LINGUIST List 11.1606

Mon Jul 24 2000

Disc: Writing and Speech

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Robert Williams, Disc: Writing and Speech
  2. Nitti45, Re: 11.1596, Disc: New: Writing and Speech

Message 1: Disc: Writing and Speech

Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2000 10:01:04 -0400
From: Robert Williams <>
Subject: Disc: Writing and Speech

Members of the List:

Mightn't one argue that systematic orthographic systems (beyond
idiosyncratic pictographic representations and with emphasis on the
"systematic") largely originate, according to our best historical
knowledge, for economic record-keeping purposes? Mightn't this subtly
'spin' the entire debate over primacy, representational purposes, etc.?


Robert H. Williams, Jr.
Assistant Professor of English
Radford University
P.O. Box 6935
Radford VA 24142
540-682-4350 (home)
540-831-5745 (office)
540-831-6800 (fax)
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Message 2: Re: 11.1596, Disc: New: Writing and Speech

Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2000 05:11:01 EDT
From: Nitti45 <>
Subject: Re: 11.1596, Disc: New: Writing and Speech

Dear Linguist:

In a message dated 7/21/00 11:50:51 AM, Dan Moonhawk Alford writes:

>English, we know, got thrust into the media while it was still undergoing
>dramatic sound shifts; thus, what was a fairly "tight" system loosened
>very quickly; I don't know enough about French linguistic history to know
>what happened there.

 Well, the fact is, Moonhawk's comments about English having been "thrust 
into the media while it was still undergoing dramatic sound shifts" are even 
more consistently applicable to French than they are to English. Modern 
French spelling adheres largely to the pronunciation prevailing in the 
eleventh century. Dramatic shifts were evident a mere two centuries later. 
As a result, French orthography is quite different in a number of respects 
from that of almost any other language on earth.
 At the same time, however, it should be pointed out that, while French 
orthography can present some formidable challenges to the student, French has 
far fewer exceptionally spelled words than does English. Once the complex 
orthography of French is indeed learned, it stands the student in good stead.
 With regard to English, there is an additional factor besides its 
(relatively) sudden advent to the status of a major world language that must 
be acknowledged. While the factor Moonhawk mentions accounts for English 
having a number of orthographic rules at variance with those of most other 
Western languages, the sheer number of spelling exceptions originates, in my 
judgment, from this additional factor, to wit, the fact that right while 
major sound changes (including but not limited to the Great Vowel Shift) were 
evolving, there was no codified orthography for English; spelling was 
entirely *ad libitum* until sometime in the seventeenth century. Indeed, a 
writer of that era might have spelled the same word, in the same body of 
writing, two or more different ways, according to whim. Many words the 
spellings of which constitute exceptions to English spelling rules can be 
accounted for by realizing that they were variants that had already "caught 
on" for various reasons by the time English orthography was indeed codified. 
 Now here is something about which I should like to hear from anyone with 
a background in Celtic linguistics in general, and Irish Gaelic in 
particular. I have heard it said that the only language that rivals English 
for sheer numbers of spelling anomalies is Irish Gaelic. I do not know 
firsthand if this is true or not. From what little I have observed of the 
language, I find the assertion at least plausible. If indeed it is true, 
then it certainly can't be because of its having been "thrust into the media" 
as a world language. Would any experts in this field be so good as to join 
this discussion? Specifically, would they answer these two questions: 1) Is 
the abovementioned assertion true? If so, then 2) What, in your judgment, 
would account for this fact?

Cordially yours,

Richard S. Kaminski
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