Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Haf Inglish

Haf Inglish is my idea for a simplified, one-way-phonetic form of American English designed as either a stepping stone for those learning full English, or as an international language in its own right. It would be marketed as the fastest way to learn English, because you can pick it up much faster than normal English, particularly for those without English immersion.

Its first target audience would be Latin American people, so I'll take advantage of the fact that they can type accents, encouraging (but not requiring) use of accents on stressed syllables other than the second-to-last.
  • The most common words of Haf Inglish would be pronounced like Standard English, with spelling adjusted to be phonetic. It would be phonetic in the same sense Spanish is: you can predict the pronounciation from the spelling, but not the other way around. The spelling changes are designed so that native English speakers can still recognize the words after the spelling changes, and so that many words are spelled the same way. Consequently, the spelling rules are complex, but not nearly as bad as English.
  • Haf Inglish does not have the words "am", "are" and "were". Replace these words with "be", "be" and "was" respectively. It still has "is", "was" and "been".
  • A fixed number of spelling exceptions (under 20) will be allowed for common words like "I" and "the". Exceptions are reserved for very common words, especially those which are hard to recognize (by English speakers) when spelled phonetically, or whose spelling would no longer be unique among synonyms (e.g. be vs bee). Currently I've chosen 14 exceptions: the, of, to, I, be, some, do, their, two, come, know, does, put, knew. Notice that 8 of these (to, I, be, some, their, two, come, know) have homonyms, and if they were spelled phonetically they could be confused with their homonym.
  • In addition to these exceptions, there are a few words that could be pronounced as they are spelled, but usually/often are not: a, an, been, for. Also, there are a few words which are spelled with an "s" that is pronounced "z": is, ease, always, has. However, in these cases the words are still understandable if the speaker uses an "s" sound, so I don't respell them for that reason alone. I replace "s" with "z" only if the word must be respelled for some other reason.
  • There are several short English words that end in "e": be, he, me, she, we. We could respell he, me, she, and we as "hee", "mee", "shee", and "wee", but I already decided "be" should be kept the same to distinguish it from "honey bee", and these words seem common enough to justify a special pronounciation rule just for them.
  • Phonetic rules are based on existing patterns, e.g. a silent e can make a so-called "long" vowel ("bite", "fate" vs "bit", "fat"), vowels sound different at the end of a word ("pot" vs "so"), and double letters force a "short" vowel ("better" vs "meter", "filling" vs "filing"). However, sometimes normal English spelling provides no way to distinguish between two sounds, like the "oo" in book and loot, and for these situations a new rule is required and one category of words must be respelled.
  • The rules for forming past tense and plurals would be regular with only a small number of exceptions: foot to foots, flyy to flyy.d, read to read.d, etc.; yet still, is to wuz, do to did, and this to these.
  • A dot (.) is used to separate morphemes to keep spellings phonetic. For example, it is clear in the word "same" that the "e" is silent. However, when forming the compound word "sametimely" (meaning simultaneously), Haf Inglish rules would require the "e"s to be pronounced unless a dot is added to separate the parts: same.time.ly. Two other important issues are past tense and plurals. I think for plurals, there should be a rule that the "e" in "es" is silent, or pronounced "uh" when the plural rules require it. When you consider that 3rd-person singular verb conjugations also use the plural ending, you realize that this ending is very common in English and therefore should be emulated in Haf English. However, I currently think past tense should be marked more regularly, with ".d" for all past tense (and past participle) endings regardless of their pronounciation.
  • Spelling changes would be designed so that a native English speaker can easily recognize the original word despite the changed spelling, e.g. "hee" for "he", "wuz" for "was". Being a slang spelling, the latter might strike a nerve with some, but you no doubt recognized the word, yes? If possible, a word is made phonetic by adding, removing or changing one letter, e.g. "unit" => "uunit" (where "uu" is pronounced "yoo"), "learn" => "lern".
  • Uncommon and international words (for example, the word "international") would keep their spelling the same, and pronounciation would follow the HI rules.
  • There should be a set of about 1000-1500 word roots to be learned for everyday communication; some words would be excluded specifically from the language so that English speakers learning Haf English can specifically learn not to use them. Words could be divided into "beginner" and "intermediate" roots.
  • The oo in book and the oo in boon would be allophones, but I'm thinking of using an extra letter to indicate the former ("boook")
  • The th in then and thin could also be allophones, but can we distinguish between them in writing? I notice that when a word ends with "th", it is usually unvoiced: bath, path, hath, myth, wrath; but it is usually voiced otherwise: them, that, they, bathe, lathe. Therefore, in the rare case that "th" is unvoiced but is not at the end, it could be marked with a dot (.): "th.in", "th.ick", "th.ink", "th.ing". However, since "th.ink" and "th.ing" are very common words, inserting the dot every time is a significant burden, so perhaps it should be optional.
  • The g in dog, age and garage must be distinguished. I propose "g" for gift, "j" for "gist" and "jh" for usual. However, I think the spelling of "usual" should be left unchanged because its phonetic spelling "uujhool" is too far from the original spelling.
  • s and z are not allophones. With the exception of plurals that are still spelled with an s, s and z must be distinguished by changing some words spelled with "c" or "s" to use "z" instead. Less important words will not be respelled if there is no name collision; instead the learner will be allowed to pronounce the z as an s. For example, you can say "thousund" instead of "thouzund", but you must not pronounce "lose" (looz) as "loose".
  • Contractions of "is" are allowed, but not "was" or "are" or "am". "don't", "didn't", and "won't" are also allowed. I am reluctant to allow "can't" because it can cause confusion when someone says something like "I can take it"--and listener might think he/she said "I can't take it". Maybe contractions of "have" and "has" should be allowed, but only if it's the helping verb: I've seen and she's seen, but not I've a car or she's a car. Then again, "He's" can mean "he is" or "he has", so if the contraction for "has" is allowed, one must infer the meaning from the context. He's blue and he's eating clearly use "is", but many sentences are ambiguous: "he's leave.d" could mean "he has leave.d" or "he is leave.d".
  • Words with many meanings make English harder to understand, so to lighten the burden, certain meanings are banned in Haf Inglish. The word pronounced "too" has five meanings in English: "two apples", "to the store", "to eat", "too large", and "you too". The last of these is banned; you must say "yoo allso" instead of "yoo too". The other meanings can be distinguished by their spelling, but are harder to distinguish in voice communication. The word "that" has at least two meanings: (1) "I ate that" versus (2) "I think that you are right" and "the thing that you see". The first is a nounoid (it plays the role of a noun), the second is a connecting word (it is debatable whether the different grammars of the two phrases should be considered different meanings of "that"). I think these two meanings should be distinguished, so I will be using "that" for (1) and "thut" for (2): "I eat.d that" but "I th.ink thut yoo be right".
  • In the same vein, English allows many words to be either verbs or nouns, which I believe can make it harder for a learner to decode sentences. Haf Inglish will segregate nouns and verbs. Tentatively, "ate" is a suffix to change nouns into verbs, and "ing" changes verbs into gerunds or nouns: verbs "kick", "bite", "see" become "a kicking", "a biting", and "a seeing" and not "a kick", "a bite" and "a view" as in English. The nouns "immij" (image), "Google", and "sex" become the verbs "immijate" or "immijify" (make an image or imagine), "Googlate" (search the web), and "sexate" (have sex).
  • There will be several minor grammar changes. Usually English-style grammar is correct, but some ways of speaking are correct in Haf Inglish that are wrong (or archaic) in English, e.g. both "I eat.d not the sandwich" and "I didn't eat the sandwich" are correct.
  • Vowels are of course a disaster in English spelling. So I'm making this post to experiment with a spelling system that is phonetic by translating a short story by Terry Bisson....
They're Made Out Of Meat
They Be Made Of Meat.

"They're made out of meat."
"They be made of meat."


"Meat. They're made out of meat."
"Meat. They be made of meat."


"There's no doubt about it. We picked several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."
"Therr's no dout ubout it. We picked sevral frum diffrent parts of the werld, toook them ontoo our scout ships, exammin.d them all the way thru. They're cumplete.ly meat."

"That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars."
That's dispossible. Wut ubout the radio signals? The messijjes to the stars."

"They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."
"They uuz the radio waves to tawk, but the signuls don't come frum them. The signals come frum mushéens."

"So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."
"So hoo made the mushéens? That's hoo wee wont to contact."

"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the machines."
"They made the musheens. That's wut I be tryying to tell yoo. Meat made the musheens."

"That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."
"That's ridicuulus. How can meat make a musheen? You be asking me to beleve in sentient* meat."
* Not phoneticized due to its rarity in English, plus the fact that it is still understandable when sounded out as "senteent".

"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in the sector and they're made out of meat."
"I'm not asking yoo, I'm telling yoo. These creachurs are the ohnly sentient race in the erria and they be made of meat."

"Maybe they're like the Orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage."
"Maybee they're like the Orfolei. Yoo know, a carbun-base.d intéllijjence that goes thru a meat stage."

"Nope. They're born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn't take too long. Do you have any idea the life span of meat?"
"No. They be born meat and they diy meat. We study.d them for sevral of their life-lengths, which didn't take too much time. Do yoo have eny iydia ubout the life length of meat?"

"Spare me. Okay, maybe they're only part meat. You know, like the Weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside."
"Keep me frum it. Okay, maybee they be ohnly partly meat. Yoo know, like the Weddilei. A meat hed with an electron plasma brain inside."

"Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads like the Weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They're meat all the way through."
"Nope. We th.ink.d of that, since they do have meat heds like the Weddilei. But I told yoo, wee exammin.d them. They be meat all the way thru."

"No brain?"
"No brain?"

"Oh, there is a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of meat!"
"Oh, therr is a brain all right. But the brain is made of meat!"

"So... what does the thinking?"
"So... wut does the th.inking?"

"You're not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat."
"Yoo be not understanding, be yoo? The brain does the th.inking. The meat."

"Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"
"Thinking meat! Yoo be asking me to beleve in th.inking meat!"

"Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?"
"Yes, th.inking meat! Conscious* meat! Luvving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the hol deal! Are yoo getting the immij?"

"Omigod. You're serious then. They're made out of meat."
"Oh myy god. Yoo be serious then. They be made of meat."

"Finally, Yes. They are indeed made out of meat. And they've been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years."
"Fiynully, Yes. They be indeed made of meat. And they hav been trying to get in tuch with us for allmohst a hundrud of therr years."

"So what does the meat have in mind?"
"So wut does the meat hav in mind?"

"First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the universe, contact other sentients, swap ideas and information. The usual."
"First it wonts to tawk to us. Then I imajjin it wants to explore the uunivverse, contact sentients, exchainj iydias and informayshun. The uujhool."

"We're supposed to talk to meat?"
"We be expect.d to tawk to meat?"

"That's the idea. That's the message they're sending out by radio. 'Hello. Anyone out there? Anyone home?' That sort of thing."
"That's the iydia. That's the messij they're sending out byy radio. 'Hello. Enywun out there? Enywun home? That sort of thing."

"They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?"
"They acchoolly do tawk, then. They uuz iydias, concepts?"

"Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat."
"Oh, yes. Exceptly they do it with meat."

"I thought you just told me they used radio."
"I th.ink.d yoo just tell.d me that they uuz.d radio."

"They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat."
"They do, but wut do yoo th.ink is on the radio? Meat sounds. Yoo know how--when yoo hit or wave meat tugether--it makes a noise? They tawk byy waving tugether therr meat at each other."

"Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?"
"Oh myy god. Singing meat. This is alltugether too much. So wut do yoo advise?

"Officially or unofficially?"
"Uffishully or nonuffishully?"


"Officially, we are required to contact, welcome, and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in the quadrant, without prejudice, fear, or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the records and forget the whole thing."
"Uffishully, we are reequire.d to contact, welcum, and log in eny and all sentient races or multi-beings in the quorter, without prejudice, fear, or fayverness. Unuffishully, I advise that we erase the reckerds and forget the hol thing.

"I was hoping you would say that."
"I wuz hoping yoo woood say that."

"It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?"
"It seems harsh, but therr is a limmit. Do wee truely wont to make contact with meat?"

"I agree one hundred percent. What's there to say? 'Hello, meat. How's it going?' But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?"
"I ugree wun hundrud percent. Wut's therr to say? 'Hello, meat. How be yoo?' But will this werk? How meny planuts be we manijjing here?"

"Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can't live on them. And being meat, they only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact."
"Ohnly wun. They can travul to uther planuts in speshul meat cuntainers, but they can not liv on them. And, being meat, they ohnly travul thru C-space. Which limmits them to the speed of light and makes the possible.ness thut they ever make contact verry slim. Infittessimal, in fact."

"So we just pretend there's no one home in the universe."
"So we simply pretend therr's no wun at home in the uunivverse."

"That's it."
"That's it."

"Cruel. But you said it yourself, who wants to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you have probed? You're sure they won't remember?"
"Cruel. But yoo say.d it yorself, hoo wonts to meet meat? And the wuns hoo hav been ontoo our ships, the wuns you hav prob.d? Yoo be shur they wo.n't remember?"

"They'll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we're just a dream to them."
"They will be th.ink.d to be dissane if they do. We went intoo their heds and smoothate.d their meat so that we be ohnly a dream to them."

"A dream to meat! How strangely appropriate, that we should be meat's dream."
"A dream to meat! How strainjly fitting, thut we be meat's dream."

"And we can mark this sector unoccupied."
"And we can mark this sector nonocuupy.d."

"Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?"
"Goood. Agreed, uffishully and nonuffishully. Case cloze.d. Eny uthers? Enywun intresting on that side of the galaxy?"

"Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotations ago, wants to be friendly again."
"Yes, a rather shyy but sweet hyydrogen core cluster intéllijjence in a class-nine star in G445 zone.

"They always come around."
"They allways warm up to us."
("come around" is an idium not likely to be comprend.d. I th.ink "warm up" can be clear in-context.)

"And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the universe would be if one were all alone."
"And whyy not? Imajjify how nontolerably, how nonspeakably cold the uunivverse woood be if wun wuz all alone."