Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Oral=Written Languages

  1. Jan 16, 2012 #1
    OK this question is linguistic.
    I've searched the net and I just can't find a list with the languages that follow the rule "read exactly what is written", which means that the letters correspond more or less to an unchanging exact pronunciation. Of course there are always rules and exceptions.

    I read somewhere that languages which are partially of celtic decadence are not phonetic (if that's the correct term to describe this feature) e.g. English, French, Gaelic etc. On the other hand the Germanic languages (German, Dutch, Norwegian) and Greek follow the above principle.

    What do you think? Is there somebody who knows for sure?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 16, 2012 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    If I remember correctly IPA is a totally phonetic language however this was designed to be so. I'm not sure if there are any "naturally evolved" phonetic languages, part of the problem is that language's change over time and so what may seem phonetic in one era is not in another. For an example off the top of my head (and dragged from memories of school); knife is pronounced in modern English as "nyfe" or "nife" however in old English it was pronounced "Cer-nif"
  4. Jan 16, 2012 #3
    yeap definitely I'm aware of the fact that there aren't so many perfectly phonetic languages out there... BUT you've got to admit that there is a huge difference on this topic, between let's say greek and french or latin and english! What I need then is a relative scale of languages with respect to that or at least a confirmation that germanic languages (which I'm familiar with) are considered phonetic, so as to get a grasp of the term...
  5. Jan 16, 2012 #4

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Dutch is, from what I've read, quite the nightmare. Numerous sources describe Dutch as
    A strange language spoken in Flanders and consisting largely of the consonants v,s,c,h,r and k. Dutch is surprisingly easy to learn. Simply fill your mouth with crisps and then speak English and German simultaneously without breathing.​

    The Norse languages are not all that phonetic, and English (a mostly Germanic language) most certainly is not. You can't blame English spelling on Celtic. The Normans and Saxons did a pretty thorough job of killing the ancient Britons off. About all that is left of British is Brittain.

    What English doesn't have, in any of its variants, is a strong urge to fix the spelling. Compare that to the Dutch, who have regular spelling reforms to ensure the language stays pure. The same goes for Spanish and Finnish (another phonetic language). The French, being French, have goofy spelling even though they have a language purity board.
  6. Jan 16, 2012 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    The IPA is an alphabet, not a language.

    Turkish is probably as close as you will get. Every letter has a unique sound, every letter is pronounced, and there are no digraphs (e.g. gh is always pronounced as in dog-house, not as in English words like cough).

    Some of the Semitic scripts (typically with about 50 letters in the alphabet) follow a similar phonetic system, though some (e.g. Arabic) have complex rules for combining the pronunciation of adjacent syllables and even whole words. For example in Arabic the definite article "the" (al-) is always written the same way, but is pronounced ad-, ar-, as-, ash-, an-, at-, az- if the following word starts with the corresponding consonant.
  7. Jan 16, 2012 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    You forgot "g", which is pronounced like retching up a stubborn lump of phlegm. It's advisable for beginners to wear protective clothing while practicing this.
  8. Jan 16, 2012 #7
    Hmmm these posts are very enlightening! I know for sure Greek is also 8-9 on a scale up to 10!

    English is placed for me at 2 (only to leave place for French) on the same scale... And the fact that Latin and Old Norse are plainly phonetic, I have to put the blame on its celtic roots!

    As far as Dutch is considered, I found the descriptions about its pronunciation a little bit amusing, but at the end of the day the topic is referred to the correspondence of written and oral forms of a language and to my experience Dutch as well as its cousin German are high on the list! I'd give both of them a 8! Do you agree?
    Swedish on the other way is more melodic, but at least follows rules, maybe numerous but miles away from English though!

    Finally, I have got no clue about Turkish or Arabic whatsoever...
  9. Jan 16, 2012 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Does anybody know how the Romans actually pronounced Latin?

    There are several different "modern" pronunciations of Latin in different countries and in different religious traditions.
  10. Jan 16, 2012 #9
    I don't know, but classical Latin, as taught (from what I can remember), gives us "wenee, weedee, weekee" for Veni. Vidi. Vici. I can't imagine Julius Caesar saying that.

    "Julius Caesar" is pronounded as "Yooleeoos Kyser" like in the German "Kaiser"
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2012
  11. Jan 16, 2012 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Phonetic is the right word. Classic Greek was written phonetically, so I am told.
    I do not know about Modern Greek as it is spoken today.

    I don't know enough to give a general or complete answer. Maybe someone who knows will jump in here. My impression is you are probably right about German, once you learn the rules of how different combinations of letters are supposed to sound.

    I think classical Greek is more simply and consistently phonetic than German. But German is pretty good. you just have to learn some simple rules for pronouncing certain combinations and certain special vowells. ei, ie, ch, sch, ä, ö, ü... Also their V and their W sounds are different from what we are used to. But once you learn a few simple rules you can read German as normally written and get it approximately right.

    English is obviously NOT written phonetically, but this does provide some clues as to the history of words. For example site and sight sound the same, but site comes from Latin and sight comes from AngloSaxon, one of the Germanic languages which went into the mix that made English (which was resulted from invasions by people speaking various languages).

    Even if you start out writing a language phonetically, using the letters consistently, what do you do when people change the way they say certain words? Say they slur them, skipping certain sounds, or develop some different drawl or accent. Or start dropping off the final syllable. So then the old spelling is no longer accurate. What do you do? This happens.
    EDIT Ooops. Most this was already covered in earlier posts. I forgot to read the thread before replying! Sorry.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2012
  12. Jan 17, 2012 #11


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Google for "transparent spelling languages".

    Actually it could be enough to google for transparent languages, unfortunately it will give mostly Transparent Language Inc.
  13. Feb 12, 2012 #12
    I have been learning German for about five years and have always felt it was easy to pronounce words even if I had no idea what they meant. Similarly for the most part, if I could pronounce a word then I could spell it too.

    This made me curious, do countries with less ambiguity in their language have spelling bees?
  14. Feb 13, 2012 #13


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I was under the impression that spelling bees were a mostly American thing. I've never heard of another country that partakes in spelling as a competition to such an extent as the US.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Oral=Written Languages
  1. Language (Replies: 6)

  2. History re-written (Replies: 10)