Re: Tagging orthographic systems (was: (iso639.186) the Ethnologue)

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Wed Sep 13 2000 - 16:54:08 EDT

Rick McGowan asked:

> Otto Stolz wrote:
> > I think, the ethnologue lacks information about variant orthographies.
> Yes, it does. But that's OK, because we can make a composite
> tagging system that tags orthography separately from language.

I agree that this would be a good idea. script/language/orthography are
3 distinct dimensions for tagging text.

> So... does anyone have a comprehensive list of orthographies?

I rather doubt it. This is an even worse problem than the identification
of languages. It is almost a fractal problem.

There are more or less official spelling reforms of standardized
languages mentioned by Otto. But if you go back to earlier stages
of the languages, you start to run into freeform, nonstandardized
spelling conventions.

Furthermore, there are differences in orthographic conventions
per se, as opposed to spelling differences. This is particularly
the case for recently invented orthographies, developed by
linguists and/or missionaries for formerly unwritten languages.
Usually these are developed on phonological principles, so they
don't yet have a history which results in the proliferation of
arbitrary, archaic spelling conventions, but depending on the
conventions used by a linguist, you can end up with alternate
solutions, and more than one may be in use at any given time.
There may also be differences between formal orthographies, used
in linguistic papers and reference works and practical orthographies
used in teaching materials, for example. And finally, the primary
linguistic materials may, and often do, reflect the idiosyncrasies
of particular linguists and non-linguist recorders, as they
change through time, before anyone rolls out a more or less
standardized orthography for the language in question.


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