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Is Simplified Spelling Worth Reform?

saintp Re:Never going to happen (1183 comments)

Okay, that's cool. So the million dollar question is: how do you spell "the" post-Reform? You're pretty much obligated to make two words where previously we had one:

"Thee area" vs. "Thuh plais"

Of course, that ignores the fact that there are actually at least three pronunciations of the word "the"; the third comes (occasionally) when the following word starts with a long 'e', so now you've got "thee' eegl" as well. Of course, the third usage is more evident in some regional dialects. But whose dialect do we encode in this new phonetic spelling? If it is created at a certain institution across the river from Boston, it'll be no time before we all "pahk ah cah in Hahvahd yahd"; of course, were it created at my alma mater, everyone would "warsh behind thuh booshz."

Even if those problems were taken care of, there would still be major obstacles, such as the fact that we're attempting to signify 42 phonemes with only 26 graphemes. Even if you do have two or three words for "the," how do you know which "th" sound (through or though?) to use? If we try to use digraphs to signify too much, then we'll run right back into abiguities. For instance, how do you spell "hothead" phonetically? "Hothed" eliminates the "extraneous" "ea" digraph, but maintains the truly ambiguous "th" digraph.

The only completely logical system of spelling is one in which the number of graphemes is exactly equal to the number of phonemes; and, furthermore, every phoneme corresponds to exactly one grapheme, and every grapheme to exactly one phoneme. Finnish is the closest I know of to this, but even it has some flaws. Korean (Hangul) was spot-on -- 500 years ago, for one dialect of Korean. Designing a system like that for English would involve at least designing a major supplement to the current English alphabet, at most tossing it completely and using something like Hangul. At that point, you still have issues of regional dialects and, has other posters have pointed out, the constantly changing nature of language. If we put a phonetic alphabet in place and then underwent another Great Vowel Shift, some people are going to feel mighty silly.

more than 8 years ago

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saintp saintp writes  |  about 8 years ago

saintp writes "I'm about to buy my first house, and I'm pretty excited about getting to do some home improvement stuff. Of course, as a geek, the improvement I'm most excited about is the installation of a residential network. This will be the first such network I've set up — I've always left it to the other geeks I lived with before. What should I include? What geegaws and doodads are on your network that you can't live without? How can I build the ultimate residential network?"

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