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Speaking American: A History of English in the United States

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Language, Literacy, and Technology

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Academic Paper


Title: Writing Meaning Rather Than Sound in the Orthographies of Tone Languages
Author: David Roberts
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: Independent Researcher
Author: Steven L. Walter
Linguistic Field: Writing Systems
Abstract: Some orthographies represent tone phonemically by means of diacritics; others favor zero marking. Neither solution is entirely satisfactory. The former leads to graphic overload; the latter to a profusion of homographs. Both may reduce fluency./L//L/But there is a 'third way' which does not align itself with either extreme: highlighting the grammar rather than the tone system. To test this approach, we developed two experimental strategies for writing Kabiye: a grammar orthography and a tone orthography. Both are modifications of the standard orthography that does not mark tone. We tested these in a quantitative experiment involving literate native speakers that included dictation and spontaneous writing./L//L/The fact that writers of the experimental grammar orthography perform faster and more accurately than writers of the experimental tone orthography suggests that they have an awareness of the morphological and syntactic structure of their language that may even exceed their awareness of its phonology. Moreover, frequency of exposure to a particular grammatical construction in natural contexts proves to be a strong predictor of performance for those writing the experimental grammar orthography, but it confers no advantage for those writing the experimental tone orthography. This provides evidence that languages that use tone to convey grammatical information might benefit from grammatical markers in the orthography.
Type: Individual Paper
Status: In Progress
Venue: Paper presented at the 7th International Workshop on Writing Systems and Literacy. 30 September - 1 October 2010, Paris, France.
Publication Info: OBERTS, David & Steven L. WALTER (2010):


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