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Re: "Usefull languages"

From:Stephen Mulraney <ataltanie@...>
Date:Wednesday, February 13, 2002, 15:14
On Tue, 12 Feb 2002 18:58:31 -0500
Aidan Grey <grey@...> wrote:

> At 11:01 PM 2/12/2002 +0100, Christophe wrote: > >By the way, the French orthography is not that bad and pretty phonemic (and > >good at showing some grammatical alternations that would look rather > >strange if > >one were to adopt a phonetic orthography :)) ). Compared to the English > >orthography, it's the IPA :)) . > > It's certainly better than Irish (Old or Modern)! I've determined that, > basically, one only pronounces every third letter. For example, gheobhaidh, > 'will get', is pronounced /jowi/.
It's certainly something I've thought must be very difficult to learn. Having had it crammed into me at school since I was 5 makes it second nature to read (out loud, rather than understand) and pronounce, even if my grasp of the language itself is rather tenuous. Curiously, I don't think it's such a bad system: the long sequences of vowels can usually be explained by showing that certain ones are 'glides', or better, leathan/caoil (velarised/palatalisd) indicators for consonants they are adjacent to (e.g. the <e> and <a> in <gheobhaidh>), while the apparantly large number of silent (or /h/-pronounced) consonant sequences do a fairly good job of indicating (1) the base form of the word before mutation e.g. "her house", <a teach> is /A t'Ax/ ('=palatalisation) while "his house", <a theach> is /A h'Ax/. Similarly "his eye" and "her eye" are phonetically /A hu:l'/ and /A su:l'/, spelt <a shúil> and <a súil>. Given only the "his" form spelt phonetically, /a hu:l'/, it would not be clear whether it meant "her /hu:l'/", "his /su:l'/", "his /tu:l'/", etc. Of course, this makes you wonder, it this kind of notation of the base form necessary? It's certainly aesthetically pleasing to me ;) (2) pronounciation differences; you pronounce "gheobhaidh" as /jowi/, but I pronounce it somewhere between /G'owi:/ and /G'ovi:M\/ (or maybe the /v/ is more like /v\/), which is probably just for my own amusement (I like approximants), but certainly there are dialectical variations in <gh>, <bh> and <dh>, and other wierd consonant sequences. But yeah, it's a wierd system, but I think it's very cute too ;) It used to be wierder before some (I think 1940?) spelling reform: e.g. <trá> /trA:/ for "beach, strand" used to be spelt I think <tráth>, and I think the extra <th> there is indefensible on either of the grounds I mentioned above..
> And Old Irish is worse, where one letter > can represent three sounds: c = /c/, /g/, /X/. for example, nemed 'sacred > grove' from Gaulish nemeton, is pronounced /neveD/.
Interesting... must study OI some day. What you say makes it look systematic rather than just bad ;). Maybe the palatalised/velarised distinction, e.g. of /c'/ vs. /c/, arose as allophones conditioned by surrounding vowels, where the allophones became phonemes as a result of a change in the vowel system removing the conditioning environment. (I know what I'm trying to say but it's sufficently vague to make difficult to verbalise... I have a feeling that the preceeding paragraph just means "Perhaps the p/v distinction arose by, like ... some process, ye know?" ;) ) Time to go to bed, methinks (yeah, it's 2am, but I'm not going to send until the morning, hence the date on the mail) Stephen