Monday, September 17, 2012

You Say Potato, I Say Pitato

One of the things that has particularly struck me as I’ve been converting this and that from standard English spelling to the Deseret Alphabet has to do with the fate of reduced vowels.

The mouths of English speakers, you see, are lazy.  When they’re pronouncing a word and come across an unstressed vowel—particularly a short unstressed vowel—they can hardly be bothered to work themselves up to actually pronouncing it. After all, nobody’ll hear it anyway. And so, in their hurry to get on to the next consonant, they reduce the vowel and turn it into something fast and easy to pronounce.

The problem is, there is no general agreement among English speaking mouths as to what, exactly the vowel will be reduced to.

Most popular is the schwa, represented in IPA as /ə/. Most of us, when we say “potato” usually end up saying something like |pəˈteɪdoʊ|.  (That /d/ in there is another issue, but we’ll ignore it for now.)

Schwa, however, has competition in the form of (and here I express my gratitude to Wikipedia) a  near-close central unrounded vowel. It doesn’t get a name of its own, but we Americans usually represent it in IPA with /ɨ/.  If you think of a schwa as a very short /ʌ/ (as in rub), then think of the other fellow as a very short /ɪ/ (as in rib).  In Deseret, we write them with 𐐲 and 𐐮, respectively.

To get a sense of what's going on here, listen very closely to different people pronouncing the word “exist.” Some of them will be saying |əɡˈzɪst|, and others will be saying |ɪɡˈzɪst|.  I, myself, am among the latter.

What throws things off here is that there are no general guides as to which vowel is used in which syllable of which word by which people. Some people use one and some the other. For some people, the two are in free variation; that is, they can be used completely interchangeably and good luck knowing in advance which one you’re going to run into.

I have therefore adopted a convention. The idea is that I want to make the transition from standard written English to the Deseret Alphabet as easy as possible, and therefore I want the Deseret form of a word to somehow “resemble” it’s normal form.  The middle vowel in decimal is reduced, for example, which means that the spellings 𐐼𐐯𐑅𐐲𐑋𐐲𐑊 and 𐐼𐐯𐑅𐐮𐑋𐐲𐑊 are both justifiable. Because the standard spelling uses an “i,” however, I opt for the latter spelling. Similarly, banana lacks an “i,” so it becomes 𐐺𐐲𐑌𐐰𐑌𐐲 instead of 𐐺𐐮𐑌𐐰𐑌𐐲.

I can’t say I’m entirely pleased with the end result all the time, but at least I’m less displeased than I otherwise might be.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Transliteration Service Available

It was recently announced on the Yahoo! Deseret Alphabet group that a service to transliterate standard written English to the Deseret Alphabet is available at  I haven't tried it myself (since I use my own software to do that task), but it's definitely worth a look.