Phonetic orthographies

Gerard Meijssen gerardm at
Sat Nov 25 11:57:59 CET 2006

John Cowan schreef:
> Gerard Meijssen scripsit:
>> When the Chinese decided to move away from the traditional script, 
>> they came up with a new script, which is the simplified script. It 
>> is a different script because it is the /characters /themselves 
>> that were changed. This is different from a change in orthography, 
>> like the one that happened for the Dutch language in 2005, because 
>> here the arrangement of characters changed but the characters 
>> themselves stayed the same.
> That's a very artificial distinction.  When Russian removed some
> letters and added another, was that a change in script?  Clearly not.
Well, this is why this may be an education to me, but to me it would be 
a change in the script first and in the orthography second. In your 
Russian example it is clear that these go hand in hand. To me, I want to 
identify strings, text as belonging to a specific language, a specific 
orthography. This implies a script and it implies what characters are 
allowed for a language. By changing the permissable characters, you 
change the script constraints. By having different characters many words 
will be written differently by necessity. It is therefore not clear at 
all to me.
>> There are several ways of describing languages phonetically. The 
>> most relevant is IPA. 
> That depends entirely on your scholarly tradition; there are many
> languages for which the IPA representation is entirely *ir*relevant.
When it comes to linguistics, I do not represent a scholarly tradition, 
I am involved in the creation of an on-line dictionary and I am told 
that IPA is best as it is the one that can be used best for an 
international audience. I have been told that others expect an English 
understanding of what some characters sound like. These are unusable to 
me. So my hope is that for those languages where IPA representation is 
irrelevant, the system used is not biased to people who have a specific 
language background or that it is possible to convert this to IPA.

>> IPA has a specific set of characters. Each describes a particular 
>> sound well. The registration of an IPA notation is either done by 
>> having a good ear or by having software that does this for you.
> (Does such software really exist?  I doubt it.)
>> The ISO 15924 is about scripts. If IPA is not just Latin 
>> characters, I can imagine that there is an argument for having it 
>> considered a separate script. When this is the case however, I can 
>> imagine that this creates its own problems because an IPA 
>> character is then NOT a Latin character and they can then not be 
>> intermixed .. right ? 
> Not so.  There are characters that are both Hant and Hans.  Indeed,
> there are characters A, B, and C such that A is the simplified
> version of B, but B is the simplified version of C -- Hant users
> use B and C, Hans users use A and B.
When people discuss Hant and Hans, they are NOT talking about an 
orthography of one language. Chinese is not a language, it is a written 
system that is shared by people speaking many languages. Even the name 
of the script implies as much "Han". An orthography in my understanding 
relates much more to single languages. The standard Chinese characters 
that were in UNICODE in the first place, did not even cover all the 
characters needed to write all the languages that are implied when 
people talk about Chinese. Extra characters have been added for 
Cantonese in later versions of UNICODE.

I think that the ABC example explains that some characters have been 
reused in the creation of Hans. When there are many new characters to 
Hans, it means that the script had to be extended quite a lot. Making it 
again more of a change in script and less of one in orthography.


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