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Further, Farther and Free Variation

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197573.  Fri Aug 03, 2007 1:46 pm Reply with quote

Free variation refers to those words that have two (or more) accepted pronunciations, such as

e-conomics and ee-conomics

(sorry for the lack of IPA, but my internet access died months ago and now I'm using a mobile phone... IPA is difficult.)

Often both forms are used interchangably within a single person's ideolect. Farther vs further is a rare example of free variation being represented in the orthography.

I don't believe there is a specific term for free variation in letter-appearance, so I'll include it here. There are only two letters in our alphabet that have two standard forms in print (minor font differences don't count here). They are 'a' and 'g'. I am not sure if further examples exist in other language scripts.

197584.  Fri Aug 03, 2007 4:10 pm Reply with quote

For the benefit of anyone who has suitable fonts with which to read it, the IPA versions of the two pronunciations of "economics" (RP English) are ɛkəˈnɒmɪks and ikəˈnɒmɪks.

As ikkan rightly notes, there are two generally acceptable ways to write the letters a and g. Interestingly, the font used in these forums - in common with many of the most widely used computer fonts, the main exception being Times New Roman - goes with the traditional printed form for a but not for g. Quite why this is so, I really don't know.

(a and ɑ are not interchangeable in IPA though - they mean different things, and confusion can be caused by this.)

I can't immediately think of any comparable examples from other scripts, though I'm sure there are some. The best I can do off the top of my head is to note that Russian handwriting is quite rather different from the printed language - for instance, the way they write т in handwriting is very similar to the way English speakers write m in handwriting (if you use Times New Roman in italic, you'll see something quite close to the handwritten forms).

(Russians use something that looks like a small capital for lower case м, so they aren't confused by this.)

197885.  Mon Aug 06, 2007 3:10 am Reply with quote

ikkan wrote:
There are only two letters in our alphabet that have two standard forms in print (minor font differences don't count here). They are 'a' and 'g'.

I'm not sure I understand what this means. Could you explain further for those of us with little brain.

197894.  Mon Aug 06, 2007 4:05 am Reply with quote

The top "a" is written differently to the bottom one - there is an extra pen stroke forming a loop over the top.

Similarly, the two "g"s are written differently: The top one is a circle with a lower case delta underneath, while the bottom one only has a single line underneath.

I hope that made some sense...

197951.  Mon Aug 06, 2007 6:21 am Reply with quote

Thank you smiley_face, well put :)

Also, my point about fonts is that, although the millions of fonts that exist vary wildly, the basic set of shapes remains the same for all but 'a' and 'g'. There are fonts that are very very stylised and may have other variations on standard appearances, but these have limited use and are not accepted as standard, ie. don't type an essay in such a font in the hope of extra marks for creativity.

198006.  Mon Aug 06, 2007 9:15 am Reply with quote

How about k and f? Each have a (small) variety of forms. I'm talking about the curly top line on the k, and the tail of the f.

In addition, many fonts have a 'base' (sorry don't know the correct term) at the bottom of Ts and fs etc.

The first group are obviously pretty rare, the only font I can find in a quick search through the standard word fonts is "Monotype Corsiva", and the second group is a very minor difference.

198012.  Mon Aug 06, 2007 9:41 am Reply with quote

Your latter point refers, i think, to 'serifs'; an example of exactly the type of minor difference that doesn't equate to a variant form. Serifs are essentially little flicks on character edges that are purely there for aesthetic reasons.

You are right about 'f' and 'k', though I think this is a handwritten-typed distinction and any fonts with the handwritten form are those that indeed aim to imitate handwriting.

Your 'f' and 'k' observation does highlight that there is a gradient of deviation in forms concerning how accepted variants are and what exactly constitutes a variant. I maintain that 'a' and 'g' are alone at the extreme end of such a gradient.



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