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Re: Logographic English was Re: Divergent Scripts

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Sunday, September 1, 2002, 6:15
Quoting Peter Clark <peter-clark@...>:

> Personally, I think [a quasi-logographic writing system is] a good > thing. With increasingly dialectal divergence, pretty soon the only > way to understand what someone is saying is to ask them to write it > out. :)
The only problem is that the kind of language shifting that you're talking about is both nowhere in sight, and would not be much different from teaching all speakers of different daughter languages of present English some entirely unrelated language, like Latin, or Greek, or Georgian for that matter. Despite the fact that language change continues, centrifugal forces are counteracted not so much by television or other media, but by continual shifting and sifting of the population. Anglophones are more mobile than ever, with speakers of different dialects moving around both within dialect regions (England to Wales, New York to California) and between them (UK to Australia, New Zealand to Canada). So, the likelihood of major splits is not likely to happen any time soon. But if it were to happen, the now separate languages would likely be so different that learning modern standard English would be tantamount to learning a new language, so great would the changes likely be phonologically and lexically (especially the latter, depending to a large extent on what we call "standard English" of today), analogous to Arabic dialectal speakers and standard Arabic. I can't see how the lack of a spelling reform at this point would change any of that.
> People may complain about the irregularities of English spelling, > but it's the best solution to language change. I can easily imagine > a scenario in which students five hundred years hence are still > able to read Hemingway in the "original" with only glosses at the > bottom of the page for obsolete words (much like what > we do for Shakespeare today), even though pronunciation has completely > changed.
This is clouded by the fact that Shakespeare's English went on to set the patterns in large part for what Standard English is like. Will Hemingway's? I doubt it, any more than we find reading Piers Plowman or 15th century dialectal literature particularly easy to read. And I don't think you can say the pronunciation has changed from Shakespeare's time, anyways. He got through all but the tail end of the aftereffects of the Great Vowel Shift. Almost all the changes since then (e.g. Cockney interdental fricatives changing to linguolabials) have been restricted to geographically isolated dialects.
> I have a Korean friend living in Japan who happened to meet a > Taiwanese man on the subway. He said they communicated very well > writing in Chinese, since neither spoke the other's langauge, and > the Taiwanese man didn't speak Japanese.
This doesn't really help your argument, since there's no reason to suspect new words entering the language will not be written according to some semblance of a phonemic representation. The system of writing itself would need to change first. ========================================================================= Thomas Wier Dept. of Linguistics "Nihil magis praestandum est quam ne pecorum ritu University of Chicago sequamur antecedentium gregem, pergentes non qua 1010 E. 59th Street eundum est, sed qua itur." -- Seneca Chicago, IL 60637