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CONLANG  June 2002, Week 4

CONLANG June 2002, Week 4

Subject:

Re: Sound changes in literate societies

From:

"Thomas R. Wier" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 25 Jun 2002 16:28:28 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Quoting Nik Taylor <[log in to unmask]>:

> Eli Ewing wrote:
> > 1. Other modern languages have been written for just as long, and often
> have
> > very coherent spelling systems.
>
> Well, for one thing, English spelling got standardized in the middle of
> the Great Vowel Shift, and therefore captured some spellings that
> reflected the shifted pronunciations, and others that had not yet been
> affected by the Shift.  Secondly, English has a stronger tendency to
> avoid changes in spelling and to preserve the original spelling of a
> foreign word, the pronunciation of which word often falls somewhere
> between the closest English-phonetic equivalent of the original
> pronunciation, and a spelling pronunciation based on the normal rules of
> English spelling.

When trying to explain complex social phenomena, I typically
shun invoking "culture" because it usually ends up being
tautological:  things happen because they do.  In this case,
I think it's a combination of cultural attitudes, and the fact
that England and France have had highly centralized administrations
for much longer than most of the rest of Europe.  In the case of
English, it is also well to note that it has the longest written
history of any vernacular language in Europe since the fall of
Rome.  These two facts together probably contribute to its strong
cultural conservatism.

> > 1) The spelling of words keeps people from making such dramatic sound
> shifts.
>
> Except for a few words, I doubt that would be a major influence, as
> one's pronunciation is largely set in early childhood, before reading is
> acquired.

Right.  Even most literate people are usually hardly aware of their
own linguistic behavior.  Most people only become conscious of their
speech when it is explicitly pointed out to them.

> > 2) The shifts occur, but rather than changing the pronunciation of
> > letters, people change the way they spell the word to reflect the shift.
> > and option 2 is possible, but unlikely because the society is too
> > literate.
>
> That could be.  A society with a high literacy rate might very well have
> a tendency towards greater orthographic conservativeness.

... probably not so much because of cultural attitudes, as the sheer
cost of changing over to an updated orthography.  This is often the
main argument advanced by opponents of English spelling reform because
the cost of changing over English spelling would be truly vast.

=====================================================================
Thomas Wier          "...koruphàs hetéras hetére:isi prosápto:n /
Dept. of Linguistics  mú:tho:n mè: teléein atrapòn mían..."
University of Chicago "To join together diverse peaks of thought /
1010 E. 59th Street   and not complete one road that has no turn"
Chicago, IL 60637     Empedocles, _On Nature_, on speculative thinkers

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