Linked by Eisel Mazard on Thu 14th Jun 2012 22:01 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes The average computer user might think that the number of languages their operating system supports is pretty long. OSX supports 22 languages, and Microsoft claims to support 96, but they're counting different regional dialects multiple times. But there are over 6000 languages, and though many of them are spoken by a dwindling few, there are some languages that are spoken by millions of people that are supported very poorly, if at all, by computer operating systems. The reason for the support being poor is that the people who speak those languages are poor, and are not good "markets." It's only because of the efforts of a few dedicated people that computing support for languages such as Burmese, Sinhalese, Pali, Cambodian, and Lao have been as good as they are, but the trends for the future are not good.
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International Phonetic Alphabet
by ozonehole on Fri 15th Jun 2012 02:38 UTC
Member since:

If all you want is write a language phonetically correct, there is no problem. You can use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA):

You can write English with the IPA, and ditto for Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, indeed every single language. It is far more phonetically accurate than the Roman alphabet, or Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, etc.

Of course, it is not traditional, and thus may offend the sensibilities of those who think that their traditions are being trampled by modern society. Another disadvantage is that only a small percentage of the world's population has even heard of the IPA, much less knows how to read it. Yet it is not difficult to learn. Study it for a few days or a week, and you've got it.

The vast majority of the world's 6000 or so languages have no written script, so the IPA is ideal for those. However, Christian missionaries and language committees from the UN and elsewhere do not seem to be interested in spreading the IPA - they push Romanization if no ready traditional script is available.

The main problem with Romanization is that with only 26 letters available, it cannot represent every sound in every language. Indeed, the Roman alphabet isn't well suited to English, because it only has five vowels. Thus, we are told in elementary school that English has five "short vowels" and five "long vowels" for a total of 10. In fact, there are 10 vowels in spoken English, and there is no such thing as a "short" or "long" vowel - it's a band-aid approach to the problem that Latin had five spoken vowels and English has 10. In the IPA, the 10 vowels have 10 different symbols.

I understand that people like their traditions, but I don't actually see much value in creating fonts for a traditional script that only 10 people in the world can read. If somebody wants to volunteer to do the work, then great, but don't be surprised if software developers don't jump in to enthusiastically support such efforts. Also don't be surprised if Third World governments don't come up with the funding for this - their scarce funds can probably be put to better use.

Edited 2012-06-15 02:45 UTC

Reply Score: 0

jal_ Member since:

Please, please, please, don't go ranting on a topic you seem to know very little about. So many errors in there, I don't have the time to point them out (ok, one: English has far more than 10 vowels).

Reply Parent Score: 6

Radio Member since:

Unlike metrication, any reform in spelling should preferably take place over a long period of time in order to prevent confusion (freight=frate; eight=ate?). It should also be completely coherent, and the invention of new letters (vide the pseudo-Icelandic known as ITA) or the assumption of many diacritical marks, such as bespatter the pages of modern Slavonic texts, should, so far as possible, be avoided.

It was suggested — by, among others, G. B. Shaw — that a convenient method of revision would involve the alteration or deletion of one letter, or associated group of letters, per year, thus giving the populace time to absorb the change.

For example, in Year 1, that useless letter 'c' would be dropped to be replased by either 'k' or 's', and likewise 'x' would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which 'c' would be retained would be in the 'ch' formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might well reform 'w' spelling, so that 'which' and 'one' would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish 'y', replasing it with 'i', and Iear 4 might fiks the 'g/j' anomali wonse and for all.

Jeneralli, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear, with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing the vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Ier 15 or sou, it wud fainali be posible tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez 'c', 'y' and 'x' — bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez — tu riplais 'ch', 'sh' and 'th' rispektivli.

Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers of orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld. Haweve, sins xe Wely, xe Airiy, and xe Skots du not spik Ingliy, xei wud hev to hev a speling siutd tu xer oun lengwij. Xei kud, haweve, orlweiz lern Ingliy az a sekond lengwij at skuul!

Reply Parent Score: 6

sorpigal Member since:

While this anecdote is funny, it is not a seriously useful suggestion. I recommend that anyone interested in English spelling reform consult his friendly, neighborhood Google and do some research. It's a fascinating topic with many possibilities but no real probabilities.

My personal conclusion is that you can't fix English orthography without making the result practically a different language and, even if you could, you won't get buy-in from enough people to do it by fiat. It must be an extremely slow iterative process prosecuted by a growing pool of interested individuals across a timeframe of generations, by which I mean that if we started today I think a majority of speakers could be using what is effectively a fully reformed system in 200 years, but it will be necessary for most people to remain familiar with current conventions for at least twice as long as that.

Reply Parent Score: 2

sorpigal Member since:

Depending on who you ask English has between 41 and 47 distinct sounds. It is easily possible to represent this set within the confines of the glyphs from the English alphabet (which, I will remind you, is not the same as the Latin one!) Many proposals have been made for how this might be accomplished.

IPA is not a practical answer to written communication. It is concerned with how things sound, not what they mean. Forcing pronunciation in to the script is a bad idea from a practicality standpoint and just doesn't work long-term, as far as we can tell. You say təˈmeɪtoʊ, I say təˈmeɪtə, but we both read "tomato" and this is good.

Incidentally, here's my current pet idea for overloading 26 letters: exploit a convention people already know and treat "h" (and only "h") as special. Any character followed by h assumes an alternate pronunciation and otherwise is always pronounced the same way. Thus your short A can be "a" and your long A can be "ah," just as "t" is distinct from "th." "Bat" would remain the same but "father" would change slightly to "fahdher.". It's still necessary to add more vowel characters, of course.

Reply Parent Score: 3