Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

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Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby KnightExemplar » Sun Sep 21, 2014 5:57 am UTC

I've decided to start studying American Shorthand recently (Gregg Anniversary edition), and I'm finding it very amusing how certain things are spelled. Gregg is like many other shorthand systems, and consists entirely of a phonetic alphabet.

After practicing with Gregg Shorthand for a month or so, I'm beginning to "get" how to spell words I haven't seen in the manual. I'll give a few examples of words and how they're "spelled" in the phonetic language. Of course, there is the shorthand part of shorthand, where "With" becomes shortened to "ith", or "Ae" (for eye) is shortened to simply "A". "Go" is shortened to "G". I'll ignore that part, and stick with the phonetic spelling of stuff.

"Bridge" is spelled "brij"
"I" or "eye" are spelled "Ae"
"Power" is spelled "Paooer"

There are several interesting aspects of the Gregg Shorthand alphabet. There are the obvious tidbits, such as "c", "k", and "q" are all the same letter "k". But less obviously, there are only 4 vowels each with three "lengths". A, E, O, and OO. So you've got normal A (ahh as in "About"), short A (ah as in "hat"), and long a (A as in Hate). Ditto with the 3 other vowels.

To get all vowel sounds, they are represented as combinations of these 12 vowel sounds. For example, long I (aka eye) is spelled Ae, as above. Long U (such as "you") is spelled "E-oo". (Note, Gregg Shorthand shortens this to simply "oo" since it is a common word). "oi" as in "Oil" is spelled "o-e". And "-owy" such as "Snowy" is spelled "o-long e".

Image

For a language that from birth that I was taught to only have 5 vowels (A, E, I, O and U... and sometimes y), it is mind boggling to realize just how many sounds there are. There are 12 vowel sounds in shorthand with a handful more dipthongs. No wonder our language is so hard to teach!

Other interesting aspects of the alphabet: There is no "W" letter, instead it is represented by the vowel "oo".

Anyway, I thought I'd share my thoughts on shorthand to yall. It helps me keep up my studies! If anyone else has shorthand experience, lets talk about it.
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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Sep 21, 2014 4:58 pm UTC

Yeah, the "5 vowels" thing was only ever about the letters. General American English has up to 14 or 15 distinct vowels (including some diphthongs), and RP and other non-rhotic varieties can have something like 21.

But I suspect you really learned about at least 10 vowels in school, since even at the elementary level there are "short" and "long" variants of each vowel:
bat/bait
bet/beet
bit/bite
bot/boat
but/boot

Plus the sounds in "bought" (which for many of us is different from "bot") and "put", and the diphthongs that aren't simply referred to as long vowels in words like "bout" and "boy". All of those plus schwa makes 15.
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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby Derek » Sun Sep 21, 2014 11:05 pm UTC

Other interesting aspects of the alphabet: There is no "W" letter, instead it is represented by the vowel "oo".

This is because /w/ is a semivowel, closely related to the vowel /u/ (written "oo" here). Similarly, the y consonant, /j/, is a semi-vowel related to /i/ ("long e"). Using vowels to represent semivowels is common in several languages, and sometimes represents older pronunciations where a vowel shifted to a semivowel. For example Latin used the letter V for both /w/ and /u/, and used the letter I for both /i/ and /j/.

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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby eSOANEM » Mon Sep 22, 2014 9:13 pm UTC

My first thought on seeing the "oo" in power (having spent the weekend in wales) was: this is ugly orthography obviously meant to emphasize the semivowel nature of w, much better to take the welsh route and use "w" as a semivowel directly and avoid a digraph (e.g. power = pawer but boom = bwm).
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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby Derek » Tue Sep 23, 2014 2:14 am UTC

eSOANEM wrote:My first thought on seeing the "oo" in power (having spent the weekend in wales) was: this is ugly orthography obviously meant to emphasize the semivowel nature of w, much better to take the welsh route and use "w" as a semivowel directly and avoid a digraph (e.g. power = pawer but boom = bwm).

But of course, w is itself just to v's or u's (which were of course the same letter in Latin), in both name ("double-u") and orthography, so bwm = buum, which is actually a good phonetic spelling.

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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Sep 23, 2014 4:18 am UTC

Sure, but "oo" is ugly and weird in a system where digraphs mean something, and W functions as a single letter in contemporary English, so there's no need to go back and do it again with a different vowel graph when we already have one at hand. Of course, I guess it doesn't matter too much, given it's just a symbol to represent a shorthand character that doesn't resemble either graph in any case.
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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby measure » Tue Apr 07, 2015 2:50 am UTC

Bumping this, as it is a subject that has been an interest of mine for a while although I only recently joined the forum. A few years back I attempted to develop a phonetic alphabet for English, partly because the inconsistencies in English spelling bothered me, and partly because I haven't been satisfied with any of the other phonetic alphabets out there. I only came up with 7 lowest-level vowel sounds, which combine with semi-vowels to form the others:

a: as in "my hat is a white beret"
e: as in "let us go to the bakery"
i: as in "this object is a scone"
o: as in "it also goes over water"
u: as in "business is fun"
x: as in "gulls for sale"
q: as in "I see lots of oxygens in there"

(the letters x and q are repurposed since they are redundant) Other "vowel sounds" are formed by combining these 7 with w or y (bait > beyt, bite > buyt, boat > buwt, boot > bxwt, bout > bawt, etc.). For the consonants, c makes the sh sound, j makes the zh sound at the end of massage, and I had to add three new letters for the hard and soft th sounds and the ng sound (Δ, θ, η, respectively). As an example paragraph translated into my phonetic system:

Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids.


becomes

Plqz cal Stelu. Ask hxr txw briη Δqz θiηz wiθ hxr frum Δu stuwr: siks spxwnz uv frec snuw pqz, fayv θik slabz uv blxw tcqz, and meybq u snak fuwr hxr bruΔxr Bob. Wq olsuw nqd u smol plastik sneyk and u big tuwy frog fuwr thu kidz.


I hope the filters don't render this entirely unreadable, but I think you should be able to get the idea. I think my biggest problem with other phonetic systems is that they have far too many letters for different "vowel sounds" that are actually combinations of simpler sounds (except schwa, which seems able to represent any of several different sounds by itself). I don't know. Maybe I'm just missing some subtle distinctions here (I'm not entirely comfortable with "fuwr"). Your thoughts?

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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby eSOANEM » Tue Apr 07, 2015 11:09 am UTC

You're orthography isn't 1-1 between graphemes and phonemes though. Your letter "a" is both /æ/ and /ɑ/ (or /a/ depending on your accent). Either way, these are two distinct phonemes in the standard forms of both British English (RP) and American English (GA). Wikipedia suggests that GA has 12 distinct monophthong phonemes and you're nowhere near enough letters to distinguish them.

I'm fairly sure, your u and x vowels are the same as well.

You've also then got 5 diphthongs to spell as well. No matter how you're planning to do it; from 7 monophthong graphemes, you can't distinguish all these 5 and the extra monophtongs.

Anyway, your assessment that most phonetic systems have too many different symbols for two many different sounds that can actually be built up from other sounds is false. The idea of a "basic" sound is what linguists mean by a phoneme and the fact that there are 12 monophthong phonemes in GA should tell you that, in order to unambiguously distinguish between all vowels in English, you need 12 distinct letters.

(Dipthongs in English can reasonably be represented as <monophthong><y> or <monophthong><w>)
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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby ThirdParty » Wed Apr 08, 2015 5:59 am UTC

If you're going to add letters anyway, just use the IPA rather than re-inventing the wheel.

If you're not going to add letters, then you need to accept that sometimes you'll have to use pairs of letters to represent single sounds. I think it should be possible to do this without creating ambiguities and without rendering the whole thing too illegible to normal English speakers.

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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby eSOANEM » Wed Apr 08, 2015 12:27 pm UTC

Oh yeah, that's definitely true, but measure hasn't done that (also, reassigning consonant letters as vowel letters is a terrible idea if you ever want your idea to be adopted).

For instance, with the RP monophthongs you could have:

/æ/ = <a>
/ɛ/ = <e>
/ɪ/ = <i>
/ɒ/ = <o>
/ʊ/ = <u>
/ə/ = <r> (this is mostly because of how post-vocalic /r/ is realised in RP and the fact that it won't create ambiguities in other uses but it does break my advice about swapping consonants for vowels and vice versa, you could use /ə/ or /eh/ or something instead though)

/ɐ/ = <uh>

/i:/ = <ii>
/u:/ = <uu>

/ɑ:/ = <ar>
/ɜ:/ = <er>
/ɔ:/ = <or>



Diphthongs and triphthongs then just work similarly to how they would in IPA but dropping the non-syllabic diacritics. A fluent RP speaker knows which things will become non-syllabic and recover the appropriate diphthong/triphthong.

/eɪ/ = <ei>
/aɪ/ = <ai>
/ɔɪ/ = <oi>
/aʊ/ = <au>
/əʊ/ = <oo>
/ɪə/ = <ir>
/eə/ = <eer>
/ʊə/ = <ur>

/eɪə/ = <eir>
/aɪə/ = <air>
/ɔɪə/ = <oir>
/aʊə/ = <aur>
/əʊə/ = <oor>

But of course, this transcription system, whilst corresponding reasonably well with how I, as an RP speaker, analyse my own speech, would be hell for transcribing a rhotic accent like GA.

Consonant phonemes are also a pain. In most accents you have ~22 of them. There's also the fact that c, q, x and j are all unnecessary if you just extend a couple of rules from other bits of the orthography.

/m/ = <m>
/n/ = <n>
/ŋ/ = <ŋ>
/p/ = <p>
/b/ = <b>
/t/ = <t>
/d/ = <d>
/k/ = <k>
/g/ = <g>
/f/ = <f>
/v/ = <v>
/θ/ = <th>
/ð/ = <dh>
/s/ = <s>
/z/ = <z>
/ʃ/ = <sh>
/ʒ/ = <zh>
/h/ = <h>
/r/ = <r> (this is non-ambiguous because the /r/ phoneme doesn't appear after vowels in RP except as an intrusive r after vowels already represented with a final r)
/j/ = <y> (this convention really irritates me, it should be j, but let's leave it as <y> for tradition)
/w/ = <w>
/l/ = <l>

syllabic consonants are probably best represented as <rC> because the difference between /əC/ and /Csyllabic/ fairly minor for most RP speakers.

This would mean that <ch>current = <tsh>, <j>current = <dzh> and <x>current=<ks>.

The only letter that has been introduced is ŋ which is necessary to avoid ambiguities. It also does away with the unnecessary letters q, j, x and c. This could be cut down further by using <u> and <i> instead of <w> and <y> in all places.

The text of this post in this RP-phonetic system (I've not marked gemination because I don't think it's phonemic in RP):

Spoiler:
Oo ye, thats definrtli truu, buht mezher haznt duhn dhat (orlsoo, rirsainiŋ konsrnunt leterz az vaul leterz iz r teribrl aidir if yuu ever wont yor aidir tu bii rdoptid).

For instəns, widh dhr RP monofthoŋz yuu kud hav:

/æ/ = <a>
/ɛ/ = <e>
/ɪ/ = <i>
/ɒ/ = <o>
/ʊ/ = <u>
/ə/ = <ə> (dhis iz moostly brcoz ov hau poost-voocalik /r/ iz rirlaizd in RP and dhr fakt dhat it woont crieit ambigyuuitiiz in uhdhr yuusis buht it duhs breik mai rdvais rbaut swopiŋ konsrnunts for vaulz and vais versr, yuu kud yuuz /ə/ or /eh/ or suhmthiŋ insted dhoo)

/ɐ/ = <uh>

/i:/ = <ii>
/u:/ = <uu>

/ɑ:/ = <ar>
/ɜ:/ = <er>
/ɔ:/ = <or>




Difthoŋz and trifthoŋz dhen dzhuhst werk similəly tu hau dhei wuld in IPA buht dropiŋ dhr non-silabik dairkritiks. ə fluuənt RP spiikr knooz witsh thiŋz wil bəcuhm non-silabik and ricuhver dhr rprooprirt difthoŋ/trifthoŋ.

/eɪ/ = <ei>
/aɪ/ = <ai>
/ɔɪ/ = <oi>
/aʊ/ = <au>
/əʊ/ = <oo>
/ɪə/ = <ir>
/eə/ = <eer>
/ʊə/ = <ur>

/eɪə/ = <eir>
/aɪə/ = <air>
/ɔɪə/ = <oir>
/aʊə/ = <aur>
/əʊə/ = <oor>

Buht uv cors, dhis transkripshun sistrm, whailst corrspondiŋ riizunrbli wel widh hau Ai, az rn RP spiikr, anrlaiz mai oon spiitsh, wuld bii hel for transkraibiŋ a rootik aksrnt laik GA.


Konsrnunt fooniimz ar orlsoo r pein. In moost aksrnts yuu hav ~22 of dhem. Dheerz orlsoo dhr fakt dhat c, q, x and j ar orl uhnesrseri iv yuu dzhuhst ekstend r cuhprl ov ruulz from uhdhr bits ov dhii orthogrrfii.

/m/ = <m>
/n/ = <n>
/ŋ/ = <ŋ>
/p/ = <p>
/b/ = <b>
/t/ = <t>
/d/ = <d>
/k/ = <k>
/g/ = <g>
/f/ = <f>
/v/ = <v>
/θ/ = <th>
/ð/ = <dh>
/s/ = <s>
/z/ = <z>
/ʃ/ = <sh>
/ʒ/ = <zh>
/h/ = <h>
/r/ = <r> (dhis iz non-ambigyuurs brcoz dhr /r/ fooniim duhzrnt rpir aaftr vaulz in RP rksept as an intruusiv r aaftr vaulz orlredii reprrzentid widh r fainrl r)
/j/ = <y> (dhis cunvenshun rirlii iriteits mii, it shud bii j, buht lets liiv it az <y> for tradishun)
/w/ = <w>
/l/ = <l>

Dhis wul miin dhat <ch>kuhrrnt = <tsh>, <j>kuhrrnt = <dzh> and <x>kuhrrnt=<ks>.

Dhi oonli letrz dhat haz biin intrrdyuust iz ŋ witsh ar nesrseri tu rvoid ambigyuuitiiz. It orlsoo duhz rwei widh dhr uhnesrseri letrz q, j, x and c. Dhis kud bii kuht daun ferdhr bai yuuziŋ <u> and <i> insted ov <w> and <y> in orl places.
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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby ThirdParty » Wed Apr 08, 2015 2:00 pm UTC

That's reasonably similar to what I came up with when I tried to do it. Here are my thoughts:

I'm a GA speaker, so want to reserve <r> for /ɹ/. I'm inclined to appropriate <y> to represent /ə/ and let <i> represent /j/; that's not the sound English speakers expect <y> to make, but in my dialect it's less crazy than using <r>. Alternatively, I guess <w> could represent /ʊ/ while <u> represented /ə/.

Adding <ŋ> seems silly if we're not adding the much-more-desperately-needed /ə/. Why can't we just use <ng> to represent /ŋ/ and <ngg> to represent /ŋg/?

You left out the sound /ʍ/. I'm inclined to retain <wh> for it, since <hw> could create ambiguities in <...uhw...> sequences.

I'm somewhat inclined to represent /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/, and /dʒ/ respectively as <sj>, <zj>, <tj>, and <dj>, to keep ugly and counterintuitive "tsh" clusters from proliferating all over a bunch of common "ch" words.

It occurred to me to use <x> to represent /ʔ/ (as in "uh-oh"). If /h/ were then represented as <xh>, then <h> would always be a modifier and never a standalone sound, reducing possibilities for ambiguity. But maybe this sacrifices too much readability.

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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby eSOANEM » Wed Apr 08, 2015 4:54 pm UTC

Yeah, keeping <r> for /r/ would be important for GA.

You distinguish <wh> and <w>? I wasn't aware that that was standard in GA (and certainly isn't in RP although is a reasonably common variant).

Using <j> as a modifier for /ʃ/, /ʒ/ etc. is possibly a good shout, it would certainly make it a lot more compact (but does mean we need an extra letter).

I'm not sure including /ʔ/ is very necessary because I don't think it's phonemic.
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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby Lazar » Wed Apr 08, 2015 5:30 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:we wasn't aware that that was standard in GA

It's not. A non-negligible number of people in the South [sic] still use it, but in GA it would stand out as either antiquated or regional.
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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby ThirdParty » Wed Apr 08, 2015 7:23 pm UTC

Wikipedia's page on the sound lists it as part of the inventory of some RP speakers and some GA speakers--I guess it's not a big enough deal to qualify someone as having a different dialect. Another page says about 17% of Americans draw at least some sort of distinction between "w" and "wh".

But anyhow, it doesn't really matter. If we're using <h> as a modifier letter anyway, then there's no harm in allowing <wh> for transcribing the speech of people who use the sound. Even <kh> for the sound in "Loch" and <lh> for the sound in "Llanelli". None of them is in danger of causing any ambiguity, and being able to render as many dialects as possible using the same characters is desirable.

Lazar wrote:in GA it would stand out as either antiquated or regional.
I doubt it. My father was completely unable to hear the difference. Throughout my entire childhood, he'd say something like "Witch way should we go?", my mother would correct him and say "You mean 'which' way", and he'd reply "that's what I asked!" (Though I also remember similar exchanges along the lines of "I'm going to go lay down", "you mean 'lie' down", "what's the difference?", which is presumably a matter of grammar rather than hearing.)

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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby Lazar » Wed Apr 08, 2015 8:08 pm UTC

Well, King of the Hill and Family Guy have both made fun of /ʍ/ – the former ("I tell ya hwat") treating it as a quaint regionalism, and the latter ("Cool Hwip") as a prissy affectation.
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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby Derek » Fri Apr 10, 2015 8:52 pm UTC

My dad (North Carolina) consistently makes the distinction between <w> and <wh>. I (also NC) do not.

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Re: Thoughts on Shorthand / Phonetic English

Postby Aiwendil » Tue Apr 14, 2015 4:55 pm UTC

ThirdParty wrote:I doubt it. My father was completely unable to hear the difference. Throughout my entire childhood, he'd say something like "Witch way should we go?", my mother would correct him and say "You mean 'which' way", and he'd reply "that's what I asked!"


Presumably, he replied, "That's wat I asked!", which of course just opens up all kinds of "who's on first"-style continuations...

I (northern NJ) distinguish "w" and "wh", though in quick speech the latter tends to merge toward the former. But such a distinction is quite rare in that area; I'm actually a little bit perplexed as to how it became so persistent a feature of my own pronunciation.


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