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Orthographic Features

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English

Orthography is a term that refers to the rules that affect the way a language is written down.

The etymology of the word orthography supports its definition, roughly translating 'to write correctly'. The word orthography can be broken down into two Ancient Greek words to create this etymology:

Ὀρθός “orthos” (correct)

γράφειν “graphein” (to write).

What are orthographic features?

Orthographic features are the standard grammatical rules that are followed when writing a language down. The technicalities of the orthographic features of a language depend on the writing system used by the language.

Take road signs, for example. While they are not a language, they can be almost universally understood as they use symbols to communicate general ideas rather than specific meanings. With this understanding of them in mind, it is clear that they don't require certain orthographic features.

What are some examples of orthographic features?

The orthographic features of the English language encompass the spelling, punctuation and capitalization of letters within writing, which the next few paragraphs will expand on.

These factors set parameters around the way we read and write. Next, we will go into detail about how these elements work and what happens when orthography isn't used properly.

Spelling

Spelling is the way that we order the alphabet to form words in a standardised way.

Without a standardised spelling system, it would be hard to communicate through writing as we would have to decipher the meaning of words.

In certain situations, poor spelling can completely alter the meaning of a word; for example with the frequently confused pairings of homophones:

Stationary and stationery

  • Stationary = still

  • Stationery = writing and office materials

There are also situations where the meaning may seem similar but in fact there is a difference in word class:

Practice and practice

  • Practice = the noun

  • Practise = the verb

Affect and effect

  • Affect = the verb

  • Effect = the noun

On the other hand, bad spelling in more formal contexts (ie: a job application, a newspaper article) impacts the way a text is received as gives the impression that little effort has been put in. Misspellings, themselves, can be amusing to readers.

Punctuation

Punctuation is used to break up and organise text. It can be used to show where to pause, where to stop, what kind of utterance is being used (an exclamation, a question, a quotation etc). There are 14 punctuation marks:

  1. Full stop . (Denotes the end of a sentence)
  2. Question mark ? (Ends a sentence that is a question)
  3. Exclamation mark ! (Ends a sentence with emphasis and a loudness)
  4. Comma - (Inserts a pause in a sentence, makes a list, separate phrases)
  5. Colon : (Introduces something, left two clauses)
  6. Semi colon ; (Separate independent clauses)
  7. Slash / (Acts as a substitute for "or")
  8. Dash (En-dash is shorter and is for ranges, Em-dash is longer for parenthesis)
  9. Hyphen - (Joins two connected words)
  10. Brackets [ ] (Clarifies information further that might have been omitted)
  11. Parenthesis ( ) (Supplies further details on something)
  12. Apostrophe ' (Shows letters have been omitted, indicates possession)
  13. Speech Marks " " (Denotes speech)
  14. Ellipsis ... (Suggests omission of words or a moment of suspense)

Here's a funny example.

With punctuation:

"Let's eat, dad."

Without punctuation:

"Let's eat dad."

Capitalization

Capitalization means putting a capital letter at the start of certain words. There are several reasons why we do this. Most commonly, capitalization is used at the beginning of a sentence, for example:

There's no denying that the rain was heavy. Water was already beginning to spill from the walls. "

The new capital letter acts as a signpost, indicating the start of a new sentence.

Proper nouns also need to be capitalized in a sentence (no matter where in the sentence they occur). Proper nouns include names of people, places and months, among other things, that don't adopt a modifier in a sentence. An example:

"Jane was looking particularly happy as she walked idly through a field in Dorset."

In this example, both Jane and Dorset are proper nouns, and therefore need to be capitalized even if found at the end of a sentence.

Capital letters are also used at the beginning of quotes.

"He turned to look at me and whispered, "It's not safe out there. Just don't go outside. ””

As the speaker is starting a new sentence, the first word of the spoken part needs to be capitalized.

Most of the words in titles also require capitalization, except conjunctions (words that join phrases together like and, because, etc), articles (words that indicate if a noun is specific or general like a and the) and prepositions (words that show where nouns are in relation to each other, like between, in etc). The words that require capitalization are as follows: the first word of the title, nouns, verbs (no matter how short) and adjectives.

An example of a title could be:

Some Tips on how to Write Titles Properly

Capitalization is important because it impacts the way a piece of writing is received. It may seem quite insulting if someone's name isn't properly capitalized. Alternatively, if there isn't proper capitalization throughout the letter itself it may make it seem that there was minimal effort put into it, suggesting it hadn't been proofread properly.

What impacts orthography?

There are several writing systems:

Pictographic / ideographic

This is a writing system that uses ideograms (ideograms are pictures and images that exhibit certain ideas and concepts) in order to communicate. Whilst historically there are a few examples of this writing system, they are difficult to translate without a direct communicator between the verbal language and its written form. This is because ideograms are open to interpretation.

Although this type of writing system might be considered dead, it isn't entirely. It is still used in day-to-day life by many individuals in the form of emojis.

Naturally, this writing system lacks most of the orthographic features that we are used to in English. There is no need for certain elements of grammar such as capitalization of letters because there are no letters to capitalize.

Logographic

This system uses glyphs and symbols to represent entire words or morphemes. That said, there are no purely logographic writing systems. This is because some phonetic symbols are required to create new words when they expand under the influence of phonetic languages.

Some examples of logographic writing systems include, but are not limited to, the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs or the Ancient Sumerian cuneiforms. Similarly Chinese characters can be considered logographic.

Orthographically speaking, Ancient Egyptian would be a lot easier to write because it didn't have any punctuation as it was written to look beautiful. It doesn't mean all logographic languages don't use punctuation; for example, the various Chinese dialects use very similar punctuation to English. However, the symbols used to display these concepts are different and are deployed both horizontally and vertically.

Phonemic

This type of writing system uses written symbols (graphemes) to represent phonemic sounds (phonemes).

As a result of linguistic development, there are little-to-no languages that are perfectly phonemic. While Middle English was much more phonetic in its spelling than Modern English, ME has discrepancies between spelling and pronunciation, for example:

-Spelt: colonel Pronounced: ker-nel

-Spelt: choir Pronounced: kwy-uhr

Esperanto was conceived by Polish Ophthalmologist LL Zamenhof to be a universal language. It was created without any exceptions to any grammatical rules or pronunciation discrepancies to make it easier to learn. It is an entirely phonemic language, albeit an artificial one.

Phonemic languages use very similar grammar to English as they largely use the Latin alphabet and thus similar rules.

Alphabetic

This writing system has a letter for each consonant and vowel.

What confusions might there be with Orthography?

Writing systems and orthography are very closely intertwined. However, both are distinct terms in regards to language and linguistics.

Orthographic Features - Key takeaways

  • Orthography refers to the rules that govern how language is written.
  • There is a range of writing systems.
  • Capitalization means putting capital letters at the start of some words.

Orthographic Features

The rules that affect the way in which a language may be written down.

The specific and standardised grammatical rules that are followed when writing a language down.

Spelling, punctuation and capitalisation.

The message of the piece is undermined by the lack of effort put into proof reading.

Final Orthographic Features Quiz

Question

What is spelling?

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Answer

The way letters are ordered in an accepted and conventionalised way.

Show question

Question

What is the impact of poor spelling?

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Answer

Poor spelling can undermine a text's authority, seriousness and purpose as it may cause a reader to question how much effort was truly put into the piece of writing.

Show question

Question

What is the difference between a phoneme and a grapheme?


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Answer

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound, while a grapheme is the depiction of a phoneme using letters.

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Question

What is a morpheme?


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Answer

A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning (i.e., the word 'cat' cannot be broken down into another meaning, but the word 'cats' can be).

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Question

What is etymology?


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Answer

Etymology is the study of the historical roots of words.

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Question

What is the most common misspelling?


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Answer

'Separate' is the most commonly misspelled word.

Show question

Question

How do you spell the word that is a verb for the habitual process of doing something for improvement?


Show answer

Answer

Practise

Show question

Question

What are homophones?


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Answer

Homophones are words that sound like eachother but have different meanings (ie: there, their and they’re)

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Question

How do you spell the word that is a noun for the name of an ancient Egyptian ruler?


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Answer

Pharaoh

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Question

What is the main difference between American and British spellings?


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Answer

American spellings are typically more phonetic than British spellings.

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Question

What does IPA stand for?


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Answer

International Phonetic Alphabet

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Question

What is letter capitalisation

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Answer

Letter capitalisation is the conventionalised way in which lowercase letters are replaced with uppercase letters. 

Show question

Question

True or false: proper nouns capitalised.

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Answer

True

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Question

How are capital letters used in a sentence?


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Answer

The first letter of the first word in a sentence is capitalised.

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Question

How are capital letters used in a person’s title and name?

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Answer

The first letter of titles (ie: Mr, Mrs, Miss) are capitalised, as are the first letters of surnames and names. 

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Question

What are proper nouns?


Show answer

Answer

Proper nouns are words that describe specific things, places or people. These could include countries, cities, nationalities, religions, political parties, time periods, days, months or events.

Show question

Question

What are proper nouns?


Show answer

Answer

Proper nouns are words that describe specific things, places or people. These could include countries, cities, nationalities, religions, political parties, time periods, days, months or events.

Show question

Question

How are capital letters used in a proper noun?


Show answer

Answer

They are placed at the beginning of the proper noun.

Show question

Question

How are capital letters used in titles?


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Answer

The first word, nouns, verbs and adjectives are all capitalised in a title, rest are not.

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Question

How are capital letters used in abbreviations?


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Answer

Acronyms and initialisms (types of abbreviations) have all-capitalised letters. 

Show question

Question

What is a common mistake people make with colons and capital letters?

Show answer

Answer

Some people put a capital letter after a colon, this is wrong!

Show question

Question

What confusions can there be in abbreviations?

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Answer

Abbreviations that aren’t acronyms or initialisms are NOT always capitalised. Usually Latin abbreviations are not capitalised (unless the meaning has shifted over time).

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Question

Why might someone choose to not use capital letters?


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Answer

A lack of capital letters allows a writer to deconstruct traditional forms. An increase, or seeming randomness, in capital letters may create a sense of unease or allow writers to create an ulterior message.

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Question

What is an acronym?


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Answer

An acronym is a pronounceable word (whether real or not), formed from the first letters of other words to form an abbreviation.

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Question

What is the difference between an initialism and an acronym?


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Answer

Initialisms cannot be pronounced properly, and must have each letter of the abbreviation pronounced instead. For example, the acronym NASA can be pronounced as a word, despite not being one, while FDA cannot be.

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Question

Why might someone use all caps in a sentence?

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Answer

For emphasis and exaggeration.

Show question

Question

What types of punctuation are there?

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Answer

Full stops, question marks, exclamation marks, commas, colons, semicolons, slashes, dashes, brackets, parenthesis, apostrophe, speech and quotation marks and ellipses.

Show question

Question

Why is punctuation important?

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Answer

Correct punctuation minimises potential confusion in a piece of writing.

Show question

Question

When might a full stop be used, that's not at the end of a sentence?

Show answer

Answer

A full stop can also be used in abbreviations.

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Question

What happens when we ask a question when speaking?

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Answer

Our intonation changes- it increases in pitch at the end of the question.

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Question

Why shouldn't people use too many exclamation marks in writing?

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Answer

It may make the text appear childish.

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Question

How do you know if the parenthesis is correctly used?

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Answer

If the sentence can make sense without the part in parenthesis, it has been correctly used. Parenthesis adds additional and helpful information to a text, but isn't actually required.

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Question

What punctuation marks are used with parenthesis?

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Answer

Parenthesis can be made with commas, em-dashes and brackets.

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Question

What's the difference between em and en-dashes?

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Answer

The en-dash is longer and is used for uniting divided things (like dates, results and compound adjectives among other things). The em-dash is used with parenthesis.

Show question

Question

What confusion is there with hyphens, em-dashes and en-dashes.

Show answer

Answer

People often use them interchangeably when this is actually incorrect.

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Question

What do apostrophes do?

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Answer

Indicate omitted letters or indicate possession.

Show question

Question

Why might writers neglect punctuation?

Show answer

Answer

Writers do this for greater exploration of the craft as it involves removing the well-established conventions.

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