Monday, November 27, 2006

Truespel "Phonemes"

Let us look at a few of truespel's transcriptions. These are taken from the website.

mad = ~mad
hat = ~hat
apt = ~apt
This one seems reasonable.

father = ~faather,
hop = ~haap,
aardvark = ~aardvaark,
knock = ~naak
I'm not certain why Mr Zurinskas decided to use "aa" as a low center/back vowel--but I'm guessing his inclusion of aardvark in the set is an attempt to justify the symbol as relating to orthography. I can think of a few other examples of that sound spelled with "aa": Paas easter egg colouring kits; Golfer Jay Haas. And when cartoon characters scream it's usually spelled "aaahh!" which we'll assume represents the same vowel.

Even with this mountain of evidence linking it to a pattern in English orthography (usually when spelling Dutch borrowings) it illustrates the inability of this system to avoid the main liability of any system based on orthography--the same symbol (in this case 'a') represents two different sounds. Doubling makes sense if the transcription intends to double the quantitative length of the vowel--but to represent the vowel change from 'hat' to 'hot' doubling isn't any more intuitive than introducing a new symbol.

sundae = ~sundae
make = ~maek
paid = ~paed

Here he uses 'sundae' to establish the pattern. Why this digraph I'm not sure. My guess is that there is an orthographic clue to the [ej] diphthong when an 'e' follows in the next syllable thus making the 'a' "long." We remember this from the phonics lessons that told us how to distinguish between 'mad' and 'made'; 'fad' and 'fade'; 'tam' and 'tame'; 'bad' and 'bade'. But this clue to pronunciation is best understood as an indicator of the historical two-syllable forms that lengthened a vowel when in an open syllable. Wouldn't it make more sense within this system to combine the two units that represent the two vowels ("e" & "ee") or the vowel and glide ("e" & "y") in this phoneme

But there is no way to distinguish between the tense and lax mid front vowels in "truespel." The closest the system comes to recognizing the two is the introduction of "~air" used to represent what is apparently analyzed as a vocal-rhotic (my term) phoneme, such as we hear in "fair" "bare" and "wear".

Why not spell it "er"? Apparently because that's already used to represent the vocal-rhotic phoneme" in "fur" "sir" and "docter". Again we have a vowel ('e') representing different sounds. Since Zurinskas uses "~u" to represent several lax middle vowels (or schwas) it's not clear to me why he avoids it here.

Here is where I can say "etc" and avoid picking on every problematic phoneme representation in "truespel". I have to save space for an observation or two regarding dialects and another about syllable stress.

"Truespel" has some regional biases. It recognizes the phonemic vowels that are differentiated in some areas (such as the 'cot'/'caught' and 'rot'/'wrought' vowels) and even recognizes some dialectal allophonic alternations as separate phonemes. For some reason he decides to represent the first vowel of "anchor" as the diphthong [ej] ("~ae" in his system). This occurs in some areas of Wisconsin and Minnesota. (But I'll grant that this is a matter of transcription. It doesn't reflect his system--just his analysis and ear.)

Zurinskas does apparently believe in representing certain non-phonemic phones in his transcriptions. Probably because he believes they are pronounced by everyone (like the vowel in "anchor"). In 'entrance' is "~entrints", 'pounce' is "~pounts", and 'insistence', is "~inssistints". Transcribed this way it is impossible to differentiate between 'sense' and 'cents' phonemically.

And transcribing 'imbibe' as "~inbbieb" is just incorrect.

He uses a system of doubled consonants to indicate stress on a following syllable. I'm not sure how he justifies the doubled 'c' & 'h' in "~reecchhaarj", but decides to double only the 's' in "~inssher" ('insure'). I would guess that he only doubles the 't' in 'without'-"~witthout" because he hears it as a voiced fricative and in his system a doubled 'h' would indicate voiceless as in 'rethink'-"~reetthheenk".

So how would this stress indicator deal with a geminate consonant as the [t] in "cattail"? If doubling the vowel indicates a vowel stress he can't use "~tt" or the stress switches to the second syllable. "~cattael" would sound like "caTAIL" wouldn't it?

Though some of his transcriptions look very close to typical English orthography I can't imagine that "~Ummairiku" is the best transcription to teach a child or adult to read "America."

I have one more short post on this topic. Next time: Mr Zurinskas' attempt at a "socio-moral" (my term) rationale.

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


  1. I don't think this guy has any training in phonetics, phonology or any branch of linguistics at all.

    Truespel includes schwi - the unstressed /i:/ veree

    Schwi? Unstressed /i:/? And is 'veree' meant to be 'very'? or some other word I haven't as yet heard in English like /vəri:/? Either way, this single sentence is riddled with errors. It has one error for every two words! That's phenomenal!

    I have many, many other things to say about this spelling system but to post them all here violates blog etiquette.

  2. I thank you for sharing this Truespel business. I wasn't opposed to it before, but the more transcriptions you provide the more I really don't care for it. I think its orthographic foundation is a bit deceptive. At least, I'm deceived by it. I'm used to reading it how I read American English. Ummariku or whatever really threw me for a loop. I was going with "oomarikoo" not "uhmarikuh."

  3. Jangari: I would like to see another careful critique of this theory he calls as system. I've gotten the impression that he has a sensitive but not very reliable ear. He has chosen to follow it to rationalize his project. He clearly sees an opportunity to to profit and his odd "courting" of linguists $trikes me more as a $earch for legitimacy that will bring in the patrons.

    But words and concepts like "schwi" sink the boat. is 'veree' his transcription? Where's the tilde and what happened to his "air" phoneme?

    Yes--the more I look at transcriptions the more problems/mistakes I find. In practice and theory.

    Daniel: Have you looked at his page? It's chilling.


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