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Co-ordinated spelling

From:Oskar Gudlaugsson <hr_oskar@...>
Date:Monday, August 21, 2000, 2:14
Hi again,

I've been lurking for a while, but now found the need to publicly formulate
an idea that's been tumbling around in my head for a while.

I've always been fascinated by instances where spelling serves to keep
languages similar in script, while their spoken versions have drifted apart.
As for example the Scandinavian languages. Another example (perhaps mostly
unknown to this list) is Faroese and Icelandic; the two languages are only
barely mutually comprehensible, yet their phonemic structure is similar due
to a regular parallel development from their root-language (Old Norse),
which allowed the Faroese to construct themselves a writing system modelled
on the Icelandic. So that Icelanders and Faroese can easily read each
others' newspapers.

I'll move on to my point now. What I've been playing around with, is to
gather all the languages of one family, such as Germanic, and respell all of
them in one co-ordinated fashion, with the aim of maximizing their internal
comprehensibility. I'm not suggesting this to be done for real, but it is an
entertaining linguistic exercize. It requires the speller to track down all
the regular changes of the root-phonemes, and making innumerable

Taking Germanic, I'd start by giving the range of characters I'll need:

t d  p b  k g
þ ('thorn') f h
m n l r s w j
a e i o u y
ä ö ü (umlauts, may also be spelled 'ae' 'oe' 'ue')
á é í ó ú ý (accented, or doubled, for the long vowels)

Not all of those would be needed in all the languages.

Next, assign values to the letters so that they'll correspond accross
languages (using the characters of the current spellings):

T: German = 'z', all other = 't'
-T: German = 's' (or 'B' es-zet)
D: German = 't', all other = 'd'
Þ TH: Icelandic/English = 'þ'/'th', all other = 'd' or 't'
P: German = 'pf' or 'p', all other = 'p'
-P: German = 'f' or 'pf'
-B: Icelandic = '-f', English, Scandinavian = 'v', Dutch = 'f' or 'b'
-K: German and some Dutch = 'ch'
SK: German/Dutch = 'sch', English = 'sh'
S + M,N,L = German = 'sch + m,n,l'
G: some English = 'y'
AA: English = 'a-e, ai', Icelandic = 'á', Scandinavian = 'å'
EE: Nordic = 'je', English/Dutch = 'ee', German = 'ei'
II: German = 'ei', English = 'i-e', Dutch = 'ij', Icelandic = 'í'
Y: German = 'eu', Dutch = 'ui', English = N/A, others = 'y'

Not a complete list, but you catch my drift.

So, using this formula, some quick samples:

(note that while I'd personally use accented vowels instead of doubled, for
aesthetic reasons, I'll just use doubles now, for presentability)


Gooden dag, spreken si þydsk? Ja, ik habe miin þydsk in þem skoole
gelernt. Ak so, und hwoher kommen si? Ik bin daenisk. Und hwi heiten si?
Miin naame ist Jens.

*Dutch* (I know limited Dutch, there may be mistakes)

Good dag, sprekt je nederlands? Ja, ik heb miin nederlands in þe skool
gelernt. Aha, en hwarfan komt je? Ik ben danisk. En hwat heit je? Miin naam
is Jens.


Good dag, do ju speek englisk? Jes, ig have lernt mii englisk in þe skool.
O, and hwer do ju kom from? Ig am daanisk. And hwat is jur naam? Mii naam is


Goodan dag, talar þu islensku? Jaa, eeg haeb laaert islensku i skoola. O,
og hwadan kemur þu? Eeg er danskur. Og hwad heiter þu? Nabn mitt er Jens.


Good dag, taler þu dansk? Ja, eeg har laaert dansk i skoolen. Naa, og hwor
kommer þu fra? Eeg er islandsk. Og hwad heter þu? Mit navn er Egill.

You could probably take any two Germanic languages this way, and make almost
identical sentences or at least words (though they might sound radically
different), almost ;) For example, Icelandic 'út' (pronounced [u:t]),
German 'aus' [aus], and English 'out', all look different. By co-ordinated
spelling, they'd all be the same: 'uut' or 'út'. Others become almost
identical: Ge 'auf', Ice 'upp', Eng 'up' > 'uup', 'upp', 'up'; Ge 'frau',
Dut 'vrouw', Ice 'frú' > all 'fruu'.

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