In the NYT today, a story (by Elisabeth Malkin) about the Spanish Academy’s forthcoming spelling reforms and the reactions worldwide to them, focusing especially on objections from Spanish-speaking nations in the Americas to what is seen a dictate coming from abroad (headline: Rebelling Against Spain, This Time With Words). And a certain amount of silliness over one much-discussed aspect of the reforms, the elimination of CH and LL as separate letters of the alphabet, with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela weighing in on the issue:
If the academy no longer considers “ch” a separate letter, Mr. Chávez chortled to his cabinet, then he would henceforth be known simply as “Ávez.” (In fact, his name will stay the same, though his place in the alphabetic order will change, because “ch” used to be the letter after “c.”)
The elimination of the digraphs CH and LL as letters of the alphabet won’t change the spelling of any word, just the order of words in alphabetic lists — though that will entail a massive re-working of dictionaries (for new editions) and armies of copyeditors to ensure consistency in them and in other alphabetical lists. (Other reforms will entail re-spellings.)
Here’s the current Spanish alphabet, with 29 letters:
The revision will reduce the number of letters to 27; palatal Ñ will remain a separate letter.
For contrast, look at the current Welsh alphabet, with 28 letters:
Here there are plenty of digraphs — CH DD FF NG LL PH RH and TH — most of them representing “mutated” forms of basic phonemes; CH, for instance, represents the fricative /x/, a mutation of /k/. (One exception is FF, which represents /f/; the letter F represents /v/.)
The letters K Q V X and Z from the Latin alphabet are not used, since there are other spellings for borrowed words that have these letters in their spellings in source languages; for instance, K and CK from other languages, where they are pronounced with a /k/, are spelled with C, which represents /k/ in Welsh orthography, and PH from other languages, where it’s pronounced with /f/, is spelled with FF, as in FFÔN ‘phone’.
For consonants, the only real complexity is that there are two spellings for /f/: FF for a basic /f/ and PH for /f/ as a mutated form of /p/. (Vowels are another story.)
Actually, a pretty straightforward system, though it looks odd to people used to other spelling systems based on the Latin alphabet.