June 9, 2003 10:04 AM   Subscribe

The Simplified Spelling Society. Finally, a cause I can really get behind. More.
posted by srboisvert (63 comments total)
I don't buy the claim that English spelling explains higher functional illiteracy rates and dyslexia in the US and Britain.

French and Italian have multiple spellings for many sounds too (or at least things that sound the same to me), so they should have the same problem, but the SSS says they don't.

Using spell-checkers and dictionaries seems easier than modifying the langwij by uhdopting gufee-lukeeng speling rulz, espeXuhlee if thay insist on wun leter-wun sownd, or eevin wun-dygraf-wun sownd, sins EengliX haz soh menee sownds.

Gah. Now to go read Feersum Endjinn again.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:26 AM on June 9, 2003

And that should be sowndz, not sownds.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:27 AM on June 9, 2003

Why do they spell pamphlets as pamflets but not books as bewks? That's how we pronounce it where I was brought up. This would seem to highlight a significant problem if you plan to go around changing the spelling of words with agreed meanings just so thicko kids might have an easy time of it. Better to crush them early I say.
Would the result of such a project be that different regions will develop separate written languages to represent English? Seems to me that we're better off as we are; using a system which evolves organically to suit the needs of its users internationally.
posted by biffa at 10:35 AM on June 9, 2003

And yet the SSS is ignoring one simple fact: the evolution of language is not forced. Spellings have adapted because of common usage, not because an organization has tried to force the evolution in one direction. This is almost as silly as the woman suing over her right to wear a disguise in her driver's license photo.
posted by archimago at 10:44 AM on June 9, 2003

For some reason, this reminds me of that SNL skit with David Spade as tv pitchman Don Lapre selling a system of shortening words in order to put more time in your life. The best segment of it was Chris Farley portraying a buyer who saves time by saying, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidosh" instead of the full version.
posted by bwinnard at 10:45 AM on June 9, 2003

Actually Italian has a much closer to bijective (one to one each way) mapping between sounds and letters than English. While I can only speak from my own experience, I found going back and forth between the two to be quite straightforward. I make no such claims for French, though I will report seeing a French textbook in Italian that made a big deal in its first few pages about the existence of homophones.

I have actually read in an Italian magazine (Macchina del Tempo, admittedly a dumb popular science type of rag) that Italian rates of dyslexia are in fact lower than rates elsewhere around the globe.

I think English should adopt its own cool non-Roman script. Maybe we can start with Burmese. Wherever we start, this is a good site for finding inspiration.
posted by tss at 10:46 AM on June 9, 2003

Great, these guys. I swear, I had always thought this was a joke. A man much funnier than myself had this to say about simplified spelling:

Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

I hope everyone noticed that the main link uses traditional spelling. If simplified spelling is such a marvelous idea, they should really practice what they preach.
posted by ilsa at 11:09 AM on June 9, 2003

As described here, two countries that have implemented spelling reform, jointly, are the Netherlands and Belgium in 1946-47 legislation. The changes were not nearly as sweeping as proponents of English spelling reform favor, however. (The page also has links to info on spelling reforms in other languages.)
posted by beagle at 11:11 AM on June 9, 2003

Off the non-Roman English script idea, I've often felt that English ought to use a system like Japanese. One set of a fre thousand characters used for meanings - they'd have different readings when alone (e.g. "fire") and when combined with other symbols ("pyro-" or "igni-" for the same symbol), another set that's basically a phonetic way of spelling native words which there are no symbols for (these symbols would naturally be simplified versions of meaning-characters; the [f] sound might be from the "fire" character, because that's the sound it starts with - these would be the characters that are initially taught in schools and needed for basic literacy), and finally, a third set of strictly phonetic abstract characters used to spell foreign words.
posted by wanderingmind at 11:12 AM on June 9, 2003

Actually Italian has a much closer to bijective (one to one each way) mapping between sounds and letters than English.

Alls I know is that I've heard more than one actual Italian person complaining about which consonants get doubled when, and which things get contracted when, and stuff like that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:15 AM on June 9, 2003

From the front page of the SSS:
The Simplified Spelling Society (SSS), founded in 1908, promotes the cause of reforming the spelling of Engish words.

posted by slater at 11:30 AM on June 9, 2003


I'm sorry but are they doing this on purpose?
posted by slater at 11:32 AM on June 9, 2003

In regards to the idea of using Chinese or Japanese (same meanings, different pronunciations, for the most part) ideogram-style writings, I've got to say that would be awful.

Japanese, grammatically, is easy to learn. Far easier to learn than English. Japanese has a loose sentence structure, with the exception of the verb at the end of the sentence, you can re-arrange the order of the words and still be understood. Objects don't have any gender in Japanese. There are also very few pro-nouns, and no future tense. In my opinion, it's pretty easy the basic mechanics.

The hard part of learning Japanese, is learning how to read and write. In order to take the level 1 Japanese aptitude test, you need to know around 2500 kanji. If you want to read a newspaper well, that number jumps to between 7000 - 9000 kanji. Each kanji has multiple meanings, and change meanings again when combined with other kanji. So not only do you have to memorize the initial kanji, you need to memorize all the pairs of kanji. And once that's done, you'll need to memorize the kanji that are used for family names. It's very, very time consuming.

But learning hiragana and katakana took me about 2 weeks. Getting good with the grammar took me about 2 years. I don't even know how many years its going to take me to learn a good amount of kanji. Probably 2 or 3 more years.

I read somewhere that the Japanese and Chinese spend an extra 2 years in school just to over come the complexity of their reading and writing systems. Can you imagine that in America?
posted by SweetJesus at 11:41 AM on June 9, 2003

Y stop there. There r so many words that r 2 long 2 spell out. Y do u have 2 use those old spellings when u can just shorten them 2 the easier way?

While we're at it, let's get rid of there, their and they're. It's all the same sound anyway.
posted by tomorama at 11:59 AM on June 9, 2003

If we spell words like they sound, we lose significant information. For example, National Public Radio would be abbreviated "MPR." Which is how the abbreviatoion is pronounced, but then it's not an abbreviation for National Public Radio anymore. So a person seeing it in print would have a hell of a time even guessing what it stood for.

(This example was sttolen from Steven Pinker, of course, like all the best examples of why this is a stupid idea.)
posted by kindall at 12:14 PM on June 9, 2003

Glad to see everyone agrees this is a Dum Ideeya; I won't have to expend valuable typing energy.

For tss and wanderingmind, here's yingzi.
posted by languagehat at 12:31 PM on June 9, 2003

I always thought the correct pronunciation was

"This is Enn Pee Arrarr - National Public Radio."
posted by scarabic at 12:32 PM on June 9, 2003

Engish words.

Great catch, slater. This exposes the SSS as people posing as spelling reformers to hide the fact that they're just losers at being able to spell.
posted by soyjoy at 12:34 PM on June 9, 2003

To this idea I must say: No.

And hey, my answer is the same even when simplified.

Or smplfid. Whatever.

Though this does remind me of an Eddie Izzard bit about the differences between British English and American English.

"You say 'erb and we say herb... because there's a f*cking H in it!"
posted by grabbingsand at 12:35 PM on June 9, 2003

In regards to the idea of using Chinese or Japanese (same meanings, different pronunciations, for the most part) ideogram-style writings, I've got to say that would be awful.

In chinese, each character has a fixed pronunciation. The sound dosn't change based on the context.

I've taken quite a bit of chinese, and I have to say learning the characters is pretty easy. I've heard people complaning about Japanese a lot, but I can say from experiance that learning Chinese is not hard at all.
posted by delmoi at 12:50 PM on June 9, 2003

f u cn rd ths u cn g gm pmp dw T!
posted by jfuller at 1:27 PM on June 9, 2003

"It has been demanded, on one hand, that men should write as they speak; but, as it has been shown that this conformity never was attained in any language, and that it is not more easy to persuade men to agree exactly in speaking than in writing, it may be asked, with equal propriety, why men do not rather speak as they write."

Samuel Johnson, The Plan of an English Dictionary, 1747
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:30 PM on June 9, 2003

....and others have proposed reforming our writing system, too.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:34 PM on June 9, 2003

And yet the SSS is ignoring one simple fact: the evolution of language is not forced

In some places it is. Or at least there are countries (particularly in Europe) where the national language is forcibly altered from the top-down. German, for example, recently got revamped as part of the new Rechtsschreibung, and the new rules include abominations like triple identical consonants in words like Schifffahrt. (Ship journey) The plan also calls for the eventual phasing out of the only unique German character: ß.

It's even crazier here in Slovenia. Here the entire language falls under the jurisdiction of a single man: Mr. Toporisic. He almost singlehandedly decides what is proper Slovene and what is not and, when weighing the options, routinely ignores the natural development of the language. For example, although every single Slovene says CD, he decreed that the correct word would be zgoscenka, a literal translation of compact disc that sounds as strange to Slovenes as it probably does to you. In fact, if you asked a Slovene if you could borrow the new Radiohead zgoscenka, you would be met with much laughter and general merriment. But you would be right.
posted by Ljubljana at 1:36 PM on June 9, 2003

Kindall:National Public Radio would be abbreviated "MPR." Which is how the abbreviatoion is pronounced, but then it's not an abbreviation for National Public Radio anymore.

I don't follow. Could you expand? Is the "M" a typo? If not, then where does it come from? If yes, then how does "NPR" differ from, uh, "NPR"?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:39 PM on June 9, 2003

Say "MPR." Now say "NPR."

Now try to hear the difference.

You can't, because to say "N" properly you have to come to an almost complete stop. If you don't, then as you close your lips to start the "P," the "N" becomes an "M."

I didn't believe it until I tried it, either, but Pinker's right. We say "MPR."
posted by kindall at 1:53 PM on June 9, 2003

The problem with these "simplified spelling" schemes that many countries have gone through is that is creates a disconnect between the modern spelling and the body of literature that already exists for that language.

In the USA, the point of learning to read and write English is not just so that we can learn to communicate. The point is also to be able to read our Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, Mark Twain, and Fitzgerald.
posted by deanc at 1:58 PM on June 9, 2003

Say "MPR." Now say "NPR."

Now try to hear the difference.

Whoa. </Keanu> Now I get it, thanks.

(though my voice is so damn nasal the "N" is still kinda distinct...)
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:07 PM on June 9, 2003

Funny this topic should come up, as the national spelling bee was on television recently. The participants were asking all kinds of questions -- they asked for definitions, for alternate pronunciations, and most importantly for languages of origin.

English words come from so many places, and that's one of the fundamental aspects of our language that makes it interesting. If we change the spelling so that we can no longer remember where those words originated, we will make it much more difficult -- if not impossible -- for future generations to trace the history of a word.
posted by brina at 2:11 PM on June 9, 2003

I thought the article was gonna recommend that we all adopt either IM-speak ("k thx bye") or leet speak ("I 0wnzr u") or some combination of the two! How hilarious to see that it's just laggardly spellers trying to justify their laggardliness.
posted by Lynsey at 2:22 PM on June 9, 2003

Melville Dewey, noted nut and founder of the Dewey Decimal system was a huge spelling reformer. Even changed the way he wrote his name from Melville Dewey to Melvil Dui. I have an old copy of his classification written when he was still living that is starting to use the bizarre forms of his "simplified spelling" The newer versions have standard American spellings. I can't imagine how much worse library catalogs would be [than they already are] if this had caught on.
posted by jessamyn at 2:31 PM on June 9, 2003

I have a great idea. It's called ebonics...
posted by tomorama at 2:40 PM on June 9, 2003

er, to this englishman, MPR & NPR sound quite distinct.
posted by dash_slot- at 2:53 PM on June 9, 2003

or not.

I dunno, I'm all confused, but I have a new mantra.
posted by dash_slot- at 2:55 PM on June 9, 2003

Consistent spelling makes a language easier to learn, and English was found to be the worst of the languages in the study, followed by Danish and French.
Finnish, being pretty much as close one-to-one as possible, is among the easiest. As a result, nobody would think of organizing a spelling bee in Finnish. All schoolkids spell pretty much perfectly as soon as they learn to write.

Freespeling is a grassroots-style speling reform. Because of sms and email it just mite work.
posted by ikalliom at 3:15 PM on June 9, 2003

In chinese, each character has a fixed pronunciation.

Even across Mandarin and Cantonese and whatever other spoken languages and dialects there are in China?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:20 PM on June 9, 2003

Sorry, but that is one hell of a nasalized /M/ for my tastes. I would rather say that it is an /N/, albeit bilabialized towards its terminal position. By definition, an /M/ is made with the mouth closed, and any release of that /M/ is usually a vowel. Since one has to open one's mouth to begin the /NPR/ sequence of sounds, I still say /N/.

But, the /L/ in 'please' is silent. Try that. You make the air rush through your mouth for an /L/, but if said in common conversation at common conversational speed, you never get the elllll sound out. Try it!
posted by oflinkey at 3:42 PM on June 9, 2003

But you would be right.

Ljubljana, can I suggest to you that it is the Slovene people (who are the sole developers and users of the language) who are right and Mr. Toporisic who is wrong?
posted by languagehat at 3:53 PM on June 9, 2003

Alls I know is that I've heard more than one actual Italian person complaining about which consonants get doubled when, and which things get contracted when, and stuff like that.

That's because a large number of Italians learn to speak in dialect before they speak 'correct' Italian. Even if Mama & Papa make an effort to speak grammatically correct Italian, the kids will pick up the local dialect from their playmates before they reach school-going age.

For example, j does not technically exist in the 'official' Italian alphabet, but it is used in writing Roman dialect (i.e. - pajata) Roman dialect also has a tendency to slur the double consonant, making it a real bitch for me as a foreigner to figure out when to throw in the extra letter. The Calabrian dialect that I have seen written uses a lot of 'uu' (and when it's spoken I can understand maybe 20-30% of it)

Once you master the vowels and a few letter combinations, Italian is written exactly how it sounds. The problem is finding someone who pronounces Italian as it's written. ;-)
posted by romakimmy at 4:24 PM on June 9, 2003

From freespeling.com:

Praktis by using words most people already recognize: love = luv; though = tho; doughnut = donut. How about what = wot; foreigner = foriner...?
Freespel for comprehension, clarity and cumfort

If you slow down and fully pronounce words like though and doughnut, you can hear the sounds of the letters being dropped.

If I worked for a company and was interviewing someone, and found spellings like this on their resume, intentional or not, I'd be laughing in their face (well, laughing on the inside, at least). I actually know people who've been in this position, and when bored will correct resumes with a red pen and mail them back to the applicants.

I tried typing out some of the paragraphs from freespeling.com and I had to slow down and analyze words that were changed. When spelling them correctly, I could type twice as fast. Why? Because I learned how to read, I know how to spell, and I have good grammar.
posted by tomorama at 4:47 PM on June 9, 2003

If I worked for a company and was interviewing someone, and found spellings like this on their resume, intentional or not, I'd be laughing in their face...
You are generous - if it was me, they would go straight on the reject pile. Generally, I reject any application with spelling errors - if they cannot get their application letter and/or resume correct, how are they going to get the details of everyday work correct?
posted by dg at 6:23 PM on June 9, 2003

Praktis by using words most people already recognize: love = luv; though = tho; doughnut = donut. How about what = wot; foreigner = foriner...?

Please ... looks like laziness to me.

Don't freespel proper names: Charles or Cecilia (they mite not like it) ...

Mite? See, that's where this "reformed" spelling starts to cause problems. Mite is already a word, and using their system, both mite and might would be spelled the same, causing another their, there, and there situation. Another example from this site is "seez" for seize. It seems to me that "sees" would be spelled the same way then. Might make spelling easier (though I don't tend to agree), but it certainly isn't going to help reading comprehension any.

As to the NPR/MPR thing ... sounds different when I say it, but then I took a few years of speech and diction classes and am a little careful about pronunciation.
posted by Orb at 7:18 PM on June 9, 2003

En Pee Are.

"M" and "N" are completely different sounds. I'm with oflinkey on this one.
posted by kayjay at 7:32 PM on June 9, 2003

Delmoi: Many Chinese characters can be pronounced differently according to the context and have different meanings. And that's just in Mandarin. Also, the PRC has tried to simplify their writing system to increase literacy as well, and I have to say the results not only look terrible but also serve to make things difficult to those of us, i.e. everyone in Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc., as well as many overseas Chinese, who learned traditional characters. Granted, when I go to the mainland I can sort of figure many characters out, but it's still a pain to have two different systems of writing, and to me the simplified characters often don't contain enough information to be useful. They're oversimplified characters. I'd hate to see the same thing happen to English, which despite all of its variations from US/UK, etc, is still mutually intelligible most of the time.
posted by Poagao at 7:41 PM on June 9, 2003

I tried the NPR/MPR thing, I guess it does sound like MPR (at least when I say it) when pronounced fluidly. I stopped and said each letter individually and it came out NPR.
posted by tomorama at 7:57 PM on June 9, 2003

if we did things the simplified way, we wouldn't have interesting bits of language like visual homonyms (eg tear and tear...any others?).
posted by juv3nal at 8:22 PM on June 9, 2003

Polish and polish.
posted by VeGiTo at 8:32 PM on June 9, 2003

Simplified spelling would be easier for the writer and harder for the reader. Someone mentioned "mite" and "might": take "divine" and "divinity", the second "i" is different vowel in each word (see "bite" and "bit") but the incorrect spelling reminds readers the two words are linked by meaning. Spelling the vowel differently would make the words appear unrelated when the words are related. Average reading times would slow down. Some studies show that experienced readers are slowed by homophones such as "well" because they have to sort through the different meanings, but are not slowed by homophones such as "bare" and "bear."

George Bernard Shaw apparently left money in his will to further the quest to simplify English (or Engish) spelling. Some of his plays have been published in his simplified orthography. He illustrated the complexity by spelling "fish" as "ghoti," using the "gh" of "tough," the "o" of "women," the "ti" of "nation." But the "gh" as "f" only appears in English at word's end, the "o" as "i" only appears in "women" and the "ti" as "sh" only appears in the middle of the word. So it's not as convincing an example as first appears.
posted by philfromhavelock at 10:02 PM on June 9, 2003

A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling
by Mark Twain

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped
to be replased either by "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 the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2
might 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.
Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear
with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12
or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants.
Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl 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 ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud
hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.
posted by BigCalm at 1:12 AM on June 10, 2003

I blame the English Civil War, myself. Clearly, the interregnum years were a hotbed of violence, ranters, diggers, Muggletonians, free love, and spelling reform.

There are also some interesting late seventeenth century spelling reform books and pamphlets reproduced in Alston's 'English Linguistics 1500-1800' microfilm reprint series.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:44 AM on June 10, 2003

It would be perfectly possible to legislate to force people to usean alternate spelling system. Ataturk of Turkey changed the script of Turkish from an arabic script, which few could read, to a latin-based script which is perfectly regular (as is the grammar of the language, by the way).

He was told it would take a decade by his advisors; he said "I want it done in 6 months" and went out on the road with a blackboard, setting up in villages near the mosque and teaching the villagers himself. (There's a statue commemorating this near the Bosphorous ferry port in kadikoy, istanbul).
As the Omniglot site says, "Nowadays, only scholars and those who learnt to read before 1928 can read Turkish written in the Arabic script". In order that we Anglophones don't lose access to all old books, I agree with Dr Johnson that we should revert back to speaking as we write - the Great Vowel Shift was a dreadful mistake.
posted by Pericles at 6:11 AM on June 10, 2003

Link on Ataturk's reform of Turkish spelling which I should've posted earlier.

Ataturk was quite a guy though; arund the same time, he gave women the vote and banned the veil. On noticing many women continued wearing the veil, because their husbands demanded they keep it, Ataturk rescinded the ban, but decreed that wearing the veil be compulsory for prostitutes, and subsequently very few husbands were adamant their wives be covered....
posted by Pericles at 6:40 AM on June 10, 2003

earlier mefi on this.

NPR and MPR are close and for a lot of people maybe the same, but your tongue does touch the roof of your mouth before you close your lips, so there is a distinction. As for the please thing, I don't get it. I'm sure you're not suggesting it sounds like peas, since that's too different to claim. Maybe just that the L sound kind of has two halves, and sits in the back of your mouth until you release it by lifting your tongue? But that's true of all approximate and some nasal sounds - r, n, w, y...
posted by mdn at 6:46 AM on June 10, 2003

Not only does NPR and MPR sound different when I hear myself say them they feel different in my mouth. But, and you can add this to the complications of the cause, people vocalize differently. Most of the time I speak using the front of my mouth to form the sounds like they teach you in diction classes. Most people are a lot sloppier about they speak and there may not be a practical difference in the sound of NPR and MPR when they say them. I am sloppy about it too, when it suits me. But I know a guy who speaks so well you can hear the 'h' in his 'what', 'who', 'when', 'why', etc.

Another problem is that English is an aggressive creole language. "We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary." (James D. Nicoll). If a word has a funny spelling and pronounciation, probably it isn't really English. philfromhavelock rightly pointed out that phonetic spelling would destroy relationships between words it would also destroy the heritage of the words which have immigrated into the language from elsewhere.

This would also destroy the heritage of many words in English! It's my understanding that, written English started off more-or-less phonetically spelled anyway. I'm told that if you were to read this out loud, pronouncing everything as it's spelled (including the k and 'gh' in 'knyght'), you'd have done a reasonable job of speaking middle English.
posted by wobh at 7:14 AM on June 10, 2003

[...]a reasonable job of speaking middle English.

Great vowel shift notwithstanding. (But other than that...)
posted by wobh at 7:24 AM on June 10, 2003

mdn- I am not suggesting that it sounds like pease, But try this experiment. In normal flow/speed, say it. Then act like 13 year old fighting with their parents and say 'puh-leeze'. Repeat with less attitude, and listen to your normal pronunciation in comparison. Eventually you should come to the point where your tongue on the /L/ touches the back of your teeth or the ridge in your mouth behind them, and the air rushes down the sides of your tongue, but the /L/ is unvoiced. To go from a plosive /P/ to a vowel like /E/ ( or [i] if you prefer), there is no time to voice the /L/. Thus, it is silent, or more technically said, unvoiced.
posted by oflinkey at 10:00 AM on June 10, 2003

oflinkey, it doesn't seem that way to me. There's more time for the L, naturally, when you say puhleeze, but it still seems vocalized to me in normal speech. I see that's there's the aspiration after the p, but it's brief and vocalization starts again with the L, just like in play, plastic or plot.
posted by mdn at 11:25 AM on June 10, 2003

mdn- Perhaps then it is regionalism, but this was one of the pet research pieces a professor of mine had done in this area (Northeastern US). I remember thinking she was nutty about it as well until I saw the spectrograms made of a sampling from our class. We saw the visual representations of aspiration and the 'fuzzy band' that is associated with an almost fricative-like rush of air in the oral cavity, but no voicing. She contended that what fools the ear into hearing the /L/ is the quick jump from plosive to [i]. Maybe she was as wacky as I originally thought, though!
posted by oflinkey at 1:24 PM on June 10, 2003

The MPR/NPR issue is one of the main reasons Minnesota Public Radio refers to their website as "minnesotapublicradio.org" instead of the easier to type "mpr.org." (They own both addresses.)
posted by mrbula at 4:02 PM on June 10, 2003

For most people, "MPR" and "NPR" do sound identical. Really. If you don't believe me, just try saying "MPR" the next few times you mean "NPR" and see if the person you're talking to notices.

Another limitation of the "spell it as it is spoke" is that we don't have letters for some of the sounds we make. If we pronounce any consonant at all in the middle of the word "little," it's a glottal stop, not a "t." What's the letter for that? (The International Phonetic Alphabet has a symbol for it, but I think switching to IPA would be much more confusing for most people than standard English spelling.) Or what about the different "th" sounds -- voiced (as "there") and unvoiced (as in "think")? Why do those use the same symbols?

As a final puzzler, how many words are there in the English language where the letter "f" is pronounced as a "v"?
posted by kindall at 5:13 PM on June 10, 2003

Poagao...At the US universities I'm familiar with, traditional characters aren't introduced until a fairly high level (3rd or 4th semester at the earliest). Many textbooks slip a few traditionals in there from time to time as an introduction, and that's all.

Once you've seen "wan" from Taiwan in traditional script, simplified begins to look a lot nicer, huh? I'm not sure if it's official, but a few of the characters are beginning to be "more simplified" like "can" from canguan or canting.

As far as Chinese pronunciation goes, many of the characters have more than one sound associated with them, even if you speak standard putonghua, or Beijing Mandarin. For instance, the character "jiao" from the word sleep is pronounced "jian" in some other words.
posted by Kevs at 5:59 PM on June 10, 2003

I always write the "wan" (?) in Taiwan with the traditional character myself, but I do admit that some simplified characters enjoy wide use here. That doesn't mean that everyone wouldn't know or be able to write the traditional form of the character, though. It's like writing "u" instead of "you" in an email, i.e., you'd know the original spelling, and you wouldn't use it in a formal report or other document.
posted by Poagao at 7:07 PM on June 10, 2003

Really. If you don't believe me, just try saying "MPR" the next few times you mean "NPR" and see if the person you're talking to notices.

You would have to ask them afterwards if they noticed. It's like saying "whatcha gonna do?" - it doesn't sound identical to "what are you going to do?" but people still understand it. I notice when people make little pronunciation errors like MPR or ecksetera, but I would never call them on it.
posted by mdn at 6:19 AM on June 11, 2003

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