Douwe Osinga's Blog: Rightin Corectli

Sunday, August 3, 2003

Some ideas are so simple that nobody wants to take them seriously. Lots of language communities spend enormous amounts of time to decide how to write certain words, always wondering whether tradition or reason should get the upper hand. Meanwhile in the real world, the good people of the International Phonetic Association have developed a way of writing that works for all languages in a consistent way. Why on earth do people write differently?

Writing phonetically might seem strange at first. It seems we're losing contact with an established language tradition, our own past. But people thinking like that don't realise how few of their own actually share that tradition. In western society an amazing amount of people never grasps the complexity of spelling and doesn't write at all, or very flaky. We call those people illiterate, but we don't really know. Maybe it is the complexity of the writing rules that puts these people out of the game. We disregard people that can't spell or can't write.

In the Netherlands we have a national dictee. One night on tv, people try to spell a very difficult piece of text correctly. Though it is maybe 300 words only, most people will make more than ten erros (I know I would). The very best score three errors or so. Give a normal piece of text to spell to the average guy and he'll make lots of errors. So much that it might scare him to write at all.

Learning foreign languages would be helped enormously if we would all write phonetically. It would be easier, because we would recognize the sounds we know and see which sounds we don't know. This last part is very important. A lot of people learning a foreign language see letters and think: I know how to pronounce these and will pronounce those letters the way they are pronounced in their native tongue for the rest of their foreign language speaking days. Maybe if we see that something is written differently, we'll learn to pronounce it differently too. juw jork rools.