Units of Language – Units of Writing
  • ISSN 1387-6732
  • E-ISSN: 1570-6001
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Some orthographies represent tone phonemically by means of diacritics; others favor zero marking. Neither solution is entirely satisfactory. The former leads to graphic overload; the latter to a profusion of homographs; both may reduce fluency. But there is a ‘third way’: to highlight the grammar rather than the tone system itself. To test this approach, we developed two experimental strategies for Kabiye: a grammar orthography and a tone orthography. Both are modifications of the standard orthography that does not mark tone. We tested these in a quantitative experiment involving literate L1 speakers that included dictation and spontaneous writing. Writers of the grammar orthography perform faster and more accurately than writers of the tone orthography, suggesting that they have an awareness of the morphological and syntactic structure of their language that may exceed their awareness of its phonology. This suggests that languages with grammatical tone might benefit from grammatical markers in the orthography. Keywords: tone; grammar; orthography; African languages; quantitative experiment


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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