Re: Oxford proposes a leaner alphabet

From: Adam Twardoch (
Date: Sat Apr 04 2009 - 03:16:56 CST

  • Next message: Petr Tomasek: "Re: Oxford proposes a leaner alphabet"

    Mark Davis wrote:
    > German is touted as being phonetic, and it is vastly more regular than,
    > say, English or Japanese. But in order to really pronounce it you often
    > have to know a fair amount of information: the syllable breaks
    > (Wachs-tube vs Wach-stube), the emphasis (from the spelling alone,
    > emphasis and breaks could vary in beeinflussen: 'be-einflussen,
    > be-'einflussen, bee'-influssen, ...), unmarked short vs long vowel
    > distinctions, and whether it is a loan word ("USA" oo-ess-aa vs "CIA"
    > "see-eye-ay").
    > Do any of these problems pop up in Slavic languages?

    In Russian, you have to know which syllable is a word given stress to.
    The stress varies drastically in Russian, even between grammatical
    variants of the same word, and the pronunciation of some vowels changes
    significantly if a syllable is stressed. In children's schoolbooks and
    textbooks for foreigners, the stressed syllable is marked with an acute
    over the vowel, but this is not done in everyday writing.

    In Czech and Polish, there are hardly any of such requirements. Once you
    know the general ruleset, you can pronounce more than 99% of the words
    correctly, with just very few exceptions (often loanwords). When you
    know the pronunciation, it's not always obvious how to write it down,
    though. In Polish, the English sound "oo" can be written as both "ó" and
    "u", and the French sound "j" can be written as both "rz" and "ż", so
    you have to know quite a few orthographic rules in order to write it
    correctly. In Russian, there are a few catches as well, but fewer than
    in Polish, and I believe in Czech is is most straightforward, with the
    exception of long "oo" which can be written as "ú" or "ů".

    It is worth noting that the principles of the Czech spelling system,
    pretty much in the form as it is used today (with the extensive use of
    diacritics), has been devised by the Church reformer Jan Hus in 1406,
    but has not been put into actual use until the early 19th century. Since
    Hus was a protestant and was burned at the stake, his ideas, even though
    very practical for many Slavic languages, have not been adopted quickly.
    For example it is evident that Polish printers and linguists in the 15th
    century were aware of Hus's system for Czech, and found it very
    practical for Polish as well, but were afraid to adopt it to avoid
    accusations of heresy. So thanks to the Catholic church, the Polish
    language is now stuck with a half-baked, "neither fish nor flesh" type
    of spelling.


    Adam Twardoch
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    The illegal we do immediately.
    The unconstitutional takes a little longer.
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