[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J21, 1997-1 p20]
[On this page: Portuguese, Dutch IJ.
[Chris Upward: see Journals, Newsletters, Leaflets, Media, Pamflet 15, Book, Papers.]

The Lower Case Reform in Danish.

edited by Chris Upward.

We here translate and summarize a short report sent by SSS's new friends in Switzerland, the BVR (Bund für vereinfachte rechtschreibung 'Federation for Simplified Spelling'). The BVR campaigns particularly for German nouns to be decapitalized, and it therefore has a particular interest in the earlier decapitalization of Danish.
Until 1948 the Danish language was accustomed to give all its nouns a capital letter, as happens to this day in German and as was common in the 18th century in English. But in 1948 the then Minister of Education in Denmark, Hartvig Frisch, ensured that from then on children in school would be taught to write nouns with small letters, as is done in all other European languages except German. The change had been in the air for decades before its actual introduction. A few relics of the old system are still encountered today - a handful of firms who persist in the old ways, and citizens of the older generation who acquired their literacy skills before the reform; but these cases do not cause the slightest concern. In 1986 a new Danish spelling dictionary appeared, clarifying the surviving uses for capital letters, for instance in proper nouns and titles. Thus if one word in a name is capitalized, then so should be all other words in the name apart from articles, so giving the name of the king Christian the Fourth (not The Fourth or the fourth); but by contrast the title of a book will have only its first word capitalized, eg, Gone with the wind, and not Gone with the Wind or even Gone With The Wind, as in English. The names of historical events are optionally capitalized, eg, either the French Revolution or the french revolution.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J21, 1997-1 p21]
[See other articles on
Harry Cookson: see Newsletters,]

Spelling reform in Portuguese: what can we learn?

Harry Cookson.

Harry Cookson is a retired accountant living in Portugal. Before going to Portugal in 1969 he had been a school manager and county secretary for the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education (C.A.S.E.) in Britain, but had not been interested in spelling reform. His experience with literacy in Portugal, however, opened his eyes.

Agitation to reform Portuguese spelling began at the end of the last century. The largest Portuguese-speaking country, Brazil, reformed its spelling in 1912. Portugal reformed its spelling in 1915, but unfortunately the two reforms did not agree. The difference arose because Portuguese, like other languages, is gradually changing in pronunciation. Over the past hundred years or so the main change has been the dropping of letters P and C in certain positions. However, the sound-dropping has not gone on at the same rate for every person and in every place. The dropping was proceeding much faster in Brazil and is now complete for practical purposes. Over the years attempts have been made to reconcile the differences arising from those first reforms, but without success.

For some centuries the Lisbon Academy of Sciences has had referee powers and governmental representation over spelling in Portugal. About 8 years ago the Academy met its opposite number in Brazil and concluded a secret agreement, basing reform on Brazilian pronunciation. An employee of the Academy leaked the secret agreement to the newspapers. The Portuguese newspapers exploded into determined opposition to the reform. "Why were we not consulted?" howled the editors. "Are we not the people most concerned?"

The Portuguese people generally 'pooh-pooh' the occasional changes in the spelling of their language and stick to the spelling to which they are accustomed. This usually makes little difference because the changes are normally small, but this time they blew up in anger. The agreement made spelling slightly more difficult for the Portuguese because it did not correspond to their pronunciation. One word in its reformed state became the centre of their protests. This word was facto 'fact' which dropped the C, leaving fato, and the Portuguese screamed in protest because in Portugal fato means a suit of clothes. This did 2e they use a different word, terno.

The result was that in 1992 the Portuguese government passed a law cancelling the whole agreement and finally agreeing to disagree with the Brazilian spelling of Portuguese.

Here is an important lesson for English: its reform must be properly co-ordinated between all the countries where it is used. To a certain extent, separation has already occurred, as between Webster's dictionary and other US spellings and occasional British variants, but these are not numerous and cause few problems. The American form center agrees with enter, where the British use the French form centre. In some cases American pronunciation corresponds better to the spelling, as when Americans rhyme ration with nation, or give schedule the same pronunciation with initial SK as in scheme, school, but here Britain is increasingly adopting the American pronunciation and so improving spelling regularity. The greatest difference between most British and Americans in pronunciation is the letter R, which is typically silent in British pronunciation except before vowels; but British reformers recognize the situation and therefore keep R in their reform proposals, as pronounced by Americans, Canadians, Irish and Scots. In such ways English can overcome the problem that undermined the unity of Portuguese and Brazilian spelling.

A question that occupies spelling reformers in whatever country is how to put the first reform into practice. Unfortunately Portuguese reform gives little guidance here. Portugal introduced reform ten years before compulsory state education became law. This meant that only those few people who had been to fee-paying schools were affected by the reform, so there were hardly any protests. There was no anti-reform feeling as there is in Britain today.

Anybody learning Portuguese learns about spelling reform. I noticed how very quickly Portuguese children learn to read and write compared to English-speaking children. This made me interested in spelling reform. One day I saw in a Portuguese Second Year School Reader (National Curriculum) a lesson explaining the usefulness of newspapers which said (translated): "Today your teacher will pass round a newspaper and ask you to read from it." - this in the second year at school a week or two after Easter. I asked one pupil if all the children in the class had read the newspaper. Answer: "Of course." I then asked, "Did you understand it?" I got the scornful reply, "No - it was about politics and such." Children will not understand all they see in a newspaper, but if they can read a newspaper they can read any of their textbooks on whatever subject. According to European Community statements, British children are behind continental European children in reading.

The Department of Education and Employment hopes to improve reading through the National Curriculum. Will they ask British children to read a newspaper in their second school year? I doubt it.

Something else is required and that something else is spelling reform.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J21, 1997-1 pp25,26]
[See other articles on Dutch and by Harry Cohen.]

The Dutch IJ.

Harry Cohen.

Born and educated in Holland, Harry Cohen worked as a statistician for the United Nations in Geneva 1958-1962, and from then until his retirement in 1981 as a translator for the European Commission in Brussels. He has written widely on economic matters, but also on language and particularly spelling for Dutch papers and for the American journal Verbatim. He reported on the reform of Dutch spelling in JSSS J19 1995/2, pp11-13.
The English alphabet consists of twenty-six letters. Some European languages, such as Portuguese, manage with less; others, like Danish, need a few more. What about Dutch? Well, ask any native Dutch speaker, be it a schoolchild or a leading lexicographer, and they will invariably assert that their alphabet is identical to the English one. Then ask if there is such a thing as a letter IJ, and they will agree. So how many letters do the Dutch in fact use: twenty-six or twenty-seven?

How things came about.

In Middle Dutch (12th-15th centuries) the short and long varieties of vowels in closed syllables were rendered in writing by single and double symbols respectively. In accordance with this system, the short sound [ι], as in sit, was represented by the letter I, and the long sound [i:], as in see, by II. This representation was satisfactory until-during the 16th and 17th century - printers added two new symbols to the alphabet: J, formed by giving the Roman I a descender (or "tail"), and U, originally a graphic variant of the Roman V. As lower-case ii was easily confused with lower-case U, writers and printers took to dotting their Is and replacing the second one of a pair with a J. This resulted in IJ.

At the same time as this graphic innovation, a phonemic change took place. The sound [i:] went through a vowel shift, and gradually turned into the diphthong [εi] (close to English [ai], as in my). These simultaneous developments led to a chaotic situation, further aggravated by frequent confusion of IJ and Y. Absence of any ruling on the subject allowed authors and printers to go their own way until well into the 19th century. Stabilization was eventually achieved in the 1860s when the linguists De Vries and Te Winkel published a spelling system which appealed to the public at large, and was eventually laid down by law. Subsequent spelling reforms have left the notations for [εi] unchanged.

How things stand now.

Modern Dutch has three graphic representations for the sound [εi]:

(1) IJ as in rijm 'rhyme', fijn 'fine', hij 'he', zij 'she', mij 'me'.

(2) EI as in trein 'train', meid 'maid', hei 'heather', zei 'said', mei 'May'.

(3) Y as in de onbekende y 'the unknown Y', y-as 'y-axis', Y-chromosoom, the chemical symbol Y for yttrium, etc.

This is not to say that IJ is consistently pronounced [εi]. The most frequent exception is the suffix -lijk, as in vriendelijk 'friendly', where the vowel is reduced to a schwa. (Several spelling reformers have suggested *vriendelik or *vriendeluk but have had no success.) Other examples are bijzonder 'special' and dikwijls 'often' where the IJ likewise appears in an unstressed syllable.

The digraph EI, whose historical background is altogether different, will not be dealt with here. Suffice it to say that, thanks to the existence of two notations for the sound [εi], Dutch learners have to find their way through a maze of homophones (compare the last three examples given at (1) and (2) above).

The Y is only pronounced [εi] in scientific expressions, as shown under (3), and when called by its name (for instance, by children reciting the alphabet). Apart from these instances, it only occurs in loan words and foreign words, and is pronounced accordingly. Examples: Y sounds as [j] in yoghurt, as [ι] in lynchen, 'to lynch', as [i:] in jury, as [ai] in byte.
Note: Afrikaans has opted for Y instead of IJ. As a result, Y appears here in Germanic words, whereas the average Dutch speaker intuitively regards this letter as an 'alien' element. (Similar feelings exist about C, Q and X.)

Everyday problems.

Do the Dutch treat their IJ as two separate letters or rather as a composite symbol that somehow has no place in the alphabet? The question may seem academic, but becomes of practical relevance if you don't know whether IJ should occupy one or two squares in your Dutch crossword puzzle. (The answer is: one. Dutch Scrabble sets accordingly include a separate IJ tile.) Here are a few observations which suggest preference for one or the other view.

In favour of the separate-letters view
(a) There is no IJ in the Dutch alphabet.
(b) In Dutch dictionaries entries with initial IJ are listed as if the first letter were an I and the second a J. Thus you will find the entries ignoreren 'to ignore', ijdel 'vain', ijzer 'iron', ik 'I' in this order. Dutch atlases use the same system in their indexes. The convention also applies, of course, to non-initial IJs.

In favour of the composite-symbol view
(c) In Dutch telephone directories, names with initial IJ and initial Y are merged, and listed between X and Z. In train timetables the list of place-names is arranged in the same way, but in other reference books the entries may appear in the order either X-IJ-Y-Z or X-Y-IJ-Z. Still other variants exist. One well-known encyclopaedia has tried out four different systems in four successive editions.

(d) The combination IJ has its own name. It is called ij '[εi]' or, more specifically, lange ij 'long [εi]', or maybe we should translate it as 'tall [εi]' since the name refers not to any phonetic quality but to the elongated shape of the symbol, which distinguishes it from EI (sometimes called korte ei 'short [εi]') and from Y. The latter is called Griekse y 'Greek [εi]' or i-grec or, by children, ij zonder puntjes 'dotless [εi]'.

(e) Finally, there are a number of spelling and printing conventions. First, ij is capitalized as IJ, not as Ij (although there is some vacillation in Flanders). Second, when a word is letterspaced, no blank is inserted between i and j. So stijl 'style' becomes s t ij l, whereas steil 'steep' becomes s t e i l. Third, in end-of-line divisions, IJ is always left intact. And fourth, in compound words where a final I is followed by an initial J, the two letters are separated by a hyphen to prevent misreading. (Compounds are normally written solid in Dutch.) Examples: mini-jurk 'minidress', gummi-jas 'rubber coat'.

Well then, are we dealing with a letter, a digraph, a ligature, or just a homeless symbol? We don't know. All attempts to free Dutch IJ from its orthographic limbo have failed so far.

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