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2011 LSA Orthography Symposium

Breaking Rules for Orthography Development

Author  Munro, Pamela
  University of California, Los Angeles

Orthographies should follow the one symbol, one sound rule — generally speaking....

Tlacolula Valley Zapotec has a vowel system with as many as 20 tone/phonation variants of each vowel quality. In teaching, we use the accurate "academic" orthography only for pronunciation guides, otherwise writing vowels in a "minimalist" system, e.g., with all versions of [a] written as a. This works for learners, and speakers approve.

In Gabrielino/Tongva/Fernandeño, unstressed non-low vowels neutralize to mid. Morphophonemic stress shifts reveal some mid vowels as underlyingly high, so writing them as high even when unstressed simplifies the learner's task. New readers may pronounce unstressed i as [i] rather than [e] — but if the orthography facilitates learning, this isn't a serious problem.

In Zapotec, we underwrite contrasts; in Tongva, we write contrasts that aren't real. Both approaches help learners and are more acceptable to speech communities, so any theoretical cost is probably justified..

Downloads  Breaking Rules for Orthography Development - contains sound files (PPT) 8424 KB, 47 slides