Anthropological and linguistics articles from University of Western Australia

Monday, May 28, 2007

Orthography for Pitta Pitta by Saskia Marina Hewitt UWA

Linguistics 3307 Weekly Assignment 2 Saskia Hewitt

Orthography for Pitta-Pitta

1. The table below gives the symbols which will be used to represent the consonants of the language.

Bilabial Apico-alveolar Apico-post-alveolar Lamino-dental Lamino-palatal Velar
Stops p t rt th ty k
Nasals m n rn nh ny ng
Laterals l rl lh ly
Trills rr
Flaps d
Glides w r y w

a. The stops are represented using the symbols which denote voicelessness in English. Stops in Pitta-Pitta are usually (not always) pronounced voiceless. This also allows the symbol d to be used for the apico-alveolar flap and avoids the problem of representing apico-alveolar nasal plus velar stop as ng.

b. Retroflex, lamino-dental and lamino-palatal sounds are represented by digraphs. The sequences chosen suggest sounds which are close to the actual sounds made (they are also the conventional symbols for similar sounds in other languages, but the reason for that is that they are good symbols to use for those sounds).

c. The rhotic contrast was a little tricky to represent. I ended up using the r symbol for the retroflex glide because that is the sound it represents in Australian English, which is what most people who would be using this orthography would be familiar with. The trill is represented by rr because that is how trills in other dialects of English are usually represented. It also makes sense in that the trill sounds like (and I suppose you could say it is) a rhotic repeated very rapidly many times. So using two rhotic symbols to represent it is kind of intuitively sensible in a way.
The flap I decided to represent with the symbol d. The apico-alveolar stops in English are sometimes reduced to a sound very much like a flap in rapid speech and so d is the symbol that most closely represents the flap sound of Pitta-Pitta.
My alternative was to make up a new symbol or steal one from a different alphabet, but I thought that was going a little bit overboard, because once I did that for one sound, it would make sense to do that for all the non-English sounds. This would make the alphabet for Pitta-Pitta very different from the English alphabet. This would be fine except for the fact that hardly anyone speaks the language or uses it at all and anyone wanting to do so will already know the English alphabet. So to learn almost an entire new alphabet seems a little silly when you would then barely use it even in a symbolic function.
The English alphabet is adequate to cover the sounds of Pitta-Pitta, and even if the language did become more widely spoken, it would still be easy enough to use the system above. Problems may arise with speaker attitudes or interference from the English values for the flap and some of the other sounds. In that case the system may need to be revised.

2. The vowels will be represented by u, i and a. o shall be used in the case of “wowo” and any other instances that an “o” sound is found in the language. The people using the orthography will be familiar with the English alphabet and so it is simpler to just add another letter, even if it is only used in one case, than to try and explain that in this particular word the symbol “a” or “u” actually represents the sound “o”.

Spelling Rules

1. Clusters of lateral or nasal plus stop, where the individual sounds are represented by digraphs, will be represented by a simplified trigraph e.g. “rnt” not “rnrt”. As far as I can tell from the data presented by Blake, this system is not going to cause any confusion in terms of other consonant clusters that might be represented by the same symbols - that is if the consonant clusters allowed are indeed limited to the three types given in the description.

2. Geminates are not represented even when the word is often pronounced with a geminate. Since Blake has recorded no contrast between geminates and non-geminates, and since the forms seem (from the description) to be underlyingly non-geminate in most cases, it did not seem necessary to represent the difference. Speakers of the language would recognize the word anyway, and for non-speakers the underlying form is the one they will most likely want to have written down. If there was a reason for non-speakers to want to say the words and be understood, they could still be understood perfectly well using the underlying version of these words that do not have a geminate, even if that form isn’t the typical form.

3. In word initial position, where the apical contrast is negated, all apicals will be written using the retroflex symbol since this is usually how they are said and since that form seems to be underlying. Although the digraph is more complex, I decided against using the apico-alveolar symbols because it seems like it might confuse speakers to have it written a different way to how it is usually said, and also from what they might have in their heads as what the sound should be. Obviously without testing it is hard to gauge what attitudes speakers will have but from other cases that have been discussed in class that seems to be a likely situation.
Also it would be helpful for non-speakers to know that the sound is usually pronounced more retroflexively, although that function is not as important since it wouldn’t change the meaning if they used an apico-alveolar instead of a retroflex.

4. Long vowels and vowel sequences are written with the use of glides. So a sequence of “i” and “a” is written “iya” and a long vowel “a:” is written “awa”. Even though Blake posits different underlying forms depending on the morphology of the words I thought it would be better to regularize the spelling to avoid confusion.
The alternative regularization of never writing glides seems to make less sense given that in normal speech glides are often inserted even when they are not underlying.
My other alternative was to represent the underlying forms as posited by Blake. So a sequence across morphemes of “i” and” a” would be written “ia” whereas the same sequence within a morpheme is written “iya”. Long vowels e.g. “a:” would usually be written e.g. “awa” except in cases where the underlying form is e.g. /a:/. This would be represented by “aa”.
I thought about doing this because while there is no contrast I thought it might be helpful for speakers given that they will probably be sounding out words that they do not know. Blake’s method of finding the underlying sequence was to listen to slow pronunciations of the word. So when a speaker sounds out the word they will be getting the same pronunciation of it as they would if they said it slowly. That would make it easier for them to know what the word was.
However I decided against this system because it seems rather complicated.
Blake does mention that there may be a contrast between vowel sequences depending on whether or not they are across a morpheme boundary. If this were the case the more phonemic system would be better.
The best way to decide would be by seeing the orthographic system put into use, in which case we might see that one of the three options was preferable to speakers or was easier to learn. Another thing to take into account is whether the system would be used more for reading or writing. If for reading, the second system that I discarded may actually be the preferable one. If people want to use it to write then the system I chose would probably be more preferable.

Representations of Particular Words

1. karntima (see point 1 under Spelling Rules for this and 2,5)
2. ngaltya
3. yanka
4. thithayina (see point 4 under Spelling Rules for a discussion of vowel sequences)
5. kunthi
6. ityinhalhayi
7. warrpa
8. mingka
9. nguda (Here we see d representing the apico-alveolar flap. Reasons for this choice are given above but I wanted to mention here that the symbol may become confused with the English values put on it. You would have to watch for this if the orthography was put into use.)
10. kuntara
11. Pitha-Pitha (see point 2 under Spelling Rules for discussion of geminates. This form is underlying although it is usually pronounced with a geminate apico-alveolar stop. However I don’t see why it would cause confusion to write it this way.)
12. ngulawawarri (long a spelled “awa” although Blake posits an underlying long vowel here. Again, see point 4 under the Spelling Rules for discussion on why I chose to do this.)
13. pithiga ngathuwinhaga
14. nganyayi
15. karti (This raises an issue because Blake mentions that this word is usually pronounced with a voiced geminate and that it appears to contrast with the word for “head”. However since he is not sure about whether this is in fact to do with stress and intonation, and since it would be fairly easy to decide which of the words was meant in any contexts I can think of, I thought it would be better just to leave the contrast out in the written form for the sake of easier spelling rules.)
16. kuniyipa
17. kathi
18. padawangku
19. yarrkayarrkayi
20. wowo (see point 2 in Orthography for Pitta-Pitta above)
21. rtutyudupa (see point 3 in the spelling rules for discussion on the initial apical)
22. rangwa
23. rlatya
24. wakirti or wakiri (if there are two different underlying forms I don’t see why it should hurt to have two different spellings. I suppose if it became a confusion I would choose wakirti since people are generally used to “lenition” in terms of how the word is said versus how it is spelt e.g. matter pronounced something like “mada”. But it isn’t so common to see a word being pronounced more fortis than its spelt form.
25. nhingurnu


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