15 January 2013, 15:14

New phonetic alphabet created

New phonetic alphabet created
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A native Arabic speaker living in Britain has invented a new alphabet for the English language. Jaber Jabbour has created a standardised phonetic alphabet with just 24 letters instead of 26 - which he says will allow non-native speakers of any language to transcribe words and phrases in such a way that they can be understood in any country. We asked Mr. Jabour what made his system known as the 'Say As You Pronounce Universal Alphabet' - different from other phonetic systems.

Effectively, what currently exists is the International Phonetic Alphabet. The main inconvenience of it is that it has a very large number of characters – around 150 or something. And in order to be able to pronounce words accurately using the International Phonetic Alphabet, you have to learn all these sounds and representation of each letter which is very difficult. But the positive thing is that it is very accurate. What we’re trying to do here is something different. We’re trying to have simple alphabet – it’s only 24 letters and is based on the Latin alphabet, so all letters should be familiar to everyone without any problem. But the downside of course is actually that the pronunciation is not as accurate as that of a native speaker. But we hope that the pronunciation using this 24-letter alphabet will be good enough for people to be able to pronounce words as a native speaker without having to actually have these words pronounced to you beforehand.

One of the challenges in learning English for most people who are not native speakers is the fact that we can have the same phonemes or groups of letters pronounced in 5 or 6 different ways and you just have to learn which way they’re spelt in which context.

There’re two aspects of the idea. One is the fact that English and some other languages are non-phonetic and that causes a lot of problems and difficulties for people who are trying to learn these languages, especially if they’re learning them off a book or internet. It’s very inconvenient, because you’ll have to remember two things about the word – first, how it’s spelt and second, how it’s pronounced. The whole purpose of the alphabet is to communicate that in one single way. And the second point is what we mentioned before. For example, if you travel to Russia and are not familiar with sounds of different letters in the Russian alphabet, then you can hopefully convert from one system to another with the help of technology and will be able to pronounce the words in Russian.

What was your idea behind this? Is it a business idea? Is it a teaching idea? Is it an internet application?

It’s not business. I think the closest thing to it is Wikipedia. We hope that people will go to the website and enter words from their own languages using this phonetic alphabet so that everyone else can pronounce these words more easily. And I think by doing that there’ll be more people learning and speaking foreign languages. And hopefully thanks to that we’ll have more harmonious and peaceful world.

I suppose, Mr. Jabber, you’re aware of the delicious irony of your own name. The verb in English means “to talk, particularly rapidly and about a lot of things”. Do people laugh when you tell them your name?

No, obviously, the name is quite unique and I think you’re not pronouncing it correctly. It’s Jaber. And that’s another reason why we need a simple way of pronouncing words, because as you can see there is a lot of inaccuracy in pronouncing different names across different languages.

Have you thought of a practical application for this? Has there been any official response or even commercial response?

There’s a website, where you can actually enter words from a few languages and convert them into unified alphabet spelling. The easier and more immediate way of using it is actually if you have a sentence, for example, in English. And you would like to say in Dutch, you put it into Google Translate, you get Dutch translation in Dutch alphabet which you do not know. Then you take that and put it onto our website. And you get the spelling! So you’ll be able to say it to a Dutch person. And the Dutch person will be able to do exactly the same thing in English, using the combination of translating website and our alphabet. Any two people speaking different languages can communicate right now.

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