The Dragons of Grammar are as amenable as anyone to RT’s history essays, but of late they feel a bit slighted in RT’s writing schedule (RT reminds them that, not so long ago, they were sunning themselves lazily on the rocks outside their caves). Still, RT feels obliged to add a post on spelling and alphabet reform, a thread he will admit he has neglected of late. So here are two systems that RT thinks could help us develop a simpler, kinder spelling.
1) Unifon. Designed by Dr. John R. Malone in the 1950s, the original market that the script was designed for disappeared, and gradually the modified alphabet has drifted off the public’s radar.
Here are the pro considerations for Unifon
a) it’s clearly based on the current English alphabet.
b) it visually relates each new letter to the traditional English letter that represents its sound.
c) it’s easy to learn; in 1960, Dr. Margaret S. Ratz used Unifon to teach three children how to read “in 17 hours with cookies and milk.”
Here’s the con:
a) Unifon would require the modification of keyboards and public signage
Here is the Unifon Alphabet, weighing in at 40 letters:
- Letters irrelevant to pronunciation. This rule deletes most silent letters, except when these letters (such as “magic e“) help indicate pronunciation. Omitting or including the wrong silent letters are common errors. Examples: peace → pece, except → exept, plaque → plaq, blood → blod, pitch → pich.
- Cutting unstressed vowels. English unstressed syllables are usually pronounced with the vowel schwa /ə/, which has no standard spelling, but can be represented by any vowel letter. Writing the wrong letter in these syllables is a common error, for example, seperate for separate. Cut Spelling eliminates these vowel letters completely before approximants (/l/ and /r/) and nasals (/m/, /n/, and /ŋ/). In addition, some vowel letters are dropped in suffixes, reducing the confusion between -able and -ible. Examples: symbol → symbl, victim → victm, lemon → lemn, glamour/glamor → glamr, permanent → permnnt, waited → waitd, churches → churchs, warmest → warmst,edible → edbl.
- Simplifying doubled consonants. This rule helps with another of the most common spelling errors: failing to double letters (accommodate and committee are often misspelled) or introducing erroneously doubled letters. Cut Spelling does not eliminate all doubled letters: in some words (especially two-syllable words) the doubled consonant letter is needed to differentiate from another differently pronounced word (e.g., holly and holy). Examples: innate → inate, spell → spel.
Here is a sample sentence written with Cut Spelling:
Th Space Race was th competition between th United States and th Soviet Union, rufly from 1957 to 1975. It involvd th efrts by each of these nations to explor outr space with satlites, to be th 1st to send there a human being and to send mand and unmand missions on th Moon with a safe return of th humans to Erth.
1) Introduces no new letters into the alphabet
2) Requires no modification of current keyboards or pubic signage
3) Reduces the length of words by 8-15%.
1) Doesn’t follow the one-letter, one-sound principle.
If RT had to hazard a guess as to which of these two reforms is likelier to be implemented, he would vote for Cut Spelling. On the other hand, he’s sure that the better long-term reform would be Unifon. The simplest reform might be to gradually introduce Unifon. RT
(and incidentally, the Dragons of Grammar have let RT know they like this post)
RT can’t get out of this one: some time ago, he promised to examine Welsh as an example of a minority language.
Who needs to know Welsh? RT recalls a story concerning J.R.R. Tolkien: When Tolkien was a boy, in the 7-to-8-year-old range, he and his mother were walking near some Welsh coal-cars. JRRT looked up at the Welsh writing on the cars and asked his mother what language was written on the cars. When told that it was Welsh, he responded that he wanted to learn the language. Anyone who has admired the beauty of JRRT’s elven languages has Welsh (along with Finnish) to thank for that beauty. (As RT recalls, Sindarin is based on Welsh, Quenya, on Finnish.)
On a more mundane level, our question might be: why should the Welsh bother to speak their own language? And even more to the point: why should English speakers be burdened with the task of learning Welsh?
RT has already discussed the reasons that a community might want to learn its indigenous language again. As to the second question, one benefit lies in bilingualism, especially when children live in a bilingual environment. Some studies indicate that bi- or multilingual individuals enjoy increased cognitive function: their brains are nimbler, better able to handle ambiguities, and even demonstrate greater resistance to Alzheimer’s. It might even be, RT suspects, that bilingual persons are likelier to become poets.
Finally, RT suspects, language is a concession to the genius of a place, to its history, achievements, and sufferings. Learning a language requires a significant commitment of time and energy, and it supposes the creation of friendships, even across cultural and personal barriers.
On the other hand, place can be a tricky thing to define. Wales is a part of the United Kingdom, the British Islands, Europe, and the world. We turn one face to the tangible realities of our daily routine, another to the larger world of humanity. If English speakers need to learn Welsh, Welsh speakers need to know English. And RT, an American, is uneasily aware of how this reality plays out in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, which has its deep roots in Shawnee culture. When we make the invisible visible, when we welcome the ghosts of our past back as real people, we become an integral part of the world. RT
(p.s.: RT is pretty sure he will be posting on this topic again.)
Map: Percentages of Welsh speakers in the principal areas of Wales. (Based on the GFDL Image:WalesNumbered.png.) Based on 2001 census data. Author: QuartierLatin1968. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Attribution-Share Alike Unported.
Photo: Welsh Sign in Wrexham; Author: Snow storm in Eastern Asia. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
The Dragons of Grammar are willing, if tempted with Etruscan Salamis and other treats, to admit that they have been somewhat remiss since the coronation of Queen Margot and the Queen’s subsequent visits to her new realm: RT suspects that they have been lazing in the summer sun, glad of the opportunity to forget about the perplexities and passionate battles occasioned by their love of language. But the responsibilities inherent in their choice of a royal form of government cannot be shirked forever: the Queen has been reminding them of their duty to improve dragon-human relations, and how better to do that than help humans gain a better grasp of the language they use? And after all, they did choose one of them to occupy the draconien throne.
For his part, RT, who will stipulate to a certain (current) lack of interest in the study of languages, will accept any help he can get in this matter. But he is also happy to add that speech is an intensely personal and even intimate activity in humans, involving as it does an effort that starts in our lungs and makes it way up into (as can be seen from the diagram) a rather intricate vocal apparatus. Dragonish, however, is a more remote and formal affair, considering the large size of dragons, their propensity to argue and spew verbal-fire at each other, and whatnot.
But on with the matter at hand, which happens to be the points of articulation. Doing his best to simplify matters, RT will say that a point of articulation is the place in the vocal tract where we obstruct the flow of air out of the lungs in order to produce a consonant. RT at this juncture will only add that the glossary below decodes linguistic nomenclature.
Here is the list of the 18 points, with a brief translation of each term:
- Exo-labial (outer part of lip)
- Endo-labial (inner part of lip)
- Dental (teeth)
- Alveolar (front part of alveolar ridge)
- Post-alveolar (rear part of alveolar ridge & slightly behind it)
- Pre-palatal (front part of hard palate that arches upward)
- Palatal (hard palate)
- Velar (soft palate)
- Uvular (a.k.a. Post-velar; uvula)
- Pharyngeal (pharyngeal wall)
- Glottal (a.k.a. Laryngeal; vocal folds)
- Epiglottal (epiglottis)
- Radical (tongue root)
- Postero-dorsal (back of tongue body)
- Antero-dorsal (front of tongue body)
- Laminal (tongue blade)
- Apical (apex or tongue tip)
- Sub-laminal (a.k.a. Sub-apical; underside of tongue)
and after this post, RT is feeling a bit more dragonish & inspired to post on grammar again!
Diagram: Sagittal Section w/ Points of Articulation. Sagittal section image based on Minifie et al. (1973); articulation places are from Catford (1977). Author: Ishwar; svg by Rohieb. WikiCmns; CC 2.5 Generic.
Yes, the DoGs have decided to honor one of our own, Ms. Margo Roby, publisher of WordGathering, a simply amazing blog about poetry resources. That’s right, Ms. Roby has been chosen for no less an honor than to be crowned Queen of the Dragons of Grammar for a year!!!
But, ahhemm, the DoGs never were the most organized souls, and some months have slipped by while they compared notes on various teas, cakes, and sandwiches; they extend their heartfelt apologies to Ms. Roby and hope that the thought of a lovely spring coronation appeals…
And in case readers might imagine that being Queen of the DoGs is a mere sinecure, RT is here to remind them that the Queen has many serious responsibilities, not least of which is helping to keep her subjects on friendly terms with each other and keeping the number of annual grammatical issues to a minimum…no lightweight job this!
But now, onto the coronation!
Oh delectation of delectations! Our curtain opens on the following grand scene:
1) The Big Dragon is presiding on his Throne of Dragonish Imperiosity, attired in his finest rhinestone jacket.
2) Around the BD are seated the Dragons of Grammar themselves: Morphology, the Chocoholic Dragon (but everyone calls her Morfilene); Syntax, the Aviator Dragon, (better known as Capt. Sopwith); Phonology, the Absent-Minded Dragon (goes by Prof. GrumpyChuckle); Phonetics, the Dragon with a Tape-Recorder (also known as Ranger Eagle-Ear); Semantics, the Acupuncturist (Dr. Silverneedle); and Pragmatics, the Fuzzy Dragon (the one and only Ms. CoolStuff).
3) And, please note, the audience is graced by many a writing-blog notable, among them aubrey, Simon H. Lilly, N. Filbert, Calmgrove, and Bealtaine Cottage. The DoGs extend their heartfelt thanks for attending!
4) On either side of the DoGs are arranged the afternoon’s splendid comestibles: to the right, a banquet table crammed with scones, croissants, Bref Double cucumber sandwiches, … and, yes, Morfilene’s world-famous Clerihew bon-bons in all their glory; to the left, another table groaning under the weight of teapots; some of the most renowned of these beverages include 13–trochee tea from the legendary Island of Yodeling Bloggers; 6-flame-thrower tea from the land of Friendly Ghazals; and, of course, 17-tornada tea from the sunny Island of Sestinas.
5) All of these goodies come from a certain renowned dragon caterer, Lindarella, who labored unceasingly at the kitchen hearth for a very demanding clientele–until one day she heard Silverneedle and Morfilene talking about the Dragonnet Liberation Movement, which aims to empower all dragons of the female persuasion to acknowledge their manifold talents and use them to create a better quality of life for themselves and Dragondom generally. She joined the movement and has been offering spectacular food ever since.
To provide a suitable musical accompaniment, the world-famous bard, Willozoom Dragonspeare, is gliding gently back and forth overhead, lute in claws, singing his renowned sonnets: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s jumpsy? Thou art more artistical and funsy…”
6) And now the action begins, with Ms. Roby herself appearing in a showstopping sapphire-blue gown sewn with dragonnet scales donated by younger members of the species expressly for the coronation; Margo herself would have preferred something a little more subdued, but DoG etiquette is not to be slighted!
Ms. Roby walks down the red-velvet carpet and takes her place opposite the Big Dragon himself. The BD rises, bows deeply to the Queen-designate, and orders the Ceremonial Pouring of the First Cup; eager dragon pages rush up, place a spotless Moon-Dragon porcelain cup before Margo and fill it with a fragrant Tanaga Vision brew. Ms. Margot sips from the tea and is instantly transported, in the manner of those who heard the singing of the Birds of Rhiannon, to a poetic vision of the world. Ms. Coolstuff, growing impatient, flings the door open much too soon, and Ms. Roby–now Queen Margo!!!–returns to the present. All present hail her: “Long May the Queen of the Dragons of Grammar reign!”
What, but can this be possible??!!?? The DoGs are actually behaving themselves! No making faces, no food fights, no under-the-breath comments…an auspicious sign without doubt! The Coronation tea proceeds with aplomb, even a certain dignity, and before we know it, all present have offered their thanks and left for their disparate homes. RT is boggled, then realizes that, as usual, the DoGs know best, and have selected a worthy Queen for themselves.
Photo: Silver teapot made by Nathaniel Hurd, c. 1755-60. Author: Wmpearl. Cleveland Museum of Art. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Spring is a bare three weeks away–o glorious vernal equinox, RT’s favorite moment of the year. Light, Hyperion’s free food, pours down on the frozen land, setting many a dragon to silly smiles, giggling, and contemplation of the season’s delightful prospects.
The Dragons of Grammar have, true to their nature, taken note. They have searched their beloved Dragonish, both High and Heroic, for the best means to convey the feeling of the moment; and lo! they have discovered that something called (what else?) grammatical mood is a chief conveyance of the many feelings that beings as intense as dragons experience.
One way to think of grammatical mood is as the speaker’s understanding of the statement he or she is about to make. The statement could be plain fact (indicative), a question (interrogatory), a command (imperative), and so forth. GM allows the speaker to indicate this distinction via inflection of the verb. Here are some examples from English: 1. “John is eating the apple.” (indicative); 2. “Is John eating the apple?” (interrogatory); 3. “John, eat the apple!” (imperative). English, which retains few inflections, usually indicates mood through word order (or syntax). But of course there are exceptions: “John would eat the apple if he were hungry.” (conditional mood–an action dependent on a circumstance).
Other common moods are the subjunctive (used to express wishes, judgments, and opinions) and the optative (used to express a wish or hope). But Nenets, (a language spoken in northern Russia) has up to 16 moods.
But now back to Dragonish, High and Heroic. The DoGs have discovered that the Heroic form of the language has 30 moods, but the High dialect beats it out at 31. What is the extra mood? The non-solitary dragons (that is, the typical ones) have a mood called “Joyful Spring Dance,” which indicates that the listener is being invited to the Great Spring Dance and Joyful Noise festival and that of course he or she must dance with the speaker (and of course in a joyful manner). The solitaries say “humph!” to that, but then they do tend to be grumpy; they need a good swig of RT’s Fired-Up Cider, a sure tonic for just about anything, to cure that… RT
Painting: Le Printemps, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, WikiCmns, Public Domain.
Since posting on Scottish Gaelic yesterday, RT has run into some interesting facts about that country’s languages. The divide is not, as RT had imagined, a neat one between English and Gaelic. Instead, Scotland has at least two English varieties, one of which, Scots, may count as a separate language. Scottish Gaelic, moreover, is a descendant of Old Irish (though this view has been recently contested).
To help sort out the phenomenon of languages that blend into one another, RT here gives a definition of language (via Wikipedia): Language is the human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, and a language is any specific example of such a system.
RT would like to emphasize the word “complex.” Here is where the subtlety and possibility for slight variations arises. Every language has a standard form, but variants–tied to location and social position–are common. Groups form within groups, and cultures are rarely monoliths.
What is especially interesting in the case of Scotland is the small number of speakers involved–today, the country’s population stands at 5.3 million, of which 53,000 speak Scottish Gaelic and more than a million speak Scots, at least as a second language. Just about everyone understands Scottish English, which shades off into standard English.
What a diversity of language among a relatively small number of speakers! Subsequent posts will search for reasons behind this linguistic richness.
Poster: UNESCO International Mother Language Day. WikiCmns. Public Domain.
Dragons are a litigious sort. What with the effort to improve inter-species relations and reduce general carnage, our scaled friends have gone overboard on the peaceful resolution of problems. Even the Big Dragon has taken a hand, in his peruke and gown, issuing opinions on everything from the best way to pickle Etruscan salamis to who has the right to land on his meticulously maintained lawns.
As usual, the Dragons of Grammar have gotten themselves involved in the matter. It turns out that Dragonish, both High and Heroic, has something called grammatical Evidentiality, which helps listeners evaluate the truthfulness of statements. The DoGs are trying to refine and perfect the system…
People have always been expected to sort out the truthfulness of what they’re being told, and there are many indirect ways of judging this, e.g., through body language. But some spoken languages require their speakers to indicate what kind of information their statements are based on. Evidentiality enables them to do this.
One kind of evidentiality distinguishes between information that the speaker is certain of and information the speaker cannot absolutely vouch for. For instance, “He has agreed to the plan” as opposed to “As far as I know, he has agreed to the plan.” In languages that specify evidentiality, the information is indicated by inflection.
The other kind of evidentiality is more precise, reporting the source of information. It makes such distinctions as witness vs. nonwitness; first- vs. second- vs. thirdhand; inferential; and assumed. Languages that use this system include Shipibo and Kayasha.
RT would also like to note that dragons, ever dragonish, indicate epistemic modality in their languages–that is, Dragonish requires its speakers to pass judgement on the truthfulness of what he or she is saying. EM is a recent addition to the languages, added at the behest of the DoGs (who, for the sake of privacy, also added a “Why are you asking?” option to evidentiality in Dragonish.)
All languages include some means of marking evidentiality; in English, phrases (“as far as I can see”) or adverbials (“reportedly”) are used. After all, this grammatical category conveys information on what could be viewed as the essence of language–the reliability of information that is being reported. That English does not give us a direct means of conveying this should wake us up to the ways that our language does let listeners know whether they’re hearing the plain truth or balderdash.
Painting: A Dragon from the Album of Animals, Hua Yan; WikiCmns; Public Domain.