Is English a logographic writing system?

If you're new to these arts, this is the place to ask "stupid" questions and get directions!
cntrational
roman
roman
Posts: 954
Joined: Mon 05 Nov 2012, 03:59

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by cntrational » Wed 24 Feb 2016, 04:09

How many languages have pronunciation → spelling? Not many. That's an example of Finnish's phonemicity, not English's obscurity.
Keenir
runic
runic
Posts: 2454
Joined: Tue 22 May 2012, 02:05

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by Keenir » Wed 24 Feb 2016, 04:34

sangi39 wrote:Image
I'm gonna guess it doesn't go well with BBQ sauce.
At work on Apaan: viewtopic.php?f=6&t=4799
User avatar
KaiTheHomoSapien
sinic
sinic
Posts: 422
Joined: Mon 15 Feb 2016, 06:10
Location: Napa Valley, California

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by KaiTheHomoSapien » Wed 24 Feb 2016, 05:22

cntrational wrote:How many languages have pronunciation → spelling? Not many. That's an example of Finnish's phonemicity, not English's obscurity.
I guess languages that got writing systems relatively late--but then as the pronunciation changes, the spelling usually remains the same and then the inconsistencies start. Finnish could eventually have a non-intuitive spelling system if the pronunciation begins to shift enough, because it's unlikely that the spelling would shift with it.
Don't live to conlang; conlang to live.

My conlang: Image Lihmelinyan
cntrational
roman
roman
Posts: 954
Joined: Mon 05 Nov 2012, 03:59

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by cntrational » Wed 24 Feb 2016, 05:56

Finnish also doesn't deal with colloquial dialects or accents, and assumes a "literary" dialect. (Granted, in modern Finnish, colloquial dialects are merging themselves.)
User avatar
gach
MVP
MVP
Posts: 678
Joined: Wed 07 Aug 2013, 00:26
Location: displaced from Helsinki

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by gach » Wed 24 Feb 2016, 11:39

You can perfectly well represent a dialect in Finnish writing just by spelling out the phonemic forms of the words. Informal written communication, like using the IRC, can be rife with such colloquial spelling. The standard spelling is not as much historical but associated to a higher literary register. The literary language is more conservative than the colloquial varieties but its spelling does correspond directly* to a spoken form. This register is regularly used in certain contexts of spoken language, such as in official statements or by the news readers. Similarly, when you read a book aloud, you pronounce the words as they appear in the literary norm and not as you might say them colloquially, unless or course, the author has specifically used a colloquial spelling.

Spelling does change slightly over time. You don't see any more the old spelling tahi for the conjunction tai (/tai/, "or") since the glottal fricative only appears dialectally in that word. It's a slow process, though, since to alter a spelling a pronunciation has to enter the spoken form of the literary register, which is not necessarily tied to the evolution of the colloquial language.

* With some minor exceptions. The word final glottal stop, which undergoes full assimilation with a following word initial consonant, is never written and the inflectional stem sydäme- of the word sydän ("heart") has an irregularly geminated /mm/ but still retains the historically regular spelling with a single <m>.
cntrational
roman
roman
Posts: 954
Joined: Mon 05 Nov 2012, 03:59

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by cntrational » Wed 24 Feb 2016, 12:53

Yeah, but I mean that you can't use the same written form for multiple dialects. Mainland European languages, ime, are stricter on how you must pronounce and grammar things compared to English.

Sure, you can say that's not a necessary goal, but why is phonetic writing a necessary goal either? It doesn't seem to be worth the effort either way.
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 1234
Joined: Mon 19 Sep 2011, 18:37

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by Salmoneus » Wed 24 Feb 2016, 16:47

clawgrip wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:Eventually, yes. But a long, long time in the future, and even then it won't be logographic in the sense we usually mean.
I guess it's been said before, but no matter how far in the future we go, English spelling will remain at its core phonetic and not logographic, because the only correspondences between various words will be phonetic, not logographic. No matter how far English pronunciation drifts from the spelling, words like water, tide, sink, pour etc. still won't have any shared semantic element, while words like sink and stink and shrink will still have shared phonetic elements that should at least somewhat match the spoken language.
Note: 'in the sense we usually mean'. You're right that English will never become a system like Chinese. But that won't mean it's not a logography. A logography uses symbols to represent words, which is what a sufficiently drifted alphabet becomes: you have to learn the words as word-symbols, not as collections of sound-symbols. There may well be a phonetic suggestion, but that doesn't stop it being a logography - lots of logographic systems contain some hints toward pronounciation. There may well not be any semantic hints, but logographies don't need those: it's logographic, not ideographic!

So imagine a system with these words:
sink - /SIN/
sing - /SIN/
stink -/Sei/
shrink - /SIr/
single - /SeIgu/
singer - /SI:/
finger - /eIgE/
England - /INo:/
land - /li@n/

... unless you're an etymologist (and yes, these are simple regular sound changes), you can't really learn the spellings phonetically, you have to learn them as words. It's logographic. Yes, there are some phonetic hints - you know "finger" probably doesn't start with /S/, whereas "singer" probably does, although not necessarily. But there are also semantic hints: the "sing" element and the "land" element are more important for suggesting common meanings than they are for suggesting common pronounciation!
cntrational
roman
roman
Posts: 954
Joined: Mon 05 Nov 2012, 03:59

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by cntrational » Wed 24 Feb 2016, 17:47

Zompist's Xurnese went down that route, though the letters are indistinct due to a cursive system.
MoonRightRomantic
cuneiform
cuneiform
Posts: 136
Joined: Thu 11 Feb 2016, 23:22

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by MoonRightRomantic » Thu 25 Feb 2016, 03:52

I don't buy the "it's not really that hard" argument, considering only native speakers who have already mastered the language ever claim that (all children learning to read it and all non-native speakers claim the orthography is counterintuitive and needlessly complex). The rules are pointless because they are too many to track and have too many exceptions. Statistically, English is the hardest language to learn to write short of Chinese hanzi. It costs untold amount of money due to adult illiteracy and difficulty for learners. Only half the consonant sounds have consistent spellings and none of the vowel sounds do. The orthography represents English as it was spoken a thousand years ago except with numerous spelling mistakes and deliberate non-phonetic respellings. Growing up I always assumed pronunciation and spelling was completely arbitrary, even if I didn't know or care why. Even as an adult I normally mispronounce over half my vocabulary while reading and speaking; I didn't even realize English orthography was so bad until I googled it as an adult.

Read the Chaos for an in depth example: http://ncf.idallen.com/english.html

If English actually followed its own rules, it would look unrecognizable. Example: https://getreallanguage.wordpress.com/2 ... ng-reform/
cntrational
roman
roman
Posts: 954
Joined: Mon 05 Nov 2012, 03:59

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by cntrational » Thu 25 Feb 2016, 04:16

...not exactly an unbiased telling, there.
clawgrip
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2316
Joined: Sun 24 Jun 2012, 06:33
Location: Tokyo

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by clawgrip » Fri 26 Feb 2016, 04:32

Salmoneus wrote: So imagine a system with these words:
sink - /SIN/
sing - /SIN/
stink -/Sei/
shrink - /SIr/
single - /SeIgu/
singer - /SI:/
finger - /eIgE/
England - /INo:/
land - /li@n/

... unless you're an etymologist (and yes, these are simple regular sound changes), you can't really learn the spellings phonetically, you have to learn them as words. It's logographic. Yes, there are some phonetic hints - you know "finger" probably doesn't start with /S/, whereas "singer" probably does, although not necessarily. But there are also semantic hints: the "sing" element and the "land" element are more important for suggesting common meanings than they are for suggesting common pronounciation!
Sorry, but this is irrelevant. This is not English. Even so, as you say, there are obviously some pronunciation correlations, and a native speaker of whatever that is should notice them better than we do. As for the semantic hints, it's interesting, but this seems more like a side feature that is not especially prevalent, and in any case it's not relevant to English, which does not have such extreme spelling.

What do you define as a logography? A system of writing where the pronunciation is not clearly marked in full? What we have in English is a system of phonograms utterly devoid of semanticity that are arranged, albeit in a confusing and not fully consistent manner, to show sound correspondences between words, while simultaneously failing to show even a glimmer of semantic correspondence occurring independently of the pronunciation.

Without meanings assigned to base characters, or semantic relationships indicated by their arrangement, but with phonetic values and phonetic correspondences occurring in their place, however haphazardly or unintuitively, it simply cannot be called a logography, just a poor spelling system.
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 1234
Joined: Mon 19 Sep 2011, 18:37

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by Salmoneus » Fri 26 Feb 2016, 15:50

clawgrip wrote: Sorry, but this is irrelevant. This is not English.
...have you been following the conversation? We were talking about whether in the distant future continued phonological drift could result in a logographic system. This is English with a handful of sound changes applied, so it's entirely relevent.
Even so, as you say, there are obviously some pronunciation correlations,
Which is irrelevent. Logographies can have pronunciation correlations too.
and a native speaker of whatever that is should notice them better than we do. As for the semantic hints, it's interesting, but this seems more like a side feature that is not especially prevalent,
Also irrelevent.
and in any case it's not relevant to English, which does not have such extreme spelling.
The point about change is that it results in things not being exactly the same as they are now.

What do you define as a logography?
A system in which there are graphs for logoi: where different words have different symbols, which must be learnt on a word-symbol basis. If you have a system where pronunciation cannot be guessed from spelling, nor spelling from pronunciation, and where there are multiple different symbols for the same pronunciation, and multiple different pronunciations for the same symbols, what you have is no longer an alphabetic system - even if the symbols for words happen to be composed from a limited palette of elements.
A system of writing where the pronunciation is not clearly marked in full? What we have in English is a system of phonograms utterly devoid of semanticity that are arranged, albeit in a confusing and not fully consistent manner, to show sound correspondences between words, while simultaneously failing to show even a glimmer of semantic correspondence occurring independently of the pronunciation.
Again, a) we're talking about potential future-english, and b) again, semantic correspondence is irrelevent. We're talking about logographies, not "systems that are identical to Chinese". You'll note again that I said that this would be a logography but not the sort we normally talk about.
Without meanings assigned to base characters, or semantic relationships indicated by their arrangement, but with phonetic values and phonetic correspondences occurring in their place, however haphazardly or unintuitively, it simply cannot be called a logography, just a poor spelling system.
Again and again:
- logographies can, and do, have haphazard phonetic correlations
- logographies need not have widespread or systematic semantic correlations between graphically similar symbols

You seem to be imagining that a logography (symbols for words) is the same as an ideography (symbols for semantic concepts). This is not the case. Logographies often have haphazard ideographic elements, just as they often have haphazard phonographic elements (there are a lot of words, so it's useful to have some sort of hint to remind people which symbol means which word, and phonetic or semantic reflections make that easier). But they are not defined by their ideographic elements, or else they would be ideographies. [Which, nb, do not in fact exist]
clawgrip
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2316
Joined: Sun 24 Jun 2012, 06:33
Location: Tokyo

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by clawgrip » Sun 28 Feb 2016, 09:21

Salmoneus wrote:I said that this would be a logography but not the sort we normally talk about.
This is really the key, then, isn't it? Not just Chinese but every logography we know on Earth has a strong semantic component as its main feature. You're suggesting we consider a logography a system that assigns groups of phonetic signs to words such that they provide phonetic hints but, on the whole, little to no semantic hints. I guess the point on which we disagree is that in my opinion, if phonetic hints are more prevalent than semantic ones, I do not think it is really a logographic script so much as a very poorly functioning phonetic script. If the phonetic elements are reduced and/or semantic cues are increased, then it could definitely be a logographic script.
cntrational
roman
roman
Posts: 954
Joined: Mon 05 Nov 2012, 03:59

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by cntrational » Sun 28 Feb 2016, 10:10

It's an etymologically phonetic script that behaves a lot more like a logographic script.
MoonRightRomantic
cuneiform
cuneiform
Posts: 136
Joined: Thu 11 Feb 2016, 23:22

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by MoonRightRomantic » Sat 09 Apr 2016, 16:43

Okay, I've recently gone through the list of English phonemes. It turns out English is not alphabetic at all: our "alphabet" actually functions like Chinese radicals. There are at least 74 "basic" phonograms that make up 98% percent of English words, generally ranging from one to four letters in length and each with anywhere from one to a half-dozen or more different phonetic readings. Furthermore, there are 30 different guidelines (not actual rules) governing the use of these phonograms. (Source: Logic of English)

Due to its long, lazy, error-prone and just plain arbitrary history, English orthography is entirely logographic. If we want to be honest, we should just make our phonograms into logograms and our "alphabet" into radicals and I guarantee than literacy will improve (an appalling 20% of English speaking adults are functionally illiterate, costing the USA $24 billion a year).

Does this sound like a good idea for conlang? (Conscript technically)
clawgrip
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2316
Joined: Sun 24 Jun 2012, 06:33
Location: Tokyo

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by clawgrip » Sun 10 Apr 2016, 09:22

Modern English isn't logographic, and won't be until the semantic indicators outweigh the phonetic ones, which currently they do not. Please show me examples of the Chinese-style radicals in action.

Unless your post is describing some sort of future English. Even then, go ahead and show some samples of how it might work.
User avatar
Xing
MVP
MVP
Posts: 5309
Joined: Sun 22 Aug 2010, 17:46

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by Xing » Sun 10 Apr 2016, 11:41

MoonRightRomantic wrote:Due to its long, lazy, error-prone and just plain arbitrary history, English orthography is entirely logographic.
English orthography is more orthographic than many other alphabetic writing system. But 'entirely logographic'????? Saying that English is 'entirely orthographic' because it has orthographic components is like saying that Chinese is 'entirely phonetic' because it has phonetic components in its writing system.
clawgrip
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2316
Joined: Sun 24 Jun 2012, 06:33
Location: Tokyo

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by clawgrip » Sun 10 Apr 2016, 13:17

Okay, if you want to see what a "fully logographic" script written in the Latin alphabet would actually look like, I have made up an example:

vesi /ˈwɔ.tər/
tie /weɪ/
vesitie /ˈwɔ.tər.weɪ/
keuhko /lʌŋ/
vesikeuhko /ˈɑ kwə.ˌlʌŋ/
vesisähkö /ˌhaɪ.droʊ.ɪˈlɛk.trɪk/
keuhkoia /nʊˈmoʊn.yə/
keuhkonen /ˈpʊl.məˌnɛr.i/

vesi: means "water", pronounced /ˈwɔ.tər/, /ˈɑ kwə/, or /ˈhaɪ.droʊ/ depending on the word
tie: means "way", pronounced /weɪ/
keuhko means "lung", pronounced /lʌŋ/, /nʊˈmoʊn/, or /ˈpʊl.mən/ depending on the word
sähkö: means "electric", pronounced /ɪˈlɛk.trɪk/
ia: suffix "-ia", pronounced /iə/ or /jə/
nen: suffix "-ary", pronounced /ɛr.i/


Please excuse this purposely butchered Finnish
cntrational
roman
roman
Posts: 954
Joined: Mon 05 Nov 2012, 03:59

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by cntrational » Sun 10 Apr 2016, 14:13

Virtually no language would allow the orthography to diverge so far from the pronunciation, to boot. For all we like to talk about cultures and languages as abstractions, they're composed of people, and you're not going to convince speakers English or otherwise to do different. Especially in the era of the internet, where respelling things is a linguistic mechanism!

China and Japan got away with it because of sheer cultural pressure, something which they argue about. Why do you think pinyin is so non-obvious for foreigners? Because it was created as a replacement for Chinese characters. China compromised with simplified characters anyway. Japan, too, simplified their kana orthography to encourage phonemic spelling. Korea and Vietnam switched wholesale.
clawgrip
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2316
Joined: Sun 24 Jun 2012, 06:33
Location: Tokyo

Re: Is English a logographic writing system?

Post by clawgrip » Sun 10 Apr 2016, 14:46

China and Japan got away with it because Chinese characters are and have always been logographic, which is the more complex of the two types of script. It makes sense that users of this sort of script would either keep using it (Hong Kong etc.), simplify it (China, Japan), or get rid of it entirely (Vietnam, Korea). The Latin alphabet, on the other hand, is and always has been phonetic, and as you say, actual users are only going to put up with so much complexity before they start using the tools that such a phonetic script readily provides to simplify things. American spelling is a good (if weirdly executed) example of why English orthography will never become logographic to a degree even approaching a true logography, such as the one I provided in my mockup "script".

Anyway, please do share the 74 "basic" phonograms (which are logographic?)
Post Reply