New resource: Developing Orthographies for Unwritten Languages

While investigating endangered languages, many researchers become interested in developing literacy for these languages. However, often their linguistic training has not provided practical guidance in this area. This book, with contributions by experienced practitioners, helps fill this gap. Both foundational theory and specific case studies are addressed in this work.

-From the introduction by Cahill and Rice

(February 2014) SIL International Publications announces the release of Developing Orthographies for Unwritten Languages, edited by Dr. Michael Cahill and Dr. Keren Rice. Developing an orthography (writing system) is a complex process, one involving much more than simply assigning a symbol to represent each sound in a language. In addition to linguistic factors, social and political issues must also be taken into consideration. This new resource includes eleven papers which provide insights into the foundational principles of writing system design and case studies from several language communities.

Many of the papers included in the book were originally presented as part of a symposium organized by the editors which was held during the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. Cahill and Rice bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the project—both have been involved in the process of developing a writing system for previously unwritten languages (the Konni language of Ghana and the Slavey language of Canada, respectively). The authors represented in the book bring insights from their own diverse backgrounds in language research and language development. Both theory and practical application are explored.

In the introduction, the editors point to the increased attention given to orthography development in recent years. They link this trend to the growing awareness of language endangerment and to literacy as a factor in language vitality, as well as increasing acknowledgement that access to education is an issue closely tied to basic human rights. In addition, the development of the Unicode system for fonts has addressed some technical challenges and increased the number of readily-available characters.


1          Introduction
              Keren Rice and Mike Cahill

2          Non-Linguistic Factors in Orthographies
            Mike Cahill

3          Orthography and Phonological Depth
            Keith Snider

4           Orthography and Tone: A Tone-System Typology with Implications for Orthography Development
            Constance Kutsch Lojenga

5          Basic Principles for Establishing Word Boundaries
            Constance Kutsch Lojenga

6          Standardization: What’s the Hurry?
            Elke Karan

7          Orthography Wars
            Leanne Hinton

8          Breaking Rules for Orthography Development
            Pamela Munro

9          A Yanesha’ Alphabet for the Electronic Age
            Mary Ruth Wise

10        Kurtöp Orthography Development in Bhutan
            Gwendolyn Hyslop

11        Case Studies of Orthography Decision Making in Mainland Southeast Asia
            Larin Adams

In its eighty-year history, SIL has been involved in the development of writing systems in more than 1,300 languages.

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