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SIL Electronic Working Papers 2008-001

Factors in designing effective orthographies for unwritten languages

Authors  Cahill, Michael
Karan, Elke
Abstract 

Recent interest in preserving endangered languages has led to a corresponding interest in orthographies for such languages. This paper, based on SIL’s decades-long corporate experience as well as literature studies, summarizes the major factors which must be considered when planning an orthography. Issues of acceptability and usability must be balanced with the obvious prerequisite of linguistic soundness. The linguistic issues include the choice of graphemes (”letters of the alphabet”), decisions on word breaks, level of phonological representation, representation of suprasegmentals such as tone, etc. However, sociolinguistic and other political factors (e.g. government policies, varied dialects, language attitudes, and the influence of other orthographies) often take precedence over a linguistically ideal orthography. Finally, the practical issue of local font availability must be addressed. The development of an effective orthography is thus of greater complexity than commonly conceived.

  Factors in designing effective orthographies for unwritten languages
Published  2008
Languages  Chin, Daai [dao]
Konni [kma]
Countries  Ghana
Myanmar
Subjects  Literacy
Orthography
Keywords  orthography; Orthography