Orthography Development for Creole Languages

  • Orthography Development for Creole Languages

by Kendall Don Decker




The premise of this research is that orthography development cannot, and does not need to, produce a linguistically confined product; speech communities can tolerate some variability in the way they write their language. As an example of acceptable variability this dissertation describes the development of an orthography for a Creole-speaking community.

The development of writing has been cited as one of the most important inventions in the history of humankind. Despite this, only about half of the world’s languages have standardized orthographies. Although many languages have existed for generations without writing, there are tremendous benefits to having a standardized orthography. For example, Daniels (Daniels & Bright 1996:1) claims, “Humankind is defined by language; but civilization if defined by writing.” While some may see this a chauvinistic perspective, the socio-political power that accompanies literacy cannot be denied. The benefits of an orthography include the documentation of ideas, histories, policies, and facts (Goody 2000). Writing makes the communication of ideas over both distance and time possible. However, a standardized orthography is required for mass literacy and in this modern age, it may be a requirement for the survival of oral languages.

This thesis harmonizes principles of orthography development that have been identified by numerous scholars, such as Fishman (2010), M. Lewis (forthcoming), Lüpke (2011), and Smalley (1964). These scholars draw from research in several different sub fields of linguistics. The study of orthography development has not received much focused attention in the linguistics community. The little known field of grammatology, a subfield of linguistics, is concerned with the study of writing. However, historically, grammatologists have focused on the study of ancient writing systems and the establishment of typologies of writing systems, rather than orthography development. Such development is more often considered a language management activity and within the realm of sociolinguists. Most research on orthography development in recent decades has been focused on the impact of established orthographies on literacy. In contrast, this dissertation focuses on the development of a new orthography for a previously unwritten language.

A further contribution of this study is the documentation of orthography development for a Creole language — the Kriol language of Belize in Central America. Creole languages provide unique environments for the study of sociolinguistic theory. Those both inside and outside the language community consider the languages to be socially and linguistically deficient, yet they are the heritage and dominant language of their speakers. They are “despised” languages on one hand, yet the speech communities continue to maintain their use because they have intrinsic value to many of their speakers. There are many social benefits to a Creole speech community when they gain an orthography, such as improved identity, pride, and value. Although a more complete discussion of the social impact of orthography development is beyond the scope of this case study, it will provide a greater insight into the process of orthography development, which can be applied to other languages.



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Keywords: grammatology, sociolinguistic, Kriol, Belize kriol.



Suggested APA Reference: Decker, K. (2014). Orthography Development for Creole Languages.  [S.I.]: [S.n.].

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