A recent story in the Canadian CBC focuses on a Chipewyan mother in the Canadian Northwest Territories (NWT) is fighting to preserve the glottal stop character in her daughter’s name. The Chipewyan language (among many world languages) includes a phonemic glottal stop /ʔ/, and this sound is used in the name Sahaiʔa May Talbot.
As of March 6, 2015 though, the NWT government has refused to issue a birth certificate with that character because the glottal stop character /ʔ/ is not used within the Canadian English alphabet. However, indicating a glottal stop is important for distinguishing words in this language.
It’s just like… saying we’re going to get rid of the ‘T’.
Interestingly, the article states NWT does officially support Chipewyan, so theoretically that should include the orthography…but that does not always happen. An official notes:
“From a practical perspective, our current vital statistics database and printer do not accommodate glottal stops or other non-standard diacritics and significant resources would be needed to upgrade them.”
In other words, the government databases have a lot of catch up work to get up to Unicode speed and support the different orthographies (including Canadian Aboriginal). On the plus side:
“The department will be consulting with the federal government on what it would mean if the N.W.T. birth certificate was to include Dene fonts.”
It will also look into the cost of accommodating glottal stops or other non-standard symbols.
This is another case where the ideal of multilingualism hits a real world technology snag. I have faith that it could be done. For one thing, I’m guessing that systems have to accommodate French characters. While there is generally more support for French characters, support for outlying (i.e. non-Latin-1) characters increasing in different system.
Why not replace /ʔ/ with ‘ or even ?
Another language with a phonemic glottal stop is Hawiian, but their orthography uses the okina “ʻ” (similar to left facing single quote). There are some some subtle font issues, but the fact is that it is easier for most English speakers to generate. The same sound without the font problems.
In fact, the mother Shene Catholique Valpy was offered to use the hypen instead of /ʔ/, but the notion of NOT using this character does not appeal to her or others in the community. Once this orthography (one I’m guessing was in consultation with a Western linguist) was established for the community, it is one they have strong emotional ties to.
Glottal Stop IS Roman Alphabet
The article identifies this issue as a “Roman-alphabet-only”, but actually the glottal stop /ʔ/ as part of the IPA IS part of the extended Roman alphabet. It is used along side other phonetic characters such as a,b,c and ɹ,ɬ,ŋ all clearly following a Latin alphabet design tradition.
Once you include all possible variations from different orthographies, abbreviations and possible phonetic symbols, the Roman alphabet ends up taking up quite a bit of room in Unicode and more characters are added in expanded versions all the time.