Title

Writing System Development and Reform: A Process

Author

Elke Karan

Date of Award

8-1-2006

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Linguistics

Abstract

Orthography issues are complex. Although literature about writing systems has flourished in recent years, issues which preoccupy practitioners involved in orthography design or reform are rarely addressed.

This thesis provides an overview of theory relating to establishing orthographies for unwritten languages and modifying existing systems. It presents principles and recommendations which favor popular acceptance and successful implementation. Introductory chapters explain the recent increased interest in orthography, define terms, introduce pertinent literature, and give an overview of writing system typology. Remaining chapters present linguistic and non-linguistic factors which influence orthography decisions, examine writing system adaptation options, discuss orthography testing, consider motivations for and against reform, and present orthography reform case studies. The orthography development process for Sango, the national official language of the Central African Republic, is documented in detail to illustrate the complexity of the issues involved in working toward a written standard. This thesis illustrates that orthography development is a process, requiring diplomacy, dialogue and negotiation. Experience shows that involving stakeholders in the process is key to success. An orthography not used by the population spells ‘defeat’.

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