relevance of orthography

Dr R.H.P. Wright rhpwri at
Tue Sep 17 09:39:30 UTC 1996

In the last mail Larry Trask said:
> >> The OE spelling is, of course, entirely consistent with the cluster
> >> interpretation, but is hardly decisive.
> > *hardly decisive* is rather an understatement: 'completely
> > irrelevant' would be closer to the mark, in my view.
> Well, no.  I'm afraid I can't agree that the orthography established
> by native speakers is "completely irrelevant" to the phonological
> facts of a language.  If that were true, orthographies would be
> totally arbitrary, and they're clearly not.
Doesn't it depend how old the establishment of the standard
orthography is? We can presume that to some extent there is
a rationale behind the establishment of a new orthography
(and often that rationale is of a phonographic nature, but
not necessarily), so we can make some rough deductions from
spellings found at such a time of reform; but once the orthography
has become standardized in itself, later generations tend to perceive
their task in writing as achieving the standardized spellings of words
(in a logographic manner) rather than achieving a written form
close to a phonetic transcription. Nobody, unfortunately,
writes with the aim of helping philologists of a thousand
years later.  -  RW

More information about the Histling mailing list