Linguistic Quizzes Part 4! Working with Scripts from Around the World

Click the image to take the quiz!

It’s time for the final quiz in our four week series! – If you missed out on the first three quizzes, they’re still available. Try them all and discover a world of language! Then, share them with your friends!

In this week’s quiz, you’ll do an activity that demonstrates how the association of symbols with specific sounds is arbitrary and socially defined, and you’ll experience a little of what it feels like to read in a new script, if you haven’t before.

Linguists, literacy technicians and specialists sometimes partner with language communities to assist in deciding on a script and to develop a writing system (orthography), or to revise an existing system. There are many factors that must be considered, which broadly fall into two categories: acceptability and usability.

As the visible embodiment of communication, the written form touches on identity issues. Acceptability has to do with making sure the script and writing system looks the way people want it to, and that it’s acceptable to all stakeholders. Do people want it to resemble the national language, or do they want it to appear distinct from surrounding languages or dialects? In addition, the government often has language policies which must be followed.

Usability has to do with ensuring that the writing system reproduces the language in a way that makes sense to native speakers. For example, did you know that the ‘p’ in English is pronounced differently when it’s the first letter in a word (aspirated vs. non-aspirated)? Since this difference doesn’t signal a change of meaning (in linguistic terms, it’s “non-contrastive”), English only uses one symbol for ‘p.’ However, there are languages which do distinguish between aspirated [pʰ] and non-aspirated [p].

Generally speaking, it’s best to not have a separate symbol for every sound, but rather to represent those sounds that are meaningful to native speakers. There are many other factors to consider as well, such as whether the script will be compatible with modern printing and technology.

In the second part of the quiz, you’ll compare real versus rhetorical questions. Some languages, such as English, frequently use rhetorical questions to serve a number of communicative functions; other languages, such as the Paama language of Vanuatu, rarely use rhetorical questions. When translating between such languages, translators need to identify the underlying function of each rhetorical question, and translate it into a familiar form in the receptor language.

If you are intrigued by different scripts and enjoy finding solutions to linguistic and communicative challenges, you might want to pursue training to become a Literacy Technician or Specialist, or a Bible Translator. CanIL offers short-term training options starting in the Summer session. Many students come for the Summer to explore their options, then continue on to complete a Training Track or enroll in a degree program.