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subphonemic orthographies [was: Re: Rotokas (was: California Cheeseburger)]

From:Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@...>
Date:Friday, June 18, 2004, 19:52
On Jun 17, 2004, at 8:11 AM, Mark P. Line wrote:

> I can't think of any examples right now in modern, phonologically > engineered orthographies. Can you remind me of some?
The Fort Hall/ISU orthography developed for North(west)ern Shoshoni might qualify. Shoshoni has 12 consonant phonemes /p,t,c,k,k_w,?,m,n,s,h,y,w/ and 6 vowel phonemes /i,1,u,o,a,e/ plus distinctive vowel and consonant length. There is a great deal of consonant allophony; voiceless stops are realized as voiced fricatives between vowels, as voiced stops following nasals, and as voiceless fricatives following /h/. In addition, alveolar stridents are realized as alveopalatal stridents following front vowels, and plain alveolar obstruents are realized as dental obstruents following front vowels. In the late 60's, Wick Miller developed a practical orthography for (Western) Shoshoni which was strictly phonemic. The consonants were mapped to the graphemes {p,t,ts,k,kw,',m,n,s,h,y,w}, and the vowels were mapped to the graphemes {i,e,u,o,a,ai}. Long segments are represented as sequences of short segments (e.g. {moppo} [mop:o] 'mosquito', {anii} [ani:] 'beaver') There are two important points to note. First, there are digraphs in the practical orthography which correspond to unit phonemes {ts}, {kw}, and {ai}; second, the mapping of /e/ to {ai} is potentially ambiguous, since there is also a vowel cluster /ai/. In a large number of words, the two pronunciations are in free variation; e.g., /maison/ 'cricket' which can be pronounced [meSo~] or [maiSo~]. However, in other words the value of {ai} does not vary; so {haintseh} is always [haiJtS1_0] and never *[heJtS1_0], and {kai} is always [ke] and never *[kai]. But there are no minimal pairs involving [ai]/[e], so the choice of {ai} for /e/ is justified. The Fort Hall orthography was developed in cooperation by a Shoshoni language teacher from the Fort Hall Reservation and a linguist at Idaho State University. It departs from the strictly phonemic Miller orthography in positing different symbols for long and short stop consonants and in representing in full the allophony of /c/ and /s/. Short stop consonants are represented by {b,d,dz,g,gw} while long consonants are represented by {p,t,ts,k,kw}. Between vowels, /c/ is realized as [z] and following nasals it is realized as [dz]. If the preceding vowel is a front vowel, /c/ is realized as [Z] intervocalically and [dZ] following a nasal. /s/ is realized as /S/ following a front vowel. These predictable variants are represented in the orthography: [z] {z} [dz] {dz} [Z] {zh} [dZ] {j} [s] {s} [S] {sh} Here are some head-to-head comparisons: 'older sister' Miller: {patsi}; Ft Hall {bazi} 'antelope (fawn)' Miller: {wantsi}; Ft Hall {wandzi} 'breast' Miller: {pitsi}; Ft Hall {bizhi} 'friend' Miller: {haintsi}; Ft Hall {hainji} 'wing' Miller: {kasa}; Ft Hall {gasa} 'almost' Miller: {peaise}; Ft Hall {beaishe} These deviations from the strictly phonemic Miller orthography were undertaken in the belief that they would make the language more accessible to native English speakers who are interested in learning to read and write Shoshoni. Initial voiceless stops are unaspirated and therefore sound like English "voiced" stops, so using {b,d,g ...} to represent them is a good move. Often the front vowel which triggers palatalization of the sibilants is deleted (though not always), so showing the allophony of the sibilants is also a good move. So in that sense the orthography is "phonologically engineered", since it takes the phonological habits of Shoshoni and English speakers into account in a principled way. So while this does not directly address the issue of Rotokas's orthography, it is an example of a modern, phonologically engineered orthography with built-in subphonemic distinctions. Dirk -- Dirk Elzinga "I believe that phonology is superior to music. It is more variable and its pecuniary possibilities are far greater." - Erik Satie