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Re: more English orthography

From:Tom Wier <artabanos@...>
Date:Tuesday, May 16, 2000, 12:12
James Campbell wrote:

> Barry Garcia eskrïremä: > > > In my dialect, merry, marry, and Mary are all pronounced the same. I make > > a distinction between pin and pen, but a friend from Fresno in eastern > > California says both the same way. > > I remember being shocked by this when I first saw it discussed here some > years ago. I would imagine that many British English-speakers would be > amazed that such words would all be pronounced the same by anybody. > > For me, /meri/, /mæri/, /me@ri/; /pIn/, /pen/ - approx RP. Does this > polyhomonymity [!] cause problems for such American English-speakers with > interpreting IPA?
It can. I tutor college kids in the introductory linguistics class at my university, and dialect clashes often confuse them ("So, why don't I speak like the books says?", that kind of thing). The very notion of writing as one speaks, indeed, is a little foreign to them. I know that in the Gulf-coastal region of Texas, certain dialects take this process even further: [æ] does not exist before /r/, so that <carry> and <share> come out as ['k_hEri] and [SE:r]; all lax vowels become tense: <forest> --> ['fo:r@st] rather than ['fOr@st] (the two developments might well be related, since [æ] is afterall a lax vowel, like most low vowels). (I can remember first watching _Red Dwarf_ on public television here and thinking how odd it was that RP had such a distinct [æ] before /r/ -- for some reason, General American doesn't seem nearly so distinct when it has that; maybe GA has a higher vowel, but not quite as high as mine. Eh. Although New Yorkers seem more British in this respect to me.)
> BTW, I think it also well illustrates the minefield that is English > orthographic reform, if such is based on pronunciation. English could > [almost?] be said to now be a number of languages (some, mutually > unintelligible) that have a common written form. In this scenario, it starts > to become almost ideographic.
Well, yes, there are some dialects in the UK that are pretty idiosyncratic, shall we say. But for the vast majority of English speakers around the world (multiple hundreds of millions of them), there is an extraordinary uniformity between dialects compared to, say, German or Mandarin etc. More problematic would probably be morphphonemic alternation between pairs of related words: <divine> /dIvaIn/ on the one hand, <divinity> /dIvInIti/ on the other. But spelling reform is a mess of problems for a whole host of reasons entirely external to the language itself. Most people who even give the idea much thought are either entirely in favor of it, or just the opposite, and there is very little middleground. Those who favor it often have wildly idealistic notions of the extent to which society would be willing to change one of the fundamental underpinnings of tradition, the written word, and often don't really have much of a grasp of the complexity of the language to boot. For those who oppose it, it is usually as reactionaries to the former group, often (in my experience) put a straw man argument based on the lack of "phonetic" accuracy of the proposed plans. (The "phonetics" of a word are not what's primarily important when considering a writing system; it is the distributional pattern of sounds, the _phonemics_ of words and phrases, including whether morphology and syntax need to be taken into account, that constitute the conscious levels of language use that are necessary to transcribe sounds onto documents.) =========================================== Tom Wier <artabanos@...> "Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero." ===========================================