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CHAT: Reformed Latin-script writing for natlangs

From:Daniel A. Wier <dawier@...>
Date:Wednesday, May 3, 2000, 16:59
One of my current projects is trying to see if the writing of some
languages written in Latin script -- anything from Irish to
Vietnamese -- could be improved, simplified, clarified, and what not.

Vietnamese comes to mind, first of all.  I just taught myself how to
_pronounce_ the language (but I still have no idea what the words mean),
and what always threw me off is how diacritics are stacked because some
mark vowel quality, and others mark tone.  And there are six tones in
Vietnamese for eleven vowels.  Latin script is just not able to easily
record a language like that!  Plus you have some unusual consonant
orthographic conventions.

For anyone interested in knowing, this is the Vietnamese alphabet, not
counting the tone marks:

a: [A] (back a)
a-breve: [a]
â a-circumflex: [@] (schwa)
     (remember, this has to bear a tone mark too)
b: [b]
c: before back vowels: [k]; before front: [s]
     (this is Vietnamese, not French bygawd)
ch: [c] true palatal stop, or is it [tS]?
d: [z] (?!)
d-bar (NOT ð edh): [d] (there we go)
e: [E] (open e)
ê e-circumflex: [e]  (see above)
g: before back vowel: [gamma] (voiced kh); before front vowel:
[fricative j]
gi (before back vowels only): [fricative j]
h: [h]     i: [i]
k (before front vowels only): [k]
kh: [x]
l: [l]     m: [m]     n: [n]     ng: [N]
nh: [J] (palatal nasal, like Spanish ñ)
o: [O] (open o)
ô o-circumflex: [o] (but another diacritic!)
o-horn (the horn attaches to the right side and curves upward: [ram's
horns/baby gamma] (mid back vowel -- at least the diacritic is on the
side here!)
p: [p]     ph: [f] (but why not use f?)
q: always before u then a vowel; qu- = [kw]
r: [r.] (this might be a retroflex approximant)
s: [s.] (retroflex s -- see x below)
t: [t]
th: [th] (aspirated t, not English "th")
tr: [t.] (also retroflex due to the r)
u: [u]
u-horn (see o-horn above): [M] (high back unrounded vowel, IPA inverted
v: [v]
x: [s] (huh?  and s is used for the retroflex...)
y: [j]

The tone marks are, and I don't remember what order they come in:
none: mid/level tone
acute accent: high/rising tone
grave accent: low/falling tone
hook (a small ? without the dot): falling-rising tone (Mandarin tone 3)
tilde: high glottalized
dot below (the only subscripted diacritic): low glottalized

Now I like the way tones are marked, but I'd use a breve for the
fall-rise tone and diaeresis for the low glottalized tone (I personally
don't like underwritten marks unless it marks an open vowel like Yoruba
etc. does; this would work for Vietnamese too).  I just think the
consonant conventions are a bit eccentric.  I would rather use more
globally recognizable phonoorthograhy.  Like z for [z] instead of d,
since z is not used.  S should be [s] and x should be [x].  Since tr is
used for retroflex t, then sr should be used for retroflex s.  As for c,
k and q -- the use of English-like variant pronunciation is illogical to
an Asian people!  Make c the palatal, k the velar, and get rid of q
unless you want q to represent [kw] (or qu-, either way).  The voiced
palatal should be j (another unused letter) and the velar be g.  And why
not f for [f] instead of ph?  Why write with two letters which can be
written with one?  Other suggestions: n-tilde (ñ) for nh (optional,
since Portuguese has nh for the same phoneme).  Ng for [N] is good and
should stay as such, though if you want one letter-one phoneme, q could
be used...

Okay, I know this script was invented mostly by French priests, not
experted linguists.  I just have a pet peeve about clinging on to
tradition to the point where confusion may arise.  Plus, the appearance
of the script sure can be improved.  You're either creating overtall
glyphs which throw you off in printing, or you cram two overwritten
diacritics in a way as to make it illegible.

Other languages have inherent difficulties in writing when Latin script
is applied.  Caucasian languages written in Cyrillic have the same
problems.  Either you have to invent some strange characters like the
Abkhazians did, or use digraphs, trigraphs, or [gasp!] tetragraphs for
other Caucasian languages using only the modern Russian alphabet plus
the character I (no lowercase form), the _palochka_ (aspiration mark).

Any other ideas from the list?  Let's make some conscripts for natlangs.
(I am seriously thinking of readapting a Thai-Lao-Myanmar-Khmer-like SE
Asian alphasyllabry for Vietnamese; wasn't that done in the past with
the Cham [?] script?

The floor is now open.