Adding letters to the alphabet
What do you think about the idea of adding some letters to the alphabet?
Suppose we added a letter for each of the phonemes in the English Language. Then we could get rid of all the diagraphs and trigraphs. Suppose we added the letters ''thorn'', ''eth'', ''ash'', ''schwa'' and ''eng''. Suppose we added the letter that looks like a barred ''u'' for the ''oo'' sound in ''wood'' and ''cook''
Here's an example of such an alphabet,
þ-think, thin, bath
ð-then, this, that
æ-fat, cat, rat, bat
ə-arrest, away, again, microphnoe, soda
Eng-sing, thing, sang, sung, hung, think, stink, finger
Barred ''u'' letter - wood, put, cook, good, took, foot, would, stood, hood
How would it be if we extended the alphabet? English has more sounds in it than letters.
It's a waste of time. Pronunciation of any language drifts constantly. You'd have to change the spelling of all words every few years to keep the spelling phonetic. It's easier to leave the spelling alone and use it as a guide to limit the drift of pronunciation. With a literate population the drift in pronunciation over time can be greatly reduced by a fixed orthography.
There already is a truly phonetic alphabet, the IPA. However, to actually make it work, you have to spell words differently depending on the accent of the speaker, her specific diction at any given moment, and so on--transcriptions are never fixed, even in the case of broad or phonemic transcriptions. It's great for studying phonology, but it could never replace conventional orthographic transcription with a fixed alphabet.
Things could be worse: in some languages, there's no relationship at all between written forms and pronunciation.
Spanish is exactly the opposite. There are too much letters that sound alike (b/v, c/s/z in America, g (before e,i) / j, etc.).
The cause is basically the same, though: pronunciation constantly changes, because speech is ephemeral, whereas the permanence of the written word means that it changes much more slowly. So, inevitably, pronunciation gets out of synchronization with the written language. At least Spanish is still reasonably phonetic. I seem to recall that Finnish is also very close to being phonetic. And artificial languages such as Esperanto are pretty much phonetic as well, at least for now.
The way something is written can only be read aloud ONE WAY in Spanish. Spanish is very strict in that sense. Iit is very phonetic in that particular sense. But, like Xatufan has pointed out, the reverse of "writing" something that is spoken, that can be done (spelled) in several ways because there are consonants that share a "unique" phoneme. (i.e. c,z,s). So, Spanish isn't completely phonetic, at least when it comes to spelling. But pronouncing, yes.
There would be a big problem with extending the alphabet and adding a letter for each sound though. The problem is that there are some phonmes that are used by some English speakers but not others.
An example is the consonant sound in ''wine'' vs. the consonant sound in ''whine''. For most English speakers they are the same phoneme and pronounce both of those words the same but some speakers distinguish those two words pronouncing ''whine'' with a voiceless ''w'' sounf as opposed to voiced. So, if the alphabet were extending and we added a letter for each sound, should a letter be added for the voiceless ''w'' sound that some people use in ''whine'' to distinguish it from ''wine'' or should that distinction be ignored in extending the alphabet.
A problem with extending the alphabet is that there are some phonemic distinctions made in some accents but not others. Here is a list of words that are pronounced the same by some people but different by others by phonemic distinction,
marry, merry, Mary
There are many others too. In some accents ''hurry'' and ''furry'' rhyme but in other accents they don't. In some accents ''bad'' and ''lad'' rhyme but in other accents they don't. Some people from Wales use a voiceless ''l'' sound in Welsh borrowed ''ll'' words and names such as ''Llwyd'' distinct from the ''l'' sound in ''light''
So, then if the alphabet were extended and a new letter was added for each sound in the English language then how should it deal with phonemic distinctions made in some accents but not others.
"The way something is written can only be read aloud ONE WAY in Spanish."
Aren't there dialectical differences in pronunciation between, for example, Spanish spoken in Cuba and that in Paraguay?
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Although I dislike even mild attempts at spelling reform, I wouldn't mind adopting eth and thorn into English spelling. Why should the Icelanders have all the fun of using these letters?
Also, some Scots make a distinction when it comes to past tenses/participles of words that end in a vowel sound to where ''tied'' and ''tide'', and ''allowed'' and ''aloud'', and ''staid'' and ''stayed'', and ''brood'' and ''brewed'' are pronounced differently. If the alphabet were extended to include in letter for each phoneme in the English language, should it include a letter for past tenses/participles that end in a vowel sound or should that distinction be ignored.
Here's some more word-pairs of phonemic distinctions made in some accents but not others.
lead (the metal), led
read (past tense of read), red
bleu (cheese), blew
Other distinctions made in some accents but not others,
SYLLABIC ''N'' VS. (SCHWA) FOLLOWED BY [N]
In some accents ''bitten'' and ''mitten'' rhyme and in others they don't.
SYLLABIC ''M'' VS. (SCHWA) FOLLOWED BY [M]
In some accents the ''m'' in ''prism'' and the ''om'' in ''blossom'' are pronounced the same but in other accents they're pronounced differently.
In some accents ''dial'' and ''tile'' rhyme but in other accents they don't.
In some accents ''boil'' and ''loyal'' rhyme but in other accents they don't.
In some accents ''owl'' and ''towel'' rhyme but in other accents they don't.
In some accents ''coir'' and ''foyer'' rhyme but in other accents they don't.
SYLLABIC ''L'' VS. (SCHWA) FOLLOWED BY [l]
In some accents ''metal'' and ''mettle'' are pronounced the same but in other accents they're pronounced differently.
SYLLABIC ''R'' VS. (SCHWA) FOLLOWED BY [r]
In some accents ''meter'' and ''metre'' are pronounced the same but in other accents they're pronounced differently.
Other optional sounds listed in the dictionary. Foreign sounds in English borrowed words,
The nasal vowel in ''grand prix'' and ''contretemps''.
The ''a'' sound in ''patte'' distinct from the ''a'' sound in ''pat'' and the ''a'' sound in ''father''.
The ''oeu'' sound in ''hors doeuvre'' different from the [e:(r)] sound in ''burn''.
So, the question would be if we were adding letters for all the sounds in the English language, What about phonemic distinctions made in some accents but not others.
I think that English speakers make too much of a big deal when it comes to their spelling and they always complain that their language is not phonetic. Hardly any language is completely phonetic and as Mxsmanic said: "Things could be worse: in some languages, there's no relationship at all between written forms and pronunciation." But if you study spelling and grammar of your language seriously enough, there shouldn't be any problems.
Personally, as a speaker of English from the moment I graduated from baby gurgling, I have never at any time complained about this wonderful language. As I have said before in this forum, I love all its non phonetic and inconsistent spellings and pronunciations. It's irregularities are a joy and keep those of us with sufficient interest and enthusiasm on our toes. Anybody learning English assiduously will easily get accustomed to all its vagaries. Compared with those languages which have all those declensions, inflections etc etc....English is a doddle. What makes any language even more interesting is the wide variety of accents and dialects common to every tongue. English is no exception there, and this tiny island (along with all the tinier constituent islands) floating just off the coast of Continental Europe have a myriad of these. I enjoy them all..except one. It is anathema to me for reasons I cannot explain. I won't say which one it is, but as far as I know I don't think there is anyone regular to this forum who hails from the afflicted area of England... :-)
The problem with English spelling is its lack of consistency, as Damian pointed out. The average Joe who doesn't work in a pen pushing capacity will almost always have trouble coming to terms with its vagaries, and like it or not, not everyone is interested in linguistics (the motive behind the first post). It doesn't make use of its alphabet for pictographs as in Chinese, so there has to be some sort of relationship between the alphabet and its phonetic use.
As far as I know, a good job has been done of German and Spanish orthography. Even French spelling, which looks peculiar and nonphonetic in many places, still has a strong, relative consistency, providing guidelines for foreigners/learners to follow its pronunciation systematically; no such thing in English. Consider also the absence of stress marks and the unrepresented schwa in English.
If there are so many different ways of pronouncing everything, why is there almost always only one pronunciation for each word given in my dictionaries?
As I see it, most inconsistencies in English ortography arise when representing vowels, and vowel length (e.g. in most dialects there is the same /ai/ sound in "like", "night" and "shy", and in "root" and "soot" the same letter combination stands for a long
and a short vowel). The present-day spelling would have reflected quite appropriately the pronunciation before the Great Vowel Shift which took place around the turn of the 15th and 16th century (a remarkably fast process which has not been fully explained until now, by the way). On the other hand, I think English spelling is easier than that of Irish or Scots Gaelic, for example, which has an even more complicated relationship to pronunciation (it took me quite long to figure out its logic, and I'm still not sure if I can read some Gaelic words correctly - I apologise to speakers of Gaelic if I'm wrong about this).
As for representing the schwa, there have been proposals to drop it in writing entirely whenever it is present (thus "singing" would become "singng"), but I feel this would be awkward. So I guess a diacritic would come in handy there, but this practice is completely foreign to English ortography. By the way, the schwa is a phenomenon on the phonetic and not on phonological level: it is not a phoneme which can create contrast between two words, but a sound charcteristic to unstressed syllables, therefore its occurrence is predictable. However, ortography in general tends to represent phonemes. I hope you see what I mean.
Thank you! We are talking about difficulties of spelling, aren't we? :-)