Implementing Orthography

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Our project concerns the many challenges that come along with implementing a consistent and useful orthography (a writing system) for the Hiaki language while remaining responsive to the interests of learners of the language and existing communities of speakers.

One of these challenges is a result of the locations of existing populations of speakers. Hiaki is spoken in both Sonora, Mexico and parts of the Southwestern USA like Arizona and California. Because of this, the existing writing systems differ in which letters are used to represent certain sounds. For example, the sound /h/ is typically represented with the letter “h” in US based communities of speakers, but in Mexico, the letter “j” is preferred. This reflects the external influence of the English and Spanish spelling systems in the two countries. Choosing to standardize one way of spelling over another runs the risk of implying that one way of spelling certain words is more “proper” or “correct” than another, but choosing to represent the differences in the existing spelling systems could be confusing to learners and could result in text appearing inauthentic.

This question and the others discussed in the paper represent decisions that must be made in creating language-learning materials. As we write Hiaki, we are always asking the question of what the orthography should seek to represent. For example, should the orthography align itself with the conventions of one group of speakers or another? Should it simply represent how words are pronounced or should it illuminate and clarify the way words are constructed?