Phonematic orthography

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In a phonetic , phonemic or phonematic orthography , a character clearly represents only a speech sound . It is therefore the ideal case of orthography , which generally strives for the simplest possible relationship between the sequence of sounds and the typeface that is clear in both directions . On the other hand, other criteria are in the foreground in etymological orthography (mapping of historical language states, morphological relationships).


The aim of phonematic orthography is to map the phonemic inventory of the language in question , i.e. the sounds used that cause differences in meaning, in writing as precisely as possible so that each phoneme corresponds to a single letter, digraph or trigraph . Unlike in the International Phonetic Alphabet therefore will not be described, such as an "r" to speak is (rolling [⁠ r ⁠] or as a suppository-R [⁠ ʁ ⁠] change), because these versions do not the meaning of the word.

Some alphabets have basic phoneme-grapheme equivalents. For example, in languages using the Latin script almost always sounds [⁠ b ⁠] with b , or [⁠ d ⁠] with a d realized. In the phoneme / ⁠ k ⁠ / there are three versions, namely, c , k and q (u) .

However, if the basic letters are insufficient, phonematic orthography requires, among other things, diacritical marks to be added to modify them. For example, it is for [⁠ ʃ ⁠] no exact equivalent in the Latin alphabet. Some Slavic languages , such as Czech and Slovak , use an s with Hatschek ( š ) for this. The Hungarian language in turn used for this According to the unmodified letters s , the voiceless [⁠ s ⁠] is the digraphs sz realized that voiced by the variant for . In German , however, is for [⁠ ʃ ⁠] a beautiful used in the Polish one sz .

The same applies to the Cyrillic script . Among other things for the Belarusian According to [⁠ ŭ ⁠] from the у especially the ў created. Turkic languages with this script contain a relatively large number of new creations, as their phoneme inventory is very different from Slavic.

Languages ​​that use a different script than the above have special graphemes and diacritics, for example Devanagari , for a spelling that is as phonematic as possible .

The realization of the phonemes is also varied in many cases. In most languages, further subtleties of pronunciation are distinctive (important for the meaning):

  • The emphasis can have a differentiating effect. For example, the Russian word стоит means either he / she / it costs (purchase price) (first syllable stressed), or he / she / it stands (second syllable stressed). In this case, the spelling lacks unambiguity, as the stressed vowel is not marked. In textbooks for the Russian language this is solved with accents : сто́ит or стои́т
  • There are also languages ​​that distinguish between different pronunciation lengths of the vowels (usually two or three), for example the long pronunciation is marked with an accent or macron . A minimal pair , for example, is Hungarian ágy [ aːɟ ] (bed) with agy [ ɒɟ ] (brain) . Also consonants can have different lengths in some languages, for example, is in Finland the long variant represented by double letters of the consonants.
  • In tonal languages , such as the Sino-Tibetan or Na-Dené languages , the pitch at which a sound is spoken changes the meaning. The first language family does not use an alphabet in the strict sense of the word, but logograms for individual syllables. The Latin alphabet was introduced for the Na-Dené language Navajo . High notes are marked with an accent, while low notes have no diacritics.


Phonematic orthography is often used when the government of a country decides to adopt a new script for its language. Since the spelling rules have to be planned before they are introduced, ideally spelling that is as simple and accurate as possible is preferred.

This applies, for example, to the Vietnamese language , for which a Latin spelling was developed that was easy to learn by the colonizing Europeans. It eventually replaced the Chinese characters .

In a relatively recent past, in 1928, the Turkish language replaced the Arabic script with the so-called New Turkish Alphabet . Other Turkic languages, such as Azerbaijani , also use similar alphabets. Even today we are working on a uniform and sound alphabet for all Turkic languages.

However, absolutely phonetic orthographies are almost impossible to find. Languages ​​like the one above also use letters that change the sound. Noted in the Turkish owns among others the letter ð , either [⁠ j ⁠] is spoken or expands the previous vowel. In Vietnamese, the pronunciation of some letters varies depending on their position in the word; especially at the end of the syllable. The Georgian language with the associated Georgian alphabet comes very close to phonetic orthography .

The spelling of the Hungarian language is, apart from proper names, an example of an almost phonematic spelling that has only developed over time. The stress is always on the first syllable, long vowels are marked, pitches are not distinctive. In addition, digraphs and a trigraph are used, which, like the individual letters, always represent a clear pronunciation. This is the result of several reforms. In the oldest surviving document, the “funeral speech” (see “web links” in Hungarian ), the massive differences to today's realization can be seen.

Planned languages like Esperanto use phonematic orthography because they should be easy to learn. It is even possible to do without digraphs (apart from alternative notations such as cx , sx for ĉ , ŝ ). An exception is a variant of Esperanto, the Arcaicam Esperantom , which has a different and therefore “out of date” spelling especially for writing purposes.

Due to the lack of distinctiveness, some phonemic peculiarities are only perceived subliminally by native speakers, if at all. They are therefore only rarely noted (even in planned languages) and are sometimes left out when spoken briefly. An example is the German of the glottal stop (or "glottal stop") [⁠ ʔ ⁠] . In the German alphabet it does not have its own graph and does not influence the meaning of a word anywhere, but is pronounced at the beginning of a syllable in vowels, for example note [ bəˈ ʔ aχtən ]. Aspiration (also not recorded) , a slight breath of breath on a sound after voiceless plosives at the beginning of a syllable, is particularly difficult to perceive . Even native speakers sometimes only notice it after clear pronunciation and can vary dialectically. Possibilities to try out are the words cold [ k ʰ old ] and pass [ p ʰ as ]. Also, the difference between voiceless [⁠ s ⁠] and voiced [⁠ for ⁠] can (the letters) must be not realized. Example: nut [ s ] but cream [ z aːnə ].

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

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