Musings on spelling reform
Posted: 29 July 2010 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Musing musing musing…

I’m all for spelling reform and I would heartily embrace a movement to make English spelling perfectly regular, so that a given spelling could only be pronounced one way, and vice versa. I know the flaw’s the charm and all that, but srsly, it’s beyond a joke, sometimes.

Apart from all the other major impediments, the major impediment would be the Atlantic divide. Obviously there are a many dialect of English but we could roughly say the most important groups of dialects are a Southern England group and a big group covering most of the USA, excluding some parts in the south. Although there is variation within these groups, they for the most part would follow a common phonemic “map”. I’m sorry that I don’t know the proper terminology. What I mean is that although someone in Surrey sounds quite different to someone in Norfolk, the differences are in the phonetic expression of the various phonemes, NOT in the set of phonemes used for specific words.

I sense I’m not explaining myself well. An example: someone saying “poor” in Surrey sounds different from a Norfolk native saying “poor”, but they could both represent the word using pɔ. Pour, paw, pore, they would spell the same way. The same would not apply to Big Northern USA: you just can’t represent the vowels using the same set of phonemes as represent Big Southern England, and in any case “poor” and “paw” aren’t homophones. (In much of Scotland, “poor”, “pore” and “paw” are all pronounced differently but we can’t go making a special case for Scotland, now, can we.)

Similarly, although there are variations within Big Northern USA, they are (with some exceptions) basically “mappable” in the same way Norfolk is to Surrey. Canadian is also mappable to Big Northern USA, and Australian, South African and NZ are to Big Southern England.

But you can’t get around the Atlantic divide. Someone wanting to fully regularise English spelling would have a few options, it seems to me.

1/ Pick a winner

Choose one of these major streams, base the orthographic regularisation around that, and tell the other to suck it up. In the fair dinkum department, the stream chosen would have to be Big Northern USA just by sheer weight of numbers and international importance. Don’t weep too much for folks in England, Australia, NZ, RSA etc: the spelling wouldn’t match their pronunciation closely but it would probably be closer than it is now. Or maybe they could just get with the strength and start speaking BNUSA as well. Worse things happen at sea.

2/ Diverge

Like Danish and Norwegian, the two streams could formalise their de facto divorce by letting their spelling diverge as their pronunciation did centuries ago. Well, diverge even further than it has. England would have its pɔ and pɔ, USA would have its por and pa (or something), and in written form the two would have near complete mutual intelligibility.

Currently the fact that English pronunciation is only loosely tied to spelling has the merit that groups with very different pronunciations have a common written language. It is somewhat (though not fully) analogous to Chinese, in which dialects with low mutual intelligibility in the spoken form have almost identical written forms.

Musing musing musing…

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Posted: 29 July 2010 01:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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English spelling reform.

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Posted: 29 July 2010 02:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Surely sheer weight of numbers would put Indian English speakers ahead of the rest of us?

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Posted: 29 July 2010 02:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Depends on whether you give the same weight to those who speak it as their primary language and those who speak it as a secondary language.

In addition, especially since we’re talking about spelling, a more relevant number might the number of English-literate people rather than the number of English-speaking people. Reliable numbers are difficult to find (at least via quick Googling) but I strongly doubt India leads in this category.

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Posted: 30 July 2010 05:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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To paraphrase an old programming maxim:  Clearly, English spelling was codified by true geniuses.  This is why you should never allow a true genius anywhere near your spelling codification efforts.

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Posted: 30 July 2010 07:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Reliable numbers are difficult to find (at least via quick Googling) but I strongly doubt India leads in this category.

Wikipedia has competing numbers—both citing the same source, which is conveniently no longer available at the link given in the footnotes.

This article says 90 million ESL speakers in English.

This article says 223 million ESL speakers in English and 750 million ESL “users” (defined as those who can read English words, but are not necessarily literate). This latter number is clearly absurd. Both Wikipedia articles cite the 1991 census for these figures.

The 2001 Indian census says there are 560 million literates (all languages), or 64%, in the country total.

Ethnologue quotes the 1961 census, saying 11 million ESL speakers. This makes the 90 million figure believable, if somewhat inflated.

Of course, all these figures depend on what the standard for “speaking” English is.

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Posted: 30 July 2010 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Cue Charivarius.
This is the longest version of the Chaos poem I’ve seen sofar and there is more on this webpage about spelling that might contribute to OP’s musings.

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Posted: 30 July 2010 11:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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From the poem at Dutchtoo’s link:

Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying ‘grits’?

Who does that?

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Posted: 30 July 2010 01:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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At one of the previous occasions someone brought up Charivarius, this question came up as well. But it seemed to be answered by Dave in yet another thread here:

Re: grits Similar to groats, only grits are a finer grain.

Don’t know if that was statisfactory though.

[ Edited: 30 July 2010 01:16 PM by Dutchtoo ]
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Posted: 30 July 2010 01:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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That doesn’t answer Doc T’s question at all, which was “Who writes groats and says ‘grits’?” Answer: nobody.

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Posted: 30 July 2010 03:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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” Made has not the sound of bade, “

It doesn’t?

I’s bin saying one of those words wrong. (blush)

EDIT: there are also other examples in that poem that suggests the author pronounces some words unrhymingly that rhyme in my dialect
“ Queer, fair seer”
“ Branch, ranch”

Also suggests that the author (unlike me) does rhyme yearling and sterling. Also, Surely, Raleigh. (I’m assuming the couplets are meant to rhyme perfectly).

BTW the owner of that page has added a footnote to “Shoes, goes, does*”, saying “*This is probably the plural of ‘doe’ /douz/ rather than the more common form of ‘do’ /d^z/.” Huh? Probably not.

[ Edited: 30 July 2010 03:33 PM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 30 July 2010 04:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Bade is traditionally pronounced like bad.

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Posted: 30 July 2010 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Thank you.

Extra characters to make the post stick.

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Posted: 31 July 2010 06:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Heh.

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