Question about Devera

Wed Mar 5 08:01:37 PST 2003

Jag wondered aloud:
 >It seems that more of your arguments boil down to a phonetic alphabet
 >would be difficult to understand.

Nope.  It would be less useful than the current alphabet (by effectively 
wiping out clues to meaning and origin of words),[1] and it wouldn't 
accomplish the goal (since English has multiple dialects).

 > Well, I'll state the claim that a
 >phonetic alphabet would be no different from the spoken word, so any
 >argument about why english is not good with a phonetic language, is an
 >argument about why english is not good as a spoken language.

Written language is a different medium from spoken language, with different 
requirements.  A spoken language has more context (location, history, and 
recent events) and more expression (faces and hands added to voice) than a 
written language.  Most importantly, spoken language has a major channel 
devoted to feedback and error correction, and that's simply not available 
in written language.

Because written language can't tolerate error, it has to be far more 
precise than spoken language, e.g. the invention of punctuation and the 
regularization of spelling and grammar.

The diversity of English spelling is sometimes a weakness and sometimes a 
strength; but discussions of spelling or writing systems in general have 
little to do with spoken language.

[1] Japanese has the same reason not to switch, but amplified: Japanese 
syllable structure is far simpler than English and there are fewer sounds, 
so there are many more homonyms in Japanese.  The Chinese-based character 
set distinguishes between homonyms in a way that would be impossible to 
duplicate in language written only with a syllabary or alphabet.
"A number of religions in Ankh-Morpork still practised human sacrifice,
except that they didn't really need to practice any more because they had
got so good at it."--Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!
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