Thursday, February 21, 2013

Could a new phonetic alphabet promote Global Understanding?

Backers of a universal alphabet say it will make pronunciation easy and foster international understanding but can phonetic spelling systems really smooth the path to world peace and understanding?

You are in Vietnam and want a bowl of soup. You ask a local where you can get "pho". After momentary confusion you are handed a book.

It's the curse of phonetics. Pho was correct. But you failed to emphasise the vowel and so articulated in Vietnamese "copy" (of a book).

English has more pitfalls than most other languages. "Don't desert me here in the desert" is a classic example of the heteronym, words spelt the same but pronounced differently. Bill Bryson remarked in his book Mother Tongue that there were nine separate pronunciations of hegemony.

The argument over regulating spelling has been raging for more than a century. Charles Dickens and George Bernard Shaw were advocates - the latter leaving much of his will to setting up a new phonetic alphabet.

Today the cause has been taken up by Jaber George Jabbour, a Syrian banker living in the UK. He has set up SaypU, an alphabet with none of the indecipherable squiggles of traditional phonetic alphabets.

It contains 23 letters from the Roman alphabet as well as a back to front e. There is no place for "c", "q", or "x", which merely repeat sounds achievable by using other letters. The "ɘ" represents the soft "a" of "ago" or "about", a sound known as "schwa".

Jabbour was a frustrated traveller. He would see words on billboards, menus and street signs. But he didn't have a clue how to pronounce them.

When he first got to London he said Leicester Square as it is written - Le-ses-ter Square - receiving funny looks. Only later did he realise that it is pronounced "Lester".

These kind of misunderstandings create a barrier, he argues. In countries like India and China where the entire script is different it can be a wall between local and outsider.

A simplified universal alphabet would end not only misunderstanding. It would help foster peace around the world, he believes.

What is SaypU?

  • Phonetic alphabet for writing all languages - name stands for spell as you pronounce universally
  • Uses 24 letters from Latin alphabet
  • Adds a reverse e - ɘ or Ǝ - for the soft "a" in "ago"
  • Leaves out c (replaced with either k or s), q (k) and x (ks or gz)

More about SaypU

No comments:

Post a Comment