The interaction of linguistic and social factors in orthography development: The case of Anii

Morton, Deborah
Zaske, Stefanie
Morton, Deborah
Zaske, Stefanie
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The goal of an orthography should be its use within a community of language speakers. The usability of an orthography depends partially on how well it approximates the spoken language (linguistic factors), but also on whether speakers are willing to learn and use the orthography (social factors). This talk will discuss the interaction of linguistic and social factors in orthography development using as a case study the recently developed orthography of the Anii language of West Africa. From a linguistic standpoint, this talk will focus on how decisions can be made regarding how much phonetic detail should be written. For example, in Anii, the decision was taken to write nasal consonant place assimilation word-internally (for example, aŋ-gashɛɩ means ‘my-basket’, but am-bʊshɛɩ means ‘my- baskets’), but not across word boundaries. In the case of morphemes with variable vowel-quality due to vowel harmony processes, however, the decision was taken not to write the phonological variation for the sake of consistency. For example, the class Ɛ noun class marker is always written gʊ, though phonologically it has two pronunciations ([gʊ-] as in [gʊbɔ] (written gʊbɔ), ‘leaf’, and [gu] as in [gujo] (written guyo), ‘tree’). The different treatments of these two phenomena in the Anii orthography are largely due to linguistic differences between them, though social factors such as metalinguistic awareness may also play a roll. In other types of orthography decisions, social factors are much more important. One example is that in Anii, there are significant dialectal differences (including, for example, the number of vowel phonemes), but there are currently only enough resources for the development of one orthography. Additionally, decisions about the writing of tone in Anii orthography were very strongly influenced by social factors such as the interest of community leaders and the fact that many people interested in Anii literacy were already literate in French. These social issues can also play a strong role in whether a small language becomes endangered or not, and the role of literacy in language endangerment is also a social issue to be taken into account in the process of orthography development. This paper will discuss the various orthography decisions made by linguists and representatives of the Anii-speaking community in the development of the Anii orthography, and how those decisions were influenced by both linguistic and social factors. The applicability of such factors to other minority languages will also be discussed.
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