Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2011 December 25

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December 25[edit]

we have tath, spraints, bodewash etc - but what are cat droppings called?[edit]

There are fantastic obscure names for the faeces of cattle and otters and others - but is there a word specific for cats?

Thanks - and merry Christmas! Adambrowne666 (talk) 08:07, 25 December 2011 (UTC)

Don't think there's one. You could call them *felixces (which rhymes with seas). :-) Incidentally, while looking up spraints in the OED I came across this quotation (J. Taylor, Armado (1627), signature D2): "It is cald a Deeres Fewmets,‥a Foxe or a Badgers Feance [fiants], and an Otters Spraintes." Couldn't find fewmets in the OED, but fewmand is a verb meaning "to foul, to soil" (and appears to be a word made up by Ben Jonson). Also couldn't find bodewash in the dictionary – which animal does that refer to? Sounds like the beginnings of a featured list ... Merry Christmas! — Cheers, JackLee talk 11:16, 25 December 2011 (UTC)
For "Fewmets", try looking under the spelling fumet. Deor (talk) 14:42, 25 December 2011 (UTC)
Bingo – fumet: "Obs. or arch.. The excrement (of a deer). rare in sing.". — Cheers, JackLee talk 09:39, 26 December 2011 (UTC)
Thanks a lot - I guess it makes sense that there'd be names for the droppings of game animals, but not domestic ones... Adambrowne666 (talk) 02:46, 26 December 2011 (UTC)
Yes, that's what I think too. It is probably only useful to have names for the droppings of game animals (in order to identify and locate the creatures), and perhaps for livestock the dung of which is useful for agricultural purposes. — Cheers, JackLee talk 09:39, 26 December 2011 (UTC)

Polish: Pronunciation of Ł with no vowels around[edit]

Wiktionary says that the Polish word "jabłko", which exhibits an Ł between two plosives, is pronounced JAP-ko, that is, as if the Ł wasn't there. Is that true? I think a final -ł is normally pronounced in the regular way when it comes after a consonant: szedł, mógł, niósł. Are there any other words where the Ł is silent (if it is indeed silent in jabłko)? --Theurgist (talk) 10:53, 25 December 2011 (UTC)

Generally speaking, the Ł is often lost in relaxed pronunciation, but still pronounced in more formal speech. So the examples you listed below would be formally (or even hypercorrectly) pronounced [ˈjabwkɔ], [ʂɛdw], [mugw], [ɲusw]; but in relaxed pronunciation, they would become: [ˈjapkɔ], [ʂɛd], [mug], [ɲus] (the latter three especially if followed by a word beginning with a consonant; and of course, D and G would become T and K, if next word began with an unvoiced consonant: poszedł po coś [ˌpɔʂɛtˈpɔt͡sɔɕ], mógł to zrobić [ˌmuktɔˈzrɔbʲit͡ɕ]). — Kpalion(talk) 15:10, 25 December 2011 (UTC)

English Spelling Reform[edit]

I'm an excellent speller, but the number of people who aren't frustrates me. So I decided to create a reform for English's spelling system that better reflects the sounds of the spoken language. My ideas can be expressed in fifteen points.

  1. English shall continue to use the Latin alphabet. It will operate, for the most part, on a phonemic and phonetic basis. Some exceptions will need to be made, as the Latin alphabet does not provide enough letters for English’s phonemic inventory.
  2. The following letters shall be pronounced exactly as they appear in the IPA: <m p b f v n t d s z k g w h>
  3. The sounds /θ ð ɹ ɫ ʃ ʒ j/ will be represented, respectively, by <c q r l x j y>.
  4. The only digraph that will be used is <ng>, for the velar nasal /ŋ/. In words such as <bingo> and <tank> where there is an additional plosive after the nasal, this plosive shall be included in the form of an additional <g> or <k> after the <g> of the digraph.
  5. The two affricates, /tʃ/ and /dʒ/, will be spelled by means of the sounds of which they are composed; hence, <tx> and <dj>.
  6. Consonants which are syllabic will be preceded by an apostrophe. The word <spasm> will be respelled <spâz’m>; the word <error> as <er’r>.
  7. Vowels shall be reassigned to their typical pronunciations in European languages. The cardinal vowels /ɑː eɪ iː oʊ uː/ shall become /a e i o u/.
  8. The so-called “short vowels” shall be indicated through addition of a circumflex to the cardinal vowels. /æ ɛ ɪ ɒ ʌ/ are to become <â ê î ô û>. The two remaining vowel phonemes, /ə ʊ/, will be indicated by a dieresis/umlaut over the vowels <ë ö>. The task of the diaeresis is to show that a vowel is generally “weak”.
  9. Diphthongs, except for /eɪ/ and /oʊ/, are to be indicated through the sounds that form them. Hence, we obtain <ay oy aw yu>.
  10. To account for dialectical differences in English, each dialect is permitted to respell each word as it is pronounced in that dialect. The letter <ü> may be used to indicate the sound /ɜː/ in Received Pronunciation. However, both /ɒ/ and /ɔ/ are to be represented by <ô> to avoid creation of more symbols.
  11. The old system of spelling will be kept in areas such as computing, where the groundwork would have to be completely reformed to accommodate the diacritics.
  12. In systems where production of the diacritics is impossible, such as ASCII or fonts that do not contain them, the circumflexed letters may be substituted with a ^ after the letter and those with diereses may be substituted by placing a colon after the letter.
  13. Words that have multiple pronunciations, such as <can, that, our>, and <should>, shall always be spelled with their stressed pronunciation <kân, qât, awr, xöd>. The exception is <the>, which shall be respelled <që> before consonants and <qi> when before vowels or emphasized.
  14. The glottal stop /ʔ/ will not be represented in writing, and its elimination from speech should be attempted post-haste. Words that usually contain it such as <Vietnam> and <bitten> should use <t> instead to promote this elimination: <Viëtnâm, bîtën>.
  15. Though new sounds have been assigned to many letters, the letters themselves will retain their old names.

For example, point fifteen written with my new spelling would be: "Qo nu sawndz hâv bin ësaynd tu mêni lêt'rz, që lêt'rz qëmsêlvz wîl riten qer old nemz."

I've brought this here so I could get tweaks, opinions, ideas, criticism, consequences, etcetera. Please feel free to add input about these ideas. If all goes well I plan to submit this to the Oxford English dictionary. Interchangeable|talk to me 19:08, 25 December 2011 (UTC)

I hate it. But go ahead and submit it to the OED. I'm sure they'll send you a form letter thanking you for your contribution, along with some advertisements about their current products. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:27, 25 December 2011 (UTC)
It's okay if you hate it, but at least give a reason for it. Interchangeable|talk to me 19:38, 25 December 2011 (UTC)
How about giving a reason (1) why the OED would care; and (2) even if they did care, why anyone else would need to? The OED does not rule the language, they merely report it. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 23:47, 25 December 2011 (UTC)
You might be interested in English language spelling reform#Obstacles. Pfly (talk) 19:45, 25 December 2011 (UTC)
I also dislike it. A lot. Your new spelling of point 15 is all but unrecognisable as English. Appearance-wise, it has more in common with Maltese than modern English. It's way too much change in one go, and it will not be successful. Language change occurs g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y or not at all. Sorry to be blunt, but there it is; better you know this now, than do a large amount of work that will prove to have been fruitless. -- Jack of Oz [your turn] 21:04, 25 December 2011 (UTC)
When we talk of "the English language", we're talking about at least hundreds of different things, some of them virtually mutually incomprehensible. You have to consider this issue before you start on any crusade to change the language. Lots of people with language smarts have tried, and all have failed. That in itself doesn't mean you will also fail. But you will fail. -- Jack of Oz [your turn] 22:25, 25 December 2011 (UTC)

This proposition looks too weird for me. I'm all for a spelling reform in English, but this is carrying it too far. In particular, I don't like "q" for the "th" sound, the accented vowels, and the "z". Some languages distantly related to English, such as German and Swedish, have spelling-pronunciation relations that I consider more-or-less "right". My native Finnish has the closest spelling-pronunciation relations I've ever seen in any language, but then there's the problem that Finnish lacks very many sounds that are commonplace in pretty much every other language. For example, voiced consonants don't occur in native Finnish (apart from "d", which many Finns don't even recognise), Finnish doesn't distinguish between "v" and "w", the "th" sound is pretty much unpronounceable to Finns, and Finnish lacks some vowels such as "õ" in Estonian and the "halfway-between-u-and-ü" thing in Swedish. JIP | Talk 19:55, 25 December 2011 (UTC)

I had to include the accented vowels because English has too many vowel phonemes for the Latin alphabet to cover. Having finished with most of the consonants I had two free letters (c and q) and two free phonemes, so it seemed natural that they would go together. (Letters don't have inherent sounds; Turkish assigns <c> to /dʒ/.) But as for Finnish, that has no bearing on this. We're talking about English. I can understand if you find English's sounds difficult; this is just an attempt to make orthography correspond to speech well. Interchangeable|talk to me 20:18, 25 December 2011 (UTC)
I hate the idea, too, and it looks as if you are advocating pronunciation reform along with your spelling reform. If you were inventing a new language and were a dictator who could insist that everyone used your spelling and pronunciation, then this might work, but you've very little chance of getting a significant number of people to take your suggestion seriously, even if you iron out the problems. I agree with you that English spelling and pronunciation is a mess, but it has hundreds of years of history, and many millions of people who have learnt it efficiently, thus it has gained an enormous amount of inertia such that you very unlikely to persuade people to use your spelling. I also think you are over-simplifying pronunciation, and thus your reform will make sense only for some regions where English is spoken. Nevertheless, best wishes for your project. Adopting a reform such as yours would be a significant help for people who struggle to learn to read English. Dbfirs 21:43, 25 December 2011 (UTC)
So all I have to do is conquer the English-speaking world - that is, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, Cameroon, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, the Falkland Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guam, Guernsey, Guyana, India, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jamaica, Jersey, Kiribati, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Montserrat, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Pitcairn Islands, Rwanda, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Singapore, Sierra Leone, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Sudan, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and possibly South Africa. Piece of cake! Does anybody have a spare army and a few billion dollars that they could lend me? Interchangeable|talk to me 22:17, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
This is a reference desk, not a discussion forum. The only kind of response that would be relevant here is one like Pfly's pointing you to a relevant resource, --ColinFine (talk) 22:59, 25 December 2011 (UTC)
@Interchangeable: Ay wîx yu ôl göd lûk wîc që tûf txâlîndj ôv pëswedîng boc âkëdimîë ând lemên în që Yunaytîd Kîngdëm, Ëmêrîkë, Kânëdë, Ëstrelîë, Nyu Zilënd ând që rêst ôv qi Îngglîx-spikîng wüld tu ëksêpt që txendj yöë prëpozîng, ând aym îngkûrîdjîng yu nôt tu fëgêt tu fayl ë rîkwêst qât yô ëkawnt bi rînemd âz "Înt'rtxendjëb'l" wûns yô mîx'n îz dûn. :) Sînsîëlî, Ciüdjîst (tôk) 16:23, 26 December 2011 (UTC)
Cânks for qi aydiëz, êvriwën. Ûnfortxënëtli, may aydiëz hâvën't côt ôn yêt, bût ay'l glâdli txendj may nem if qe du. Lêt ît bi non qât ay âm NÔT âdvëkaytîng prënûnsiexën riform (djûst lök ât aytëm tên). Cângk yu tu Pfly for yor rêlëvënt rizors. Ay don't ëgri wîth ôl ûv qi artîk'l'z poynts, bût ât list ît pöts ë lôt întu p'rspêktîv. (Say...) "Sûmtaymz pip'l se, 'Hir îz sûmcîng nu!' Bût âkxuëli ît îs old; nûcîng îz êv'r truli nu." Ëkliziâstiz wûn v'rs tên, Nu Lîvîng Trânzlexën. Interchangeable|talk to me 17:06, 26 December 2011 (UTC)
This concept sounds a lot like the spelling reform that Benjamin Franklin proposed, as he wrote here in 1768. (From your background, Interchangeable, I assume you are aware of Franklin's work, but others may not be.) — Michael J 16:57, 26 December 2011 (UTC)

Suggest you read this, which goes into some detail about the current English spelling system. A major problem with many spelling reform proposals is that they try to reinvent the wheel after misreading complexity as irregularity, and that's a trap that I think you've fallen into.

His rules 25 and 26 (on long and short vowels and how they are distinguished in spelling using single- and double-letters) are rules that I think all English-speakers should be aware of. They make it so much easier to predict pronunciation from spelling and are used extensively. Pfainuk talk 17:46, 26 December 2011 (UTC)

Interchangeable, I still like it that there are some spelling practices that are extant in other languages: Albanian also assigns <ë> for /ə/, Catalan also assigns <x tx> for /ʃ tʃ/, Malay and Indonesian also assign <ng> for /ŋ/ even before G or K. You've made an effort to allocate a separate grapheme for every sound - why didn't you merely employ the IPA then? Next time, I suggest you make things a bit less "artificial" and radical - for example by reinstating the old English letters <þ ð> for the sounds /θ ð/; maybe making use of <š> for /ʃ/, or not being so scared of digraphs and just leaving it <sh>; not being so pedantic about English vowel reduction; dealing with long and short vowels the way other Germanic languages do; and so on. But that's just my humble opinion; I have no intentions of reforming the English spelling. :) --Theurgist (talk) 06:27, 27 December 2011 (UTC)
Thanks for the kind words! I did not employ the IPA because its letters are not well-supported (and copyrighted!). My general hope was to keep the whole thing ASCII - hence, rule 12 - so no thorn or eth. Besides, why bring them back if I have two unused letters, c and q? Sh doesn't work as a diagraph because of the meddling word "grasshopper"; in my new spelling that would be <grâshôp'r> and if I had used sh as a digraph it could be interpreted as [ˈgɹʷæˌʃɒpr̩]. Interchangeable|talk to me 23:56, 29 December 2011 (UTC)
BTW, Rule 10 makes me feel you're Canadian; The Brits, as well as the Americans, do make a distinction between cot and caught, and they don't feel that the distinction between cot and cat deserves a symbolic represenation more than the distinction between cot and caught does. (talk) 10:38, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
The real fatal flaw in your proposal (apart from the fact that you're one isolated individual) is that it completely breaks with established tradition. No speaker of English will look at a word like xöd or qât and say "oh, he spelled it the way it's actually pronounced". Instead, they won't even recognize it as English or anything remotely related to English. When you look at proposals for spelling reforms throughout history (the examples I know of come from Italian and Romansh), people who want to assign entirely new sound values to letters or introduce new diacritics don't stand a chance, no matter how logical the proposal might be. Any proposal to reform English spelling would have to build on the existing spelling conventions to have any chance to be accepted, but obviously that isn't the only obstacle... --Terfili (talk) 15:27, 30 December 2011 (UTC)
Why is it that humanity cares more about the past than the future? It's of course excellent to study history and learn from one's mistakes, but when history itself (English spelling in general) is nothing but a giant mistake, there's no sense in studying it. I recall a poster that I saw hanging on a classroom wall: "Winners say, 'there ought to be a better way.' Losers say, 'that's the way it's always been.'" I don't want to have to think of the whole English-speaking world as losers. But thanks for the advice, everyone. Interchangeable|talk to me 20:04, 2 January 2012 (UTC)