LINGUIST List 2.257

Thursday, 30 May 1991

Disc: Phonology and Orthography

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  1. Margaret Fleck, Phonology and Orthography
  2. , Re: Phonology and Orthography
  3. Harriet ottenheimer, Re: Phonology and Orthography (Part 2)

Message 1: Phonology and Orthography

Date: Tue, 28 May 91 11:11:26 BST
From: Margaret Fleck <>
Subject: Phonology and Orthography

 The number of symbolic distinctions (bits of information) needed to
 encode a set of CV moras using mora-symbols may be less than if
 alphabetic symbols are used. --John Coleman 

Could you provide some concrete examples of languages in which this is
the case? Perhaps with brief descriptions of their sets of phonemes
and possible syllables? 

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Message 2: Re: Phonology and Orthography

Date: Tue, 28 May 91 13:42:55 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Re: Phonology and Orthography
I agree with Margaret Fleck's comments on the alphabetic status of orthograpies
and would add that a more appropriate term for what some call "syllabaries"
would be "prosodically-organized alphabet". If a writing system requires that
its users call on segmental information in order to create symbols--i.e. that
the symbols are decomposable into segmental symbols--then it is an alphabet.
Undecomposable symbols, e.g. Japanese kana, are necessary for a system to 
qualify as a true "syllabary". Alphabetic writing did not start with the 
Greeks, but it achieved its greatest refinement from them.

Finally, I want to clarify my comment that alphabet construction was a 
"practical matter". This was in connection with the question of just what
it means to say that alphabetic symbols correspond to phonemes. I believe that
it is quite legitimate to view linguistic systems as either psychological or
social in nature. Baudouin happened to emphasize the former view, and Saussure
the latter. Alphabetic systems are social conventions, and it is probably best
to characterize them in terms of an "ideal" phonemic inventory for the 
language, always bearing in mind that the ideal may not reflect everyone's
(or even anyone's) psychological system. And they may carry baggage that
speaks to other issues besides phonology.

A case in point would be the two major conventions for Breton writing--
so-called "university orthography" and "BZH". The BZH system is preferred
by nationalists because, among other things, it places a 'zh' symbol where
three dialects have /z/ (kerne, leon, tregor or "KLT" dialects) and the other
major dialect has /h/ (vannes dialect). The university orthography has
just the letter "z", hence causing, in the minds of many nationalists, an
unfair advantage for the KLT speakers. So the name of the country is either
"Breizh" or "Breiz", and you speak 'brezhoneg' or 'brezoneg', depending on 
your politics. (BTW, Breton is a final-devoicing language, and the adjective
is often spelled "brezhonek", because its final consonant does not alternate 
with [g] in internal sandhi. This corresponds with Baudouin's original view 
of the speaker-based level of phonemic abstraction.)

 -Rick Wojcik (
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Message 3: Re: Phonology and Orthography (Part 2)

Date: Wed, 29 May 91 07:58 CDT
From: Harriet ottenheimer <MAHAFANKSUVM.KSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Phonology and Orthography (Part 2)
In response to Margaret Fleck's inquiry:

> I would be surprized to find (does anyone know?) the same
> wholesale omission of vowel indications in non-Semitic languages that
> have borrowed e.g. the Arabic alphabet.

ShiNzwani (Comoro Islands) is a Bantu language which has borrowed the
Arabic alphabet and regularly omits vowel indications.

Harriet Ottenheimer

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