Saturday, June 29, 2013

Intro to Linguistics: Orthography

When someone says the word "language", your first thoughts are probably about spoken language. That's only natural, but in today's society written language is often just as important, if not more so! Try imagining how our world would function without writing. You certainly wouldn't be reading this, and the internet would be nearly useless.

Since writing is so integral to society, it makes sense that most languages have an orthography, or standardized writing system. The word itself comes from the joining of the Greek words orthos ("correct") and graphein ("to write") to make the word orthographia, meaning "correct writing".

The orthography of a language includes several different aspects of writing. One of the most important aspects of a language's orthography is its spelling, or transcription of sounds into letters or symbols. 

Isaiah, depicted here contemplating capitalization rules.
Capitalization is also important, especially since improper usage can influence opinions people have of you. Capitalizing lEttErS inDisCriMInateLy could make people think you're incapable of using a computer, aren't very educated, or are insane. On the other hand, WRITING LIKE THIS can make it seem as if you're angry or shouting, which likely isn't your intention. 

Orthography also addresses things like word breaks. It's preferable for readers if you don't make all your words runtogetherlikethis. It's also important to remember to use punctuation, which can be a fun part of writing when used properly. Just don't overdo it with the exclamation points!!!!!

In the past, we've also discussed the various types of writing systems used by world languages, from alphabets to syllabaries. While English is content with its single Latin-based alphabet, other languages use multiple writing systems. Romanian can be written using either a Latin-based or a Cyrillic-based alphabet, while Japanese uses five different writing systems!

Most modern languages have orthographies, though there are undoubtedly still some indigenous languages out in the world that exist only through speech. Of the languages that are written, some have orthographies with very strict rules that are set by governing bodies often known as language academies. Others, such as English, don't have a specific standard, which is why the spelling of Brits and Americans differs. If the differences were so extreme that "fish" in one variety was "ghoti" in another, there could be major reading comprehension problems. Replacing the occasional s with a z or leaving out a few u's really isn't so bad, if you think about it.