Why is English spelling not simplified?

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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#41  Postby RaspK » Dec 01, 2010 6:35 am

Zwaarddijk wrote:
katja z wrote:It is also simpler to write than English, because the inventor very sensibly opted for a phonetic-based spelling (a solution that was staring him in the face, as a native speaker of Russian).

Russian spelling is not phonemic, though, it's not the worst offender (that'd prolly be French and English), but by European standards, it's far from Polish or Swedish or German. (And Dr. Zamenhof was, iirc, also a native speaker at the very least of Polish.)

Spelling is never "phonetic-based" (it can be more or less concurrent with the phonemes it reflects, but it's always based on an etymology); are you, perchance, referring to how a word is pronounced according to its written form?
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#42  Postby katja z » Dec 01, 2010 8:58 am

Zwaarddijk wrote:
katja z wrote:It is also simpler to write than English, because the inventor very sensibly opted for a phonetic-based spelling (a solution that was staring him in the face, as a native speaker of Russian).

Russian spelling is not phonemic, though, it's not the worst offender (that'd prolly be French and English), but by European standards, it's far from Polish or Swedish or German.

I understand it's a pretty close fit to the spoken language, in comparison to English. I'm happy to be corrected though, I don't speak Russian myself and only learned Cyrillic as used in Serbian.

(And Dr. Zamenhof was, iirc, also a native speaker at the very least of Polish.)

Russian and Yiddish, but he also spoke Polish and German (and a number of other languages). (Says Wikipedia.)

RaspK wrote:Spelling is never "phonetic-based" (it can be more or less concurrent with the phonemes it reflects, but it's always based on an etymology);

I was simplifying. But no, spelling isn't always based on etymology, not by a long shot. It also depends on when the standard was fixed (by norm or by usage) - spelling (almost) always reflects a historical state of pronunciation, and for a language with a long written tradition such as English this can be a very old state indeed. Then there can be a conscious language policy of following the current pronunciation. Have a look at Aca's post on Serbian, they even adapt foreign names to the extent that I once got very sincerely worried about my knowledge of French literature because I'd never heard of a great author by the name of "Mišo". There are plenty of other languages where pronunciation trumps etymology as the basis for writing, even though this doesn't necessarily mean that it's strictly phonemic in the sense of a one-on-one fit between letters and phonemes (in Slovenian for example, we don't mark the difference between open and closed vowels - to this extent our spelling does reflect the history of the language: the fact that our 19th-century language-policy makers didn't opt for the use of diacritics).

are you, perchance, referring to how a word is pronounced according to its written form?

To be precise, I was referring to how a word is written wrt its oral form.
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#43  Postby Rome Existed » Dec 01, 2010 9:22 am

What happens when accents come into play?
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#44  Postby katja z » Dec 01, 2010 9:38 am

Rome Existed wrote:What happens when accents come into play?

Well, nowadays spelling generally refers to a central standard (so "pronunciation" would refer to the standard variety of a given language, not to dialectal versions). English is a polycentric language though, so it's difficult to predict what would happen if you went all revolutionary as the OP suggested :grin:
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#45  Postby Zwaarddijk » Dec 01, 2010 9:42 am

That's why the concept of phonemes exist - a letter can correspond to one phoneme whose realization differs a bit in different accents, so e.g. in some parts of Germany, what we label /b/ has less voicing than in other parts of Germany, yet it gets by since the 'functionality' of the sounds is maintained. (Some English accents do merge some vowels EDIT: and split others/EDIT, but in the case of English writing, the orthography doesn't distinguish them in any really easy to grasp manner). In many languages, there's some prestige dialect, and the written form tends to get pretty close to that for obvious reasons. (E.g., if it's a language that only recently got a written form, it's obvious why prestige dialects will be the ones to get a written form.) Oftentimes, dialects differ in more than just accent, and it's obvious why a standardized written form can't generally perfectly reflect all dialects.

(shame on you, katja z, for writing better responses faster!)
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#46  Postby katja z » Dec 01, 2010 9:58 am

:nod: Pretty much this, yes. It's funny to observe how all other lects are then taken as "deviating from" the "correct" form of language, when historically, this "correctness" is simply a function of political power and/or social prestige, not the continuation of some mythical "purity".
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#47  Postby Teria » Dec 01, 2010 11:21 am

The Chaos
by G. Nolst Trenite' a.k.a. "Charivarius" 1870 - 1946


Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye your dress you'll tear,
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles.
Exiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing.
Thames, examining, combining
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war, and far.
From "desire": desirable--admirable from "admire."
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier.
Chatham, brougham, renown, but known.
Knowledge, done, but gone and tone,
One, anemone. Balmoral.
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel,
Gertrude, German, wind, and mind.
Scene, Melpomene, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which is said to rime with "darky."
Viscous, Viscount, load, and broad.
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's O.K.,
When you say correctly: croquet.
Rounded, wounded, grieve, and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive, and live,
Liberty, library, heave, and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover,
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police, and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label,
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.
Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit,
Rime with "shirk it" and "beyond it."
But it is not hard to tell,
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, and chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous, clamour
And enamour rime with hammer.
Pussy, hussy, and possess,
Desert, but dessert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants.
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rime with anger.
Neither does devour with clangour.
Soul, but foul and gaunt but aunt.
Font, front, won't, want, grand, and grant.
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger.
And then: singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rime with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post; and doth, cloth, loth;
Job, Job; blossom, bosom, oath.
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual.
Seat, sweat; chaste, caste.; Leigh, eight, height;
Put, nut; granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rime with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, Senate, but sedate.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific,
Tour, but our and succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria,
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.
Say aver, but ever, fever.
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess--it is not safe:
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.
Heron, granary, canary,
Crevice and device, and eyrie,
Face but preface, but efface,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging,
Ear but earn, and wear and bear
Do not rime with here, but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation--think of psyche--!
Is a paling, stout and spikey,
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing "groats" and saying "grits"?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict, and indict!
Don't you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally: which rimes with "enough"
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of "cup."
My advice is--give it up!
So long, and thanks for all the fish.
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#48  Postby katja z » Dec 01, 2010 11:45 am

:ahrr:
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#49  Postby Teria » Dec 01, 2010 12:14 pm

:grin: I love it.
So long, and thanks for all the fish.
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#50  Postby Rome Existed » Dec 01, 2010 12:24 pm

Americans say erbs and we say herbs. It'd get confusing. I'd be all like, "Wtf is an erb?" if I read it.
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#51  Postby Fallible » Dec 01, 2010 12:27 pm

IMO we should just leave English alone to evolve in the mouths and hands of speakers and writers, as it has always done. If it turns out to be just too difficult to use, it will change. It was too laborious to type every word correctly in a text message, so now we have txt spk. Tngrs r alredy usng txt spk in xams, apparently. I wonder if we will all be writing that way in the future. That would be so book. Text speak joke there for you.
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Breaking boundaries and chasing fire.
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#52  Postby katja z » Dec 01, 2010 12:40 pm

Txt spk is actually even more difficult for the non-initiated than "normal" English spelling, it is heavily codified and because it's so compressed, it bears even less relation to spoken language. Which isn't to say there is anything wrong with it, it's a very interesting phenomenon, just that I can't see its use generalising to all areas of written communication.
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#53  Postby Fallible » Dec 01, 2010 12:54 pm

Yeah. I have a distinct dislike for it, so I can't say I'd be thrilled to see its use more widespread. I was being more than a little tongue-in-cheek with that part of my post. I do think that the language should be left alone to evolve though - attempts to engineer change have been successful at least once in the past (USA), but I'm not sure such a thing is feasible any more. Plus I have a wholly selfish desire to see what happens to it without deliberate interference.
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She never listened to no hater, liar,
Breaking boundaries and chasing fire.
Oh, my my! Oh my, she flies!
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#54  Postby katja z » Dec 01, 2010 1:09 pm

Fallible wrote:Yeah. I have a distinct dislike for it, so I can't say I'd be thrilled to see its use more widespread. I was being more than a little tongue-in-cheek with that part of my post. I do think that the language should be left alone to evolve though - attempts to engineer change have been successful at least once in the past (USA), but I'm not sure such a thing is feasible any more. Plus I have a wholly selfish desire to see what happens to it without deliberate interference.

I'm not in favour of top-down imposition of language norms either. But this is by no means a clear-cut issue. Teaching children standard spelling and grammar doesn't exactly amount to "leaving language alone to evolve" either. But we probably all agree it is useful to have some sort of common standard to refer to for ease of communication.
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#55  Postby THWOTH » Dec 01, 2010 1:19 pm

katja z wrote:Txt spk is actually even more difficult for the non-initiated than "normal" English spelling, it is heavily codified and because it's so compressed, it bears even less relation to spoken language. Which isn't to say there is anything wrong with it, it's a very interesting phenomenon, just that I can't see its use generalising to all areas of written communication.

txt spk is jus s/hnd 4 a dgtl age - bt i axep ur broadr pnt ;¬) xox
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Michel de Montaigne, Essais, 1580
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#56  Postby Fallible » Dec 01, 2010 2:08 pm

Katja - it's definitely useful to teach people the basics of how to write and speak a certain language if they are to use it, but there is no guarantee that the specific teachings will be used from then on - I mean people seem to shove apostrophes wherever they feel like it these days without it being gramatically correct, use words which they were never taught at school, use 'standard' words in ways they were also never taught and so on. That is how language evolves. Its speakers add things that they were never formally taught and words which become superfluous to requirements are lost, and as time goes on these made-up words and uses of punctuation etc. become absorbed by the institutions charged with teaching and informing us about language. So now we see 'staycation' in the OED and few people ever sticking an apostrphe where it 'should' go...although we mostly still know what they mean when they use it wrongly or not at all. It is not without the realms of possibility that these new words and uses of punctuation will become that 'standard English' taught in schools in years to come.

FWOF, did u get my txt spk j/k?
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#57  Postby katja z » Dec 01, 2010 2:29 pm

Fallible, I agree with all of this, I was just making the point that a completely laissez-faire language policy is not really an option nowadays, not for our official languages anyway, and that teaching the language norm in schools is still top-down "meddling" to an extent, so it is difficult sometimes to know just where the line should be drawn.

Slightly off topic, I would like to see the standard (I'm not talking just about spelling now) taught in schools not as the only "good" way of using language (as they do where I live), but as a useful skill for communication outside the child's immediate speaking community, where its lect isn't the best tool to use. I hate it that children are taught that they are incompetent in their own language - I see standard language as an addition to a speaker's linguistic repertoir, to be used in appropriate circumstances, not as a substitute for whatever dialect or sociolect they speak natively.
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#58  Postby Zwaarddijk » Dec 01, 2010 2:35 pm

..., use 'standard' words in ways they were also never taught and so on. That is how language evolves. Its speakers add things that they were never formally taught and words which become superfluous to requirements are lost, and as time goes on these made-up words and uses of punctuation etc. become absorbed by the institutions charged with teaching and informing us about language. So now we see 'staycation' in the OED and few people ever sticking an apostrphe where it 'should' go...although we mostly still know what they mean when they use it wrongly or not at all. It is not without the realms of possibility that these new words and uses of punctuation will become that 'standard English' taught in schools in years to come.

Some seem to think this is a process that should be heavily influenced from the top down, and according to some aesthetic notions that are idiosyncratic at best.

There is, however, an interesting thing regarding prestige dialects: if everyone spoke them perfectly, they wouldn't be prestige dialects anymore. Prestige dialects will always be restricted to the one part of the bell-curve where the people have the time/talent/resources/lucky circumstances to be able to learn it. The better the average peasant learns it, the further the prestige dialect will refine itself so as to exclude hoi polloi. katja z points out how people often are reprimanded at school for not being able to speak the prestige variety - and the explanation I just gave is interesting since it basically says the prestige variety more or less by nature will be diametrically opposed to the notion of everyone mastering it. So when schools take the stance that everyone should master the prestige variety (and preferably speak nothing else), they've pretty much got an inexhaustible source for reprimands, basically a kind of institutionalized bullying, pretty much.
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#59  Postby Fallible » Dec 01, 2010 2:41 pm

katja z wrote:Fallible, I agree with all of this, I was just making the point that a completely laissez-faire language policy is not really an option nowadays, not for our official languages anyway, and that teaching the language norm in schools is still top-down "meddling" to an extent, so it is difficult sometimes to know just where the line should be drawn.


I don't advocate a completely laissez-faire policy - teaching the basic rules is necessary to enable us all to communicate effectively when we are just starting out. But the evolution of language has continued and will continue even with the teaching of a standard in place. Even since I was at school, the language and its teaching has moved on. I was just calling for once in my life for the continuation of the status quo, and against attempts to purposely reform the language.
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Re: Why is English spelling not simplified?

#60  Postby Loren Michael » Dec 01, 2010 2:42 pm

I think written English should be simplified. I don't think the spoken language will ever be controlled, but I think we can and should work towards making the way we spell what we say make a little more sense.
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