English accents & spelling reform

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Postby Ozymandias » 2003-11-11, 23:57

Saaropean wrote:
- through --> thrue (like blue, true)


Well actually there's an unofficial but very common spelling of 'through' as 'thru'. It's becoming more and more common, and I think will have replaced 'through' within ten or so years....
(I think this has happened because people were having a hard time quickly distinguishing 'through' and 'though' in writing.)

I can agree with this, small occasional spelling reforms that only change several spelling problems (the -gh one is definitely a big one...) would be beneficial.


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Postby Saaropean » 2003-11-12, 9:01

Ron wrote:Hey folks, I'm maybe the last one who has the right to protest against a spelling reformation. Though I would like to say I'm totally against it! Why should we change something which works perfectly!?

Aren't the huge problems people have with English spelling a sign that it doesn't work perfectly?

Ron wrote:More than a bilion people in this world speaks English, we're able to communicate with eachother very well. I think that an artficial spellings reformation will fuck up the language totally. A language has to change by it self, not by an artficial reformation.

As AShaw and Pittsboy told you, orthography is merely an irrelevant convention. :P

Of course a natural development would be better (at least more widely accepted), but there haven't been many changes in the past centuries, so English spelling is fucked up now. Writing "theater" instead of "theatre" and "thru" instead of "through" (an encouraging example mentioned by Ozymandias) are two tiny steps towards more consistency, similar to the minimalistic German spelling reform of 1996...

Ron wrote:A very good example of this is Dutch. Dutch has changed many many many times, because some idiots would like to keep the language that way that everybody could write the way he spoke. I pity this because there many old documents written in Dutch which are unintelligible!

Dutch is much younger than English, but it has changed it spelling and grammar many more times than English has.

You said it yourself (and Car mentioned it, too): the spelling is not the only thing that changed. The whole language changed, including lexicon and grammar. Can you understand Old English texts? I guess it's hard, because the language has changed a lot. Let's have a close look at your example:
Hebban olla uogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu uuat unbidan uue nu.

The old Latin letter V is now U (as a vowel), V (as a consonant) or W (as another consonant):
Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu wat unbidan we nu.

What changed here?
1. The verb ending changed from -an to -en, which is nowadays pronounced [@] or [@n]. Would you write "an", "en" or "e" for that sound?
2. "olla" became "alle", pronounced ["al@]. Another minor sound change. If you still wrote "olla" for ["al@], spelling would be more difficult, but it would indeed be easier to understand century-old texts. What do you prefer?
3. "vogala" became "vogels". So the plural is now formed with an S. What's the use in continuing to write A for that?
4. "nestas" became "nesten". Another plural that changed. See, it's not just a different spelling, it's a different grammar.
5. "hagunnan" became "begonnen".
6. "hinase" became "behalve". Isn't that a completely different word? Would it be logical to write this new word like an old one that no one uses any more?
7. "hic enda thu" became "ik en jij". So personal pronouns and a conjunction changed more or less radically. "thu" is no longer used, why should you spell it today?
8. "unbidan" became "wachten". That's a different verb, isn't it? To me a clear sign that the language is no longer the same.

Ron wrote:Only people who have studied for it, are able to read this a regular Dutch housewife shouldn't understand it.

Do you doubt the intelligence of women doing domestic work? :shock:

Ron wrote:Languages has to change by the use of it, by the speakers not with an artificial spelling re-formation.

I see a problem that justifies spelling reforms: Spoken languages changes more quickly than written language, and many people insist on what is "correct" and don't accept that the language has already changed. As a consequence, spelling reflects what the language used to be like long ago. One of the saddest examples is English.

Ron wrote:And I rather think they need to increase spellings education in England than changing the language.

Only in England? Imagine Dutch classes were only improved in Holland. ;-)

So you recognize that English spelling is extremely difficult, but you wouldn't do anything against it? Those who are bad in school drop out anyway. Dropping out after a few years in a country that has a language spelt more or less phonemically (such as Finland) is not as bad as in an English-speaking country, because the chance of being illiterate is lower.

Ashaw wrote:
Of course, but most European languages use the letter O to represent [o] or [O], A to represent [a] or [A], That's a convention

no not really they all represent roughly the same sound [at this current point in time, mind you]. There are many many allophones of these sounds - some that don't even resemble each other much in differing languages. A French person will certainly pronounce an O different from an Italian, Spaniard, American or German. Then there is the fact that these sounds alter depending on there place in a sentence. Rough equivalence is not much good.

Yes, this is a rough representation. But that's better than nothing. In French, the letter O represents either [O] or [o] (except in OU, which is pronounced [u]). In German, O represents either [O] or [o:], and as far as I know it's not much different in Italian and Spanish...

Ashaw wrote:
I can tell you which situation should be improved: illiteracy. English spelling is more difficult than, for instance, Finnish and Spanish spelling, which leads to higher illiteracy rates. With a simplified spelling, people could read and write better, which can only have positive effects...

Easier spelling for whom? An American? A Brit? Irish has what English speakers would call a horrible orthography but to anyone from a celtic backgroud these would not be a big leap at all. Easy is a relative term. Illiteracy would not be improved by altered spelling conventions. In any language you have to associate sounds with its representation - many allophones for instance differing sounds all grouped under one "letter". No an altered form of spelling won't do us any good. The only true way for an orthography change to help would be to use the IPA but that would then require many many updates as the language changes. We, who _can_ read take for granted this basic skill - we have already put together the various incongruent sounds that are associated with a "letter". What this leads us to is an incredible bias as to what an orthographic representation "should sound like". No illiteracy is not due to orthography, it is due to cultural, social and mental realms.

Mentioning a worse example (Irish) to show that something (English) is not the worst in the world doesn't show it's actually good... :roll:
I mentioned Spanish and Finnish. What about that?
As you said, "in any language you have to associate sounds with its representation". How many rules does it take to describe the letters-sounds mapping in English? And in Finnish or Spanish? Don't you think a much smaller number of rules is easier to learn?

What makes you think illiteracy is unrelated to orthography? If there are less rules to describe a spelling system it will be easier to learn it, and hence less people will have problems with it? Or am I wrong?

How exactly would you define the "cultural, social and mental realms" illiteracy is due to?

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Postby Saaropean » 2003-11-12, 14:44

Daniel wrote:
Saaropean wrote:Iz it tuu leyt tuu riform Ingglish speling naw? If wie nevir cheynj aenithing, we wil stil rayt "tough" and "though" fir wiirdz thaet haev now finiem in kamin, aend—huu nowz—meybi wie wil pronawns "good" aend "gate" thi seym wey, bat stil insist on awr tridishinil speling.


It's very interesting to see how you phonetically spell English words. I was particularly intrigued by the phonetical word "kamin" (common). This is American accent. Since I have a northern Scottish accent, I would phonetically spell it as 'kommin'. And why spell 'bat' for 'but'. The 'u' in but sounds different from the 'a' in bat. :wink:

That's my attempt for a unified spelling system. :)

I spell common "kamin", because I pronounce it /"kam@n/, but /bat/ is "bat" and bat /bæt/ is "baet".

Daniel wrote:How does one spell 'sight', 'cite' and 'site' phonetically? If we spell it as 'sayt' then how do we distinguish the meaning in writing? Exactly.

So what? Every language has words with the same pronunciation, but a different meaning. They can be distinguished from the context (which already happens in speech).
What's the use in writing "record" and "record" alike? The two words are pronounced in a different way and have different meanings. :P

The following remarks confer to my non-radical suggestion to ban GH, which is completely different from my yunifayd riformd speling.
Daniel wrote:'Through' and 'threw' sound exactly the same but if you spell 'through' as 'thrue' and 'threw' as 'thrue' as well, you get confused.

Actually I only said I want to abolish GH, so "threw" would still be written "threw". ;-)
If that's inconsistent, why don't you support a radical reform? :P

Daniel wrote:'Though' as 'thow'? Hmm, 'go' rhymes as 'though' so should it be spelled as 'gow'? 'Home' as 'howm'?

See? English spelling is full of inconsistencies that should be abolished...

Daniel wrote:Should we all spell 'two', 'to' and 'too' as 'tu' because they all sound alike?

Why not? Can't you distinguish them from the context? We don't have problems distinguishing them when they are spoken... :roll:

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Postby Pittsboy » 2003-11-12, 20:11

Oh, and I have a suggestion for a minor simplification of English spelling without reforming the orthography in a radical way: abolish GH.
- laugh --> laf (to prevent a separation of American "laff" with [æ] and British "lahf" with [A:])
- light --> lite (like white, write), high --> hie (like die, tie)
- though --> thow (like bow, row)
- thought --> thawt (like law, saw), caught --> cawt
- through --> thrue (like blue, true)
- tough --> tuff (like bluff, stuff)


However, I think that GH pronunciation is VERY predictable from spelling. (I think I have already posted a list with words from this class)

though, through - rule: pronounce GH as 0 (zero) when the word initial sound is TH
light, thought, etc - rule: pronounce GHT as T in all cases
laugh, tough - rule: pronounce GH as F whwn the word initial sound is any other sound but TH

I have many other examples which clearly follow these rules, the only exceptions in English do have modern spelling (such as plough > plow)...
The problem here lies whether you pronounce OU as U or O or ^ or whatever and so on LOL

PS - SAAR, just some question: why such an obsession with spelling reform?
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Interesting topic

Postby Weldal » 2003-11-12, 22:42

Saaropean wrote:That's a convention, I know, but wouldn't it be easier for global understanding if a language as important as English adapted those conventions? I'd compare it to the ridiculous measurement system with feet, miles and pounds that everyone else abolished long ago...


Interesting topic for debate: why should all the other nations be obliged to convert metric units to those absurd units imposed by an anachronism of the Middle Ages stubbornly kept by the most powerful country in the world ?
But that would be another thread, of course... :wink:

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Postby Saaropean » 2003-11-13, 9:38

Pittsboy: The point is not the pronunciation of GH, it's the pronunciation of the vowels preceding it:
augh: [æf], [A:f] or [O:t]
igh: [aI]
ough: [oU], [O:], [u:] or [af]

Why such an obsession with spelling reform? Because I think the status quo is highly unsatisfactory, and because I saw all those protests against the German spelling reform in the 1990s. IMHO that reform changed too little, but it was a step in the right direction. Many people said it was too much and an important (and high-quality, though too conservative IMHO) national newspaper even converted back to the stupid old spelling. :(

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Postby Leviwosc » 2003-11-13, 9:57

Saaropean wrote:Aren't the huge problems people have with English spelling a sign that it doesn't work perfectly?


I see everyday people who write English perfectly, why should you change the system then? I think there's no problem with the spelling, you have simply to learn it. The same nonsense would be, to cancel the kanji writing system in Chinese, because students have problems to learn all those thousands of characters. I simply asume, that spellings education in England isn't that good then. In the Netherlands most students have difficulties with the verb conjugations, but the Dutch language is taught badly in our country. But that doesn't mean, we should change the whole system to make it easier for them who don't want to pay more attention to the spelling of their native language. Actually I think, it's more lazyness.

Saaropean wrote:Writing "theater" instead of "theatre" and "thru" instead of "through" (an encouraging example mentioned by Ozymandias) are two tiny steps towards more consistency


How can you call that encouraging!? I rather pity the fact that people do this! Like in Dutch where people write "kado" instead of "cadeau". When I see that my blood starts boiling!

Saaropean wrote:You said it yourself (and Car mentioned it, too): the spelling is not the only thing that changed. The whole language changed, including lexicon and grammar. Can you understand Old English texts? I guess it's hard, because the language has changed a lot.


Yeah, what Car mentioned is true, the grammar has changed and that was just a natural change, done by time. I understand languages are changing, but I really don't accept it, that people change spelling to make it easier. And we have done that in Dutch, because the grammar of Dutch hasn't changed that much the last 200 years, though the spelling has changed more than I like.

another example....

Wy loopen door den tuin ende indertussen philosopheren wy over het leeven, daar rookte hy nog ener cigaret ende hy zeide tot my, tot weerziens ick ga op vacantie.


Wij lopen door de tuin en intussen filosoferen wij over het leven, hij rookte nog een sigaret en hij zei tegen mij, tot ziens ik ga op vakantie.


The grammar is nearly exactly the same, though the spelling has been changed... why? Just for people who are probably not able to write it correctly, they want to write the way they hear it.

A famous writer in Dutch history, called; Eduard Douwes Dekker, better known as "Multatuli" he wrote the famous colonial story Max Havelaar. And he wrote his book in a language which was more similar to the way he spoke his Dutch. Because this was easier for them who had difficulties with the written language. And I really pity that, because we have lost all the knowledge about what was once a beautiful written languague.

Do you doubt the intelligence of women doing domestic work? :shock:


Oh no, I wouldn't dare Rolf, though I asume that a housewife probably hasn't learnt to read century old texts. I know too many people who even can't write or read the modern Dutch properly, so Old-Dutch won't be an option then I guess.

I see a problem that justifies spelling reforms: Spoken languages changes more quickly than written language, and many people insist on what is "correct" and don't accept that the language has already changed. As a consequence, spelling reflects what the language used to be like long ago. One of the saddest examples is English.


You're right, spoken languages changes more quickly, I totally agree with that, though it doesn't mean you have to change the spelling every time. I understand grammar changes, but the grammar doesn't change that much in 100 or 200 years, the Dutch spelling did. I see English as a very positive language if it matters to this, because they haven't changed the spelling. So you're able to read very old texts, which have an enormous value to us. I rather see English as a very good example to us, to all the languages in the world. Don't change everything that quickly it's working fine now!

Do you know that Dutch has been changed in spelling 3 times in just 100 years!? It's ridiculous! When I compare modern Dutch to the letters of my grandfather to my grandmother, when they were young and in love, the style and the spelling was completely different! While I like the old style much more, I'd wished that Dutch still had cases by the way, probably it was easier for me to learn German then :P

Saaropean wrote:Only in England? Imagine Dutch classes were only improved in Holland. ;-)


You know that Holland doesn't exist, it's a fairy tale. I don't understand exactly what you mean with this remark by the way, but if you mean that Dutch classes need an improved teaching system for Dutch, I agree with you.

Saaropean wrote:So you recognize that English spelling is extremely difficult, but you wouldn't do anything against it? Those who are bad in school drop out anyway. Dropping out after a few years in a country that has a language spelt more or less phonemically (such as Finland) is not as bad as in an English-speaking country, because the chance of being illiterate is lower.


Oh yes I recognize English is difficult, you know how many problems I have with it, though even I start to learn this language, even I get more known with the mysteries of English. So if I can, everybody can! I can't agree with you that we have to change the spelling because some people who are bad in school can't learn the language then. Language isn't a socialistic institute, it's a system a way to communicate with eachother. You know yourself how many illiterate people live in Germany, that's why all foreign movies are dubbed, because lots of people can't read the subtitles, at least that's what people has told me. But should you agree with me, that we have to change German spelling and grammar to make it easier? Shall we drop the cases? It would be easier for me to learn then. And why should you use the "ß" just write a double "s". Why should we write "Köln" if you can write "Kuln" as well?


I understand that languages change and that's a natural procedure, I understand, but let the language change itself, English hasn't changed for some reasons, people probably like it the way it is or the written language is obligatory taught to children all centuries and hasn't changed altough the pronunciation isn't similar anymore to way you write it. I don't know the exact reasons, but I know that many people use English perfectly I see here at Unilang people who are nearly native in English. So there isn't a problem I guess.

By the way do you seriously thinking that English will change ever that way? I doubt it, because it's a world language, it's used everywhere around the globe it won't be changed so soon. And I guess some conservative people in England and probably from anywhere else as well, will protest against it.

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Postby Pittsboy » 2003-11-13, 10:18

I don't really think that a spelling reform is needed. Thousands of people are born speaking and learning how to write English.. and they do it perfectly... if we consider this, why not reforming Chinese or even Japanese spelling as well, once it is known that depending on the position of the kanji is can have several readings and several pronunciations? And, how amazing, people still can write those stuff in both languages... why losing out time with such a matter... people need to work their brains out and are intelligent enough for this...
If it were the case, why not abolish all the CASE markings in the world languages as well, since it is something too extensively boring and not really necessary, prepositions can handle the job, huh??? Just some thougts... but the point here is, people who are born and learn a native language can handle anything, for the most complicated it can appear to be, and people extensively using a language get used to it idiosincrasies as well... no need to worry
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Postby Saaropean » 2003-11-13, 10:27

Ron de Leeuw, Cave Canem wrote:You know yourself how many illiterate people live in Germany, that's why all foreign movies are dubbed, because lots of people can't read the subtitles, at least that's what people has told me.

I've never heard that. :shock:
I thought they were just dubbed because people are lazy, and because the effort of dubbing pays off given that 100 million people in Central Europe speak German...

Ron de Leeuw, Cave Canem wrote:But should you agree with me, that we have to change German spelling and grammar to make it easier? Shall we drop the cases? It would be easier for me to learn then. And why should you use the "ß" just write a double "s". Why should we write "Köln" if you can write "Kuln" as well?

I'd love to see German spelling simplified further. :D
- Drop the cases? That wouldn't be a natural development any more (except for a lost genitive case and, well, datives in Berlin), but I wouldn't be against it. :twisted:
- Abolish ß? Yes, please do! Switzerland did it, and I wish the other German speaking countries would follow. Though it can be done a little more cleverly than in Switzerland, because long vowels should be marked, otherwise "Masse" ["mas@] and "Maße" ["ma:s@] couldn't be distinguished any more. So I'd suggest "Fluss" for "Fluß" (done since 1996), "ausser" for "außer" (done in Switzerland) and "Mahss" or "Maass" for "Maß". :)
- Why "Köln", not "Kuln" for [kœln]? Because it's more logical. The plural of "Wort" (with [O]) is "Wörter" (with [œ]), the comparative of "hoch" (with [o]) is "höher" (with [ø]), just like A [a] or [a:] -> Ä [E] or [E:], U [U] or [u:] -> Ü [Y] or [y:] and AU [aU] -> ÄU [OI]. Besides, U is already pronounced [U] or [u:].

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Postby Pittsboy » 2003-11-13, 10:49

Why not simply LIVE and let LIVE?
Let's languages follow their course in history for God's sake... I am all against any sort of imposed modifications... these modifications only create problems afterwards when people try to analyze a language... I am against imposed modifications!! Let's allow language to decide when to change... for it has been and will always be like this, language fits its needs...
Why should languages also be fit into Cartesianism thinking anyway?
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Postby Kubi » 2003-11-13, 15:03

Pittsboy wrote:Why not simply LIVE and let LIVE?
Let's languages follow their course in history for God's sake... I am all against any sort of imposed modifications...


I agree completely! Especially as most imposed simplifications later turn out to be no improvement but at best a change, like the new German spelling (though I'm now waiting to be bashed by its supporters... :) )

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Postby Car » 2003-11-13, 16:31

Saaropean wrote:Why such an obsession with spelling reform? Because I think the status quo is highly unsatisfactory, and because I saw all those protests against the German spelling reform in the 1990s. IMHO that reform changed too little, but it was a step in the right direction. Many people said it was too much and an important (and high-quality, though too conservative IMHO) national newspaper even converted back to the stupid old spelling. :(


That's because the new spelling is stupid, absolutely inconsistent and partly not logical. They changed the spelling of words according to the roots without knowing whether the root is the real one. The only good change was the distinction between ss and ß, the rest was much better before. Especially how you now have to write one word as two, that's just ridicilous and unlogical. Kennenlernen shouldn't be written kennen lernen, it's a verb of its own. A step in the wrong direction. The had many great ideas, but the result is extremely poor.
Please correct my mistakes!

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Postby Car » 2003-11-13, 16:38

Saaropean wrote:
Ron de Leeuw, Cave Canem wrote:You know yourself how many illiterate people live in Germany, that's why all foreign movies are dubbed, because lots of people can't read the subtitles, at least that's what people has told me.

I've never heard that. :shock:
I thought they were just dubbed because people are lazy, and because the effort of dubbing pays off given that 100 million people in Central Europe speak German...


Nobody has ever said that, Ron has completely missunderstood what I said in the thread about dubbing. It's because people are lazy and aren't used to it. I said that it's hard to notice the subtitles when watching a film, that I either watch the film or the subtitles, but this has nothing to do with illiteracy. I even wondered at that time where Ron got his idea from...

Ron de Leeuw, Cave Canem wrote:But should you agree with me, that we have to change German spelling and grammar to make it easier? Shall we drop the cases? It would be easier for me to learn then. And why should you use the "ß" just write a double "s". Why should we write "Köln" if you can write "Kuln" as well?

- Abolish ß? Yes, please do! Switzerland did it, and I wish the other German speaking countries would follow. Though it can be done a little more cleverly than in Switzerland, because long vowels should be marked, otherwise "Masse" ["mas@] and "Maße" ["ma:s@] couldn't be distinguished any more. So I'd suggest "Fluss" for "Fluß" (done since 1996), "ausser" for "außer" (done in Switzerland) and "Mahss" or "Maass" for "Maß". :)


No, please keep it! Just because the Swiss preferred the French accents over the German ß and too many Germans are too lazy to use the ß? The ss/ß rule is the only rule of the new spelling that makes sense, it's great, clearly distinguishes short and long vowels. Mahss? Are you kidding? That just looks terrible and wouldn't be used anyway... Mahs would at least be a bit better...
Please correct my mistakes!

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Postby AShaw » 2003-11-13, 16:58

I can agree with this, small occasional spelling reforms that only change several spelling problems


How can we have spelling problems if specific phonetic values are not applied to "letters" ?

Spoken languages changes more quickly than written language, and many people insist on what is "correct" and don't accept that the language has already changed. As a consequence, spelling reflects what the language used to be like long ago. One of the saddest examples is English.


Yes, the spelling reflects what _the spelling_ used to be long ago. This has absolutely no connection to pronunciation.....

Dropping out after a few years in a country that has a language spelt more or less phonemically (such as Finland) is not as bad as in an English-speaking country, because the chance of being illiterate is lower.


By Illiterate I assume you mean "un-capable of reading"? Once again, orthography plays _no role_ in literacy.

Yes, this is a rough representation. But that's better than nothing


True and it will always be a rough representation no matter how many times you "reform" the spelling. It's a battle you just can't win, sorry.

Mentioning a worse example (Irish) to show that something (English) is not the worst in the world doesn't show it's actually good...


No no no! You missed my point entirely. There is nothing _wrong at all_ with the spelling of English or of Celtic languages. The language that _you_ natively speak will dictate how "hard" or "easy" another language is to learn. You are trying to deal with a "problem" at the surface level - which cannot be effective.

"in any language you have to associate sounds with its representation". How many rules does it take to describe the letters-sounds mapping in English? And in Finnish or Spanish? Don't you think a much smaller number of rules is easier to learn?


No. Rules are irrelevant here. Pronunciation is based upon an inate knowledge of how sounds interact with each other - and are represented orthographically. Some languages might have a simpiler _phonology_ yes, but orthographically they are all just as weird and screwed up.

What makes you think illiteracy is unrelated to orthography? If there are less rules to describe a spelling system it will be easier to learn it, and hence less people will have problems with it? Or am I wrong?


Orthography is only the expression of inate knowledge. You cannot give someone this knowledge by "simplifying an orthograpy" a person much put the inate pieces together for themself. That is the true level of where illiteracy stems - not in representation.

How exactly would you define the "cultural, social and mental realms" illiteracy is due to?


Cultural and Social - how much emphesis a group places upon learning to write, speak, do anything really.
mental - the mental connections that allow oneself to use an orthography. As much as we would all like to believe it, we do not all possess the same skill or mental capacity for certain tasks, some people have no interest or motivation to learn, and last there are horrible teachers on top of all that. We need to fix _these_ first and then I suspect you won't really have any problems with "orthography anymore.

As AShaw and Pittsboy told you, orthography is merely an irrelevant convention.


Yes exactly! What you people seem to be arguing is that everyone should use the same characters for the same phonetic sounds. If that is the objective the IPA is waiting for you.

Aren't the huge problems people have with English spelling a sign that it doesn't work perfectly?


Does any language "work perfectly"? What would be the "perfect" language? Esperanto? Certainly not. There is no such thing as a flawed language! People will have problems with language forever regardless of whether you change change symbols as they will still have to mentally connect the various conglomerate of sounds that represent that "symbol" and the form the sound takes when and where. Just because it might be easy for someone in america learn french does not mean it is easy for a japanese student to do so as well.

People keep insisting that if you replace this letter with this letter over here things would make much more sense. How?! You already have a prebias to what the symbols mean. They could mean anything, they are meaningless without specific phonetic values. These symbols have meaning when they are combined as a whole in contrast to each other. This system is something that everyone has to learn - and no system is necessarily "easier" for another to learn as they are all equally complex (and some seemingly more complex to those who are not accustomed to the system). There is no easy way to "quick fix" a language, nor does it need it.

Why not simply LIVE and let LIVE?
Let's languages follow their course in history for God's sake... I am all against any sort of imposed modifications...


Here here! Very well put! Language has existed for thousands of years without the need of little "fixer people" to aid its journey.
"Many stupid things are uttered by people whos only motivation is to say something original" - Voltair

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Postby Psi-Lord » 2003-11-14, 2:43

Well, since I had to lecture on the history of the English language a couple of weeks ago at uni, here are two pieces of texts I used — just for the sake of sharing them and seeing how much spelling does change through history (besides the obvious changes in the language itself, of course). Unfortunately, I've had them printed for over two years now, so I can't remember the source anymore... <sigh>

The first one is a sample of Old English (aka Anglo-Saxon) from Aelfric's 'Homily on St. Gregory the Great' and seems to have been written sometime in the late 11th century — I don't know in which dialect it was written, though.

Eft he axode, hu ðære ðeode nama wære þe hi of comon. Him wæs geandwyrd, þæt hi Angle genemnode wæron. Þa cwæð he, 'Rihtlice hi sind Angle gehatene, for ðan ðe hi engla wlite habbað, and swilcum gedafenað þæt hi on heofonum engla geferan beon.'

Again he asked what might be the name of the people from which they came. It was answered to him that they were named Angles. Then he said, 'Rightly are they called Angles because they have the beauty of angels, and it is fitting that such as they should be angels' companions in heaven.'

The following is a sample of Middle English — a piece of Mandeville's 'Travels', written sometime between the 12th and the 15th century.

In þat lond ben trees þat beren wolle, as þogh it were of scheep; whereof men maken clothes, and all þing þat may ben made of wolle. In þat contree ben many ipotaynes, þat dwellen som tyme in the water, and somtyme on the lond: and þei ben half man and half hors, as I haue seyd before; and þei eten men, whan þei may take hem. And þere ben ryueres and watres þat ben fulle byttere, þree sithes more þan is the water of the see.

In that land there are trees that bear wool as though it were of sheep, of which men make clothes and all things that may be made of wool. In that country there are many hippopotamuses, which dwell some time in the water and some time on the land, and they are half man and half horse, as I have said before; and they eat men, when they can take them. And there are rivers and waters that are fully salty, three times more than the water of the sea is.
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Postby Kubi » 2003-11-14, 7:35

Car wrote:No, please keep it! Just because the Swiss preferred the French accents over the German ß and too many Germans are too lazy to use the ß? The ss/ß rule is the only rule of the new spelling that makes sense, it's great, clearly distinguishes short and long vowels. Mahss? Are you kidding? That just looks terrible and wouldn't be used anyway... Mahs would at least be a bit better...


I agree. I'm glad we have the ß and don't want to get rid of it. And yes, the rule for using ss/ß is a good one - though even that one hasn't been introduced totally - a [s] written as "s" before stays like that...but it's better than most of the other changes that replaced unlogical structures by different but just as unlogical ones.
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Postby Kubi » 2003-11-14, 7:54

AShaw wrote:Yes, the spelling reflects what _the spelling_ used to be long ago. This has absolutely no connection to pronunciation.....

Oh, but it does: it represents the characters that people decided to use to represent certain phonemes. But in the meantime the phonemes have changed, so that the relationship doesn't hold any more.

By Illiterate I assume you mean "un-capable of reading"? Once again, orthography plays _no role_ in literacy.

I wouldn't say "no role". It is one of the factors that influence illiteracy, but neither the only nor the most important one.

True and it will always be a rough representation no matter how many times you "reform" the spelling. It's a battle you just can't win, sorry.

Here I agree. And that's why I'm against such reforms.

The language that _you_ natively speak will dictate how "hard" or "easy" another language is to learn.

Here again I agree, but I don't think that's really relevant for the spelling discussion.

No. Rules are irrelevant here. Pronunciation is based upon an inate knowledge of how sounds interact with each other - and are represented orthographically. Some languages might have a simpiler _phonology_ yes, but orthographically they are all just as weird and screwed up.

Still the representation is easier in some languages than in others. Which characters are used to represent a phoneme is arbitrary, all right, but in some languages these relations are clearer than in others, because they're closer to a "one-to-one" rule.

Orthography is only the expression of inate knowledge.

Orthography is just an arbitrary representation of sounds.

What you people seem to be arguing is that everyone should use the same characters for the same phonetic sounds.

I don't think that was the wish. It was more moderate, meaning that every language should always use the same characters to represent the same phonemes - not necessarily the same ones as other languages, but the same ones it uses in another word containing them.

Does any language "work perfectly"? What would be the "perfect" language? Esperanto? Certainly not. There is no such thing as a flawed language!

Here I agree again. There is no such thing as a flawed language, neither such as a really logical language.

These symbols have meaning when they are combined as a whole in contrast to each other. This system is something that everyone has to learn - and no system is necessarily "easier" for another to learn as they are all equally complex

No. There's definitely systems that are more easy than others. As has already been said, the number of rules you need to describe the representation of your phonemes gives an indication for that.
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Postby Saaropean » 2003-11-14, 8:26

Car wrote:
Abolish ß? Yes, please do! Switzerland did it, and I wish the other German speaking countries would follow. Though it can be done a little more cleverly than in Switzerland, because long vowels should be marked, otherwise "Masse" ["mas@] and "Maße" ["ma:s@] couldn't be distinguished any more. So I'd suggest "Fluss" for "Fluß" (done since 1996), "ausser" for "außer" (done in Switzerland) and "Mahss" or "Maass" for "Maß". :)

No, please keep it! Just because the Swiss preferred the French accents over the German ß and too many Germans are too lazy to use the ß? The ss/ß rule is the only rule of the new spelling that makes sense, it's great, clearly distinguishes short and long vowels. Mahss? Are you kidding? That just looks terrible and wouldn't be used anyway... Mahs would at least be a bit better...

I don't agree with "Mahs" (or "Mas"?), because the plural is ["ma:s@], which would force you to double the consonant or change to ß again. Unless you do like the Dutchies and write [s] as S and [z] as Z, but what about the affricative [ts] then?

The ss/ß rule is indeed better now than in the old spelling, but it's not the only thing that "makes sense". Think about hyphenation for example. :P

And think about foreigners, too. Many think ß is a Greek letter or even a B, they have no idea how to write this monster and can't imagine it's pronounced [s]. ;-)


AShaw wrote:By Illiterate I assume you mean "un-capable of reading"? Once again, orthography plays _no role_ in literacy.

And when it comes to functional illiteracy?

AShaw wrote:No no no! You missed my point entirely. There is nothing _wrong at all_ with the spelling of English or of Celtic languages. The language that _you_ natively speak will dictate how "hard" or "easy" another language is to learn. You are trying to deal with a "problem" at the surface level - which cannot be effective.

I don't take the spelling of my native language as something "easy". I recognize many problems that exist in German spelling, things that could be simplified.

Of course every language has a unique phonemic system and grammar, which justifies unique spellings. Writing Arabic without vowels, Chinese with characters and German with umlauts is logical when one looks at the very structure of those languages.

No spelling system is perfect (and none can be, in my opinion not even IPA because people with different accents have to understand each other). I do however believe that a particular orthography can be better of more badly suited for a particular language. And the current English spelling is far from being optimal (meaning, with the term "optimum", the best of what can be reached, which—see above— will still not be perfect), since it is based on a large number of rules with many exceptions that make spelling difficult for many people.

AShaw wrote:
"in any language you have to associate sounds with its representation". How many rules does it take to describe the letters-sounds mapping in English? And in Finnish or Spanish? Don't you think a much smaller number of rules is easier to learn?

No. Rules are irrelevant here. Pronunciation is based upon an inate knowledge of how sounds interact with each other - and are represented orthographically. Some languages might have a simpiler _phonology_ yes, but orthographically they are all just as weird and screwed up.

Now you didn't quite get what I wanted to say. Of course every language has a unique phonology that is encoded in the brains of the native speakers, no doubt about that. But spelling is not that naturally in our brains. We all had to learn it. Orthography is an artificial way of representing the words we utter. Writing has many advantages, but a language doesn't need it to survive, and it's not a part of what babies and small children learn as their native language.

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Postby Kubi » 2003-11-14, 9:08

Saaropean wrote:I don't agree with "Mahs" (or "Mas"?), because the plural is ["ma:s@], which would force you to double the consonant or change to ß again. Unless you do like the Dutchies and write [s] as S and [z] as Z, but what about the affricative [ts] then?

Well, if you go that far, you can as well write the [ts] as TS... :wink:

And think about foreigners, too. Many think ß is a Greek letter or even a B, they have no idea how to write this monster and can't imagine it's pronounced [s]. ;-)

So what? Do you propose writing Chinese with Roman letters so that foreigners won't have to struggle with those 24-stroke "monsters"? I don't think that would be a very good idea...what about Icelandic "Þ" and similar letters? You don't want to abolish all characters that aren't used in a majority of languages, I hope :)

Of course every language has a unique phonemic system and grammar, which justifies unique spellings. Writing Arabic without vowels, Chinese with characters and German with umlauts is logical when one looks at the very structure of those languages.

Why? It's not logical, it's historical. In each case you have a number of possibilities as to how to graphically represent the language, and the ones existing are arbitrary, not born out of logic.
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Postby Car » 2003-11-14, 15:44

Saaropean wrote:The ss/ß rule is indeed better now than in the old spelling, but it's not the only thing that "makes sense". Think about hyphenation for example. :P

And think about foreigners, too. Many think ß is a Greek letter or even a B, they have no idea how to write this monster and can't imagine it's pronounced [s]. ;-)


I think it's not a good idea. They wanted to stop that people write words in two, but introduce those things themselves. And I noticed that people rather write one word than using hyphens. They are the ones that are very often left out, thus they don't reach their goal at all, quite on the contrary.

And? Where's the problem? These foreigners probably don't speak any German, so why should they matter? I can't read Japanese either, should they introduce a Latin alphabet and use this only? Many think letters like Þ are Old Runic, should they not be used anymore? No, the ß makes sense and is useful. We can't think of people that don't know the language when talking about spelling reforms.
Please correct my mistakes!


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