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374Fonet: A new, simplified phonetic alphabet for English

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  • Jon Roland
    Apr 5 6:05 PM
      English students have long yearned for a more sensible, phonetic spelling of English (and some other languages). The problem for them is that requires a phonetic alphabet, the 26-character Latin alphabet is too entrenched, and 26 is not enough characters.

      One approach to this problem has been the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). It is an important and prestigious scholarly effort, but it has too many characters, some poorly chosen, and is not practical for most students or ordinary users of English.

      Some have tried to develop and get accepted simplified phonetic alphabets. I examined many of the most popular, and found them unsatisfactory, so I developed my own. It is not perhaps perfect, but it only has 30 characters, 10 vowels and 20 consonants, chosen to be comfortable to read and to minimize the factors that might reduce its acceptability to students and busy people. I call it Fonet. Click on the link to read more about it and read a example of a writing by John Donne from 1624 transcribed into it and into IPA.

      Here is a sentence from Donne's poetic essay:

      No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

      Now here is how that looks in IPA, using the tool PhotransEdit:

      | ˈnoʊ ˈmæn z ən ˈaɪlənd | enˈtaɪər əv ətˈself | ˈevri ˈmæn z ə ˈpiːs əv ðə ˈkɑːntənənt | ə ˈpɑːrt əv ðə ˈmeɪn | ˈɪf ə ˈklɑːd bi ˈwɑːʃt əˈweɪ baɪ ðə ˈsiː | ˈjʊrəp s ðə ˈles | əz ˈwel əz ˈɪf ə ˈprɒməntr̩i wɜːr | əz ˈwel əz ˈɪf ə ˈmænər əv ˈðaɪ ˈfrendz ɔːr əv ˈðaɪn ˈoʊn wɜːr | ˈeni ˈmænz ˈdeθ dəˈmɪnɪʃəz ˈmiː | bɪˈkɒz ˈaɪ əm ˌɪnˈvɑːlvd ɪn ˈmænˈkaɪnd | ənd ˈðerˌfɔːr ˈnevər ˈsend tə ˈnoʊ fər ˈhuːm ðə ˈbel toʊlz | ˈɪt toʊlz fər ˈðiː |

      Now here it is in Fonet:

      Nou mɋn yz ɋn aylɋnd, entayr əv ytself; evri mɋn yz ə pis əv ðǝ kontynent, ə part əv ðǝ meyn. If ə klad bi woct əwei bay ðǝ si, Yurop yz ðǝ les, ɋz wel ɋz yf ə promontori wr, ɋz wel ɋz yf ə mɋnor əv ðai frend'z or əv ðain own wr: yni mɋn's deɵ dymynycez mi, bicoz Ay ɋm ynvolvd yn mɋnkaynd, ɋnd ðerefor nevr send tu nou for hum ðǝ bel toulz; yt toulz for ði.

      Read it with the description page as a guide, until you get used to the characters and spelling using them. It takes many people only a few pages of reading to learn to read it smoothly, and after a little practice, to write it as well.

      On most computers you can type in the new characters by keying the UTF-16 codes, which I provided. On my computer one can, for example, key the "ð" (eth) character, which represents the soft "th" sound, by keying ctrl-shift-u then the hex number 00F0, then the space bar. (The hex numbers don't have to be capitalized.) After a little while you will have memorized all the codes and can key the characters fairly quickly. For Fonet that is only ten numbers, five lower case and five upper case. Some keyboards can also be programmed to enter special characters with one stroke, perhaps more than one key held down at the same time.

      What are the prospects for something like Fonet? Probably poor, unless young people pick up on it as a kind of fad, perhaps from its use in a video game or popular novel like Harry Potter or Lordof the Rings. One never knows what young people might do. In the meantime, its now out there for people to play with.

      -- Jon
      Constitution Society               http://constitution.org
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