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Review of The Relation of Writing to Spoken Language
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2003 16:46:22 +0100 From: Tobias Thelen Subject: The Relation of Writing to Spoken Language
Neef, Martin, Anneke Neijt and Richard Sproat, eds. (2002) The Relation of Writing to Spoken Language, Niemeyer, Linguistische Arbeiten 460.
Tobias Thelen, University of Osnabrueck
Neef, Neijt and Sproat present a volume that consists of ten papers which mostly grew out of talks given at the international workshop Writing Language in Nijmegen on August 28-30 2000. In their introduction they identify a set of general questions that are covered in the papers from different perspectives. The main questions concerns the relation of writing and spoken language, more specifically the questions of how natural writing is, the notion of orthographic depth, the relation between orthography as an object of research for theoretical linguistics and the psycholinguistic investigation of its use and the processes involved. In their introduction, the editors raise the question of what kind of constraints are involved in reading and writing and if non-local constraints are necessary to adequately describe spelling and reading. The status of orthography and writing is addressed in asking whether writing is derived from spoken language or if it follows autonomous rules. Finally, they give attention to the balance between reading and writing and state that reader- and reading-oriented models of orthography might be more suitable than writer- or writing-oriented ones.
The papers are organized in four sections. Each of them investigates one phenomenon or theoretical question from different point of views and different research backgrounds.
Section 1: Consistency
Anneke Neijt - The Interfaces of Writing and Grammar
Neijt addresses Sproat's consistency hypothesis (Sproat 2000) and applies it to Dutch spelling. Dutch has a deep orthography, e.g. final devoicing, it shows differences between native and non-native words, and is best described by a two-step derivation: phoneme-to-grapheme conversion of morphemes are followed by graphotactic rules. Neijt tries to show that phoneme-to-grapheme rules are based on information from different levels. She demonstrates that the Orthographically Relevant Level (ORL) is different for native and non-native words. For phoneme-to-grapheme rules she argues that some morphemes are spelled according to an underlying phonemic form while some require a more superficial level. This can be seen as contradicting the consistency hypothesis. Graphotactic rules as presented by Nunn are not autonomous but need orthographical and phonological information as shown for diaeresis placement, syllabification degemination and stress representation. Neijt concludes that Dutch orthography cannot easily be described by the consistency hypothesis. Information from different levels of language processing is involved.
Richard Sproat - The Consistency of the Orthographically Relevant Layer in Dutch
Sproat directly replies to the aforementioned article and tries to show that the examples given by Neijt do not violate the Consistency Hypothesis. The devoicing examples given might stem from two different processes, one applied before, the other applied after the ORL. Stress information might be encoded by diacritics that don't show up in surface orthography - Sproat argues that this solution is not worse than looking at phonology and orthography simultaneously. The different rules for different parts of orthography (Latinate vs. native part) observed by Neijt are categorized differently by Sproat: one is an obligatory morpho-phonological alternation, the other one an optional phonetic alternation. In other cases, etymological information is needed to decide which set of rules is to be taken. This information must somehow be encoded in the representation. For the need of information from different levels, such as syntax or semantics, Sproat states that "level" means "stage in derivational process", not "level in some hierarchy". So, all information accessible at a given stage of the derivational process is present in the ORL, too. Sproat finally asks why we should expect that consistency holds. He argues that orthography should be as natural as possible to be usable. If orthography was not, two things could happen to re-establish consistency: spelling changes and spelling pronunciations.
Section 2: Cross-linguistic studies
Susanne R. Borgwaldt & Annette M.B. de Groot: Bevond Rime: Measuring the complexity of Monosyllabic and Polysyllabic Words
The authors propose a new methodology for measuring bidirectional consistency of spelling-sound correspondences in psycholinguistic research. In contrast to other methods, the proposed one would be suitable for both monosyllabic and polysyllabic words. They state that the findings about the consistency of a spelling system vary on the size of units (letter, rhymes, sliding windows, sublexical linguistic units). Thus, a flexible methodology is necessary for several application domains (speech synthesis, machine learning). Their new method splits written and spoken words in units like onset, nucleus and coda. Then, body (onset + nucleus) and rime (nucleus + coda) are compared with respect to consistency of mapping. For polysyllabic words, ambisyllabic segments and variable syllable boundaries may impose problems, so coda and following onset are treated as one unit. In the next step overlapping sublexical units (OSLUs) are constructed as pairs, triples, or quadruples etc. of adjacent sublexical units. Each of these patterns is compared to estimate consistency. The result is a list of consistency scores for each OSLU and a combined consistency score for the entire word. The authors show that their method is more accurate than other methods as it is able to disambiguate a lot of otherwise inconsistent spellings or pronunciations. They claim that the proposed method is language independent as well as easy to compute. Finally, the results of a sample analysis are presented for Dutch and German.
Dorit Ravid & Steven Gillis: Teachers' Perception of Spelling Patterns and Children's Spelling Errors: A Cross-linguistic perspective
Ravid and Gillis present the results of studies on teachers' knowledge about morphological and morpho-phonological cues in spelling homophonous graphemes in Hebrew and Dutch. They ask two questions: Is children's knowledge and use of morphology matched by their teachers' ability to explain spellings and what differences exist between Belgian and Israeli teachers' ability to explain spellings. In a first study children were given a spelling test with 4 sets of 8 homophonous items, with different status of recoverability. For Hebrew the predictions were matched: fewer errors for words with more cues, more errors for words with fewer cues. For Dutch speaking children, the predictions were not met as they scored relatively low on morphologically motivated sets and relatively high on morphologically unmotivated sets. The author present a possible explanation: Growing up with a morphologically complex language like Hebrew makes it easier to use morphological clues. Alternative explanation could concern the teachers' knowledge about spelling rules. In a second study the items from the children's test were randomized and presented to teachers in a pairing task and a motivation of choice task. In the pairing task, the expectations from the children's experiments were not matched. Belgian teachers have been able to identify the pairs, Hebrew teachers had greater difficulties. In the motivation task, Belgian teachers scored better than Hebrew. For all Hebrew results, students of teachers training colleges scored lower than university students, for the Dutch results both groups had comparable results. The result of this study is that the teachers' metalinguistic knowledge of spelling patterns is a mirror image of children's performance. A possible explanation could be that the acquisition of language patterns and rules is implicit and natural. Metalinguistic explanation has to be learned and is difficult. Teachers have to find simple rules to teach for complex rules. This is easier for Dutch than for Hebrew. A list of the test items used concludes the article.
Section 3: Diacritics and Punctuation
Vincent J. van Heuven: Effects of Diaeresis on Visual Word Recognition in Dutch
Van Heuven presents a study on the effects of diaeresis in Dutch spelling on the recognition of words. As Dutch words can contain long sequences of vowel letters, the diaeresis is used to indicate beginning of syllable. The guiding question for the study was how the diaeresis affects the visual word recognition process, and whether the proper use of diaeresis enables adult Dutch readers to recognize words more efficiently. The experimental setting was to present words with correct use of diaeresis and three types of diaeresis errors: omission, addition and transposition. Subjects were asked to decide whether a string presented is a Dutch word or not. The stimulus material consisted of 240 letter strings, 120 of which were existing Dutch words (40 filler, 80 crucial words), 120 orthographically and phonologically legal Dutch nonsense strings. Three versions of the crucial words have been used: the correct spelling, a spelling with diaeresis error, and a spelling with a minimal spelling error. These versions have been presented in an evenly mixed way for each of 120 students. The results of the experiment show a clear effect of error type: the correct versions and the versions with diaeresis errors do not differ whereas misspelling score significantly lower. The length of the vowel sequence has a small effect, but has no interaction with the error type, i.e. both diaeresis errors (omission and transposition) have no effect. For the insertion of illegal diaeresis the correct acceptance rate drops significantly. The addition of diaeresis detracts from the recognizability of the word form but the elimination of diaeresis does not create problems for the experienced adult reader. The author concludes that it is possible that the diaeresis, however, is of considerable help for inexperienced readers and learners of Dutch orthography.
Jochen Geilfu��-Wolfgang: Optimal Hyphenation
The author presents a constraint based modelling of German hyphenation in an optimality-theoretic framework. He gives structural well-formedness constraints for orthographic syllables that to not refer to phonological syllables. For his investigation he uses data from the 2000 edition of Duden Rechtschreibung. The author shows that eight properly ranked constraints yield correct results for all the cases in question: - Ons: orthographic syllables begin with a consonant grapheme - Nuc: orthographic syllables have a vowel grapheme - *ComplexOns: orthographic syllables have at most one consonant grapheme at their left edge - *ComplexNuc: orthographic syllables have at most one vowel grapheme - AlignL: Left edges of stems and morphological words coincide with left edges of orthographic syllables - RecoverGrapheme: graphemes cannot be split - Margins: Every margin of an orthographic syllable is a possible margin of an orthographic word The author states that with this modelling orthographic syllables are defined and related to the question of complex or noncomplex graphemes, graphotactical constraints and morphological information, but not phonological information. He concludes that word splitting in German is based on orthographic syllables.
Ursula Bredel: The Dash in German
In contrast to the usual characterization of the dash (Gedankenstrich) in German orthography as a polyfunctional mark, the author suggests a uniform characterization. She motivates this approach by the observation that both syntactical and intonational explanations of punctuation omit the aspect of linking as a medium-specific property. The dash has earlier been characterized as a polyfunctional punctuation mark, that functions on a grammatical level, on a text organizational level or on a pragmatic level. Attempts to characterize the dash uniformly compromise the notions of "interrupting" and "changing". Bredel gives an overview of development of the dash in German writing. Historically, it had two different functions: marking omissions, marking end of lines. The modern uses of dash have in common a certain change of focus. Bredel shows this notion for parantheses, change of speaker/topic and announcements. She concludes the dash prepares the reader to perceive subsequent material under changed focus.
4. Sharpening in German
Christina Noack: Regularities in German Orthography: A Computer-Based Comparison of Different Approaches to Sharpening
Noack uses a computational modelling of orthographic rules to determine consistency of German orthography, namely the phenomenon of sharpening (consonant letter doubling). Three different rule proposals are investigated: a morpho-phonological approach proposed by Adelung in 1788, a syllable-based approach proposed by Maas in 1997 and a segment-based approach from the official rules in 1902. A word list, taken from Adelung's "Kleines W��rterbuch" was taken as a corpus for a simulation of the three rules. The rule-based data processing system ortho 3.0 takes phonological, morphological and lexical information about words as input and generates a spelling using a dynamic rule apparatus. The results of the experiment show that the three rules yield different kinds of mistakes. The morpho-phonological and the syllable-based approaches proved superior to the segment based approach. The author states that sharpening in German not simply marks shortness but marks units which embrace several phonemes, namely syllables.
Martin Neef: The Reader's View: Sharpening in German
Neef presents a way to describe writing systems from a reader's perspective. He describes reader-based orthography as output-oriented, as it asks for constraints on written forms. The "recoding principle" is central to this approach: The written form has to make possible an unambigiguous recoding of the spoken form. Neef summarizes writer-based analyses of sharpening and especially addresses the problem of prosodically determined explicit forms which sometimes are marginal and sometimes do not exist at all. A reader-based sharpening constraint is proposed: "If in a word less than two consonant letters follow adjacently a simple vowel graph, this vowel graph must not correspond to a centralized vowel". Neef demonstrates that this constraint covers large parts of German orthography and systematically lists exceptions. German Orthography is highly inconsistent in the marking of vowel quality if the vowel grapheme is followed by more than one consonant letter. Neef calls this orthographic underspecification. Examining the question whether stress influences the marking of sharpening, Neef modifies his sharpening constraint to allow readings as centralized vowels in unstressed vord-final syllables. Neef concludes that "writing systems aim at being consistent not for the writer but for the reader."
Thomas Lindauer: How Syllable Structure affects Spelling: A Case Study in Swiss German Syllabification
Lindauer investigates the question how writers make use of their implicit phonological knowledge. He describes the two main explanations for sharpening (see Noack and Neef) and then focuses on two phenomena in Swiss German: spelling of ss and a common misspelling of unnecessary doubling of fricative consonants after long vowels. Swiss German permits light stressed syllables in contrast to standard German, but this vanishes when speakers speak Swiss Standard German. There are true geminates in Swiss German and Swiss Standard German which are best audible with fricatives. Because these geminates also occur after long vowels, a syllable based rule for sharpening leads to mistakes. According to Lindauer, a stem based rule is much more suitable for teaching marking of sharpening to Swiss German speaking learners. This leads to the conclusion that it is appropriate to teach different spelling rules for different regions that show different phonological phenomena.
The papers in this volume cover a wide range of current research topics and offer various linguistic approaches to analyse writing systems and their use. However, three limitations to this broad coverage apply: (1) The workshop on which most of the papers have been presented was especially rewarding because it brought together researchers and research results from both theoretical linguistics and psycholinguistics. Most of the psycholinguistic papers have been published separately in a special issue of Journal of Written Language and Literacy. So the volume is more focussed on theoretical linguistics than the workshop was. On the other hand this circumstance made it possible to present a more coherent set of papers that relate to other in many points. (2) Most of the papers deal with data and questions from German and Dutch, two relatively similar writing systems. This leads to a good overview of current research on these two writing systems and makes the volume especially interesting for linguists interested in German and Dutch and delivers detailed analyses of some core phenomena from these orthographies. As a drawback, the papers and thus the entire volume lacks a bit of a cross-linguistic perspective. Some interesting insights into comparative research of very different writing systems are given by the paper from Ravid and Gillis and Ravid, for example. (3) The questions raised in the introduction are mostly not addressed directly in the papers. From a more general point of view, the three papers contributed by the editors are the most interesting. Most of the other papers deal with relatively specific questions and make it sometimes difficult to relate them to the guiding questions of the book. This, of course, is inevitable given the nature of the volume as a collection of workshop contributions.
All in all, Neef, Neijt and Sproat present an up-to-date collection of papers that diverge in methodology, background and generality. The book is especially interesting for linguists interested in current discussions of German and Dutch orthography but also shows fields of future research on the more general question of the relation of writing and spoken language.
Sproat, Richard. 2000. A Computational Theory of Writing Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Tobias Thelen is a Ph.D. student at the University of OsnabrÃ¼ck, Germany. He works on computational models of German orthography and the automatic analysis of children's spellings.