Wondering if any languages take into account musical timing or rhythm. I know in English, we stress certain vowels "long" or "short", but we don't say "let this vowel be 2x the length of these consonants" sort of thing. That is, we don't write like this:

This is a sentence.

 Th--is  is--- a sen--tence.

Where Th--is is like Thhhis and is--- is issss. That is, we don't write the exact timing of the phrasing when we write English. We only do that with music, writing the lyrics inline with tablature, for example. But my question is, if there are any languages that do write it down using timing information of some sort. Maybe it's not as robust as a full on time plot or chart, but maybe they add hints to the duration of the phonemes or something like that. Haven't seen anything like this.

I'm specifically wondering if any languages write down some sort of timing metrics information in their written language. Maybe the ancient Greek hexameter did this, but I can't tell from Wikipedia. It looks like they organized their syllables and such into timing measures, but I'm not sure what sort of annotations they put on the text (if there were actually written bars like word1 word2 | word3 word4 | ... | ... | ....

3 Answers 3


Look at Japanese (when written in kana instead of kanji) for a good example. Japanese is a mora-timed language, which means each syllable contains a certain number of morae ("beats"), and every mora is pronounced for approximately the same length of time.

When writing in kana, each character represents one and only one mora, whether that's a CV syllable (カナ ka.na, two morae), consonant gemination (キッタ ki.t.ta, three morae), vowel lengthening (オーサカ o.o.sa.ka, four morae), or a coda consonant (センパイ se.m.pa.i, four morae).

So the number of characters in a word is exactly the number of morae in it. For example, the word sekken "soap" has only two syllables, but the kana spelling セッケン se.k.ke.n makes it clear that it has four morae, and thus takes four "beats" to pronounce. This is in fact how most Japanese poetry works: haiku, for example, is based on the number of morae per line instead of syllables.

(Note that none of these words would normally be written in quite this way; I'm doing the equivalent of putting all the words in italics. But this way of writing isn't wrong.)


I have not seen any writing system that uses such kind of timing notation for everyday language.

But in the analysis of poetry, feet are annoted with macrons and breves above the written representation of the language, creating a kind of tabulature. Not every poetry can analysed like this, but the system works well for classical Latin and Greek poetry.

Note that this is "analysis mode", usually the poems are just set in plain text broken into lines according to the verses without hinting at the rhythm: The reader of the poem is supposed to add this information on his own.


There are many written languages that cleary distinguish between long and short vowels or consonants. One example is Finnish, where long vowels and long consonants are indicated by doubling the relevant letter. Another example is Arabic (in its fully vocalised form).

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