Re: English Spelling

From: Mark E. Davis (
Date: Thu Dec 09 1999 - 22:43:27 EST

In the sense in which I defined in in the part of the message that you omitted,
Japanese pronunciation is *extremely* irregular -- far more so than English --
since it would take a much, much larger set of rules to predict the
pronunciation than even for English.

Of course, that is as customarily written, with Kanji characters. If you rewrote
all the Kanji into katakana or hiragana, then it would be extremely phonetic.
But that is almost never done. It would be a bit like rewriting English text
into IPA then claiming that therefore English pronunciation is regular.

Native speakers are almost always unaware of the degree of irregularity in their
language. It is really only when one attempts to come up with specific
pronunciation rules and analyses the number of exceptions to those rules that
the full scope of the problem is realized.


Rick McGowan wrote:

> "Mark E. Davis" <> opined...
> > Irregularity is certainly a matter of degree
> > English quite irregular, and Japanese even more so.
> I think actually the situation in Japanese is not comparable at all because
> there really isn't any "spelling" as such in the normal written language.
> Japanese is exceptionally regular, if you reduce it to the phonetic system;
> and it's also grammatically very regular.
> What is "irregular" and complicated about written Japanese is not the
> relationship of "phonetic" symbols to spoken word, but the relationship
> between Chinese characters and phonetics. Even there, I actually think that
> taken as a whole, the written form of the language is far more regular than
> English. I.e., for any "word" taken at random from a corpus of text, the
> probability of it's being an irregular form is very much lower than for
> English.
> Rick

"Alain LaBonté " wrote:

> À 08:17 1999-12-09 -0800, Mark E. Davis a écrit :
> >Irregularity is certainly a matter of degree. In this case, I would
> measure it
> >as the number of rules necessary to generate the correct pronunciation
> from the
> >letters. For example, one rule could be that a single vowel followed by a
> >consonant and final 'e' is pronounced long. In a large majority of cases,
> this
> >rule gives the correct pronunciation, but there are a number of exceptions
> such
> >as "have". One can either have additional, more complex rules that catch the
> >exceptions, or simply list them. When they are listed, each would count as a
> >separate rule. Note: when you look at words weighted by frequency some
> >surprising rules pay off, such as "ould" => "ʊd"
> >
> >Given that, Dutch and Spanish are quite regular, German slightly less so,
> French
> >or Danish significantly less, English quite irregular, and Japanese even more
> >so.
> [Alain] French is odd in its writing practice (the odddities were in
> general deliberate and artificial choices at a time people did not
> pronounce the extra letters anyway in most cases, just to link written
> words to ancient history, for etymology reasons) but more predictable in
> its pronunciation than meets eyes or ears.
> Ending (mute) "e"s (unaccented) are for example never prononced, most
> ending consonants are mute, not pronounced (except for rare snobbish
> fashions or for foreign words), and « eault », « eau », « auld », « aut
> »[any ending involving « au »], for example, are always pronounced "o",
> unlike English "ough" which is pronounced I don't know in how many ways
> (ut, up, o, etc., 11 ways, was I told) There are of course some exceptions,
> but far less than in English.
> That said French, unlike English, is quite predictable, phonetically,
> although it is not an example of consistency to represent sounds, of
> course. It is not, I repeat. Please do not make me say what I did not say. (;
> To prove that I am aware of difficulties, I give you a nice sentence, for
> which the pronunciation of "couvent" depends on context: "Les poules du
> couvent couvent" (pronounce: "LAY POOL DÜ COOVÃ COOV" -- when "ent" is the
> ending of a verb, it is totally mute). This is a difficulty that
> intelligent speech synthesis should be able to cover. Early technology
> pronounced bith identical words the same as the first one (verb has to be
> recognized -- *relatively* easy although not as obvious as it appears: in
> "le couvent", out of context, nobody can say if it is an article followed
> by a noun or a pronoun followed by a verb -- all human speakers will
> automatically read the first occurrence out of context as it is not a
> complete sentence so the verb can't be detected out of context).
> Alain LaBonté
> Québec
> A small joke: "When French missionaries were teaching French in Africa,
> they always began, the first day of school, to explain the logic of French
> spelling: in the word "eau' you write the letter "e" but you don't
> pronounce it, you write the letter "a" but you don't pronounce it, you
> write the letter "u" but you don't pronounce it, and you pronounce the
> letter "o" but you don't write it." (:

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