Today just something lighter, and a reaction to our recent visit from the Grammar and Spelling Police. I would like to touch up on spelling in slavic languages. I have already mentioned the overabundance of cases and genders, so now let’s go on to the spelling.
The one problem that slavic languages have with latin alphabet is that it just does not contain enough letters to cover all the consonants in the language, a problem that multiple people tried to solve in history.
First cases involved inventing a whole new script – the Glagolitic script by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, who invented the alphabet specifically so they can better preach Christianity to Slavs. It did not hold, at least not in whole – a part of this script was later used together with Greek alphabet in the creation of Cyrillic script, still in use by many Slavic nations, mainly the biggest one – Russians.
But some slavic nations have adopted latin alphabet for their writing in middle ages and during their history multiple attempts were made to solve the conundrum of not enough letters. Like using digraphs. This type of orthography is still used a lot for example in Polish, whilst modern Czech has only one digraph, ch. Because in fifteenth century came along Jan Hus and in addition to sparking religious war he also invented diacritics (allegedly, there is some dispute). By adding two simple symbols – ˇ and ´ – he solved the problem once and for all, at least for Czechs.
Since then, spelling in Czech is fairly primitive, as well as in many other Slavic languages, whether with their version of modified Latin script (sometimes made after the Czech model) or Cyrillic. Something like a “Spelling bee” is impossible in any meaningful way, because every word is spelled “as it sounds”. Literally. In Czech, children can learn to read by saying the short names of each letter in a word in succession. When done quickly enough, the word naturally emerges. Learning to write spoken word after that is fairly intuitive.
There are complications, of course. Loan words can be one, although usually Czech language either just takes a word and transliterates it into the closest approximation to its original sound achievable (manager = manažer) or does not bother with that at all and the word is just pronounced in the czech fashion, its original sound be damned (buffet =bufet – in modern Czech the “t” is not silent and the “u” is pronounced differently from the French original). Second complication, and a source of major headache to even Czechs, is that I and Y are the same sound in certain situations. So whilst nobody makes a mistake reading a word, it is fairly common to make mistakes when writing.
And punctuation is probably a mess in every language. Well, I never intended to be proof reader…