Academic journal article SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics

Grammaphonology: A New Theory of English Spelling

Academic journal article SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics

Grammaphonology: A New Theory of English Spelling

Article excerpt

"I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way."

Mark Twain

1. Introduction

The aim of this paper is two-fold. The first aim is to develop the theory of orthography so that it will be possible to study the form of both standard and non-standard spelling within the one theoretical model. The second aim is to make steps towards predicting possible 'well-formed' English spellings, a kind of orthographic correlate to phonologically well-formed English words (e.g. Giegerich 1992). This means that instead of having a set of existing English spellings that just includes all standard spellings and whatever unquantifiable number of 'non-standard' spellings might happen to exist, the visual algorithm introduced here will make steps towards predicting all of the well-formed spelling possibilities of any possible string of phonemes. The aim is not to predict the likelihood of a spelling occurring, but simply that it could exist, by extrapolating from the graphotactic constraints of English spelling. These intelligible spellings should then be easily translatable back into speech by competent readers.

The study begins by looking at a particular kind of non-standard spelling that Ryan (2010) terms constructed homophony. We will need to look firstly at the phenomenon of homophony in English spelling, and its creative development as constructed homophony, something that frequently occurs in the spelling of names (ibid; Jacobson 1966; Praninskas 1968; Carney 1994; Anderson 2003) and in computer-mediated communication (Sebba 2007; Shortis 2007; Crystal 2008). We will then look at some formal differences between constructed homophones and standard spellings, and then an effort will be made to update some existing theories of English spelling (Albrow 1972; Carney 1994) so that both standard spelling and constructed homophony can be studied within the one theoretical framework, mapping phonemes onto spelling units in an orthographically shallow manner.

At this point, an interlude will be required to expand upon the existing terminology used to describe this larger field of study. The term grammaphoneme will be introduced to describe the set of all orthographic variants that can be used to spell a particular phoneme, and with it will come associated terms, including the term that gives its name to this essay, grammaphonology.

The final section will introduce the grammaphoneme in some detail. Its function is to explain synchronically the existing standard spellings and to predict possible well-formed spellings. It is not the intention here to provide an exhaustive account of all of the spelling units used for every English phoneme--that work remains in progress. The model is tiered in a way that allows for the massive variation in how spellings can be constructed. Towards the base of the model are the default spellings for each phoneme, and above these are the lesser used variants that have arisen through the language's complex orthographic history. Above these layers the model allows for overlapping among grammaphonemes, so that it is possible to account for the use of spelling symbols that relate to phonological tiers higher than the phoneme. For example the spelling (rather than ), uses and as morphograms, as a phonogram, as a syllabogram, and <8> as 'rhymogram'. This means that it will be possible to provide a map which accounts for the use of the same written symbols occuring at different phonological levels--as phonemes, rhymes, syllables and morphemes. It will also allow for a translation of spellings across different phonological levels.

2. Constructed homophony

2.1 Non-standard spellings and constructed homophony

The term non-standard spelling is a term which covers a massive range of spelling practices, and this would appear to be growing in recent decades. …

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