Spelling reform in reverse?

  • #1
Algr
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I was watching a video about english spelling reform where the author, as an aside, pointed out something that I thought was rather more important than anything else in the video: A fully phonetic alphabet is impossible because we don't agree on what the words are supposed to sound like. You say tow-ma-to, I say ta-mah-to. "For" and "Four" would be spelled the same for some people, but not for others.

So given this, wouldn't it make more sense to proceed in the opposite direction? This would be pronunciation reform. We could achieve a fully phonetic alphabet by encouraging everyone to pronounce all words as they are currently spelled. Most people are resigned to the notion that english spelling reform has zero chance of success. But pronunciation reform could be many times more likely to succeed.

:)
 
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  • #2
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How would eradicating all dialects except one be easier, and who gets to decide?
 
  • #3
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Well, no one, really. We do have a rough agreement on what sounds the letters usually make. Dialects would change, but they always do, and they would notable end up the same. Things like rolling Rs and vowel shifts would remain.

The final goal is the same as with spelling reform: to make spelling easier. But the implementation is far easier. You just declare that it is always okay, if not preferred, to pronounce a word as it is spelled.
 
  • #4
pinball1970
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Well, no one, really. We do have a rough agreement on what sounds the letters usually make. Dialects would change, but they always do, and they would notable end up the same. Things like rolling Rs and vowel shifts would remain.

The final goal is the same as with spelling reform: to make spelling easier. But the implementation is far easier. You just declare that it is always okay, if not preferred, to pronounce a word as it is spelled.
You have areas of the UK (for example) south and west that have a long history of pronouncing vowel sounds in a certain way.
Also, articulating consonants precisely , dropping them or splitting them and strange inflection within one word in a way that is hard to teach someone if you are not from that area, plus other idiosyncrasies
Glaswegian is barely English to someone from London. Trying to teach them Queens pronunciation (or many other dialects) would be very difficult.
There is sound too, AH as in “Ar-men” where you are producing the notes from, the sounds in your mouth
Manchester is nasal, Hampshire the more diaphragm. Souse at the back of the throat.
The difference between a trumpet C and a trombone C
These are sounds acquired from birth pass from mum to kid, you cannot unlearn all of that easily.
Some actors spend a lot of time trying to prefect this and not all of them are successful and they do this for a living.
 
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  • #5
PeroK
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Implementation of a rationised spelling is not dependent on removing dialects. It would mean that a form of standard English would be easier to learn.

We already have the situation that a dictionary indicates pronunciations I would not use. E.g. I say "iron", where standard English is "ion" for the ferrous element.

And I pronounce every letter in "raspberry" instead of saying "razbri".

There may need to be some give and take, of course.
 
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  • #6
PeroK
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Ps for example, I shocked someone from the South of England by saying Bournemouth, pronouncing every letter. He asked " do you mean Bawnmuth"?

My point is that if we want non native speakers to say Bawnmuth, then that's how it should be spelled.
 
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  • #7
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where standard English is "ion" for the ferrous element.

If you want to hear the R, it's spelled...er...spelt Irn. As in Irn-Bru. (Does that even still exist?)
 
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  • #8
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You have areas of the UK (for example) south and west that have a long history of pronouncing vowel sounds in a certain way.
Also, articulating consonants precisely , dropping them or splitting them and strange inflection within one word in a way that is hard to teach someone if you are not from that area, plus other idiosyncrasies
Glaswegian is barely English to someone from London. Trying to teach them Queens pronunciation (or many other dialects) would be very difficult.
There is sound too, AH as in “Ar-men” where you are producing the notes from, the sounds in your mouth
Manchester is nasal, Hampshire the more diaphragm. Souse at the back of the throat.
The difference between a trumpet C and a trombone C
These are sounds acquired from birth pass from mum to kid, you cannot unlearn all of that easily.
Some actors spend a lot of time trying to prefect this and not all of them are successful and they do this for a living.
All the more difficult then when the language is standardized and they all will be forced to speak real ‘Murican English. Stints in re-education camps run by Midwestern newscasters and call center attendants may be required
 
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  • #9
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If you want to hear the R, it's spelled...er...spelt Irn. As in Irn-Bru. (Does that even still exist?)
Yes, Barr's Irn-Bru is still going strong!
 
  • #10
pinball1970
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Ps for example, I shocked someone from the South of England by saying Bournemouth, pronouncing every letter. He asked " do you mean Bawnmuth"?

My point is that if we want non native speakers to say Bawnmuth, then that's how it should be spelled.
The OP said

“Most people are resigned to the notion that english spelling reform has zero chance of success but pronunciation reform could be many times more likely to succeed.”

I disagree. I think one is more impossible than the other but both impossible.

Steps for spelling first?

  • Change the OED, English curriculum including all science terms, “finally I can spell Floorine” and the back catalogue of Shakespeare so as not to confuse yet to be born English Lit students. “Too sleep, perchanse too dreem—eye, thers the rub:
For in that slepe of deth wot dreems may cum, Wen we have shuffuld off this mortul coyul,”

Pronunciation first.

  • Send out public information films, Hold classes up and down the country for adults and kids and change the school curriculum on Ay Bee Sees
“My point is that if we want non native speakers to say Bawnmuth, then that's how it should be spelled.”

Like slaithwaite? Pronounced slawit according to wiki but I disagree its pronounced Slow-it according to the natives , Slow as in cow not sloe as in berry.
Or Slough-it? As in Plough? Although some may pronounce that slough as sluff

I do not think this is feasible
 
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  • #11
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The things I would want to achieve are:

1) When you see a word, you know how to pronounce it.

2) When you hear a word, there are fewer options for how to spell it.

This is the way German is.

It wouldn't need to go down the path you suggest. You would need a new simplified English to go along with the established unphonetic written language.

If we take 'ee' to be as in 'see' and 'ea' as in 'death', then dreams would have to change to dreems. And, 'sea' would have to change to 'see'. I suggest that 'ough' would go altogether.

Little of the pronounciation would change, but there would be a rationalised spelling. Give that most text is written via a word processor, it seems to me entirely feasible if we wanted to do it. It's a big commitment, though, and I think there would need to be clear evidence of the benefits.
 
  • #12
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Most people are resigned to the notion that english spelling reform has zero chance of success. But pronunciation reform could be many times more likely to succeed.
This is clearly absurd. We can all change the way we spell words. I can start using "color" instead of "colour" quite easily. And, I could implement a more extensive spelling reform (especially with the aid of software) if required.

But, there is no possibility I could radically change the way I pronounce words. Pronunciation is much more subtle for a start and it would be absurd for me to try to speak permanenty with an American or UK-standard English accent, for example.
 
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For in that slepe of deth wot dreems may cum, Wen we have shuffuld off this mortul coyul,”
There's no sense to this. To take an example: there is only one way to spell "shuffled" and there is no doubt about how to pronounce it (even if we all have variations in that pronunciation). In any case, "shuffuld" is no improvement.

And "sleep, deep, beep, creep" etc. are already standard; whereas "slepe" is just made up. It adds nothing to change that spelling.
 
  • #14
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there is only one way to spell "shuffled"
Not for Shakespeare

then there is this

Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, fr'over the short sea, had passen-
core rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy
isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war
 
  • #15
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The things I would want to achieve are:

1) When you see a word, you know how to pronounce it.

2) When you hear a word, there are fewer options for how to spell it.

This is the way German is.
Only because of the political happenstance of the 1871 unification of Germany and Austria agreeing to cooperate in the spelling reforms that followed.
 
  • #16
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Important to note that the clearer spelling rules in other languages do not stem from some inherent characteristic - they result from political decisions during the 19th century. Italian, for example, stems from the implementation of a single dialect - the Florentine dialect of Tuscan, which was imposed by the bureaucracy after unification in the mid 1800s. Sicilian and Neapolitan remained actual separate languages, like Catalan does in Spain.
 
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  • #17
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Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, fr'over the short sea, had passen-
core rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy
isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war
I prefer something like:

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.
 
  • #18
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Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.
There is counselling available for that, you know

Seriously, had to Google it, been too long since I read Dubliners
 
  • #19
symbolipoint
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I was watching a video about english spelling reform where the author, as an aside, pointed out something that I thought was rather more important than anything else in the video: A fully phonetic alphabet is impossible because we don't agree on what the words are supposed to sound like. You say tow-ma-to, I say ta-mah-to. "For" and "Four" would be spelled the same for some people, but not for others.

So given this, wouldn't it make more sense to proceed in the opposite direction? This would be pronunciation reform. We could achieve a fully phonetic alphabet by encouraging everyone to pronounce all words as they are currently spelled. Most people are resigned to the notion that english spelling reform has zero chance of success. But pronunciation reform could be many times more likely to succeed.

:)
What a thinker! Continue thinking. Languages have always been a mess but that does not mean anyone can do an excellent job cleaning them. Understand something very basic: A language, or specifically a natural and spoken human language, is what is thought, said, and heard. Those are what really count. Those are what initially drive the literacy & spelling form of the language.

Something more to consider, is that spellings, even if pronounciation does not match consistantly, reflects history of both the spoken and the written parts of the language.

We really need to know what more authentic languages experts say about the topic.
 
  • #20
symbolipoint
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And "sleep, deep, beep, creep" etc. are already standard; whereas "slepe" is just made up. It adds nothing to change that spelling.
It is another complication, in fact. From "sleep", to "slee"+"pe" ? But we are trying to say, (I am looking for the small "e" letter with the short straight segment over it, indicating the LONG e sound.)
 
  • #21
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Something more to consider, is that spellings, even if pronounciation does not match consistantly, reflects history of both the spoken and the written parts of the language.
That's the crux of the issue.

( By the way, shouldn't that be not history , but maybe hertory, theirtory, ittory, themtory - I think one will get, as we do see, gender issues poping up more 'violently' for further complications. Pandora's box. Goodbye Mississippi, Hello Itissippi - If spelling is to be altered, than so should other aspects of language that bother the minority of decent folk )
 
  • #22
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That was another thing mentioned in the video I saw. The word “history” derives from language that had nothing to do with gender, so the author was quite frustrated with people who need to change any phonetic sound that reminds them that men exist. Even the word “man” once meant “human”, and was understood to include women.
 
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  • #23
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Am I correct in my impression that for German and Italian, only one government each has enough speakers to claim authority over the language? Whereas for English, Americans would not consider directives from London to be authoritative.

Of course that doesn’t explain Spanish, which I’m told is quite linguistic despite the wide diaspora of speakers.
 
  • #24
pinball1970
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There's no sense to this. To take an example: there is only one way to spell "shuffled" and there is no doubt about how to pronounce it (even if we all have variations in that pronunciation). In any case, "shuffuld" is no improvement.

And "sleep, deep, beep, creep" etc. are already standard; whereas "slepe" is just made up. It adds nothing to change that spelling.
"There's nonsense to this"

YES

To take an example: there is only one way to spell "shuffled"

Shuffled could be pronounced Shuff-led

This is nuts. English is a ridiculous language and makes no sense whatsoever. I am just so glad I do not have to learn it
 
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  • #25
atyy
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Am I correct in my impression that for German and Italian, only one government each has enough speakers to claim authority over the language? Whereas for English, Americans would not consider directives from London to be authoritative.
Obviously a neutral third party is required. https://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/hes/article/view/56137 o0) Though I've been on PF long enough to almost accept "I have a doubt ..." :oldbiggrin:
 
  • #26
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We could achieve a fully phonetic alphabet by encouraging everyone to pronounce all words as they are currently spelled. Most people are resigned to the notion that english spelling reform has zero chance of success. But pronunciation reform could be many times more likely to succeed.
You are late with that: it's actually happening.

As I've told it somewhere, I'm working in a kind of international environment, where English is the common language - but there are no native English speaker there.
The result is, that everybody is trying to speak the written English o0)
I've made a quick survey back then, and many similar places does the same. Also, we could understand each other rather well, so I guess it's really so.
Also, it was a common topic that it's so hard to understand anybody from USA or GB.
So I guess native English speakers are up for some hard time soon :doh:
 
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  • #27
atyy
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So I guess native English speakers are up for some hard time soon :doh:


 
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  • #28
f95toli
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So given this, wouldn't it make more sense to proceed in the opposite direction? This would be pronunciation reform. We could achieve a fully phonetic alphabet by encouraging everyone to pronounce all words as they are currently spelled. Most people are resigned to the notion that english spelling reform has zero chance of success. But pronunciation reform could be many times more likely to succeed.

:)

Things have actually been going in the opposite direction for the past 150 or so years. Local dialects are for many people a very important part of their identity. One consequence of that is that some countries have actually altered the way they spell to make the spelling closer to the dialects.
One (obvious) example is Norway where there are two official written languages ("Nynorsk" and "bokmal"). The written languages are actually quite different but no one actually speaks either of them; but based on your local dialect one of them will (usually) be closer to the way you speak so you can essentially pick the one you prefer.

You also have languages such as Welch and Gaelic where the spelling makes no sense to people who do not speak the language, but where there spelling is actually phonetic; you just need to know the "rules" for how the to pronounce the letters and diphthongs
 
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  • #29
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Whereas for English, Americans would not consider directives from London to be authoritative.
Americans don't even consider directives from Washington to be authoritative :DD

I'm not sure standardization of a phonetic system would force folks to pick a dialect. People would still speak their own dialects. Spanish, the ultimate in phonetic languages, sounds very different in Mexico vs. Spain vs. Argentina. Ditto for French in France vs. Quebec vs. Chad.
 
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  • #30
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Ditto for French in France vs. Quebec vs. Chad.
Or Paris vs. elsewhere in the country.
 
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  • #31
pinball1970
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Americans don't even consider directives from Washington to be authoritative :DD
'Dont EVEN consider Washington?' I have to protest a little bit here. Washington DC was founded in 1790.
English Literature can go back further than that and if we rewrote the rule book I would expect a seat at the table.
The end one.
 
  • #32
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Writing the rules should be based on representation of the speakers, so Washington, New Delhi, Lagos and Manila each get more votes than London
 
  • #33
DaveE
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Local dialects are for many people a very important part of their identity.
Yes, exactly this. Humans are fundamentally tribal. We don't actually want to be part of a single big homogenous group; we don't want to agree on everything, look the same, or sound the same. In fact people will go out of their way to invent distinctions and advertise their tribal allegiances. You need look no further than bumper stickers on cars, which are nearly all advertising some allegiance to a social group of some sort.
 
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  • #34
TeethWhitener
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if we rewrote the rule book I would expect a seat at the table.
You had a seat at the table the last time (the only seat) and look how that turned out :-p
 
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  • #35
Rive
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Local dialects are for many people a very important part of their identity.
On the other side, 'international English' (in which native speakers of any dialect has just small minority!) has a very important part of the wallet of many.

It'll be .. interesting o0)
 

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