Reading exactly what is written and writing exactly what is spoken

I recently came across this blog Vgakhar’s Blog (some excellent stuff is out there, do read it but first read this post ;)) and it influenced me to write something about languages. I may not have expertise in linguistic matters but I like learning languages and I can write, speak and read 5 languages (4 of those quite well) so here is something I observed.

I always wondered while learning languages that why is there a difference between written and spoken forms of a word? I’ll explain exactly what I mean by starting with 2 of the European languages I know

English and German: Most of the time in these languages we don’t read the word as a combination of letters probably because  they use Latin script. In fact, what we speak is the phonetic transcription of the words. examples: take two similar English words “put (/pʊt/)” and “cut (/kʌt/)” the ‘u’ in “put” is spoken with ‘ʊ’ sound but in “cut” it is having ‘ʌ’ sound. Similarly the German ‘G’ in “Tag” is pronounced like English ‘K’ but  the same German ‘G’ in “Gut” is pronounced like English ‘G’ itself.

So it’s plain that in European languages (at least in English and German and probably in French, Italian and Spanish also) the written and spoken forms of words are quite different. Further there are more strange practices especially in English, like using silent letters(doubt), epiglottis stop for repeated letters (bottle),  not pronouncing ending letters (come, going, trying) and some really strange words (programme, analogue, queue) etc.

Hindi: Here the bizarre practices are very less but not completely devoid of it. The most common practice is to read a letter in a word without its vowel component (FYI in Indian languages a letter has consonant and vowel parts) eg. मनमोहन (our Prime Minister name) should have been Manamohana but it is read Manmohan, the न is pronounced without vowel अ. In this language it’s not that we can’t write the way we speak but somehow its not done eg. चल्ना (chalna) can be written for चलना (chalana) but we write चलना (chalana) and read it चल्ना (chalna).

Tamil: This language probably has least number of letters for an Indian language but the speciality is that we can read a letter in 2-4 ways and everything is considered right by its native speakers. for eg மோன்  can be read as Mohan, Mokan or Mogan, ரி can be read as Chari, Sari and even shari

Now the question is whether there is a language where spoken and written forms of a word are same? The answer is yes, there is a language called Kannada where a word is written and spoken in exactly same way. You can just pick up the letters that you want and put them together to form a word, it may not have meaning but it will be pronounced as if you are reading the letters together. I don’t want to call it as a superiority aspect of this language and take pride in this language being my mother tongue but I would say that it is something unique of this language. If you know any such languages where the written and spoken forms of words are same do let me know in the comments below. I would like to know them.


8 thoughts on “Reading exactly what is written and writing exactly what is spoken

  1. No, it is Sanskrit. To point at your mistake, in Kannada, every half letter (ottakshara) is pronounced as a full letter and the actual full letter which is accompanied by a half letter is pronounced a half letter
    Eg: Lakshya. Here ‘ksh’ is half and ‘ya’ is full, but written as full ‘ksh’ and half ‘ya’

    1. it’s the convention in kannada. as long as convention is consistent it’s ok. the reason behind doing this is because we read letters left to right and top to bottom. so ‘othakshara’ will be read second and hence takes the vowel component with it (no one can pronounce any letter without vowel component). eg. asakthi (interest) is written as ಆಸಕ್ತಿ, you can see that we read ಕ letter first which is on top then we read the bottom letter ತ so the ಇ letter goes with second one. this applies for multiple ‘othakshara’ also. if u read the vowel with top letter then u can’t actually pronounce the letter combination itself. there is no reason to adopt sanskrit convention over kannada or vice versa. also the convention isn’t meddling with the “reading what is exactly written and vice versa” aspect. you are still reading a word as a combination of letter in this case ಆ ಸ ಕ ತ and ಇ.

      1. also notice that in sanskrit most of the time ‘othakshara’ equivalents are written left to right itself and not below so the just keep they left right approach. nice to know that you noticed this subtle thing

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