LINGUIST List 2.223

Monday, 13 May 1991

Disc: Phonology and Orthography

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  1. John Goldsmith, Re: phonology of letter names
  2. John Coleman, Phonology and Orthography

Message 1: Re: phonology of letter names

Date: Sun, 12 May 91 19:41:03 CDT
From: John Goldsmith <>
Subject: Re: phonology of letter names
In many dialects of Spanish (e.g., in Latin America), there is no
[lambda], except in the name of the letter spelled "ll", called
[elye], so to speak (it's hard to phrase this within the 
constraints of email).
John Goldsmith
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Message 2: Phonology and Orthography

Date: Mon, 13 May 91 15:20 GMT
From: John Coleman <>
Subject: Phonology and Orthography
Since Richard Ogden's criticisms of R. Wojcik's remarks about phonology and
spelling arise from a phonological perspective which I share, perhaps I can
respond to what I think are a number of misunderstandings by Wojcik of 
Ogden's statements. To begin with, Wojcik says
> Ogden himself sees a connection between spelling and phonetics. 
I am fairly certain that this is a misreading of Ogden's remark that 
> Phonology needn't have anything at all to say about spelling. It is there
> as an abstraction from the phonetics ^^
I take Ogden to mean that *phonology* is an abstraction from phonetics,
and that there is no obvious place for spelling in this.
> I like to think that such questions might
> drive him to think more highly of a phonemic-orthographic correspondence.
Ogden doesn't deny the relationship between phonemic theory and alphabetic
orthography. What he questions is whether phonemic theory has anything to
do with natural language phonology. In fact Ogden did say:
> The connection with spelling is by-the-by. Perhaps phonemics has something
> to say about spelling but phonemics is certainly not the whole of 
> phonology 

Wojcik's admission that 
> In fact, I was not aware that there was such a thing as a phonological 
> theory that denied the existence of segments
simply betrays a profound ignorance of phonological theory.
> Proponents of such a theory would indeed find the
> existence of alphabetic writing to be a puzzle! (Well, maybe they are not very
> curious folks. Who knows? :-) 
Not at all. Alphabetic writing is a historical development from mora-based
semitic syllabaries, in which vowel distinctions were written concatenatively.
It is worth pointing out here that the extensive spread of alphabetic writing 
in subsequent millenia owes more to nonlinguistic factors such as religious
and political considerations than to any linguistic motivation.

Indeed in light of the origins of phonemic theory in spelling reform, I would
question whether alphabetic orthographies are usually very phonemic anyway?

--- John Coleman

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