46
   

Let pupils abandon spelling rules, says academic

 
 
Borat Sister
 
  4  
Reply Wed 10 Sep, 2008 11:56 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Joe...there is an actual (or likely more than one) recognised phonetic alphabet for English.

One may learn it (I used to be able to take dictation in it, had to learn it for my English degree when I did linguistics) and then use it to write in.

There are symbols for the different sounds in the language....and they are always the same symbol for the same sound.

How one spells a word would then depend on how one said it...there is a (different symbol for the a as in in darn then there is for the a as in apple...so if one said "Aunt" as "aren't", as I do, one would use a different "a" symbol from someone who said "Aunt" as in "ant", as many do)...but it is not chaotic...you don't spell words any old how....there are rules.

I passionately love English spelling with all its quirks, because I can spell really easily, and I therefore think it's good for people's brains to bloody well learn it....but I recognize that this is kind of unfair....so I understand your objecting....but your objection to proper phonetic spelling using a recognised phonetic alphabet is unfounded, as I understand it.

Here is a phonetic alphabet explained.

http://www.antimoon.com/how/pronunc-soundsipa.htm

patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 05:40 am
@Borat Sister,
Damn it, woman, I thought I'd never have to look at the IPA again...
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 06:19 am
@patiodog,
I used to enjoy it.

I could hear the difference between people who said hwhen and hwhich, and those who said wen and witch.

Hwich is odd, because I am deaf.

I don't want to use it to spell with, though. Though I know it is the rough end of the pineapple for some who have not been able to gain a thorough enough grasp of the spelling bough of the tree of English, yet I do not wish to bow to their lack of knowhow. But enough of this rough stuff!
0 Replies
 
McTag
 
  2  
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 07:31 am
@Robert Gentel,

Spelling reform and a laissez-faire approach to students' written work is largely bull-shytte, misguided, and intellectual laziness imho.

English has the largest vocabulary of any language and subtleties of spelling need to be able to reflect that.

There is a difference, for example, between a skull and a scull.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  3  
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 08:54 am
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:
You just don't understand the difference between advocating a standard phonetic alphabet and a standard way to spell all words. I am advocating a standard phonetic alphabet Joe. That has nothing at all to do with whether the words are spelled the same across dialects.

Then you're just advocating the substitution of one problem for another.

You want the consistency of Spanish orthography with the accuracy of the IPA. The problem is, you can't have both. You can't have a written language that is consistent across dialect boundaries and a phonetic alphabet that accurately reflects all of the ways that a particular language is spoken.

But then again, maybe you're not saying that. You seem to have a much clearer view of what you don't advocate than of what you do advocate. To give you the benefit of the doubt, that may simply be the result of the post-and-response format, which doesn't lend itself to an orderly presentation of one's thoughts. So, to avoid any further misunderstanding, I'll give you this opportunity to address the following points:

1. You want a consistent spelling but you say that this consistent spelling won't "tell you that 'fish' is spelled F-I-S-H." How is that possible? Surely, if you adopt a consistent system of phonetic spelling, then that system must tell you how to spell something phonetically, right?

2. In that vein, what exactly is the difference that you posit between the way that "words are spelled" and the way that "sounds are spelled?" Isn't that a distinction without a difference? For instance, if you adopt a standard phonetic orthography, such that the "f" sound is always spelled "f," the short "i" sound is always spelled "i," and the "sh" sound is always spelled "sh," then aren't you saying that the word "fish" should be spelled "F-I-S-H?"

3. If your consistent system of phonetic spelling "doesn't establish that everyone spells and pronounces the word 'tomato' the same," then what does it do? If your system allows for regional, or even individual, differences in pronunciation, then wouldn't it at least establish how each person should spell "tomato?"

4. You say that regional differences in pronunciation have no "bearing on whether or not the language can be phonetic." Isn't that contradictory? If the written language should reflect how it is spoken, then how is it possible for regional differences in pronunciation not to have any bearing on whether the written language can be phonetic?
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 09:03 am
@Borat Sister,
Borat Sister wrote:

Joe...there is an actual (or likely more than one) recognised phonetic alphabet for English.

Well, the International Phonetic Alphabet isn't the recognized phonetic alphabet for English. It's the recognized phonetic alphabet for all languages. That's why it's "international."

Borat Sister wrote:
I passionately love English spelling with all its quirks, because I can spell really easily, and I therefore think it's good for people's brains to bloody well learn it....but I recognize that this is kind of unfair....so I understand your objecting....but your objection to proper phonetic spelling using a recognised phonetic alphabet is unfounded, as I understand it.

Then you don't understand it.

I have absolutely no objection to spelling words with the IPA or some other phonetic alphabet. There's a real advantage to using phonetic alphabets in certain situations, such as in comparative linguistics. I just don't think there's much need to change English spelling to some phonetic system, and there's a good many reasons why it would be a bad idea.
Robert Gentel
 
  2  
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 09:27 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
Then you're just advocating the substitution of one problem for another.


There is trade off yes. But you are greatly exaggerating the problem and not all problems are created equal.

Quote:
You want the consistency of Spanish orthography with the accuracy of the IPA. The problem is, you can't have both.


No I don't. You should really take the time to actually read what I say before trying to tell me what it is.

Quote:
You can't have a written language that is consistent across dialect boundaries and a phonetic alphabet that accurately reflects all of the ways that a particular language is spoken.


I have never said I wanted this Joe.

Quote:
But then again, maybe you're not saying that.


If you'd take the time to read you wouldn't have to guess wildly.

Quote:
You seem to have a much clearer view of what you don't advocate than of what you do advocate.


It probably seems that way to you because you just keep making up things that you claim I am advocating and I keep having to tell you that I am not. Again, this can be solved by just reading and not jumping to your own conclusions based on your very meager understanding of the concept.

Quote:
1. You want a consistent spelling but you say that this consistent spelling won't "tell you that 'fish' is spelled F-I-S-H." How is that possible?


Because two people may say the word differently. I don't mind if there are alternate spellings for the word, because I just want consistency between the English sounds and the letter combination used for the sound.

Quote:
Surely, if you adopt a consistent system of phonetic spelling, then that system must tell you how to spell something phonetically, right?


If by "it" you are still talking about words you still don't get it.

Quote:
2. In that vein, what exactly is the difference that you posit between the way that "words are spelled" and the way that "sounds are spelled?"


<smacks forehead>

The difference is that one is for sounds and the other for words Joe. Please read this:

Quote:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphabetic_principle
The alphabetic principle is the understanding that letters are used to represent speech sounds and that there are systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken words. The alphabetic principle is the foundation of any alphabetic writing system, which is the most common type of writing system in use today.

In a perfectly phonological alphabet, there would be a single letter for each individual speech sound and a one-to-one correspondence between sounds and the letters that represent them. Such a language would have a very simple spelling system, enabling a writer to predict the spelling of a word given its pronunciation and a reader to predict the pronunciation of a word given its spelling.

All alphabetic writing systems are imperfectly phonological and diverge from that ideal to a greater or lesser extent. The spelling systems for some languages, such as Spanish, are relatively simple because they adhere closely to the ideal one-to-one correspondence between sounds and the letter patterns that represent them. For example, in standard Castilian Spanish the letter u always represents the sound /u/. In languages such as English, the spelling systems are more complex because they vary considerably in the degree to which they follow the stated pattern.



Quote:
Isn't that a distinction without a difference? For instance, if you adopt a standard phonetic orthography, such that the "f" sound is always spelled "f," the short "i" sound is always spelled "i," and the "sh" sound is always spelled "sh," then aren't you saying that the word "fish" should be spelled "F-I-S-H?"


No, it would be saying that "'f' sound is always spelled 'f,' the short 'i' sound is always spelled 'i,' and the 'sh' sound is always spelled 'sh'". It doesn't tell you what sounds (and subsequently letters) to use for words, it tells you what graphemes to use for each phonemes (sounds).

Quote:
3. If your consistent system of phonetic spelling "doesn't establish that everyone spells and pronounces the word 'tomato' the same," then what does it do?


It is a regularization scheme that establishes the English phonemes and the graphemes that represent them.

Quote:
If your system allows for regional, or even individual, differences in pronunciation, then wouldn't it at least establish how each person should spell "tomato?"


No, because then it would seek to establish how they should say it. Furthermore most of the variance does not need to be strictly captured in the alphabet, after all I am proposing a phonemic alphabet and not a strict phonetic transcription alphabet. You should acquaint yourself with the difference. In a phonemic alphabet the allophones don't need to be codified. Furthermore a phonemic alphabet can compromise to handle variance.

Quote:
You say that regional differences in pronunciation have no "bearing on whether or not the language can be phonetic." Isn't that contradictory?


No. You just don't understand the alphabet very well. English purports to be a phonemic orthography already. It's just the worst there is and I want to normalize it so that it's more phonetic. No matter how well it is normalized it will likely have to compromise for dialectal variance. However it shares a relationship with the dialectal variance and would have the influence of reducing the variance itself.

I don't propose a perfect phonemic orthography, I just want a much better one. And like I have already said, Spanish has a very good phonemic orthography that compromises well and that works logically across many dialects. As you already established, Spanish has it's own variations in regional pronunciation. Why do you think linguists consider Spanish to be a good example of an orthography that strays less from the true alphabet ideal than does English?

Quote:
If the written language should reflect how it is spoken, then how is it possible for regional differences in pronunciation not to have any bearing on whether the written language can be phonetic?


Because all orthography requires compromise and for every standard there has to be a non-standard use. Other languages establish central standards and then sometimes regional ones but even then if someone decides to say "nookular" their drift would need to be accepted as standard or not.

Right now, there is no standard. There is no authoritative body to govern the English language. So if I had the opportunity to create my own system, I would not seek to establish a true alphabet across all English dialects. I would seek to establish a system that worked for standard accents (starting with Received Pronunciation and then American General) and I would not seek to establish a phonetic notation for all languages (like the International Phonetic Alphabet purports to do). I would have to compromise on key loan words and anglicize others and regional differences don't need to prevent English from having at least one functional standard. Some dialects would be better supported than others, and some may even need extensions and would happen in the model of Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese where their dialect would then have to maintain its own standards.

Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese vary very similarly to British and American English and maintain separate standards but I can still read and understand both of them just fine. Spanish has many dialects and I can still read them all just fine.

Both languages are far closer to the alphabetic ideal than English, and demonstrate that English can come closer to the ideal without the Tower of Babel conditions that you are portraying.
Robert Gentel
 
  2  
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 09:43 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
Then you don't understand it.

I have absolutely no objection to spelling words with the IPA or some other phonetic alphabet. There's a real advantage to using phonetic alphabets in certain situations, such as in comparative linguistics. I just don't think there's much need to change English spelling to some phonetic system, and there's a good many reasons why it would be a bad idea.


You don't understand it at all Joe. English already uses a phonemic orthography, it's just the example of a defective script and would be well served to move to a more shallow orthography.

Doing so would not represent a change of the fundamental system but a movement within a spectrum toward the alphabetic ideal.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 12 Sep, 2008 09:13 am
@Robert Gentel,
Rather than respond point-by-point, I'll just address one representative passage to illustrate how confused and, ultimately, untenable your position is.

Robert Gentel wrote:
joefromchicago wrote:
Isn't that a distinction without a difference? For instance, if you adopt a standard phonetic orthography, such that the "f" sound is always spelled "f," the short "i" sound is always spelled "i," and the "sh" sound is always spelled "sh," then aren't you saying that the word "fish" should be spelled "F-I-S-H?"


No, it would be saying that "'f' sound is always spelled 'f,' the short 'i' sound is always spelled 'i,' and the 'sh' sound is always spelled 'sh'". It doesn't tell you what sounds (and subsequently letters) to use for words, it tells you what graphemes to use for each phonemes (sounds).

In effect, then, you're saying: "In English, the 'f' sound should consistently be spelled with an 'f,' the short 'i' sound should consistently be spelled with an 'i,' and the 'sh' sound should consistently be spelled with an 'sh,' but as to how someone might spell 'fish' -- beats me, you figure it out."

Really, it's absurd to maintain that you're only interested in how sounds should be spelled while remaining completely agnostic as to how words should be spelled. After all, there's no point in having any kind of alphabet -- phonetic or not -- unless you plan on using it to spell words. Indeed, the only way we know how people pronounce sounds like "f" or "i" or "sh" is by listening to them pronounce words like "fish." There aren't a whole lot of people out there saying "ffffffff" in everyday conversation. More importantly, the only reason we're even interested in how people pronounce those sounds is because those sounds are constituent parts of words.

Now, of course, if your interest is merely in duplicating something like the IPA or in studying comparative linguistics, then that's different. But since this entire thread has been about English spelling, I'm sure that's not the case here.

In the end, however, there is an easy solution to this problem. Since there is no recognized authority regulating either speech or spelling, language is technically in a state of anarchy. It is, as Thomas has pointed out elsewhere, akin to a free market (a genuine Smithian free market, not the kind that Republicans believe in). In the marketplace, buying and selling are the transactions and money is the medium of exchange. In speech, communication is the transaction and language is the medium of exchange. In the marketplace, there is nothing to prevent the participants from adopting a different medium of exchange, and likewise in speech there is nothing to prevent the participants from adopting a different method of communicating. If the participants want to spell "through" as "thru" or "bought" as "bawt," then they can do so. Of course, if they fail to convince others to adopt that innovation, they may find themselves left out, just as someone in the marketplace who attempts to exchange goods for beaver pelts or glass beads might also find himself without any takers. Sometimes, the innovations succeed, as many of Webster's spelling reforms did. More often, however, they fail. I wish you luck with yours.
Robert Gentel
 
  4  
Reply Fri 12 Sep, 2008 09:53 am
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:

Rather than respond point-by-point, I'll just address one representative passage to illustrate how confused and, ultimately, untenable your position is.


You've been doing that for a while now, ignoring when your statements have been shown to be false (e.g. when you claimed that French orthography was similarly convoluted) and making up my position instead of just reading it.

So if you are going to continue to cherry pick, at least find the time to get to this question I asked you:

Why do you think linguists consider Spanish to be a good example of an orthography that strays less from the true alphabet ideal than does English?

See, you claim that the regional dialects make this impossible but this is a clear example of superior orthography.

Quote:
Really, it's absurd to maintain that you're only interested in how sounds should be spelled while remaining completely agnostic as to how words should be spelled.


It sounds absurd to you because you don't understand the purpose of the alphabet.

The purpose of an alphabet like English's is to represent sounds and not words Joe. There are only around 44 sounds but at least a million words (when you count all variants and technical terms).

Quote:
After all, there's no point in having any kind of alphabet -- phonetic or not -- unless you plan on using it to spell words.


That doesn't mean you need to codify how all the words are spelled when you codify what sounds they will represent in what combinations.

Quote:

Indeed, the only way we know how people pronounce sounds like "f" or "i" or "sh" is by listening to them pronounce words like "fish." There aren't a whole lot of people out there saying "ffffffff" in everyday conversation.


You were the one who brought up the differences in speech from individual to individual, so as long as there was only one it was relevant to your line of argument.

I don't personally see a case for much variance in the spelling of fish (just like there isn't much right now) and I believe standards would be put in place for that based on the relationship with the alphabet I would propose but they are very separate linguistic building blocks.

One is an alphabet and the other is a dictionary. It's the dictionary's job to establish standards for word spellings and not the alphabet's job. There is a predictable relationship between the two but they are very distinct.

Quote:
More importantly, the only reason we're even interested in how people pronounce those sounds is because those sounds are constituent parts of words.


Yes, an alphabet has a relationship with words Joe. What's your point? Defining the graphemes for the phonemes is the purpose of the alphabet and not to define the spelling of words. There is a predictable relationship but what is your point? How does this support the nonsensical arguments you made to the effect that an orthography of the type that exists and is used by millions (e.g. Spanish) is impossible?

Quote:
Now, of course, if your interest is merely in duplicating something like the IPA or in studying comparative linguistics, then that's different. But since this entire thread has been about English spelling, I'm sure that's not the case here.


You still can't seem to pay me the courtesy of actually reading what I write before randomly speculating about what it is I am trying to say. In the very post you are replying to I was very clear about this:

"I would not seek to establish a phonetic notation for all languages (like the International Phonetic Alphabet purports to do)"

Quote:
In the end, however, there is an easy solution to this problem. Since there is no recognized authority regulating either speech or spelling, language is technically in a state of anarchy.


The English language. Other languages do have recognized authorities that maintain their languages.

Quote:
It is, as Thomas has pointed out elsewhere, akin to a free market (a genuine Smithian free market, not the kind that Republicans believe in). In the marketplace, buying and selling are the transactions and money is the medium of exchange. In speech, communication is the transaction and language is the medium of exchange. In the marketplace, there is nothing to prevent the participants from adopting a different medium of exchange, and likewise in speech there is nothing to prevent the participants from adopting a different method of communicating.


This analogy is stupid. You first raise the point that there is no central authority for the English language when that is my main bone to pick with the English language to then argue that no standard can be had. This ignores that other languages do have central authority and that this is something I advocate for English.

Quote:
If the participants want to spell "through" as "thru" or "bought" as "bawt," then they can do so. Of course, if they fail to convince others to adopt that innovation, they may find themselves left out, just as someone in the marketplace who attempts to exchange goods for beaver pelts or glass beads might also find himself without any takers. Sometimes, the innovations succeed, as many of Webster's spelling reforms did. More often, however, they fail. I wish you luck with yours.


And like I said, this is a lame cop out. I am not trying to change English by myself, and am advocating what I think is better. That starts with establishing authoritative bodies for the English language similar to what other languages enjoy.

So I am advocating something I think improves the language, not something I think I am likely to see in my lifetime based on my effort. I've already been very clear about this. You've responded with a bunch of ignorant nonsense about language and now want to cop out with a general ramble about how improbable it is instead of the nonsense you were on about to the effect that the change itself was technically flawed.

If you no longer think you are able to defend your arguments that's fine, but I will call this cop out what it is. It does nothing to address your linguistic arguments and begs off under a general appeal to the popularity of the imperfect orthography. You had argued that it was not better Joe, now you moved the goal posts to merely unlikely.
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 07:01 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Quote:

The English language. Other languages do have recognized authorities that maintain their languages.

This analogy is stupid. You first raise the point that there is no central authority for the English language when that is my main bone to pick with the English language to then argue that no standard can be had. This ignores that other languages do have central authority and that this is something I advocate for English.


Robert, the central authorities for these other languages have no greater linguistic legitimacy than the prescriptive "authorities" of English.
Robert Gentel
 
  3  
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 07:35 pm
@JTT,
That's just not true. English has many competing "authorities" who derive their legitimacy only through tradition. What they lack in official sanction they make up for in prestige. There is no equivalent in the English language to the Royal Spanish Academy or the Association of Spanish Language Academies.

As a result English is a pluricentric language and Spanish is not. And as a result it is pluricentric without even regional authorities because there are no official regulatory bodies for the English language anywhere.

Wikipedia wrote:
Spanish is not pluricentric because all the hispanidad has the same common ortographic rules.The ceceo is spoken in the northern parts of Spain while the seseo is spoken in southern parts of Spain, too, and most parts of America, and there are hundreds of lightly different regional pronunciations. All branches are perfectly intelligible in their acrolects, except for minor vocabulary differences caused by the specific environment or demographic composition of the area where the language is spoken. The basilects have diverged more, with different slangs, foreign influences and choices in verbal forms. However, the worldwide diffusion of telenovelas and Spanish-language music favor intercomprehension.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluricentric_language


There is no body in the English language with the authority to establish common ortographic rules. If you peruse this list of regulatory bodies for languages you'll note that English has no official regulatory body listed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_language_regulators

If you are trying to make the case that there are academic authorities on English that's fine, but they lack an official sanction and thusly have never created any official standards.

Prestige is not the same as authority. The bottom line is that English lacks a central authority on the language and lacks regional authorities on the language. Spanish, as an example, does not and it has a central authority and an association of regional authorities. In fact there is even a regional authority for Spanish in the US (Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española) while there is no recognized regional or central authority anywhere in the world for English.
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 07:54 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Quote:
That's just not true. English has many competing "authorities" who derive their legitimacy only through tradition. What they lack in official sanction they make up for in prestige. There is no equivalent in the English language to the Royal Spanish Academy or the Association of Spanish Language Academies.


I can see how you and Joe views got so divergent. Smile

Where they are wrong about language, English's "authorities" derive no legitimacy from tradition. The traditional view of the language has been one of inaccuracy.

Actually, they had official sanction for years, which was found within the education system, and it wasn't until folks began to really look at language that they fell from grace.

I didn't say that there weren't official bodies for other languages. What I said was that they don't have any greater linguistic validity than the traditional/prescriptive authorities of English.

Obviously, they can, like the traditional/prescriptive authorities of English, get some things right.


Robert Gentel
 
  2  
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 08:06 pm
@JTT,
JTT wrote:
I didn't say that there weren't official bodies for other languages. What I said was that they don't have any greater linguistic validity than the traditional/prescriptive authorities of English.


I guess you are just saying that you don't hold them in any greater esteem. That is your right. <shrugs>
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 08:35 pm
@Robert Gentel,
i
Quote:
I guess you are just saying that you don't hold them in any greater esteem. That is your right. <shrugs>


No, Robert, what I'm saying is that the people who use those languages don't follow the erroneous edicts anymore than the speakers of English followed/follow erroneous prescriptions/traditional rules.

It matter not one iota what authority a body holds if the rules they make do not follow the natural rules of a language.
Robert Gentel
 
  3  
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 08:55 pm
@JTT,
JTT wrote:
No, Robert, what I'm saying is that the people who use those languages don't follow the erroneous edicts anymore than the speakers of English followed/follow erroneous prescriptions/traditional rules.


I'm pretty sure I know what you are saying JTT, but by my understanding of it it all boils down to your personal linguistic viewpoint. You are basically making the case that language is alive and that the stodgy old gatekeepers of any language are wrong by definition.

That isn't an objective truth but a very arguable one. I guess you are just saying that they can no more herd the cats than can the competing "authorities" in English.

Quote:
It matter not one iota what authority a body holds if the rules they make do not follow the natural rules of a language.


They've made an undeniable impact on the language that I think would have been helpful to English. Opinions of their linguistic value aside they are still responsible for a great deal of historic influence on their respective languages.

As an obvious example to this thread, the official authority for Spanish, the Royal Spanish Academy, deserves enormous credit that Spanish shares a common (and very logically consistent) orthography.

Spanish has had an authority over their language since the early 1700's and as their colonies began to develop distinct dialects they maintained a central authority over the language through an association of regional authorities.

That Spanish spelling didn't fork the way English spelling has is a testament to the difference that it makes.

So you may argue that language is alive and any official authority is a false one and that the job of the linguist is to record what is and not what should be. And that's a very arguable position but would be your personal linguistic viewpoint.

Mine takes more of a compromise. I love languages and the way they are alive. Hell I even took advantage of the disarray of the English language to write my own dictionaries and try to legitimize my own words (like a distinct meaning for "quaffable") when I worked for other lexicographers and have argued the same things when they got mad at me for my waggery. I've argued your position dogmatically in the past but what I really prefer is a middle ground. I know that language is alive in the minds of each person that speaks it, and I can't change much about that. But that doesn't mean that the regulating bodies can't make an impact on the languages and normalize the evolution a bit. And whatever your opinion is about their linguistic validity they have still made a measurable difference in their respective languages. The market will rule, but the regulators have some impact and the impact can be a positive thing.
JTT
 
  2  
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 09:55 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Quote:
They've made an undeniable impact on the language that I think would have been helpful to English. Opinions of their linguistic value aside they are still responsible for a great deal of historic influence on their respective languages.

As an obvious example to this thread, the official authority for Spanish, the Royal Spanish Academy, deserves enormous credit that Spanish shares a common (and very logically consistent) orthography.

Spanish has had an authority over their language since the early 1700's and as their colonies began to develop distinct dialects they maintained a central authority over the language through an association of regional authorities.

That Spanish spelling didn't fork the way English spelling has is a testament to the difference that it makes.


But when these style manuals go beyond the artificial rules they've created for writing, they fall apart, linguistically speaking. That they can have so many different "in house" rules illustrates their artificiality.

I think this shows just why these measures don't work for language as a whole, for real language, the language of speech. And you are right, they are not anymore successful at "herding the cats".

Quote:

I'm pretty sure I know what you are saying JTT, but by my understanding of it it all boils down to your personal linguistic viewpoint. You are basically making the case that language is alive and that the stodgy old gatekeepers of any language are wrong by definition.


It isn't a matter of a personal linguistic viewpoint. It's only a matter of whether the actual rules that govern how we use language are accurately described. Many traditional/prescriptive rules were horribly inaccurate.

You can be both stodgy and old and still be accurate on language. Just see some of McTag's postings. Wink

Quote:
Mine takes more of a compromise. I love languages and the way they are alive. Hell I even took advantage of the disarray of the English language to write my own dictionaries and try to legitimize my own words (like a distinct meaning for "quaffable") when I worked for other lexicographers and have argued the same things when they got mad at me for my waggery.


'quaffable' has a distinct meaning for me. "Some beers are eminently quaffable". Is there a new meaning beyond that that you hold?

Quote:

I've argued your position dogmatically in the past but what I really prefer is a middle ground. I know that language is alive in the minds of each person that speaks it, and I can't change much about that. But that doesn't mean that the regulating bodies can't make an impact on the languages and normalize the evolution a bit. And whatever your opinion is about their linguistic validity they have still made a measurable difference in their respective languages. The market will rule, but the regulators have some impact and the impact can be a positive thing.


I don't think there is a middle ground when something is wrong; wrong in the sense that it doesn't accurately describe language. Of course, there have been valuable contributions from even the worst of the traditionalists. But those contributions have only come when they have adequately described language.

There's no need to normalize the evolution of language. All that's needed is for any particular "new language" to be accurately described as to how it fits into the existing language.

In other words, additions to language aren't bad/wrong because they don't fit the framework that is Formal Written English.

I've read with interest the postings on alphabet versus syllabary language systems and I'm still trying to digest both your and Joe's arguments. Maybe I'll jump in later.

Robert Gentel
 
  3  
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 10:36 pm
@JTT,
JTT wrote:
But when these style manuals go beyond the artificial rules they've created for writing, they fall apart, linguistically speaking. That they can have so many different "in house" rules illustrates their artificiality.

I think this shows just why these measures don't work for language as a whole, for real language, the language of speech. And you are right, they are not anymore successful at "herding the cats".


I didn't say they weren't more successful, I was noting that you thought so. But the meta discussion aside they have had more success than their non-authoritative English counterparts. The example I provide is how they prevented the forking of Spanish spelling.

Quote:
It isn't a matter of a personal linguistic viewpoint. It's only a matter of whether the actual rules that govern how we use language are accurately described. Many traditional/prescriptive rules were horribly inaccurate.


You are looking at it from an odd viewpoint. If they are successful it is descriptive. For example, the Royal Spanish Academy's success in maintaining a single orthography accurately describes the current state of affairs in the Spanish language but they were not reactively describing the language, they were proactively maintaining it.

Your criticisms can be validated through their history as well, in that they are often criticized for not being able to adapt quickly enough to the evolving language (for example I am aware of zoologists protesting their lethargy in introducing zoological terms to the official dictionary) and you can argue that a reactive description of the language is the ideal but you can't legitimately argue that they haven't had more success in shaping their language than has the English linguistic "authorities" because they have. You can argue whether they should have though, and in the case of maintaining a non-pluricentric orthography I think they've done well for themselves and that it is a good example of language regulation.

Quote:
'quaffable' has a distinct meaning for me. "Some beers are eminently quaffable". Is there a new meaning beyond that that you hold?


I had a lot of words or meanings I wanted to introduce into formal lexicons, for example my inclusion of "quaffage" in a project I was hired to work on got me in trouble.

In any case that was many years ago and I'm no longer trying to wrangle lexicographical inclusion for those, or any, words. But I note with glee that the word "quaffage" now shows up on the internet a bit (not by my doing). I'd better stop here before I start wasting time on lexicographical pranks again.

Quote:
I don't think there is a middle ground when something is wrong; wrong in the sense that it doesn't accurately describe language.


If it works it's accurate. If it doesn't it's not. If I got the word into the OED I would have been right. That I only got it into "Craven de Kere's English Etymology Lexicon" means I was wrong. If I had continued to waste a lot of time on it, I would have become right.

Quote:
There's no need to normalize the evolution of language. All that's needed is for any particular "new language" to be accurately described as to how it fits into the existing language.


And here is where I disagree. I think the evolution of spelling in English is particularly stupid and that it could have evolved very differently if people who actually understood the language were responsible for its spelling.

Instead you had an idiot (linguistically speaking) with a poor command of the language (William Caxton) making up the standard as he went. His claim to fame was that he was the first English printer and while he admitted that his dialect was ‘broad and rude’ and that his own English was being forever corrected he was responsible for the English spelling we have today.

It was criticized then, and legitimately so, because he had no idea what he was doing. Caxton himself reported that educated people complained to him that his printings ‘coude not be vnderstande of comyn peple, and desired me to vse olde and homely termes in my translacyons’.

And this is a perfect case of a linguistic authority being helpful. Caxton just wanted to make money. He had been abroad and came back with a new technology (the printer). He had no competition and decided to serve as linguist, translator and printer in his haste to make his money.

In the process he established most of the spelling we are still stuck with and if someone who actually knew the language had had input it wouldn't have been as bad. He used technicians that did not speak the language and who added letters indiscriminately to achieve line justification in their printing.

It could have gone another way, and had Caxton first tried to make a decent standard, or tried to acquaint himself with the meager linguistic standards of the day English spelling wouldn't be so stupid.

Quote:
In other words, additions to language aren't bad/wrong because they don't fit the framework that is Formal Written English.


But would you agree that they are wrong if the standard is made by foreigners who don't even speak the language adding letters to words for the purpose of spacing?

I'm harping on this a bit much but that is a huge part of the root of this problem. Adding letters to words that used to be spelled logically was not a natural evolution of language but rather a group of technology entrepreneurs operating without regard to any standards and by virtue of their technological primacy they got modern English spelling off on a particularly retarded foot.

Quote:
I've read with interest the postings on alphabet versus syllabary language systems and I'm still trying to digest both your and Joe's arguments. Maybe I'll jump in later.


Not to be a pendant (or maybe precisely to be because that's all that one can be in this kind of discussion) but syllabary systems haven't been discussed at all as far as I am aware. I'm not advocating a change from an alphabet to a syllabary, but rather moving English closer towards being a true alphabet (with Spanish orthography being a very good example of the approximation to a phonetic ideal that I would advocate). I consider alphabetic writing systems to be inherently superior to syllabic and logographic systems and just want a more logically consistent relationship between speech and orthography in the English language.

And it's not like I'm proposing something that fantastic either. I'm talking about the kind of consistency dozens of languages have. Spanish is a good example because it has a similar range of variety without losing the orthographic consistency. That's why I don't get why Joe acts like I've got a penis growing out of my forehead when I advocate this. I'm not even advocating a phonetic ideal. That has never existed and what I'm advocating is the kind of regulation that has kept other languages more logical in their spelling than the utter nonsense that modern English is based on.
Walter Hinteler
 
  2  
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 01:54 am
http://i35.tinypic.com/1j4t1.jpg


When a professor of phonetics argues for the rules of language to be relaxed to allow words to read as they sound, he knows he is stirring a hornet's nest. But reformers have a point, says John Sutherland in today's Sunday Independent:

John Sutherland: Through or thru? Plow or plough? Beware the sting of the spelling bee

Quote:
Myself, I'm relaxed on the subject, as, I suspect, most of us are, though we can see the force of both the traditionalists and the reformists. I think there is a case for a bit more Websterisation. And a strong case (are you listening, Independent?) for an English newspaper to follow its American counterparts and sponsor a National Spelling Bee. They're fun. 2012 would be a good year to kick off.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 14 Sep, 2008 11:20 am
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:

joefromchicago wrote:

Rather than respond point-by-point, I'll just address one representative passage to illustrate how confused and, ultimately, untenable your position is.


You've been doing that for a while now, ignoring when your statements have been shown to be false (e.g. when you claimed that French orthography was similarly convoluted) and making up my position instead of just reading it.

There's really no reason to respond point-by-point to your arguments, since so many of them are tangential or don't make much sense. But since you insist...

As for my claim that "French orthography was similarly convoluted" has been "shown to be false," let me refer you to your "proof:"
Robert Gentel wrote:
French does not have equally challenging orthography. There are over 1000 ways to spell about 44 sounds in the English language and French does not come close to this (largely because a lot of it was already incorporated into English while English went on to aquire more of the idiocy from other languages).

Ah yes, Robert's rules of logic. Your mighty ipse dixit has shown my claim to be false. Well, color me unimpressed. But since you seem to think this is an important point (it isn't), I'll indulge you and amend my previous statement: "In truth, most English words are either phonetic or else follow some pretty easy-to-learn rules. In that respect, it is little different from French, which also has a challenging orthography."

Happy?

Robert Gentel wrote:
So if you are going to continue to cherry pick, at least find the time to get to this question I asked you:

Why do you think linguists consider Spanish to be a good example of an orthography that strays less from the true alphabet ideal than does English?

Probably because it does. But then I never said it didn't. As I pointed out: "Although Spanish spelling is more regular than English, it still has its exceptions." My point wasn't that Spanish spelling wasn't more regular than English, but that Spanish orthography still departs from spoken Spanish, so it is not truly a phonetic alphabet. In that respect, your statement:

Robert Gentel wrote:
The alphabet itself is simple phonetics and once you learn all the sounds mapped to their letters you can write any word you hear.


is simply false, since regional differences in pronunciation mean that Spanish is not uniformly phonetic across accent boundaries.*

Robert Gentel wrote:
See, you claim that the regional dialects make this impossible but this is a clear example of superior orthography.

See above.

Robert Gentel wrote:
Quote:
Really, it's absurd to maintain that you're only interested in how sounds should be spelled while remaining completely agnostic as to how words should be spelled.


It sounds absurd to you because you don't understand the purpose of the alphabet.

The purpose of an alphabet like English's is to represent sounds and not words Joe. There are only around 44 sounds but at least a million words (when you count all variants and technical terms).

Cripes, this is getting almost surreal. Of course an alphabet doesn't represent words -- I never said that it did. My point is that it is absurd to advocate alphabet reform but be totally noncommittal to spelling reform. The purpose of an alphabet isn't just to represent sounds -- it's also supposed to be used to form words.

But then you know that -- you've stated, for instance:

Robert Gentel wrote:

Right now English already has regional spelling, regional pronunciation, and regional vocabulary. Those aren't the real problems with English spelling. The problem is that there is no internal consistency in the spelling even when you disconsider regional differences and none of the regional variants provide you a way to systematically learn to write.

See, even you think this is a spelling problem, not an alphabet problem. And with good reason: it is a spelling problem. Nobody is out there (except maybe you, inconsistently) saying that the difficulty with English is that we don't have a simple way of representing the "f" sound, as if that, by itself, were a significant handicap. The only reason why it's a problem is because the spelling of the "f" sound is inconsistent. Alphabet reform is merely a way of addressing the spelling problem: it's not an end in itself.

Robert Gental wrote:
Quote:
After all, there's no point in having any kind of alphabet -- phonetic or not -- unless you plan on using it to spell words.


That doesn't mean you need to codify how all the words are spelled when you codify what sounds they will represent in what combinations.

See above.

Robert Gentel wrote:
Quote:
Indeed, the only way we know how people pronounce sounds like "f" or "i" or "sh" is by listening to them pronounce words like "fish." There aren't a whole lot of people out there saying "ffffffff" in everyday conversation.


You were the one who brought up the differences in speech from individual to individual, so as long as there was only one it was relevant to your line of argument.

I brought up the differences in pronunciation because that's an important consideration for someone advocating a phonetic alphabet. Like you.

Robert Gentel wrote:
I don't personally see a case for much variance in the spelling of fish (just like there isn't much right now) and I believe standards would be put in place for that based on the relationship with the alphabet I would propose but they are very separate linguistic building blocks.

They're separate? You can't be serious. You want to construct a phonetic alphabet without consideration for the way people actually speak?

Robert Gentel wrote:
One is an alphabet and the other is a dictionary. It's the dictionary's job to establish standards for word spellings and not the alphabet's job. There is a predictable relationship between the two but they are very distinct.

See above.

Robert Gentel wrote:
Quote:
More importantly, the only reason we're even interested in how people pronounce those sounds is because those sounds are constituent parts of words.


Yes, an alphabet has a relationship with words Joe. What's your point? Defining the graphemes for the phonemes is the purpose of the alphabet and not to define the spelling of words. There is a predictable relationship but what is your point? How does this support the nonsensical arguments you made to the effect that an orthography of the type that exists and is used by millions (e.g. Spanish) is impossible?

Wow!

I have absolutely no idea how you arrived at that conclusion. Far from claiming it's impossible, I'm the one who wrote: "I think it should be pretty clear that any attention-seeking dunce can come up with his own phonetic spelling system." So I'm on record as not only saying that phonetic spelling systems are possible, but that anyone can come up with one. But since you are so sure that I've misquoted you and misrepresented your position, perhaps you'd like to point out precisely where I said that an orthography of the type that exists and is used by millions is impossible.

Robert Gentel wrote:
Quote:
Now, of course, if your interest is merely in duplicating something like the IPA or in studying comparative linguistics, then that's different. But since this entire thread has been about English spelling, I'm sure that's not the case here.


You still can't seem to pay me the courtesy of actually reading what I write before randomly speculating about what it is I am trying to say. In the very post you are replying to I was very clear about this:

"I would not seek to establish a phonetic notation for all languages (like the International Phonetic Alphabet purports to do)"

I'm merely covering all the bases.

Robert Gentel wrote:
Quote:
In the end, however, there is an easy solution to this problem. Since there is no recognized authority regulating either speech or spelling, language is technically in a state of anarchy.


The English language. Other languages do have recognized authorities that maintain their languages.

More or less. But then we're not talking about Spanish alphabetic reform, are we?

Robert Gentel wrote:
This analogy is stupid. You first raise the point that there is no central authority for the English language when that is my main bone to pick with the English language to then argue that no standard can be had. This ignores that other languages do have central authority and that this is something I advocate for English.

That is your gripe? That English doesn't have something like the Acadamie Française? Why didn't you say so three pages ago?

Frankly, that's a side issue. Establishing an "Acadamie Anglaise" is, I'm convinced, another serious flaw in your position, but it's not something that needs to be covered in a discussion about spelling or alphabet reform. So, unless you absolutely insist, I see no need to go into detail on this point.

Robert Gentel wrote:
And like I said, this is a lame cop out. I am not trying to change English by myself, and am advocating what I think is better. That starts with establishing authoritative bodies for the English language similar to what other languages enjoy.

See above.

Robert Gentel wrote:
So I am advocating something I think improves the language, not something I think I am likely to see in my lifetime based on my effort. I've already been very clear about this. You've responded with a bunch of ignorant nonsense about language and now want to cop out with a general ramble about how improbable it is instead of the nonsense you were on about to the effect that the change itself was technically flawed.

Not a cop out at all. My point, all along, is that the type of reform that you advocate is not worth the costs involved, and that what you propose is, in itself, problematic. As I stated before: "What you're suggesting, then, is merely to substitute one problem (inconsistent phonetic spelling) for another (non-phonetic spelling)." My analogy with the marketplace shows that there is already a mechanism in place to address your proposals. The fact, however, that such proposals have rarely been successful is, I think, a pretty good indication that the benefits of the "solution" are not worth the costs.

Now, I know you think yours is the only argument being ignored, but if you'd try to address my argument squarely you might spend a little less time with these rambling tangents (although I sincerely doubt it).

Robert Gentel wrote:
If you no longer think you are able to defend your arguments that's fine, but I will call this cop out what it is. It does nothing to address your linguistic arguments and begs off under a general appeal to the popularity of the imperfect orthography. You had argued that it was not better Joe, now you moved the goal posts to merely unlikely.

See above.

Robert Gentel wrote:
You don't understand it at all Joe. English already uses a phonemic orthography, it's just the example of a defective script and would be well served to move to a more shallow orthography.

Doing so would not represent a change of the fundamental system but a movement within a spectrum toward the alphabetic ideal.

Hmmm, I seem to recall saying this:

joefromchicago wrote:
It should also be remembered that, back when English spelling was first being formalized in the sixteenth century, the spelling more or less was phonetic.

So thanks, but there's no need to point out to me that English already uses a phonemic orthography. Like I said:

joefromchicago wrote:
In truth, most English words are either phonetic or else follow some pretty easy-to-learn rules.



*In previous posts I've talked about "dialect boundaries." Upon reflection, that's not entirely accurate. Since we're talking about pronunciation, the real important boundaries are those between accents. Of course, dialects will typically have differing accents as well, but they're not the same thing.
 

Related Topics

deal - Question by WBYeats
Drs. = female doctor? - Question by oristarA
Please, I need help. - Question by imsak
Is this sentence grammatically correct? - Question by Sydney-Strock
"come from" - Question by mcook
 
Copyright © 2021 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.07 seconds on 09/23/2021 at 10:07:08