Sounds and Spelling

The need for a standard spelling system

Words in the Austkin database are spelled in two ways. First, we give the spelling of the original source. But we also provide a “standardised” spelling that uses the same spelling system for all languages. Note that these may not be the same as the spelling systems used in the relevant language communities. We use a standardised spelling system because many of the older written sources use spellings which are not consistent and are hard for us to interpret. In interpreting old spellings we compared different sources on the same language and have used our knowledge of sounds, words and meanings in the Indigenous languages as a whole. By converting the old sources to a consistent spelling we hope to make these sources usable today. In particular it helps us to search for terms which would be very difficult without a standard spelling.

Our standard spelling system uses the letters of the English alphabet, but in a somewhat different way from how English does it: see Table 1 (in the “Consonants” subsection) and Table 2 (in the “Vowels” subsection). This is because the sound systems of Australian languages differ from that of English. Sounds are divided into two major sets, consonants and vowels. In the subsections on “Consonants” and “Vowels” we explain the sound systems used by most of the Australian languages and show what letters and combinations of letters represent each of the sounds that a spelling system needs to capture. A further subsection “Word accent and syllables” shows how the rhythm of Australian languages differs from that of English. A final subsection “Examples of sounds and their spellings” gives examples of how these sounds are spelled for family terms and “skin names”.

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