Linguistics and orthography

  • Frost, Ram and Leonard Katz. 1992. Orthography, phonology, morphology, and meaning. Amsterdam: North Holland.

Limitations of linguistics

Linguistics is crucial in determining what sounds need to be represented in an orthography, but there are other factors, often socio-political, which turn out to be equally important for acceptance of the orthography. Besides the below, see the section on SOCIOLINGUISTICS.

  • Nida, Eugene A. 1964. “Practical limitations of a phonemic alphabet.” In Orthography studies: Articles on new writing systems. Helps for Translators  6, edited by William A. Smalley, 22–30. London:  United Bible Societies.

Basic phonological investigation

It is axiomatic that a starting point, at least, for an orthography is a result of discovering what contrasts there are in the language, traditionally called phonemes. Though other factors often come into play, the assumption is that each phoneme should be symbolized differently than any other phoneme, since a different phoneme will entail a change of meaning. Besides an outside linguist analyzing the language, a workshop approach that takes advantage of native speaker intuition can also be used to determine the phonemes (see COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION AND WORKSHOPS) Also, in cases where there are alternations of sounds as a result of phonological rules, it is good to specifically consider the issue of PHONOLOGICAL DEPTH, listed below.

  • Pike, Kenneth L. 1947. Phonemics: A technique for reducing languages to writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Rogers, Henry. 1995. Optimal Orthographies. In Insup Taylor and David R. Olson (eds.), Scripts and Literacy, 31-43. Dordrecht: Kluwer

 

Borrowed words

Words that are borrowed into a language can have sounds that the host language does not have. Sometimes these sounds are changed into a near-equivalent sound in the host language. But if they remain as a foreign sound, then is that sound to be represented with an additional symbol in the host orthography?

 

Functional load

"Functional load" is how important a contrast is in a language. If a phoneme occurs in only a handful of words, it is taken to have a low functional load. The implication for orthography is that perhaps such a phoneme does not need to be represented. This can be complicated, though, if some of those words have high frequency in the language. Some assume that the functional load of tone in a tone language can be determined by the number of minimal pairs distinguished only by tone. But purely mechanical measures overlook the psycholinguistic impact, which may be different. Functional load turns out to be a term which is relatively easy to grasp intuitively, but a precise definition or measurement is more elusive.

  • Cahill, Michael.  2001. Avoiding Tone Marks: A Remnant of English Education? Notes on Literacy 27(1):13-21.
  • Gordon, Raymond G. 1986. Some psycholinguistic considerations in practical orthography design. Notes on Literacy, special issue 1. 66-84.
  • Gudschinsky, Sarah. 1970. More on formulating efficient orthographies. The Bible Translator 21.1:21-25.
  • Hockett, Charles. F. 1955. A manual of phonology. Bloomington: Indiana University Publications in Anthropology and Linguistics. Memoir 11. 
  • Kutsch Lojenga, Constance. 2014. Orthography and Tone: Tone-system typology and its implications for orthography development. In Cahill and Rice (eds), pp. 49-72.
  • Unseth, Pete, and Carol Unseth. 1991. Analyzing ambiguity in orthographies. Notes on Literacy 65.35-52.

 

Phonological depth (lexical vs. postlexical)

Many orthography designers do not think of applying phonological theory more recent than Chomsky and Halle's 1968 The Sound Pattern of English. However, more recent theories can supply help for thorny situations, especially when a morpheme has two or more forms, depending on the contexts.

  • Ellis, Nick C, Miwa Natsume, Katerina Stavropoulou, Lorenc Hoxhallari, Victor H.P. van Daal, Nicolette Polyzoe, Maria-Louisa Tsipa, and Michaelis Petalas. 2004. The effects of orthographic depth on learning to read alphabetic, syllabic, and logographic scripts. Reading Research Quaterly 39.4. 438-468.
  • Katz, Leonard and Ram Frost. 1992. The reading process is different for different orthographies: The orthographic depth hypothesis. In Ram Frost and Leonard Katz (editors) Orthography, phonology, morphology, and meaning. Amsterdam: Elsevier North Holland Press. 67-84.
  • Roberts, Dave, Stephen Walters and Keith Snider. 2015. Neither deep nor shallow: a classroom experiment testing the orthographic depth of tone marking in Kabiye (Togo). Language and Speech 1-26. DOI: 1177/0023830915580387.
  • Snider, Keith. 2014. “Orthography and Phonological Depth.” In Developing Orthographies for Unwritten languages, edited by Michael Cahill and Keren Rice, 27–48. Dallas: SIL International.
  • Voorhoeve, J. 1962. Some Problems in Writing Tone. The Bible Translator 13/1:34-38. Reprinted in Smalley et al., 1963. Orthography studies: Articles on new writing systems. Helps for Translators 6. London: United Bible Societies, 127‒131.

 

Tone

Best estimates say that over half the world's languages are tonal. Marking tone in such a language's orthography is a challenging area, especially since for many Westerners, the whole concept of a tone language is somewhat intimidating. We need to make a distinction between lexical tone, which distinguishes individual words, and grammatical tone, which distinguished different grammatical categories, such as verb tenses or singular vs. plural nouns. It sometimes is possible to have a workable orthography with no tone marking, especially if only lexical tone is present. Grammatical tone almost always should be marked.

  • Bird, Steven. 1999. “When marking tone reduces fluency: An orthography experiment in Cameroon.” Language and Speech 42.1:83–115.
  • Bird, Stephen. 2000. Strategies for representing tone in African writing systems. Written language and literacy 2.1. 1-44.
  • Bolli, Margrit. 1978. "Writing tone with punctuation marks." Notes on Literacy 23:16–18.
  • Cahill, Michael.  2001. "Avoiding Tone Marks: A Remnant of English Education?" Notes on Literacy 27(1):13-21.
  • Crofts, Marjoire. 1976. Must tone always be written in a tonal language? Technical Papers for the Bible Translator 21/1:212-215.
  • Duitsman, John. 1986. "Testing two systems for marking tone in Western Krahn." Notes on Literacy 49:2–10.
  • Hollenbach, Barbara E. 1978. Choosing a tone orthography for Copala Trique. Notes on Literacy 24:52-61.
  • Koffi, Ettien. N. 1994. The representation of tones in the orthography. Notes on Literacy 20/3:51-59.
  • Kutsch Lojenga, Constance. 1986. Some experiences in writing and teaching tone in Africa Notes on Literacy Special Issue 1:59–65.
  • Kutsch Lojenga, Constance. 1993. "The writing and reading of tone in Bantu languages." Notes on Literacy 19.1:1–19.
  • Kutsch Lojenga, Constance. 2014. “Orthography and Tone: A Tone-System Typology with Implications for Orthography Development.”  In Developing Orthographies for Unwritten languages, edited by Michael Cahill and Keren Rice, 49–72. Dallas: SIL International.
  • Longacre, Robert E. 1970. "An experiment in testing the reading of Trique without indication of tone." Notes on Literacy 8:1–3.
  • Lucht, Ramona. 1978. "Siane tone orthography." Notes on Literacy 24:25–28.
  • Mfonyam, Joseph Ngwa. 1988. Tone in Orthography: The Case of Bafut and Related Languages. Ph.D. dissertation. Yaoundé, Cameroon: University of Yaoundé
  • Mfonyam, Joseph. 1990. Tone analysis and tone orthography. JWAL XX.2:19–30.
  • Miller, Margaret D. 1970. "Tone diacritics in Loma." Notes on Literacy 8:3–6.
  • Roberts, David and Stephen L. Walter. 2012. Writing Grammar Rather than Tone — an Orthography Experiment in Togo. Written Language and Literacy 15:2, 226-253.
  • Roberts, David. 2011. A Tone Orthography Typology. Written Language and Literacy 14:1, 82–108.
  • Roberts, Dave, Stephen Walters and Keith Snider. 2015. Neither deep nor shallow: a classroom experiment testing the orthographic depth of tone marking in Kabiye (Togo). Language and Speech 1-26. DOI: 1177/0023830915580387.
  • Snider, Keith L. 1992. “Grammatical tone” and orthography. Notes on Literacy 18/4:25-30.
  • Thomas, Elaine. 1972. "Marking tone in Engenni." Notes on Literacy 14:9–12.
  • Voorhoeve, J. 1962. Some Problems in Writing Tone. The Bible Translator 13/1:34-38. Reprinted in Smalley et al., 1963. Orthography studies: Articles on new writing systems. Helps for Translators 6. London: United Bible Societies, 127‒131.
  • Wiesemann, Ursula. 1989. Orthography matters. Notes on literacy 5. 14-21.

 

Word break issues

In a previously unwritten language, often where to insert word breaks is not immediately obvious. But this is a crucial area, since joining morphemes into words or splitting them apart can influence readability.

  • Dyken, Julia R. van, and C. Kutsch Lojenga. 1993. Word boundaries: Key factors in orthography development/ Les frontières du mot: facteurs-clés dans le développement d'une orthographe . In Rhonda Hartell (ed.) Alphabets of Africa,  Dakar, Senegal: UNESCO and Summer Institute of Linguistics. pp. 3-20.
  • Eaton, Helen and Leila Schroeder. 2012. Word break conflicts in Bantu languages: Skirmishes on many fronts. Writing Systems Research, 4:2, 229–241.
  • Hasselbring, Sue. 1996. Orthography Testing in Botswana. Notes on Literacy 22:2, 34-37.
  • Jones, Linda K. 1991.  Word Break Problems in Yawa Orthography.  Notes on Literacy 65:19–24.
  • Kutsch Lojenga, Constance. 2014. Basic Principles for Establishing Word Boundaries. In Developing Orthographies for Unwritten languages, edited by Michael Cahill and Keren Rice, 73-106.  Dallas: SIL International. (an update of the JvD/CKL paper above)