Is spelling important in your country?

  • AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Greek is phonetic enough, particularly if we compare it to other languages such as English, French, Russian
    The great thing about Greek is that word stress is always marked. Russians should introduce that, too.

    let alone Celtic languages
    If you mean Gaelic (Irish and Scottish), yes, it can give you headaches (e.g. Scottish Gaelic "leabhraichean" = books).
    Welsh, however, has a totally different spelling system which is quite "phonetic" and easy to learn.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    There's also a practical issue. If we decided now in 2021 to adopt a phonemic spelling we would have to learn two systems instead of one: the "old" one to process all texts written until 2021 plus the new one. If a change had been made 150/200 years ago things would have been easier because we would not have the incredible amount of information that we have now.

    That does of course apply to any language which is not written totally phonemically, though the problem would be more acute with some languages than others. Introducing a one-to-one correspondence between phoneme and grapheme in Spanish or Italian and you would still have something that looked liked Spanish or Italian. Do it in English or French and the difference would be great. The old system would still have to be mastered to have access to the huge corpus of text in the old system. The time spent learning to read would be increased. Apart from that, a phonemic writing system can only ever represent one variety of a language - and perhaps one that no one actually speaks even if it can be uttered.

    The fact remains though that, ignoring those with neurological disorders, most people faced with deep orthographies who are educated have a more than satisfactory mastery of spelling. Few write no, dun or wot instead of know, done or what. It is though the case that you only have to make the odd mistake to be thought of (and indeed for many to think of themselves as) bad spellers. If you get the spelling of accommodation wrong it is not the end of the world.
     

    cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Moderator note: The discussion about Italian spelling has been moved here. Please, everyone, remember to stay on topic and to open a new thread whenever you feel like discussing a different topic even if it's really to the one of this thread.

    Thank you all :)
    Cherine
     

    Linnets

    Senior Member
    Another possibility for Modern Greek would be to leave current spelling unaltered but introduce an official Romanization (phonetic) scheme, i.e. ISO 843:1997 Type 2. A bit like pīnyīn for Chinese.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Fortunately, in Russian textbooks for foreign students the word stress is almost always marked. ;) Apart from that, I still think Russian is not that phonetic.

    In Russian, if you know (a) where the stress comes (b) the rules for vowel reduction and mutual consonant influences and (c) the relatively few exceptions, you can more or less pronounce any word you see. Correctly writing a word you hear is not so easy. What can be said though is that the system is nowhere near as complex as that for English.
     

    Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    While I have joked about it in some previous posts, I must say I'd always choose a more complicated but etymological spelling over a phonemic one, unless the language had very little variation. Otherwise you end up choosing an A variety of the language over the others.

    This is why I am all for certain changes but not a radical reform in most languages, provided that their well-established spelling makes a certain sense.
     

    Terio

    Senior Member
    Français (Québec)
    The French spoken in Canada is pretty different from standard French, at least at a familiar level. So, when you begin school, you are taught normative French grammar and orthography.

    Il a formal text, you have to respect both standard grammar and orthography. Spelling mistakes are very badly judged.

    French spelling is pretty puzzling. There are many rules and many exceptions. There are rules based on prononication, ethymology, analogy (with words of the same family) and grammar.

    Spelling reforms generally failed. There was one adopted in the nineties. It is not really respected. Some simplified spellings are now tolerated. To me, it just make things more difficult. I think the changes are so marginal that it is not worth the effort. (Now, we can write ile instead of île and portemonnaie instead of porte-monnaie : big deal !).

    In French any radical change is impossible. Any superficial change is useless. I think we could abolish ethymological letters (ph, th, ch, y) and many unpronounced double consonnants (consone instead of consonne, for example). It will not happen in a predictable future. Anyway, computers make things much easier.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    If I could change one thing about French spelling, it would be that the "an" vowel should always be written "an" and never "en". Same with unstressed "an" and "en" in English: if it sounds like a schwa, just spell it with an a.

    French and English spelling might look hard, but you just have to read it a lot and you will just get used to all irregularities. In Dutch, we have the term woordbeeld (word image): you learn to read by recognizing words, not by recognizing individual phonemes. So it doesn't matter that much if words have silent letters and so on, woordbeeld will help you to memorize it automatically.

    However, woordbeeld doesn’t help you at all with long lists of words with -ant, -ent, -ancy, -ency etc. These endings sound the same and look almost the same.

    Woordbeeld also doesn't help with grammar rules such as verb endings. Luckily grammar rules like that are mostly regular. Sometimes woordbeeld even makes grammar harder.

    Dutch verb endings are very consistent and logical, but people make mistakes specificallt due to woordbeeld. You write "Het is gebeurd" (It has happened) with a D because it is a past participle that ends with a voiced consonant. You write "Het gebeurt" (I happens) with a T because 3rd person singular always gets a T. However, due to woordbeeld, many (most?) native Dutch speakers will be tempted to write "Het gebeurd" because the past participle gebeurd is much more common than present tense gebeurt. Of course, trained writers don't make mistakes like that, but the temptation is still there.
     
    Another possibility for Modern Greek would be to leave current spelling unaltered but introduce an official Romanization (phonetic) scheme, i.e. ISO 843:1997 Type 2. A bit like pīnyīn for Chinese.
    Yes, that would work, one shouldn't be forced to endure the solecisms of Gkekas for Γκέκας or Antetokounmpo for Αντετοκούνμπο
     

    AquisM

    Senior Member
    English - mostly BrE, HK Cantonese
    Spelling is very important in Chinese, especially due to the fact that our script does not reflect pronunciation, so it might not always be clear what is originally meant. While minor mistakes (e.g., an extra stroke in the character or accidentally using another character that has the same pronunciation) may be decipherable, it's not guaranteed. Tolerance towards spelling mistakes depends on the formality of the situation; mistakes in a CV are likely to make you seem uneducated or careless, for example.

    However, I do occasionally see serious spelling mistakes even in the news or on official documents, and it pains me. Also, due to there being two standards (simplified and traditional characters), it's quite common to see spelling mistakes on the Internet due to users of one standard being unfamiliar with the other and imperfect machine conversion between the two, which I personally find annoying.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Me too.
    It's very unlikely to see well educated people who can't spell, at least in their own native language.

    Well-educated people will have read and written more than the less well educated and therefore have more of a chance of getting things right. Literacy is an overrated skill. Excessive education can lead to a stultified mind, a withered imagination and thinking set in tramlines.

    Some years ago someone (I think he probably did not approve of IQ tests) devised a different set of tests for schoolchildren. One of the questions was: What can you use to put a house plant in? The children in expensive private schools tended to give answers like "a flower pot holder", while the children in schools on sink estates came up with all sorts of objects about the house which could be used.
     
    Well-educated people will have read and written more than the less well educated and therefore have more of a chance of getting things right.
    Definitely.
    As far as Italian is concerned, people who have good pronunciation can also spell well, because Italian orthography is considered transparent/shallow ( A shallow or transparent orthography is one that is highly regular in its sound-symbol correspondences). Again, well educated people speak well.
     

    anahiseri

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain) and German (Germany)
    you can't give one answer to the question, it depends very much on the language. A lot of languages are spelled phonetically or almost so. Then spelling is easy and it even if it is considered important, it is treated differently. Phonetical spelling: Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, Malay/Indonesian . . . I don't mean that there is a one-to-one correspondence between pronunciatio and writing, but there are rules that solve 90% or more.
     

    Terio

    Senior Member
    Français (Québec)
    It is often said that French spelling, with all its subtle complications, was aimed to promote social segregation between an elite and the lower classes. It was another obstacle to social promotion. Obviously, the French revolution did not change that. The bourgeoisie replaced the aristocracy as a dominant class, but did nothing to make spelling more accessible. All major reform projects failed.
     

    anahiseri

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain) and German (Germany)
    I don't think that French spelling is worse (I mean more irregular or difficult) than English (though grammar definitely is). But then, in France good spelling is held in high esteem. There are spelling competitions people watch on TV as enthusiastically (this word I had to look up) as Britons watch football.
    In Spain, people who make spelling mistakes have had little schooling or don't read much. There are some spelling rules for Spanish, but you don't need to study them because it's easy to remember the word image, as Red Arrow says. And the rules are few because Spanish is spelt almost phonetically.
    German spelling underwent a reform a few years ago. I don't think it was really necessary, but well, it didn't hurt either.
    As another poster said, if a language is very un-phonetic, like English, on the one hand you might wish it was simplified, but then on the other hand, as he/she argued, this would pose a lot of problems because it would change so radically.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    you can't give one answer to the question, it depends very much on the language. A lot of languages are spelled phonetically or almost so. Then spelling is easy and it even if it is considered important, it is treated differently. Phonetical spelling: Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, Malay/Indonesian . . . I don't mean that there is a one-to-one correspondence between pronunciation and writing, but there are rules that solve 90% or more.

    I cannot comment on Dutch, but I would not include German with Spanish, Italian and Malay/Indonesian. It has considerably more polyvalence, though by no means as much as French. Like French, it is not a system where rules can easily be set out, but once you get into it you find that pronunciation from spelling is more predictable that spelling from pronunciation. German has evolved so that two tendencies have helped to prevent it from being more phonemic. One is that the spelling of morphemes is kept constant despite changes in pronunciation. The other is ensuring that homonyms are distinguished. Whether those are aspects which spelling should take account of is a matter of opinion
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It is often said that French spelling, with all its subtle complications, was aimed to promote social segregation between an elite and the lower classes. It was another obstacle to social promotion. Obviously, the French revolution did not change that. The bourgeoisie replaced the aristocracy as a dominant class, but did nothing to make spelling more accessible. All major reform projects failed.

    I have a bit of a problem characterising the complications of French spelling as "subtle".

    Rather than a case of preserving spelling to exclude people, I think it is simply that people do not like having their orthographies messed about with. The literate start to learn to read early in life. When an orthography is complicated it is mastered slowly and children do not necessarily appreciate that it is complicated. Children consider orthography part of their language. When they grow up most of them do not appreciate that speech and writing, though connected, are two distinct things. Accordingly there is a feeling that if someone wants to change the orthography they are changing the language itself.

    French orthography, like English, on the whole reflects the pronunciation of an earlier stage of the language. Other languages like Spanish and Italian have not undergone such radical changes in pronunciation since they started to be written and have a history of tweaking the orthography now and then to reflect changes.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    US English
    When they grow up most of them do not appreciate that speech and writing, though connected, are two distinct things.
    I am aware that written English and spoken English are different. One linguist suggests that they are distinct languages (though closely connected), and that "chatspeak" (the language of real-time text messages) is a new language mixing them.

    But I agree that many people think that written and spoken English are the same. It is a common source of mistakes in writing.
     

    anahiseri

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain) and German (Germany)
    I cannot comment on Dutch, but I would not include German with Spanish, Italian and Malay/Indonesian. It has considerably more polyvalence, though by no means as much as French. Like French, it is not a system where rules can easily be set out, but once you get into it you find that pronunciation from spelling is more predictable that spelling from pronunciation. German has evolved so that two tendencies have helped to prevent it from being more phonemic. One is that the spelling of morphemes is kept constant despite changes in pronunciation. The other is ensuring that homonyms are distinguished. Whether those are aspects which spelling should take account of is a matter of opinion
    German spelling is not 100% phonetic, but much more so than English. When you see a written word in German, you know exactly how to pronounce it. It's not like that the other way round, I mean, from hearing to spelling, but
    you can't get as far off the mark as in English.
    I have taught German to several (adult, Spanish) people, they all agree that the difficulties lie in learning vocabulary, but not in spelling or pronunciation. On the other hand, in the case of the English language, Spanish speakers have problems with listening and pronouncing mostly. It may seem surprising to people who are not familiar with the situation in Spain, but it's a fact: Spanish students make few spelling mistakes when they write in English. (But then their pronunciation verges on the unintelligible, due to the fact that the language is taught in a very spelling- centred way in the first school years.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    US English
    I wonder if English has a pronunciation issue, and that (not class issues or reluctance to change) causes the spelling problem.

    Written English is largely the same (with a few differences) in the US, in the UK, Australia, India, Singapore, etc. But spoken English is a different story. Anyone writing phonetically would spell a huge number of words differently, depending on whether they were listening to a native speaker from Texas, Georgia or Maine or a UK speaker from various regions.

    In theory, English is spelled phonetically based on "the way it was spoken centuries ago", back when it was only spoken in England. But even that claim is not accurate. For a long time phonetic spelling was acceptable, even ordinary in English, but the spelling of words varied widely in different places and from different people. People didn't even agree on what letters to use (English used to have more than 26).
     
    When you see a written word in German, you know exactly how to pronounce

    Sorry, but that's not completely true. In German and in Italian, unlike Spanish, there is no accent mark, so it is harder to stress a word correctly when you read it. Besides, you don't know whether the vowels e and o are pronounced closed or open, for instance.

    P.S. In Italian, the accent mark is mandatory only when the last syllable of a word is stressed, like in città, virtù, etc.
     
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    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In theory, English is spelled phonetically based on "the way it was spoken centuries ago", back when it was only spoken in England. But even that claim is not accurate. For a long time phonetic spelling was acceptable, even ordinary in English, but the spelling of words varied widely in different places and from different people. People didn't even agree on what letters to use (English used to have more than 26).

    We can add to the above:

    French scribes introducing French spellings.

    Adoption of Latin, Greek and French words with their spellings.

    Avoidance in old scripts of too many successive short vertical strokes by changing "u" to "o" as in "honey" "love" and "women".

    Words coming from French being "corrected" to reflect their Latin origin. An example is the <b> in <debt>.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    The most daunting European orthography to me remains Danish. Danish has 9 vowel letters and 26 vowel phonemes, and it doesn't use digraphs like English, Dutch or French. It does use silent E for long vowels, but not always. 8 vowel letters have 2 or 3 possible short pronunciations. What a nightmare. In comparison, American English has 6 vowel letters, many common digraphs, and only 16 vowel phonemes. French is even easier in this regard: the pronunciation of every vowel letter and every digraph is completely deductible. You will never wonder: "How do I pronounce this vowel?" like you do in English. Unless maybe in some loanwords? But many languages have that problem.

    Compare that with English: ea sounds different in the words ocean, heart, ear, wear, meat, bread, steak. And then there is oo, ought, ow etc. French spelling lacks this madness.

    So I would rank them like this: Danish > English > French > the other European languages
    I have a bit of a problem characterising the complications of French spelling as "subtle".
    The complications of French spelling:
    -You have to add silent s for plurals, but it follows the same rules as silent e which is often pronounced, so it is not really an extra problem for learners
    -Verb endings: the tu conjugation always gets an extra s and the ils/elles conjugations always get an extra nt. The je conjugation always gets an extra s except for -er verbs. The endings -er, -ez and -ai all sound like é.
    -Many double consonants are useless
    -C/Ç or S/SS? G or J? English has the same complications.
    -tion or -ssion? English has the same complications.
    -An or en? English has the same madness (part 1, part 2)
    -In or ein or ain?
    -È or ai or e? Ê or aî?
    -Ô or (e)au?
    -Eu or œu?
    -Liaison: -t or -d? -s, -z or -x?

    This is pretty much it. There might be extra complications depending on your accent, but those can't be helped.

    You cannot make a similar post for English. Wikipedia has tried though.
     

    Terio

    Senior Member
    Français (Québec)
    French is even easier in this regard: the pronunciation of every vowel letter and every digraph is completely deductible. You will never wonder: "How do I pronounce this vowel?" like you do in English. Unless maybe in some loanwords?
    Completely deductible is a bit exagerated. For example, the digraph <en> reprensents / ɛ̃ / in examen, but / ɑ̃ / in gens while in agenda it may be prononced both ways. At the end of word, the digraph <ai> represents / ɛ / in vrai bue / e / in quai (though the distinction tends to diseppear in many regions).

    The complications of French spelling:
    -You have to add silent s for plurals, but it follows the same rules as silent e which is often pronounced, so it is not really an extra problem for learners
    -Verb endings: the tu conjugation always gets an extra s and the ils/elles conjugations always get an extra nt. The je conjugation always gets an extra s except for -er verbs. The endings -er, -ez and -ai all sound like é.
    These are examples of grammatical spelling. I agree that they are generally coherent.


    -Many double consonants are useless
    -C/Ç or S/SS? G or J? English has the same complications.
    -tion or -ssion? English has the same complications.
    -An or en? English has the same madness (part 1, part 2)
    -In or ein or ain?
    -È or ai or e? Ê or aî?
    -Ô or (e)au?
    -Eu or œu?
    -Liaison: -t or -d? -s, -z or -x?
    These are examples of basic spelling. The "subtlety" of it that it it based on a mix of phonetics, etymology, history and analogy. Nothing easy ! Sometimes, it seems totally arbitrary :

    - jeter : il jette
    - acheter : il achète.
    - peler : il pèle
    - appeler : il appelle.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    No meaning of the word "subtle" with which I am familiar can be applied to French spelling!

    The pronunciation of French cannot be taught in one lesson. The rules have to be absorbed gradually. Someone who has spent more than a short time learning French should be able to pronounce correctly almost every word he has never seen before. Common exceptions like "monsieur" and "femme" and verbal endings such as in "aiment" are learned early on. Other oddities tend to be short words like "dot".

    The complication is the extreme polyvalence. According to one source there are more 50 ways to write each of the vowels /o/, /ɛ/ and /ɛ̃/. That is an embarras de richesse if ever there was one.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    The pronunciation of French cannot be taught in one lesson. The rules have to be absorbed gradually.
    This is very true. I still remember how bad I was at reading French as a child. But we never learned the spelling rules, we were supposed to figure it out on our own. I would have preferred to have had some basic guidelines... After a year I still struggled with le/les and de/des until my teacher disappointed told me the difference in pronunciation after a bad reading test.

    But you will get it eventually and that's what counts. Even of French orthography was literally twice as complicated, I would probably still be saying the same thing. What counts is the results. Ultimately, English speakers are somewhat functionally illiterate: they don't know how to pronounce new words. Neither do Chinese people. But Francophones do.

    Dutch spelling is much simpler than French spelling, but you still have to show children how all words are spelled. Of course, they will have an easier time than Francophone children, but it probably takes more or less the same amount of time, no? I still learned in school how to write vegetariër, kapitalisme, pedagoog and pseudomonas even though there is nothing special about their spelling and I would have intuitively guessed the spelling correctly.
    According to one source there are more 50 ways to write each of the vowels /o/, /ɛ/ and /ɛ̃/. That is an embarras de richesse if ever there was one.
    Sources like that take into account the liaison letters. So they count aud, aut, aux etc. as separate ways to write /o/, even though the final consonant marks something else, it has nothing to do with the vowel. It is dishonest to say there are 50 ways to write these vowels.

    "en" sounds like "ein" in newer loanwords from Latin, Greek or sometimes English (Pentagon). It also sounds like "ein" after é, i and y (been, européen, citoyen...). But you are right, I should have added it.
     
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