Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Truespel concl.

Zurinskas writes

The alphabetical principle holds that letters stand for sounds. We find now that even Egyption [sic] hieroglyphic symbols stand for sounds, and we can speak the writings of 5,000 years ago because of this.
The problem is that the alphabetical principle is not a universal principle. Our alphabet is a Romanized symbol set that corresponds very roughly (or shall I say flexibly) to our phonemes. Acknowledging this is not the same as believing that it 'must/should/better' be this way.

Were I to accept Mr Zurinskas' claim about Egyptian hieroglyphs (which I understand is based on a simplistic summary of a documentary he saw) I would still reference the differences between Chinese dialects that are based on the same symbols and use different phonology. Is one of these dialects incorrect or less "true" to the symbol set?
Arbitrary dialects destroy this relationship and should they take hold lessen the consistency of correspondence between letters and sounds and make English all the harder to read and learn. Not good.
Okay so it's about consistency. But--what? Arbitrary dialects? Who are these people who have done away with phonology and have begun speaking with indecipherable idiolects based on nothing at all but whims and fancies? And on the flipside, who are these people who are choosing to represent the phonemes of English with fabricated symbol patterns? Like "truespel" for instance.
Let's not be artificial dialectizers by misspeaking words, but rather retainers of what semplence [sic] of alphabetic principle we have for English.
Mr Zurinskas wrote this in response to a question about the perfectly natural and reasonable dialectal pronunciation of milk as 'melk'. Apparently something wecked thes way comes. I have found no basis for his contempt of change beyond a premise that change is evil. He wants the English alphabet to correlate in all English dialects to the same sounds his dialect (or if you look at his phonemic transcriptions, his idiolect) recognizes. Why his dialect? Why the current correlations? Is the language at its peak? Have we been waiting ever since the Norman invasion to see English reach its current ideal state? Freeze things now because they'll only get worse?

Zurinskas has no expertise in phonology or phonetics but claims to have training in psychological experimentation. Does he wish he had training in phonology/phonetics? A few weeks ago he made a claim that the first vowel in "English" is a high front [i] as in "bee", and he was challenged by several trained linguists who observed that it is more commonly lax [ɪ] as in 'bit' (and rarely the tense [i]). Some suggested that it might be a high center vowel [ɨ] (which is not a phoneme in English though many speakers pronounce the [i] or [ɪ] phoneme this way in some environments). Zurinskas' reply: "Right. Call [and ask] a friend that is not a linguist, a normal person." His response to the challenge of the rationale behind that suggestion: "Basically, I'm thinking we need unbiased opinion. Linguists are exposed to phonetic notation that could affect judgment." I take it he refers to those manipulative IPA symbols.

When a body of knowledge encourages more accurate and therefore predictable observation I believe it's okay to affect judgment with that information.

All quotes and examples are taken from either American Dialect Society LISTSERV postings or the website.

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