Will the real orthography please rise? (HINT: they should all stand up)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/04/18 15:51 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2007/04/18/2179499.aspx

(In the interests of avoding Uighur/Uyghur discussions, I will use Uyghur for the rest of the post!)

There is a table that appears in a few Wikipedia articles (such as this one and this one), and when you look at the table, at the ULY effort in general, at the original Arabic script Uyghur and at the later one which added "extra diacritics to distingish all vowels of Uyghur", it becomes clear that there is a trend to have variants of both the Latin and the Arabic script orthographies that cannot be classified as either deficient (lacking one glyph per sound and one sound per glyph) or defective (lacking ways to represent all sounds in the language).

Specifically, orthographies are being reviewed to be sure that no one script has advantages that another lacks.

Arabic Latin Cyrillic ULY Turkish IPA
ئا A a A a A a A a /a/
ئە Ə ə Ə ə E e E e /æ/
ب B b Б б B b B b /b/
پ P p П п P p P p /p/
ت T t Т т T t T t /t/
ج J j Җ җ J j C c /ʤ/
چ Q q Ч ч CH ch Ç ç /ʧ/
خ H h X x X x H h /x/
د D d Д д D d D d /d/
ر R r Р р R r R r /r/
ز Z z З з Z z Z z /z/
ژ Ȥ ȥ Ж ж J j J j /ʒ/
س S s С с S s S s /s/
ش X x Ш ш SH sh Ş ş /ʃ/
غ Ƣƣ Ғ ғ GH gh Ğ ğ /ʁ/
ف F f Ф ф F f F f /f/
ق Ķ ķ Қ қ Q q K k /q/
ك K k K k K k K k /k/
ڭ -ng Ң ң -ng -ng /ŋ/
گ G g Г г G g G g /ɡ/
ل L l Л л L l L l /l/
م M m М м M m M m /m/
ن N n Н н N n N n /n/
ھ H̡ h̡ Һ һ H h H h /h/
ئو O o О о О о O o /o/
ئۇ U u У у U u U u /u/
ئۆ Ɵ ɵ Ө ө Ö ö Ö ö /ø/
ئۈ Ü ü Ү ү Ü ü Ü ü /y/
ۋ V v В в W w V v /v/
ئې E e E e É é E e /e/
ئى I i И и I i İ i/I ı /i/ or /ɨ/
ي Y y Й й Y y Y y /j/
يۇ Ya ya Я я      
يا Yu yu Ю ю      

This is especially interesting in a language such as Uyghur which, like many other languages is spoken in more than one country, and the desire of each community of speakers to "pick up" these changes is going to vary (just as it does for English, French, Spanish, Tamil, and really all of the languages with multiple "homes" whether there is a recognized birthplace/largest population of language speakers or not.

I am slightly unsympathetic to the desire to modify orthographies to try to match perceived flaws or limitations as compared to other scripts, though. There is a potential negative effect on language any time spelling reform is taken to the level of alphabet reform (and even when kept as just letter reform it can have negative consequences).

I suppose one could argue technological benefits to this kind of change (after all, it is easier for automated tools to convert between scripts if all script variations of a language share a common phonemic/phonetic basis, but it is unclear how much change one can do to an orthography without having a negative impact -- whether one considers differences between even same script variations that hurt mutual intelligibility or just the difficulties in assisting literacy rates in a language that is undergoing so many attempts at enforced change.

Not to mention the detriment to industry in regard to collation, typography, or spell checking support -- technologies that will always lead to more language understanability and mutual intelligibility than a constant set of changes. Kind of offsets the questionable technological benefits!

How would all of the Latin script Uyghur folks feel if isolated/initial/medial/final forms were added to the Latin script for Uyghur in order to match the Arabic script orthography? Ridiculous, right?

Well, perhaps this is just the reductio ad absurdum that is needed to point out flaw in the argument of adding a few vowels to do the same thing.

Language changes enough over time without adding committees to try and make it happen faster than some people may want the change. Imagine the hit on literacy in regions with different orthographies who find software or the Internet unwilling to acknowledge their preferences solely on the basis of decisions to change the language that are not necessarily based on an actual need.

Just a few random thoughts from an undereducated speaker of English who would hate if the circumstances were applied to my language and I found some committee adding diacritics and letters to fix up the difficult English orthography....


This post brought to you by Ю (U+042e, a.k.a. CYRILLIC CAPITAL LETTER YU)

# Christoph Päper on 20 Apr 2007 8:21 AM:

I for once would like to see a competent proposal for a diacritc English orthography. (Seeing it being implemented is a different story entirely.) Basically all there currently is on the topic are “things made up in school one day”.

The importance of close phonemic-graphemic relations are often overstated, though.

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referenced by

2008/03/23 Vowel "harmony", enforced by political interests?

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