolingian, Arabic, and the broader needs of language and commerce.

Cheers!

johnnydib's picture

Well if that’s the case I’m mistaken in writing ’Bahasa Malaysia uses the Roman alphabet’ since it must use the Malaysian alphabet
I'm not an expert either, but that's how I see it:
In in the French alphabet the sound produced by "ch" is similar to the "sh" sound in the English alphabet and so the two alphabets are different while they use the same script.
(Of course today's languages/alphabets are so full of orthographies that they're not purely phonetic anymore)

The Latin Script is now much bigger with the addition of Carolingian, Arabic, and the broader needs of language and commerce.
If
Carolingian = lowercase
Arabic = 1234567890
the broader needs of language = Diacritics, punctuation and whatnot
and commerce = Currencies © ™ etc.
Then yeah that's my idea of what the Latin script is.

Bendy's picture

>In in the French alphabet the sound produced by “ch” is similar to the “sh” sound in the English alphabet and so the two alphabets are different while they use the same script.

But an alphabet no more closely correlates with its phonemes than does its script. An alphabet is a set of letters in a particular order. The phoneme /ʃ/ is not represented by any symbol in either the French or English alphabets.

I guess my point of discussion is: do we use the Latin *script* to represent the English *alphabet* or the Latin/Roman *alphabet* to represent the English *language*? I feel it may be both, in which case both Latin script and Roman alphabet are fully correct.

paul d hunt's picture

I would say English has its own alphabet which is encompassed by the Latin script. The classical Latin alphabet (according to wikipedia) originally consisted of ABCDEFGHIKLMNOPQRSTVXYZ. W was added later to represent sounds from Germanic languages and the distinctions between I/J and U/V were also later developments. So to my understanding, it would be incorrect to say that we use the Latin (Roman) alphabet to represent the English language unless you spell things like IVSTICE for 'justice' &c.

But then again I might be wrong...

John Hudson's picture

I guess my point of discussion is: do we use the Latin *script* to represent the English *alphabet* or the Latin/Roman *alphabet* to represent the English *language*? I feel it may be both, in which case both Latin script and Roman alphabet are fully correct.

The English alphabet is the set of Roman letters used to write the English language. The Latin alphabet is the set of Roman letters used to write the Latin language. The German alphabet is the set of Roman letters used to write the German language. The Wolof alphabet... etc.

This really is the only sensible use of the term alphabet, because otherwise you are lacking a term to refer to the set of letters used to write individual languages, and left with multiple terms to refer to superset of letters that form a language-independent writing system.

Nick Shinn's picture

You can't win.
Either you end up with roman italics, or scipt scripts.

And if italic is a style, the style of that style may be discussed, and if there are two italics for the same typeface (Auto?), the style of the style of the style.

WType's picture

Hi guys:

I am not sure this help. Since I am from Malaysia and deal with Malaysian clients all the time, allow me to provide some historical background, perhaps that can give a different perspective to the whole topic:

"Malay is the main language of communication for the inhabitants of the Malay Archipelago, and it has been the lingua franca of the region for at least five centuries. The Malay script known as Jawi is derived from Arabic. Both Arabic and Jawi have been widely used for religious and secular manuscripts since Islam was established in the region. Jawi is a combination of Arabic and Persian scripts, with additional letters added as an adaptation to local phonetics. These additional characters are "pa", "nga", "cha" and "gha".

"Jawi script has been through various orthographic improvements over the years, to make it compatible with Malay phonetics. In 1904 a committee was set up to produce a guidebook to change Jawi to Malay 'Rumi' orthography, which was known as 'Romanised Malay Spelling'. It was also known as 'Sistem Ejaan Wilkinson'. Zainal Abidin Ahmad, also known as Za' ba, rearranged Malay Rumi orthography in 1938, affecting the Wilkinson Malay Orthography System which has been used by school since 1904"

(From "The Malay Manuscript: An Introduction", pg21, 26; Published by Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) )

This "Romanised Malay Spelling" version of this Malay language later became the national language of Malaysia, which we called "Bahasa Malaysia" ('Bahasa' means language) The same "Romanised" malay language was also used in Indonesia which later became the national language of Indonesia- "Bahasa Indonesia", with slight differences due to local adaptation.

Historically both Malaysia and Indonesia were located in the same region called "The Malay Archipelago" or "Nusantara". Both countries used the same language until the two countries declared independence. In fact, Singapore was also situated in the middle of this region and therefore Bahasa Malaysia is also the national language of Singapore due to historical reason. Though, most Singaporeans are more fluent in English and Chinese due to the education policy adopted by the Singaporean government after independence.

( To divert a bit, that's why the 3 countries also share many cultural heritage. In recent months there have been many arguments among the 3 countries over the exclusive right of certain cultural practices, such as The batik, certain dances and foods, etc...)

That is from historical point of view. Culturally, we local Malaysians often say "Romanised" Bahasa Malaysia instead of "Latinised" Bahasa Malaysia.

It depends who are your audiences. If you are speaking to the local Malaysians, then to approach it both from cultural and historical point of view seems to be more appropriate. Therefore, "Bahasa Malaysia uses the Roman alphabet" would be a better choice and it sounds better to the locals too.

That would be my personal argument. And believe me, most Malaysian clients won't even know the difference, much less arguing about it. If they start to make noise over your choice of words, just quote the above excerpt I suggested to you to support your argument, and tell them that it's from IAMM. That would silent them.

The curatorial department of IAMM is quite authoritative in regards to this. If they have any doubt, ask them to call IAMM, I can give you the numbers.

All the best. : )

(Aziz from Flower. Anything else to add?)

oprion's picture

FOR SOME REASON,
I VNDERSTOOD ROMAN
AS LIMITED TO VPPERCASE
A B C D E F Z H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X
VVITHOUT THE EXTRAS

While I took Latin, as an umbrella term for the multitude of derived scripts.
_____________________________________________
Personal Art and Design Portal of Ivan Gulkov
www.ivangdesign.com

John Hudson's picture

It doesn't make sense to say the Roman alphabet was limited to ‘uppercase’. The latter is a term that refers to our bicameral alphabets, whose capital letters are based on a particular style of letter used by the Romans. The Romans did employ other styles of writing, though, e.g. http://www.flickr.com/photos/37590515@N03/3510136525/sizes/o/

oprion's picture

A playwright, once referred to the roman cursive as chicken scratches :)

An, opsecro hercle, habent quas gallinae manus? Nam has quidem gallina scripsit.
— Titus Maccius Plautus, "PSEVDOLVS". 191 BC
_____________________________________________
Personal Art and Design Portal of Ivan Gulkov
www.ivangdesign.com

dberlow's picture

>The Romans did employ other styles of writing, though

But we don't employ them. So... we just use the Roman alphabet, not the Roman script. ;)

John Hudson's picture

You use the Roman alphabet, David? I think the rest of us are using the English alphabet, and you may be short a couple of letters.

dezcom's picture

Well scripted answer, Nick :-)

ChrisL

dberlow's picture

>I think the rest of us are using the English alphabet,

Don't try that façade-of-an-argument on the street. ;)

Cheers!

AzizMostafa's picture

Back to the Quick question:
Bahasa Malaysia uses the Roman alphabet.
Bahasa Malaysia uses the Latin alphebet.
Which is correct? Or are they the same?
-
Neither!
1. It is incorrect to say Bahasa Malaysia. Say: Bahasa Melayu.
2 Bahasa Melayu is a phonetic language, like Arabic,
and is best written (and read!) in Jawi.
But Malays were fooled by a NATIONALIST,
and they are trying hard to revive the beautiful script.
http://www.ejawi.net/converterV2.php
http://dbp.my/tanya/Jawi
http://www.jawi.ukm.my
More in Bahasa Melayu:
http://typophile.com/node/74436

quadibloc's picture

The reason we speak of the Latin script and the Roman alphabet for the writing system which includes 26 letters, some of which are modern innovations, should be obvious. At least the Roman Empire and its Latin language are the source from which most of this alphabet came. If we called it the English alphabet, the Dutch and the French and the Germans and the Spaniards and even the Norwegians would feel we were appropriating ownership of the alphabet which they also use.

Of course, since lower-case letters are such a prominent feature of the Latin writing system in current use, one could get really technical, and adopt as the standard term "the Carolingian script" - but if you started doing that, people would assume you were talking about paleography, rather than trying to use a technically accurate term for the writing system in current use.

Bendy's picture

> It is incorrect to say Bahasa Malaysia. Say: Bahasa Melayu.

Thanks for the correction, that seems to be a very common error. If we want to use the English name of the language, do we say 'the Malay language'? (I'm assuming 'Bahasa Melayu' is the Malay language name?)

Thanks for those links, there are some beautiful examples of Jawi there.

What language(s) and writing system existed in Malaysia before the arrival of Islam? I'm guessing Sanskrit would have been used, for example, during the times of the Srivijaiya kings?

AzizMostafa's picture

Bendy, Google?! I googled and found this:
http://ilovemyresearch.wordpress.com/category/jawi-script
Happy Googling with Flowers

charles ellertson's picture

It would seem Wittgenstein lived in vain.

quadibloc's picture

The link given about the revival of the Jawi script in Indonesia was very disturbing in one aspect.

Westerners, used to the Roman alphabet, assume that it is highly legible compared to some other writing systems in which the letters appear to be less distinct. Thus, it is assumed that when nationalists in Turkey changed over to a form of the Latin script, this partly facilitated the improvement in that country's literacy levels. That may be, however, just chauvinism on our part.

But the fact that the one province in which Jawi now appears with Latin script did so along with instituting Shari'a is very distressing, as this will diminish religious liberty, and the equality of people of all faiths, for people who live there. It is up to the speakers of Malay what script best represents their language, but any political movement which represents a movement away from the tolerance for which Indonesia has been praised is, of course, profoundly harmful.

Khaled Hosny's picture

But the fact that the one province in which Jawi now appears with Latin script did so along with instituting Shari'a is very distressing, as this will diminish religious liberty, and the equality of people of all faiths, for people who live there.

Can we please stop the islamophobic propaganda and concentrate on type? (despite what the media tells you, Shari'a, which literally means law, does not "diminish religious liberty, and the equality of people of all faiths".)

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