Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav

What do you think of the new “Latinized Kazakh” alphabet from the point of orthography and phonetics?

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I don’t know Kazakh, but I do know that the proliferation of letters with apostrophes in the new proposed alphabet is a mistake.

the-version-of-the-alphabet-approved-by-the-decree

We faced a similar issue in the development of SimHebrew™ (a simulation of the Hebrew alphabet in Roman characters): certain Hebrew characters, such ḥet, tet, ayin and samekh don’t have direct equivalents in the Roman alphabet (they were dropped from the lineup when the ancient Greeks adopted the Canaanite alphabet nearly three thousand years ago, for being surplus to requirements), so the question was how to represent them in English characters (i.e. Roman characters without diacritics), now that we want to do the same thing in reverse.

One of the options was to use apostrophes (i.e. ‘h, ‘t, ‘a, ‘s), but we quickly realised that this would result in a bad case of “apostrophitis”, and would be unworkable, as in this sample text (the first five verses of the Book of Genesis 1):

a bra’sit bra alhim at h’smim vat harx.
b vharx hith thu vbhu v’h’sç ‘al-pni thom; vru’h alhim mr’hpt ‘al-pni hmim.
g viamr alhim ihi aor; vihi-aor.
d vira alhim at-haor ci-‘tob; vibdl alhim bin haor ubin h’h’sç.
h vi’kra alhim laor iom vl’h’sç ‘kra lilh; vihi-‘arb vihi-b’kr iom a’hd.  {p}

In the end, we were able to avoid this by simply mapping the “orphaned” Hebrew characters to Roman characters that have no direct equivalent in Hebrew (which, if you think about it, is what every European language does—consider the phonetic value of the letter <j>, for example, in various European languages). The only exception is the letter tet, which does use an apostrophe (‘t), because no other Roman character could plausibly stand in for it, and because it is comparatively infrequent, and historically was conceived as a variation of the other <t> letter in Hebrew (tav). The result is the following:

mipui_ab_clamr_creative_commons3.png
This results in a manageable incidence of apostrophes, roughly on a par with their occurrence in English:

a brawit bra alhim at hwmim vat harx.
b vharx hith thu vbhu vkwç yl-pni thom; vruk alhim mrkpt yl-pni hmim.
g viamr alhim ihi aor; vihi-aor.
d vira alhim at-haor ci-‘tob; vibdl alhim bin haor ubin hkwç.
h viqra alhim laor iom vlkwç qra lilh; vihi-yrb vihi-bqr iom akd.  {p}

I would recommend that the Kazakh authorities go back to the drawing board and do the same thing.

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Author: יונתן אור-סתיו | Jonathan Orr-Stav

Hebrew-English translator, editor, author. מתרגם עברית–אנגלית, עורך באנגלית, וסופר.

One thought on “What do you think of the new “Latinized Kazakh” alphabet from the point of orthography and phonetics?

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