Orthographic Novial (1934)

As we have seen the original form of Jespersen's Novial was the work of a phonetician who tried, as far as practicable, to carry through the principle `One letter, one sound,' in some cases simplifying the number of sounds used [c, s, z = s], creating a common denominator for national divergencies. In 1934 Jespersen suggested a number of improvements in Novial (Plubonisat Novial, Novialiste, 1-3, 1934). He had gained experience with his original scheme over a period of six years, and he had also considered criticisms received from friends, collaborators and opponents. He retained his opinion on the desirability of phonetic spelling but recognised its practical limitations. In a discussion with Edgar de Wahl, the author of Occidental, in Helsingör, Denmark, April-May, 1935, he admits that if, from the beginning, he had written central, zone, systeme, etc., and not sentral, sone, sisteme, Novial would have found a better reception.

He introduces his new proposals with some reflections of a general nature. "People generally consider," he says, "the principle `One sound, one letter' as the ideal one for languages. Seldom do we find this principle in practical application. It would be better to say `for each symbol one sound value, and to each sound phenomena one symbol,' for a symbol may consist of several letters [E sh, D sch]. But we should note that difficulties do not arise for all in the same way. A child learns the language by sounds and speech before it learns to read or write, it develops its knowledge from sound to sign; here, it is important that each sound should always be translated by the same symbol, for sound is the known quantity and symbol the quantity to be learned. For people learning a foreign language the direction is generally reversed. They learn in the usual manner first the signs and later the sounds, i.e., they learn to read and write before they learn to understand and to speak. For the student it is important that, on seeing a word, he should know how to pronounce it." (Novialiste, May, 1934). In consequence Jespersen distinguishes two classes, the first demanding `one sound, one letter,' the second demanding `one letter, one sound.'

Jespersen applies this reflection to a constructed language and says that we may assume that people will learn to read and to write such a language before they learn to speak it. The pupil should be able to pronounce a word correctly on seeing it, rather than to spell the word correctly on hearing it. Jespersen concludes that we may admit a number of different symbols for the same sound as long as each way of spelling a word can be interpreted in one way only.

Jespersen does not discard his original scheme but differentiates between (1) Phonetic Novial (F.N.), and (2) Orthographic Novial (O.N.). The former suppresses c and z. The latter uses c besides ç and z. The pronunciation of s, c, ç, and z is that of unvoiced s; ç [façade] is useful for words ending in c to which either a, o or u is added [nuance, nuançosi]. The `k'-sound before a, o, u, and before consonants may be written with c [Nov. acusative]. Y is admitted as a vowel with the pronunciation of `i' [symptome].

These are alternative forms and the future will decide between them. He emphasizes that the essential character of Novial remains unaltered by the introduction of the new forms. They are merely a concession to historical spelling.

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James Chandler 1997.