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USAGE: Diversity and uniformity AND No rants! (USAGE: di"f"thong) -- responses to Andreas and Ray.

From:Benct Philip Jonsson <bpj@...>
Date:Friday, June 2, 2006, 15:01
Andreas Johansson skrev:

> When you said "new letters" I, rather understandably I would think, assumed you > were talking about actual new letters, not old one with diacritics. Throwing in > a few â's and ô's would be unlikely to hamper me much.
Well, after all we dó regard _å ä ö_ as separate letters in Swedish, and in Spanish they even regard some digraphs as separate letters. Rest assured that I'd rather introduce new diacriticized letters rather than wholly new letters, and either of those rather than using existing letters in annoying and unfamiliar new ways: you will sooner see me write _šön čänsla_ sooner than _xön qänsla_! I may be a radical, but I'm not cruel.
>>>>Again if spelling wasn't so rigid maybe people wouldn't >>>>be so unaware and surprised about how speech differs! >>>>IMNSHO what makes these YAEPTs so annoying is that people >>>>don't just take an interest in how speech differs, but >>>>there is somehow a more or less unexpressed assumption >>>>that this is strange, undesirable and/or problematic! >>>>why are you all conlanging if linguistic diversity is >>>>strange, undesirable and/or problematic? >>> >>> >>>It's all about context. >>> >>>In a conlang set in a non-modern setting, intended as an aesthetic >>>exercise, >>>variant spellings add a measure of verisimultude. In a modern text which >>>you >>>are reading because you are interested in the content, not how that content >>>is >>>conveyed, it is just an obstacle to rapid comprehension*. I do not think it >>>at >>>all strange I have different attitudes to it the respective cases. >> >>I think you missed my point: I was not talking about spelling >>variation as part of a conlang set in a non-modern setting, but >>of (artlang) conlanging generally as an expression of linguistic >>creativity, diversity and non-uniformism, and what surprises me >>is that the same individuals can embrace one form of linguistic >>creativity, diversity and non-uniformism, but be snooty conformists >>in another aspect of language. > > > No, I understood perfectly. I just fail to see anything surprising about it, and > tried to give an example showing how its not inconsistent attitude. > > >>>* From many years' participitation on various mailing lists and online >> >>fora, I >> >>>think I can say with some authority that nonstandard spelling decreases >>>effective reading speed, and that it not infrequently impairs >> >>understanding. >> >>I think you missed my point again: it's just a matter of what >>one is used to. English speakers may be bothered by British- >>American spelling differences *initially* -- and the same is >>true of 'new' versus 'old' German spelling(*), and the differences >>between the mainland Scandinavian languages, or even between >>Spanish and Italian -- but after a while you do get used to >>a variation that is not only limited but even principled. > > > None of these examples seems really pertinent - American English, British > English, old-style German, new-style German, Bokmål, Nynorsk, etc, are all > standardized orthographies in themselves. If everyone would spell as they see > fit, we'd have hundreds of variants of Swedish alone, and you'll risk having to > get used to a new one every time you picked up a book. Certainly, as you note > below, you'd eventually learn to become better at learning new variants, but > it's still an extra burden.
Well, I may have too great a confidence that people would strive to write phonemically! It is perhaps also pertinent that I do subvocalize while reading. I'm aware that I'm unusual in this, and that it may even be dysfunctional.
> (Also, if how many people spell in informal online settings is any guide, the > variation would commonly be less than principled. This fear is reinforced by > the fact that, as you probably know, in older Swedish texts you can find > several different spellings of the same word within the same paragraph.)
I assume you are referring to informal spelling of *English*? The fact that English spelling so much has lost synch with the phonemic spelling principle that its writers have no feeling for what written representations of its phonemes would be normal or functional is hardly an argument against more phonemic spelling!
>>It seems you are a mental-effort conservationist and >>I'm a physical-effort/dead tree conservationist! :) > > > This would appear to be true. > > Andreas > >
R A Brown skrev:
> Benct Philip Jonsson wrote: > >> R A Brown skrev: > > [snip] > >>> I don't know how many times this has cropped up on the list (quite a >>> few times IIRC). In my teens way back in the 50s I used to churn out >>> English spelling reforms with almost the same frequency as I did >>> auxlangs (some two or three a year). >> >> >> Nothing wrong with that, > > > May be - but to me it seems the folly of youth ;)
C'mon, I'm not *that* young anymore! ;)
> > [snip] > >> >>> Proposals for English spelling reforms exist from at least the 19th >>> century. The market for English spelling reforms is, like that for >>> auxlangs, one where supply vastly outnumbers demand. >> >> >> Actually Orrm was at it in the 12th century >> (Google for "Ormulum"), > > > I know - but Orrm's efforts sadly led nowhere.
I don't know how sadly: spelling like _orrm_ to indicate that the /o/ was short seem rather dysfunctional to me -- I'd rather seen a length mark on long vowels (since vowel length wàs phonemic in Middle English!)
> > and there was a flare-up > >> in the 16th century, with Sir John Cheke and others >> actually having some success -- although mostly their >> 'reform' consisted in introducing new silent letters >> for supposedly lost Latin sounds in words like _island_ > > > Yep - which they got wrong. > >> and _debt_ they > > > ...which while it does derived ultimately from Latin _debitum_, is > actually borrowed from Old French _dette_ and, if it had been allowed to > develop normally would've given us _det_. The same sort of nonsense was > going on in French also, e.g._dîner_ got spelled "dipner" from supposed > connexion with Greek 'deipein', and _savoir_ (from Latin 'sapere') got > spelled "sçavoir" from a supposed connexion with Latin 'scire.'
I knew that.
> Unlike us, the French did not keep these falsely 'etymological'
spellings. Too bad they kept their truly etymological spellings!
>> also introduced means to distinguish >> close and open mid long vowels, but then the Great >> Vowel Shift came along and ruined the language! ;) > > > It needn't have done if spelling had changed with the pronunciation. It > was unfortunate that the invention of printing had helped fix spelling > before the GVS :=(
I couldn't agree more, though some device that showed the morpho- phonemical relations between the pre-GVS short and long vowels in a more consisten way than the present English spelling would IMO not have been wrong per se.
>>> Whatever we think here, or however we vote, it ain't going to happen. >> >> >> What is going to happen? That anyone is going to force >> everybody to spell the way s/he has thought out? No it >> ain't, but then conversely why force anyone to slavishly >> follow tradition? > > > What will continue happen is, I'm sure, what has been happening over the > past century or so: > 1. Very gradual spelling reforms - such as the virtual demise in my > lifetime of 'gaol'. The spelling 'jail' is now the norm on both sides of > the Atlantic. The old spelling is kept only fr special affect and, more > often than not, has to be explained. I know from teaching kids in the UK > that youngsters are far more likely to read 'gaol' as 'goal' :) > Thanks to computers & IT, the spelling 'program' is gaining ground here, > and not only in IT environments. One email in this thread listed other > occasional spelling simplifications - one imagines some at least will > catch.
I'm all for that. What I mean is rather that a laxing of spelling prescriptivism may speed that process. (BTW I found just the other day that _gaol_ ultimately derives from VL _caveola_ -- while it kind of explains the traditional spelling as a failure to note the Central French /ga/ > /dZa/ sound change in the spelling one wonders why this word wasn't respelled when _jambe_ and _jardin_ were.)
> 2. More noticeable in my lifetime has been a drift towards spelling > pronunciations. When I was a youngster, 'porpoise' and 'tortoise' the > final syllable was (always) /@s/; now one often hears it pronounced > /ojz/. The 't' in 'often', which became silent in the Tudor period (as > spellings like 'offen' show), is now more often than not pronounced. One > finds it increasingly restored in 'moisten' and 'soften'. I have heard > it restored in 'apostle' and 'epistle', and IME 'pestle' is now almost > always pronounced /pEstl=/ and not the /pEsl=/ of my youth. This trend > will surely continue.
I must say I have more mixed feelings about spelling pronunciations, or rather about people claiming that the old, spontaneously evolved pronunciations are 'wrong'. I still happen to feel that speech should be primary to writing.
> The result, of course, should be that English by piecemeal adjusting of > spelling & pronunciation arrives at 'phonetic' spelling - but by that > time, of course, it will have lost its status as the global IAL, and > we'll all be writing in Mandarin Chinese :))
And should against all odds Spanish catch on as an IAL it would of course just then embark on some convulsive change in pronunciation!
>> The point you made about _diphthong_ >> being pronounced variously as /fT/, /ft/ and /pT/ by >> different speakers, and so _phth_ may function as a >> compromise spelling is in principle valid (but we all know >> that that's not why it is so spelled -- traditionalism and >> archaizing spelling works as a compromise between different >> pronunciations only because it is based on a form of the >> language as it was before many of those differences in >> pronunciation arose. Certainly other equally or more >> effective ways of compromise might be devised, and I can't >> see why they mightn't as an intellectual exercise!) > > > The alternative surely is either to allow both 'dipthong' or 'difthong' > or prescribe one pronunciation correct and use a single pronunciation.
As you may guess I'm even more opposed to pronunciation prescriptivism than to spelling prescriptivism.
>> By the same token Americans ought to back down from spelling >> _draft_ for both the words which Brits spell _draught_ but >> pronounce differently. It's just that these spellings have >> become traditional on either side of the pond, so some >> people will figuratively fight to their death over them. > > > Nope - 'draft' ought to gradually supplant 'draught' - see above.
Yes. I was under the false notion that /drOt/ existed as an alternative pronunciation for the 'lack of water' sense. I see now it is not so.
> >> Several people mentioned that untraditional spellings are a >> stumbling block to fluent reading, which may in a way be >> true, but it's only a matter of ingrained habit *and* >> prejudice. In Old and Middle English times differerent >> scribes spelled slightly differently -- > > > Old English was basically phonemic & differences did reflect different > pronunciations. But Middle English had already suffered the Norman > respelling which imported a lot of non-English scribal traditions; for > example the OE /oh/ and /uh/ both finish up getting spelled -ough and > hence the modern mess.
Yes, and what I mean is that a basically phonemic spelling with some differences reflecting different pronunciation is not only bearable, but even desirable. It is certainly preferable to a state of affairs where spelling is so messed up by inertia that people lose sight of the very idea of phonemic spelling. As I said to Andreas I'm no believer in 'native speaker intuition' in phone*ic matters: any well-working spelling system was probably the result of conditions being favorable for some gifted person(s) to make an efficient analysis and persuade others to use it. I am aware of the fact that these "favorable conditions" are either the absence of a previous tradition, or a revolutionary situation, but I happen to think that a raising of writers' phone*ic awareness would speed and improve the kind of gradual spelling change you described, since any cultural or social progress requires an educated public.
>> even vastly >> different in some times and places --, but since the >> variation was still within certain limits (essentially >> variations within a single system) and since -- and this is >> very important -- people were probably not making value >> judgments about the differences in pronunciation which these >> differences in spelling reflected people could still read >> each other's writings reasonably fluently. > > > ..and then reading was not universal. Only a minority were educated & > could read. We are now in a world where we aim for 100% literacy. With > an educated minority, such variation did not matter. But those who find > difficulty in reading simply get confused by having such variation.
And they would *not* be confused by spellings like _gaol_ and _draught_?
> [snip] > >> that is the real stumbling block. I'm sure speakers of other >> languages can come up with examples from their language, e.g. >> in English, does it really impair your reding if the text >> you read inserts or omits a _u_ in _colo(u)r_? Probably not! > > > Obviously not - since we see that everyday. But the enormous variation > found in, say, Tudor spelling, where the same writer might spell the > same word in different ways on the same page, is *not the same thing.* > And the fact that the same writer did often use different spellings of > the same word shows quite clearly that the variant spellings had nothing > to do with variation in pronunciation.
Granted. What I advocate is not *random* variation, but to allow a greater variation reflecting variation in pronunciation.
> Nor of course do spellings like color/colour show differences in > pronunciation - neither in fact reflects the actual pronunciation of the > first syllable. > > [snip] > >> >> Again if spelling wasn't so rigid maybe people wouldn't >> be so unaware and surprised about how speech differs! > > > Nope - most of the YAEPT threads concern the way the different way that > the *same* phoneme is pronounced in different parts of the anglophone > world. A phonemic spelling of English simply would _not_ reflect these > differences.
I know, but you must agree that the present spelling doesn't promote awareness of the fact that pronunciation differs.
>> IMNSHO what makes these YAEPTs so annoying is that people >> don't just take an interest in how speech differs, > > > No, it's not. It's because some of us are aware of these regional > differences (probably greater in Briton than elsewhere in the anglophone > world) - and I am well aware how Merkans say things and can spot the > difference between Aussies, Kiwis & South Africans. Nor is it anything > to do with spelling - a phonemic spelling simply would not show up these > differences.
Yes, those who are aware of the differences may feel annoyment at seing them discussed, but what annoys me is that those who engage in those discussions seem annoyed or at least surprised by the fact that these differences exist. My attitude is that these discussions at least in a small group promote the awareness of how English is actually pronounced whichh is necessary in order to promote improvement in spelling. What I really would like is for something like J.C. Wells' "Accents of English" to be available online, or at least in cheap paperback, so that people could be directed to it.
> [snip] > >>> >>> What difference does it actually make to a phonemic spelling reform >>> whether one says [k_hjEt], [k_h&t], [k_h&?], [k_hatT_d] or any of the >>> other varieties of /k&t/. Obviously it ought to be spelled/spelt >>> M-O-G ;) >> >> >> >> The only thing I can say in my defence is that *my* ideas for >> spelling reform do take acount of the fact that phonemes are >> realized and distributed variously. > > > How so? Unless you set up a different set of phonemes for different > varieties of English?
I mean that I think some distinctions and some distribution differences should be smoothed over by not reflecting them in spelling, or by 'compromise spellings' rather than making a phonetic transcription of one accent and suppose it can serve everybody.
> Any spelling reform would, in fact, be imposing some one else's ideas on > the rest of us. Personally, I think English spelling for historic > reasons has moved far from the ideal of phonemic spelling - But for > goodness sake can't we just let the 'natural' processes of very gradual > reform and of pronunciation change continue to work?
The problem is that Hell will freeze before there is any real improvement by that 'natural' process!
> My own personal feeling is that: > - there's no way a wholesale spelling reform is going to be imposed on > the the whole anglophone world (How many national governments would that > involve?)
I agree, but I think it's a damned pity it is so.
> - we would better applying our creative talents to conlanging (Er - > isn't that what the list is supposed to be about?)
Well, isn't devising con-orthographies a form of conlanging?
>> I hope I am on record as >> an opponent of the idea that any person's lect of any language >> is more correct than anybody elses! > > > I don't recall any one else contradicting this. Indeed, one virtue of > English spelling is that it simply is _not prescriptive_ as regards > pronunciation.
The problem is that spelling prescriptiveness is used as tool of social oppression, and this is possible mostly because spelling is so much divorced from pronunciation. The phonemic principle of spelling serves as a check on prescriptivists insisting on arbitrary spelling regulations as a form of shibboleth. Clearly it also makes it easier for kids to learn to spell and for L2 learners to learn to speak. Dialects drifting apart and becoming separate languages is after all a natural process. I'm absolutely not convinced that a great mismatch between spelling and pronunciation in order for the written language to serve as a Dachsprache is worth its price.
>>> Tho I am not a fan of E-o spelling, I think it is, however, >>> up to the Esperanto community how they spell their language, >>> just as it is up to Marc Okrand & the Klingon community how >>> they spell their language, etc. >> >> >> >> Líkwís it åt tu bé yp tu eniwyn hú tu spel þár langweʒ, >> at lést prívatli. Tu mé it'z ʒyst an ésþetik gám! > > > Yes, obviously how one writes one's own language privately is their own > concern. George Bernard Shaw always wrote his English in full Pitman > shorthand. But if we want to communicate readily with others that use > our language it is useful to do so in a more or less commonly agreed > way. GBS had the luxury of having a secretary to transcribe his Pitman > into traditional English spelling. Most of us don't.
The problem with shorthand is of course that it is not easy to reproduce mechanically, not that it is phonemic.
> > Henrik Theiling wrote: > [snip] > > > > Off-topic discussions have always been part of Conlang. That's no > > problem, I think, as they can be filtered. My own part of the game > > will be to remind posters to use the topic tags needed for filtering. > > Yes, I think banning all off-topic threads would be against the spirit > of the list (even tho I find some threads tedious).
The problem is that not even all on-topic posts/threads are interesting to everyone. For example I don't find loglang discussions the most interesting. If we were to ban everything that doesn't interest everybody precious little would remain. It so happens that I am on another list where practically all posts are on-topic. Nonetheless the list is boring because it is the same discussion on a limited set of sub-topics that gets repeated over and over again when a new listmember arrives.
> > > We have the USAGE: tag explicitly for threads about English and other > > chatty language stuff. And those are about language(!), so strictly > > speaking, they're not even off-topic (e.g. like Star Trek -- which, I > > stress, is also not at all banned if properly CHAT: marked).
IMNSHO natlang discussions are *necessary* for conlang creativity, so they should absolutely not be seen as off-topic.
> Yep - a greater use of tags would help.
Agreed. Is it BTW possible to have more tags? An ENGLISH: tag might be useful; it is clearly the case that discussion of the one natlang which is the L1 of the majority of members are especially annoying too many.
> > Furthermore, auxlang discussions have never been banned here. What is > > banned are flame wars.
That has always been my understanding.
> Quite so - and those of us who have, for what ever reason, at some time > or other got involved with auxlangs know just how inflammatory the > auxlanging can be. Much the same could - but thankfully so far has not > on this list - happen with spelling reform: my reform is better than
> yours. I'm afraid that's true. Personally I'm of the opinion that any spelling reform -- as long as it makes spelling easier to learn, which practically means more phonemic spelling -- is a Good Thing if it increases social equality, since my main beef with spelling prescriptionism (any prescriptionism) is that it usually serves to lock out those who don't master the prescribed norms.
> [snip] > > And we cannot ban topics that are boring to some people! Just skip > > them. But, yes!, remember to tell us about your conlangs > > throughts, too. > > I agree - but when I trash most of 164 mails I sort of get a bit > disappointed. I think "Er, not much conlanging here." > > > We might want to more eagerly adjust the subject line, though. > > AMEN! AMEN! >
I'll try to remember that! -- /BP 8^)> -- Benct Philip Jonsson -- melroch at melroch dot se "Maybe" is a strange word. When mum or dad says it it means "yes", but when my big brothers say it it means "no"! (Philip Jonsson jr, age 7)


R A Brown <ray@...>
Andreas Johansson <andjo@...>