Tag Archives: orthography

Linguistic Crisis in Kazakhstan

images.jpeg

If you recall the “Borat” movie (and who can forget it?), you will remember that Borat came to the United States from Kazakhstan, his native country. Kazakhstan was formerly under Soviet rule and used the Cyrillic alphabet because the Kazakh language has never had an alphabet of its own and has sounds that would be difficult to transpose into either Cyrillic or Latin aphabets.

Alert: CRISIS IN KAZAKHSTAN! The president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has declared that beginning in 2025 the Latin alphabet will be the official way to write the Kazakh language.

But wait!

About half the Russian population has left the country, so there is no great uproar about the change from Cyrillic to Latin orthography among the populace. What is riling Kazakhs is that Mr. Nazarbayev has decreed that instead of using diacritical marks such as umlauts and other phonetic markers to aid in pronunciation, apostrophes will be used to change the sounds of certain letters. Many, many apostrophes. So many apostrophes that Kazakhs are complaining that their eyes will bleed trying to read the Latin script sprinkled with endless apostrophes. “The Republic of Kazakhstan” will now be written “Qazaqstan Respy’bli’kasy.” Got that?

President Nazarbayev has never been a man to be questioned. However, the uproar against his proposed abundance of apostrophes has been loud and aggressive, and the head of the senate of Kazakhstan has recently said that “a final decision has not been made.” (Note the passive voice.) Nazarbayev is described as a man who wants to be remembered as inventing his own alphabet. There is a good chance he will be. Stay tuned. I wonder where Borat comes down on this issue.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under All things having to do with the English language

The OED

Cover of "The Oxford English Dictionary (...

Cover via Amazon

If you’re not familiar with those initials, they stand for the Oxford English Dictionary, undoubtedly the most revered dictionary in the English-speaking world.  Not your typical dictionary, it gives not only etymology and spelling but examples of word usage from the first example to more recent ones, including dates of those instances. Researchers began working on it in 1857.

Today on “All Things Considered,” the about-to-retire Chief Editor of the OED, John Simpson, was interviewed. He has been delving into words at the OED for 37 years now and thought it was time to spend his time in areas less apt to change than is language.  In the interview, he was asked if the next revision of the OED would include words that first appeared not on paper but in cyberspace, and the answer was a definitive yes.

In case you think the OED would be a nifty dictionary for your bookshelf, it currently runs to

Cover of "The Professor and the Madman: A...

Cover via Amazon

20 volumes.  Years ago I joined the Book of the Month Club because as a bonus for signing up I could get the OED in two volumes, with four pages of the larger edition on each page. The slipcase contains a drawer with a necessary magnifying glass included.  You can get the OED online, but it is quite pricey.

A wonderful book about the OED and one of its most diligent and fruitful researchers is The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester.  Here is a brief Amazon synopsis:

The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary — and literary history. The compilation of the OED began in 1857; it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

Tell me that doesn’t grab you!  The Professor and the Madman is a compelling book I recommend without reservation.

Leave a comment

April 27, 2013 · 12:55 AM

How to Spell “Fish”

George Bernard Shaw was so frustrated by the vagaries of English spelling that he tried, unsuccessfully, to revise standard orthography: each letter should have only one sound.

The way he saw it, using English spelling to write “fish” could easily be GHOTI:

GH=enough

O=women

TI=nation

Got it?

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Which Spelling Is Correct?

English has quite a few words that are spelled two ways and mean the same thing.  When you look these words up in the dictionary, the convention is to give the preferred spelling first.  Here are some words you can spell two ways:

AX/AXE

ADVISOR/ADVISER

ARCHAEOLOGY/ARCHEOLOGY

BARBECUE/BARBEQUE

DISC/DISK

WHISKEY/WHISKY

GRAY/GREY

COLLECTIBLE/COLLECTABLE

British people write judgement, while in America we omit that middle e.  Similarly, they write colour, honour, centre and theatre, while Americans prefer color, honor, center and theater.  Language changes in spelling, grammar, meaning and usage, but the changes are rarely so rapid that you can’t keep up.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized