Re: USAGE: No rants! (USAGE: di"f"thong)
|From:||R A Brown <ray@...>|
|Date:||Friday, June 2, 2006, 7:44|
Benct Philip Jonsson wrote:
> R A Brown skrev:[snip]
>> I don't know how many times this has cropped up on the list (quite a
>> few times IIRC). In my teens way back in the 50s I used to churn out
>> English spelling reforms with almost the same frequency as I did
>> auxlangs (some two or three a year).
> Nothing wrong with that,
May be - but to me it seems the folly of youth ;)
>> Proposals for English spelling reforms exist from at least the 19th
>> century. The market for English spelling reforms is, like that for
>> auxlangs, one where supply vastly outnumbers demand.
> Actually Orrm was at it in the 12th century
> (Google for "Ormulum"),
I know - but Orrm's efforts sadly led nowhere.
and there was a flare-up
> in the 16th century, with Sir John Cheke and others
> actually having some success -- although mostly their
> 'reform' consisted in introducing new silent letters
> for supposedly lost Latin sounds in words like _island_
Yep - which they got wrong.
> and _debt_ they
...which while it does derived ultimately from Latin _debitum_, is
actually borrowed from Old French _dette_ and, if it had been allowed to
develop normally would've given us _det_. The same sort of nonsense was
going on in French also, e.g._dîner_ got spelled "dipner" from supposed
connexion with Greek 'deipein', and _savoir_ (from Latin 'sapere') got
spelled "sçavoir" from a supposed connexion with Latin 'scire.'
Unlike us, the French did not keep these falsely 'etymological' spellings.
> also introduced means to distinguish
> close and open mid long vowels, but then the Great
> Vowel Shift came along and ruined the language! ;)
It needn't have done if spelling had changed with the pronunciation. It
was unfortunate that the invention of printing had helped fix spelling
before the GVS :=(
>> Whatever we think here, or however we vote, it ain't going to happen.
> What is going to happen? That anyone is going to force
> everybody to spell the way s/he has thought out? No it
> ain't, but then conversely why force anyone to slavishly
> follow tradition?
What will continue happen is, I'm sure, what has been happening over the
past century or so:
1. Very gradual spelling reforms - such as the virtual demise in my
lifetime of 'gaol'. The spelling 'jail' is now the norm on both sides of
the Atlantic. The old spelling is kept only fr special affect and, more
often than not, has to be explained. I know from teaching kids in the UK
that youngsters are far more likely to read 'gaol' as 'goal' :)
Thanks to computers & IT, the spelling 'program' is gaining ground here,
and not only in IT environments. One email in this thread listed other
occasional spelling simplifications - one imagines some at least will catch.
2. More noticeable in my lifetime has been a drift towards spelling
pronunciations. When I was a youngster, 'porpoise' and 'tortoise' the
final syllable was (always) /@s/; now one often hears it pronounced
/ojz/. The 't' in 'often', which became silent in the Tudor period (as
spellings like 'offen' show), is now more often than not pronounced. One
finds it increasingly restored in 'moisten' and 'soften'. I have heard
it restored in 'apostle' and 'epistle', and IME 'pestle' is now almost
always pronounced /pEstl=/ and not the /pEsl=/ of my youth. This trend
will surely continue.
The result, of course, should be that English by piecemeal adjusting of
spelling & pronunciation arrives at 'phonetic' spelling - but by that
time, of course, it will have lost its status as the global IAL, and
we'll all be writing in Mandarin Chinese :))
> The point you made about _diphthong_
> being pronounced variously as /fT/, /ft/ and /pT/ by
> different speakers, and so _phth_ may function as a
> compromise spelling is in principle valid (but we all know
> that that's not why it is so spelled -- traditionalism and
> archaizing spelling works as a compromise between different
> pronunciations only because it is based on a form of the
> language as it was before many of those differences in
> pronunciation arose. Certainly other equally or more
> effective ways of compromise might be devised, and I can't
> see why they mightn't as an intellectual exercise!)
The alternative surely is either to allow both 'dipthong' or 'difthong'
or prescribe one pronunciation correct and use a single pronunciation.
> By the same token Americans ought to back down from spelling
> _draft_ for both the words which Brits spell _draught_ but
> pronounce differently. It's just that these spellings have
> become traditional on either side of the pond, so some
> people will figuratively fight to their death over them.
Nope - 'draft' ought to gradually supplant 'draught' - see above.
> Several people mentioned that untraditional spellings are a
> stumbling block to fluent reading, which may in a way be
> true, but it's only a matter of ingrained habit *and*
> prejudice. In Old and Middle English times differerent
> scribes spelled slightly differently --
Old English was basically phonemic & differences did reflect different
pronunciations. But Middle English had already suffered the Norman
respelling which imported a lot of non-English scribal traditions; for
example the OE /oh/ and /uh/ both finish up getting spelled -ough and
hence the modern mess.
> even vastly
> different in some times and places --, but since the
> variation was still within certain limits (essentially
> variations within a single system) and since -- and this is
> very important -- people were probably not making value
> judgments about the differences in pronunciation which these
> differences in spelling reflected people could still read
> each other's writings reasonably fluently.
..and then reading was not universal. Only a minority were educated &
could read. We are now in a world where we aim for 100% literacy. With
an educated minority, such variation did not matter. But those who find
difficulty in reading simply get confused by having such variation.
> that is the real stumbling block. I'm sure speakers of other
> languages can come up with examples from their language, e.g.
> in English, does it really impair your reding if the text
> you read inserts or omits a _u_ in _colo(u)r_? Probably not!
Obviously not - since we see that everyday. But the enormous variation
found in, say, Tudor spelling, where the same writer might spell the
same word in different ways on the same page, is *not the same thing.*
And the fact that the same writer did often use different spellings of
the same word shows quite clearly that the variant spellings had nothing
to do with variation in pronunciation.
Nor of course do spellings like color/colour show differences in
pronunciation - neither in fact reflects the actual pronunciation of the
> Again if spelling wasn't so rigid maybe people wouldn't
> be so unaware and surprised about how speech differs!
Nope - most of the YAEPT threads concern the way the different way that
the *same* phoneme is pronounced in different parts of the anglophone
world. A phonemic spelling of English simply would _not_ reflect these
> IMNSHO what makes these YAEPTs so annoying is that people
> don't just take an interest in how speech differs,
No, it's not. It's because some of us are aware of these regional
differences (probably greater in Briton than elsewhere in the anglophone
world) - and I am well aware how Merkans say things and can spot the
difference between Aussies, Kiwis & South Africans. Nor is it anything
to do with spelling - a phonemic spelling simply would not show up these
>> What difference does it actually make to a phonemic spelling reform
>> whether one says [k_hjEt], [k_h&t], [k_h&?], [k_hatT_d] or any of the
>> other varieties of /k&t/. Obviously it ought to be spelled/spelt
>> M-O-G ;)
> The only thing I can say in my defence is that *my* ideas for
> spelling reform do take acount of the fact that phonemes are
> realized and distributed variously.
How so? Unless you set up a different set of phonemes for different
varieties of English?
Any spelling reform would, in fact, be imposing some one else's ideas on
the rest of us. Personally, I think English spelling for historic
reasons has moved far from the ideal of phonemic spelling - But for
goodness sake can't we just let the 'natural' processes of very gradual
reform and of pronunciation change continue to work?
My own personal feeling is that:
- there's no way a wholesale spelling reform is going to be imposed on
the the whole anglophone world (How many national governments would that
- we would better applying our creative talents to conlanging (Er -
isn't that what the list is supposed to be about?)
> I hope I am on record as
> an opponent of the idea that any person's lect of any language
> is more correct than anybody elses!
I don't recall any one else contradicting this. Indeed, one virtue of
English spelling is that it simply is _not prescriptive_ as regards
>> Tho I am not a fan of E-o spelling, I think it is, however,
>> up to the Esperanto community how they spell their language,
>> just as it is up to Marc Okrand & the Klingon community how
>> they spell their language, etc.
> Líkwís it åt tu bé yp tu eniwyn hú tu spel þár langweʒ,
> at lést prívatli. Tu mé it'z ʒyst an ésþetik gám!
Yes, obviously how one writes one's own language privately is their own
concern. George Bernard Shaw always wrote his English in full Pitman
shorthand. But if we want to communicate readily with others that use
our language it is useful to do so in a more or less commonly agreed
way. GBS had the luxury of having a secretary to transcribe his Pitman
into traditional English spelling. Most of us don't.
Jörg Rhiemeier wrote:
> Yes. Spelling reforms are notoriously difficult to pull through, as
> the example of the recent German spelling reform (which concerns only
> minute details and is in no way comparable to the radical changes most
> English spelling reformers propose) demonstrates. A decade of heated
> debates, various compromises and reforms of the reforms, disagreements
> between state governments about what to teach in schools, etc. p. p.
Yes, I can well imagine that. Now, just imagine the whole matter on a
world-wide scale involving all the anglophone nations!
> I think it is time to speak another Machtwort as in the Great Sundering,
> and explicitly ban all discussions of spelling reforms (of whatever
> language) and English pronunciation from the CONLANG list the same way
> we have banned auxlang advocacy a decade ago. Spelling reforms are a
> form of prescriptivism, and don't we all agree that prescriptivism is
> the diametral opposite of conlanging?
Imposed spelling reforms must per_se be prescriptive. The 'naturally'
occurring reforms like gaol --> jail are another matter; I favor the latter.
I have often wished YAEPTs and spelling reformers had their own lists
(Surely such lists must exist?), but .......
Henrik Theiling wrote:
> Off-topic discussions have always been part of Conlang. That's no
> problem, I think, as they can be filtered. My own part of the game
> will be to remind posters to use the topic tags needed for filtering.
Yes, I think banning all off-topic threads would be against the spirit
of the list (even tho I find some threads tedious).
> We have the USAGE: tag explicitly for threads about English and other
> chatty language stuff. And those are about language(!), so strictly
> speaking, they're not even off-topic (e.g. like Star Trek -- which, I
> stress, is also not at all banned if properly CHAT: marked).
Yep - a greater use of tags would help.
> Furthermore, auxlang discussions have never been banned here. What is
> banned are flame wars.
Quite so - and those of us who have, for what ever reason, at some time
or other got involved with auxlangs know just how inflammatory the
auxlanging can be. Much the same could - but thankfully so far has not
on this list - happen with spelling reform: my reform is better than yours.
> And we cannot ban topics that are boring to some people! Just skip
> them. But, yes!, remember to tell us about your conlangs
> throughts, too.
I agree - but when I trash most of 164 mails I sort of get a bit
disappointed. I think "Er, not much conlanging here."
> We might want to more eagerly adjust the subject line, though.
"A mind which thinks at its own expense will always
interfere with language." J.G. Hamann, 1760