Re: How is the glottal stop used in some languages?

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Thu May 10 2007 - 13:45:44 CDT

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    > Let’s take, or example, the Nishnaabemwin language (Ojibwa). The
    > standard orthography for many of the speakers was devised specifically
    > to have no non-English letters. One of the language’s characters is the
    > apostrophe ’. .... When
    > I assigned U+02BC to their keyboard layout, big problems arose. People
    > can type English on those keyboards as well and encountered
    > difficulties when they typed U+02BC in English text. Consequently I’ve
    > had to remove U+02BC from all keyboards I had designed.

    That's fine. There is nothing preventing an orthography from standardizing
    on use of U+0027, if that is what works for it.

    The downside of that is that out-of-the-box software simply won't
    do word selection in comprehensible ways, most likely. Nor will
    the orthography work for identifiers, including internet labels
    for domain names, and so on. If sacrificing those possibilities
    makes sense as a tradeoff, in favor of easy availability of
    literacy on unmodified English keyboards with nonspecialized fonts,
    then that is the kind of decision a community can make regarding
    its orthography.

    > We could go further, Squamish writes its glottal stop with a 7, Tlingit
    > with a period . , Arapaho writes /θ/ with the number 3. These
    > orthographies were developed so that as few exotic characters as
    > possible would be required, and that these languages could be typed on
    > an English keyboard. Should new MODIFIER NUMBER SEVEN, MODIFIER NUMBER
    > THREE characters be introduced?

    No, nor will they be, I am sure. Orthographies that use numbers
    or other punctuation will simply have to make similar tradeoffs.

    > Perhaps I’m alone in thinking this, but users cannot be expected to
    > differentiate between two visually identical characters, one for one
    > language, one for another.

    No, I agree. But I would go further, frankly. I think *all* use
    of apostrophes in orthographies is an abomination, simply because
    such usage guarantees ambiguities that will lead to difficulties
    in text processing of the orthography. Such tradeoffs may have been
    the only reasonably choices in the past for practical orthographies,
    but from this point forward, given the wide availability of
    Unicode and the relative ease of designing and installing modified
    keyboards, introducing hacked-up ASCII orthographies for real languages
    strikes me as having more drawbacks than advantages.

    > Thank-you
    > Chris Harvey

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