Re: Nuuchanulth and other languages of British Columbia

From: William J Poser (
Date: Sun May 29 2005 - 12:33:10 CDT

  • Next message: Chris Harvey: "Re: Nuuchanulth and other languages of British Columbia"

    Hans Aberg wrote:
    >But is the reason unavailability of the correct characters, or that
    >one feels that this is the correct way of writing the language?

    The avoidance of non-ASCII characters in the practical writing
    systems for languages of British Columbia is probably due to
    two main factors:

    (a) these are the characters that were readily available on
        typewriters and could easily be printed prior to the advent
        of printing on personal computers. Indeed, the practical
        writing system most widely used for Carrier reflects this
        in that it consists entirely of ASCII characters except for
        the fact that several letters are underscored. Underscoring
        of course cannot be done in plain ASCII (that is, the superposition
        cannot be) but can be done on standard English typewriters.

    (b) the letters with which native people were generally familiar
        were the letters used to write English. For us professional
        linguists IPA symbols may be the "correct" symbols, but
        few native people were or are familiar with IPA. Furthermore,
        native people have no particular interest in people other than
        speakers of their own language being able to read their
        writing, so there is no reason for them to want to use an
        international standard.

    I'm not aware of any trend for people to change their
    writing system due to the greater ease of using IPA symbols
    or other "exotic" characters. That's probably due to a combination
    of lack of motivation to change, investment in the current
    system in terms of materials already printed and people already
    trained to read it, and also a personal investment in the
    existing systems by language specialists. In many cases
    the principal qualification of a language specialist, beyond
    knowing the language, is the ability to write it. Such people
    are usually not keen on changing the writing system since
    it introduces the risk of undermining their expertise.


    Bill Poser, Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania

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