LINGUIST List 2.275

Friday, 7 June 1991

Disc: Things Phonological and Orthographical

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Reply to Responses
  2., Phonology and Orthography
  3. Diane L. Olsen, Re: ISO10646 and diacritical marks

Message 1: Reply to Responses

Date: Tue, 4 Jun 91 05:34:18 -0400
From: <>
Subject: Reply to Responses
In reply to Morse-Gagne's question about how the Scots pronounce "coupon" the
answer is /ku../ definitely not /kyu.../. In fact I've never heard anyone in
Britain pronounce it otherwise, the first time I heard it as /kyu was when I
came to the States and I always thought it was a hypercorrection.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Phonology and Orthography

Date: Tue, 4 Jun 91 12:26:36 BST
From: <>
Subject: Phonology and Orthography

(1) So there seem to be a fair handful of languages that have borrowed
not only the Arabic script, but also its habit of omitting vowels.
Thanks to everyone for the examples. Ds nn ndrstnd hw ppl mng t rd
sch scrpts? Is it just masochism, or are there particular features of
the phonology of these languages that make it more plausible than it

(2) Does anyone understand why John Coleman thinks that the length of
some (unspecified) bit-encoding of the 2D character patterns is a
suitable measure of how difficult it is for people to learn and use a
writing system?

It appears that he proposes to usa a fixed number of bits per
character, and then form the output bit string by concatenating the
representations of successive characters. Under these assumptions, a
syllable-based writing system can, as he claims, encode a fixed text
using fewer bits. However, it follows by the same line of reasoning
that an ideographic system (e.g. Chinese) uses storage space even more
efficiently and should thus be an even more popular (stable, adopted
by other languages, easy for children to learn) method of writing.

Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Re: ISO10646 and diacritical marks

Date: Thu, 6 Jun 1991 12:42:20 PDT
From: Diane L. Olsen <Diane_L._Olsen.osbu_north%xerox.comRICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
Subject: Re: ISO10646 and diacritical marks
Could someone please send me a copy of John Baima's message? I must have
accidentally deleted my copy without reading it. I receive a great deal of
e-mail, and sometimes I'm a little too quick to purge items without reading

As for the subject of Bert Peeters' message (people proposing spelling reform
-- possibly including ASCII-ification, it sounds like -- instead of
technological innovation as a means of solving the "diacritic problem"), well,
there are a good many idiots out there in the world. Or rather, there are a
lot of people in the world who are very naive about language.

I find it hard to suppress a giggle at the notion that a conspiracy of
linguists (something like the "Gnomes of Zurich," for those who play the
conspiracy-theory game "Illuminati") is to blame for the fact that the writing
systems of the world are not all easily encodable in ASCII. This is the first
I've heard of anyone proposing the elimination of diacritics as a solution to
the problem; but as I have heard many people (mostly nonlinguist engineers)
over the years express the sincere wish that human language take on more of the
properties of computer languages (e.g., context insensitivity and simple,
unambiguous syntax and semantics), I am not surprised. But I hardly think that
diacritics are in any danger of extinction! (Speaking of linguistic naivete, I
have even heard someone -- this time a young American computer scientist just
back from his first trip to Europe -- say that he had heard -- and believed! --
that the official language of the new, unified Europe would be English.)

In my department here at Xerox, we develop and maintain software for
multilingual WYSIWYG word processing in nearly twenty of the world's most
commonly used writing systems, including Arabic and Chinese. I bring this up
not so much as an advertisement as an existence proof. Making computers
multilingual requires not one iota of "spelling reform." And once we have
replaced ASCII with a more universal character encoding standard (OK, my turn
to be naive :-) ), all computers will be multilingual. On that glorious day,
we will be able to conduct electronic flame wars in Tibetan if we want to!

As a loyal coworker of Joe Becker, I am honor bound not to leave any discussion
about diacritics or character encoding standards without mentioning the Unicode
Consortium. Well, there, I've said it! :-) I bring up Unicode not to discuss
it (no anti-Unicode flames, please! That's not my battle!) but simply to point
out that there is at least one other group besides ISO that is attempting a
universal character encoding standard.

Diane L. Olsen (
Multilingual Software Development
Xerox Corporation

[End Linguist List, Vol. 2, No. 275]
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue