LINGUIST List 9.1528

Mon Nov 2 1998

Disc: German Spelling Reform

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <aristarlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. The LINGUIST List, Moderators' Note
  2. Alice Faber, Re: 9.1520, Disc: German Spelling Reform
  3. Peter T. Daniels, Re: 9.1520, Disc: German Spelling Reform
  4. David Gil, spelling
  5. John R. Rennison, Re: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling

Message 1: Moderators' Note

Date: Mon, 2 Nov 1998 09:19:23 -0500 (EST)
From: The LINGUIST List <linguistlinguistlist.org>
Subject: Moderators' Note

We are posting the following messages with some trepidation, because
we don't want to further disseminate quotations from a message we
should never have posted in the first place. However, we believe that
those criticized deserve the right of reply, and to delete the message
they quote would destroy the coherence of the responses. Hence, we
are once again asking for subscriber cooperation; please take this
posting in the spirit in which it is meant (i.e. as an end to ad
hominem interchanges).
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Message 2: Re: 9.1520, Disc: German Spelling Reform

Date: Sat, 31 Oct 1998 17:44:53 -0500
From: Alice Faber <faberlenny.haskins.yale.edu>
Subject: Re: 9.1520, Disc: German Spelling Reform

> > > From: "Patrick C. Ryan":
> > >
> > > Personally, I favor phonetic spelling of English so that GHOTI cannot be
> > > read as /fish/ as GBS correctly observed it could be.
> 
> Peter Daniels:
> 
> > <GHOTI> cannot be read as /fiS/, regardless of what the ill-informed
> > Shaw suggested.

Patrick Ryan again:
> 
> After having read what Shaw has written and what you have only edited, my
> personal judgment is that George Bernard Shaw *demonstrated* a breadth of
> knowledge that you may have but have never (been able to demonstrate?)
> demonstrated.
> 
> GBS is one of the greatest literary figures of English literature, and for
> you, who has no status as a writer or a literary critic, to characterize him
> as "ill-informed" shows utmost poor judgment.

Rather than snip these ad hominem remarks (Shaw's uncontrovertible literary 
stature in no way imbues him with more expertise in the design of writing 
systems than a scholar who has researched and published extensively in the 
area of the history of written language) and paraphrase the content, I've 
decided to leave them. 

But, I have a much more serious question in this context. And that is about
the actual attribution of the GHOTI remark. I've seen it widely reported as
above, always attributed to Shaw. But I have absolutely *never* seen a
specific citation to *where* Shaw said this. In contrast, Roger Brown, on p.
64 of _Words and Things_, provides a very specific reference to Shaw's remarks
on how stupid it is to spell _debt_ with a <b> (the preface to RA Wilson's
_Miraculous Birth of Language_ (Philosophical Library, 1948)). Can anyone
provide a comparable citation for the GHOTI=fish claim? I'm not interested in
a list of people who have in print attributed the claim to Shaw, or arguments
that it's plausibly Shavian (that's not in doubt). I want to know where he
said it. I suppose I'd be interested in knowing when it was first attributed
to Shaw, if we can't find an actual citation. 


Alice Faber
faberhaskins.yale.edu
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Message 3: Re: 9.1520, Disc: German Spelling Reform

Date: Sat, 31 Oct 1998 21:04:09 -0500
From: Peter T. Daniels <grammatimworldnet.att.net>
Subject: Re: 9.1520, Disc: German Spelling Reform

> > > From: "Patrick C. Ryan" <proto-languageemail.msn.com>
> > >
> > > Personally, I favor phonetic spelling of English so that GHOTI cannot be
> > > read as /fish/ as GBS correctly observed it could be.
> >
> > <GHOTI> cannot be read as /fiS/, regardless of what the ill-informed
> > Shaw suggested.
> 
> After having read what Shaw has written and what you have only edited, my
> personal judgment is that George Bernard Shaw *demonstrated* a breadth of
> knowledge that you may have but have never (been able to demonstrate?)
> demonstrated.
> 
> GBS is one of the greatest literary figures of English literature, and for
> you, who has no status as a writer or a literary critic, to characterize him
> as "ill-informed" shows utmost poor judgment.
> 
> <gh> represents [f] only in the context <ou__> (and then
> > only in a handful of forms);
> 
> Perhaps if Peter was a writer, he might know that the above is, of course,
> expectedly incorrect. The last time I checked, educated people pronounced
> <laugh> as /laf/. Does he spell this word *lough?
> 
> <o> represents [i] in a single, truly
> > anomalous form, <women>;
> 
> Well, Peter did know that word.
> 
> and <ti> represents [S] in a readily
> > identifiable closed set of Latinate suffixes (details available in any
> > compendium on English spelling).
> 
> Again, Peter should stick to editing what other say about writing systems.
> 
> The word <partial>, for example, is composed of the stem part- and the
> suffix -ia:l-. Many speakers pronounce it /par-sh6l/.
> 
> In fact, it is a generally observable phenomenon for palatalized apicals
> (and dorsals) to be fricatized.
> 
> > Shaw was simply wrong to suggest that an orthography must or should be
> > surface-phonetic,
> 
> I find "simply" insufficient to persuade me that GBS' suggestion was poorly
> conceived.
> 
> and the Shaw Alphabet devised under the terms of his
> > will is singularly ill suited for the representation of English (because
> > of insufficiently distinct letterforms,
> 
> I think that a reader of Chinese might immediately disagree. Small
> differences can be perecived as easily as larger ones with proper teaching.
> 
> in addition to the entirely
> > non-morph(ophon)emic approach to spelling).
> 
> I am not sure what this means to Peter, so I cannot comment.

Sorry, I forgot Jakobson's teachings on redundancy, and overspecified my
statement in an attempt at perspicuity.

It suffices to say that in English <gh> does not signify [f] initially
and <ti> does not signify [S] finally.

There's no denying Shaw was a pretty good writer, and some of his plays
are brilliant. *Pygmalion* is quite entertaining, but the philology in
it and in its preface is largely rubbish.

I'm surprised that some of Mr. Ryan's rhetoric -- such as the hurling of
what in the US is still a rather nasty epithet, "communist," on the
basis of a poster's perceived location -- is tolerated on Linguist List.
- 
Peter T. Daniels					grammatimworldnet.att.net
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Message 4: spelling

Date: Sun, 01 Nov 1998 02:17:03 +0100
From: David Gil <gileva.mpg.de>
Subject: spelling

Peter Daniels asks:

> Why should spelling be a matter of legislation?

I certainly think it shouldn't be.

Until recently, I lived in a neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,
whose name was spelled in several alternative ways: Kampong/Kampung
Datuk/Datok/Dato' Keramat. Nobody was the worse for the orthographic
variation.

(Admittedly, in this particular case, the variation is a reflection not
of enlightened liberalism but rather of the inefficiency of the
obsessively prescriptive official Malaysian language agency, the Dewan
Bahasa dan Pustaka -- but this is beside the point.)


David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22
D-04103 Leipzig
Germany

tel: 49-341-9952310
fax: 49-341-9952119
email: gileva.mpg.de
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Message 5: Re: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling

Date: Sun, 1 Nov 1998 19:49:01 +0100
From: John R. Rennison <johnling.univie.ac.at>
Subject: Re: 9.1517, Disc: German Spelling

Alexis Manaster-Ramer wrote

"I am puzzled by John Rennison's statement:

'Alexis Manaster-Ramer, Martin Haspelmath and Gisbert Fanselow make
several interesting points, but given the international coverage of
the Linguist List and the claim of Linguistics to universality, much
of what they say is (forgive me -- I say it as a citizen of Austria,
where German is the official language) parochial.
 
Put pointedly: Not only were the people who "reformed" German
spelling not linguists; not a single linguistic criterion has
been used in the so-called reform.'"

I suggest he take a world atlas to hand, or a globe, or the Ethnologue database. German isn't a large language. But my point was that the DISCUSSION is parochial. Why not take a look over the fence, instead of continually turning over the old internal sh** that won't get anyone anywhere?

Peter T. Daniels wrote

"> 1. One-to-one correspondence between segments and graphemes. (It's
> possible with the existing alphabet.)

Then every dialect has its own spelling?"

Yes, of course it has. But assuming that a standard language also has a pronunciation, then the standard spelling will be the spelling of that "dialect".

"> 2. Compatibility with the spelling systems of other
> (esp. neighbouring) languages.

You mean, German should be spelled more like Dutch, Danish, or Polish? I
don't think so!"

Yes indeed. Double vowels for long vowels (Dutch), a single symbol for "sch" (Polish -- at least for the palatalized one. But Czech and Serbo-Croatian would be better).

"> And some pseudo-linguistic criteria that could be abandoned are:
> 
> 1. Lexical morphemes should always be spelled the same way. (Untenable
> for ablaut verbs anyway)

This one has stood English in good stead for quite a few centuries."

I thought "swim - swam - swum" had different vowels. But the point is that no one needs it anyway. Kids get by fine with the spoken language. I didn't mention the fact that English has a lousy spelling system because I thought most linguists were aware of that.

Finally -- if we're only discussing this so that German can "get by", then we don't need a reform at all. But if we reform the spelling, couldn't it be to something that linguists CAN subscribe to?

John Rennison


*********************************************
(Ao. Univ.-Prof. Dr.) John R. Rennison
Dept. of Linguistics, University of Vienna

Inst. f. Sprachwissenschaft e-mail: johnling.univie.ac.at
Berggasse 11
A-1090 Wien Fax: +43 1 3155347
Austria / Europe Tel.: +43 1 3103886/32

 http://www.univie.ac.at/linguistics/personal/john
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