Designing an Alphabet for an Unwritten Language

By

Roger Stone and Neri Zamora

(Presented at the 1st MLE Conference, “Reclaiming the Right to Learn in One’s Own Language,” Capitol University, Cagayan de Oro City, Feb 18-20, 2010.)

ABSTRACT:  In this paper, we describe the process of developing an alphabet or orthography for an unwritten language.

What is an orthography?

Orthography is a technical term that simply means the system of writing. Its purpose is to facilitate communication.

As far as we in TAP and SIL are concerned, there are three types of orthography:  phonetic, technical and practical.  A phonetic orthography is typically a non-Roman-based transcription that is suitable for phonetically transcribing data.  An alphabet called the International Phonetic Alphabet (more about this in 3.2.1) is used for this type of orthography.

  1. A technical orthography of a language is typically a Roman-based transcription that is suitable for academic publication.  It should reflect the underlying phonemic representation of the language.  A technical orthography is typically Roman-based transcription that is suitable for the academic publication.
  2. A practical orthography is typically the language encoding used by readers and writers of the language.  For many languages there may be more than one writing system.  Some spelling systems are much easier to learn and use than others.  The most important consideration in a practical orthography is that writing system is adapted to the cultural trends, to the prestige, education, and political goals.

For the complete article, click on Orthographies paper

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