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Orthographic Features

Orthographic Features

Orthography is a term that refers to the conventions and rules of written language. The three orthographic features in English are spelling, punctuation, and capitalisation.

If we look at the etymology of the word orthography we can see how it relates to its definition. The word orthography can be broken down into two Ancient Greek words, roughly translating 'to write correctly':

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.

Orthography is important as it helps the reader to understand the text and makes the text more appealing to read.

English orthography examples

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:

Affect and effect:

On the other hand, bad spelling in more formal contexts (i.e. 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, and what kind of utterance is being used (an exclamation, a question, a quotation etc). There are 14 punctuation marks:

NamePunctuation MarkWhat does it do?
Full stop.Denotes the end of a sentence
Question mark?Ends a sentence that is a question
Exclamation mark!Ends a sentence with emphasis and a loudness
Comma,Inserts a pause in a sentence, makes a list, separate phrases
Colon:Introduces something, emphasises something, presents direct speech, introduces lists.
Semi colon;Joins two independent clauses
Slash/Substitute for "or"
Dash (En-dash and Em-dash) or En-dash is shorter and is for ranges, Em-dash is longer for parenthesis
Hyphen-Joins two connected words
Square brackets[ ]Clarifies information further that might have been omitted
Parenthesis( )Supplies further details on something
Apostrophe'Shows letters have been omitted, indicates possession
Speech marks" "Denotes speech
Ellipsis...Suggests omission of words or a moment of suspense

Here is a funny example of why punctuation is so important!

With punctuation:

"Let's eat, dad."

Without punctuation:

"Let's eat dad."

Orthographic features, spelling, family dinner, StudySmarterSpelling is important to avoid misunderstandings! (Pexels)

Capitalisation

Capitalisation means putting a capital letter at the start of certain words. There are several reasons why we do this.

Begin a sentence

Most commonly, capitalisation 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 noun

Proper nouns also need to be capitalised 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 capitalised even if found at the end of a sentence.

Quotes

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 capitalised.

Titles

Most of the words in titles also require capitalisation, 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 capitalisation 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

Capitalisation 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 capitalised. Alternatively, if there isn't proper capitalisation throughout the letter itself it may make it seem that there was minimal effort put into it, suggesting it hadn't been proofread properly.

Writing systems in linguistics

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 capitalisation of letters because there are no letters to capitalise.

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.

Alphabetical

This writing system uses letters and symbols to represent the speech sounds in the language. In English, the letters in our alphabet go from A to Z. We put these letters together to form words.

Orthographic features, alphabetical writing system, StudySmarterThe letters in our alphabet can be put together to represent speech sounds (Pixabay)

What confusions might there be with Orthography in English language?

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

A writing system usually refers to the way in which we visually represent speech (e.g. symbols, the alphabet, phonemes, etc.). However, orthography usually refers to the conventions for writing a language such as spelling, punctuation, and capitalisation.

What is an orthographic word?

The term 'orthographic word' can be used to refer to a single word that is separated by spaces on either side. For example, the sentence 'I love cheese pizza' has four orthographic words.

Orthographic Features - Key takeaways

  • Orthography is a term that refers to the conventions and rules of written language such as spelling, punctuation, and capitalisation.
  • There are various writing systems; Pictographic/ideographic, logographic, phonemic, and alphabetical.
  • Spelling is the way that we order the alphabet to form words in a standardised way.
  • Punctuation is used to break up and organise text.
  • Capitalisation refers to putting capital letters at the start of some words to signal the start of sentences, titles, proper nouns, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions about Orthographic Features

Orthography is a term that refers to the conventions and rules of written language such as spelling, punctuation, and capitalisation.

Orthographic features are specific and standardised grammatical rules that are followed in written language.

The orthographic features in English are spelling, punctuation and capitalisation.

The term 'orthographic word' can be used to refer to a single word that is separated by spaces on either side. For example, the sentence 'I love cheese pizza' has four orthographic words.

Examples of orthography include:

  • Spelling- correct spelling is important as it can change the meaning of a word (e.g. stationary vs. stationery)
  • Punctuation- good use of punctuation helps to break up and organise a text.
  • Capitalisation- we use capital letters to signal the start of sentences, titles, proper nouns etc.

Final Orthographic Features Quiz

Question

What is spelling?

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Answer

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

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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.

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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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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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What is etymology?


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Answer

Etymology is the study of the historical roots of words.

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How many IPA symbols are used in the English language?

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Answer

44

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Which of the following spellings are correct?

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Answer

Commitment

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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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What does the acronym IPA stand for in linguistics?

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Answer

International Phonetic Alphabet

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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

Which of the following spellings are correct?

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Answer

Broccoli

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What is letter capitalisation

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Answer

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

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True or false: proper nouns capitalised.

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Answer

True

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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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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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What are proper nouns?


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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.

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Capital letters are also called:

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Answer

Uppercase letters

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How are capital letters used in a proper noun?


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Answer

They are placed at the beginning of the proper noun.

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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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How are capital letters used in abbreviations?


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Answer

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

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

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Answer

We do not put a capital letter after a colon.

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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, such as e.g. and i.e. are not capitalised (unless the meaning has shifted over time).

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Why might someone choose to not use capital letters?


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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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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 e.g. NASA, FBI.

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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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Why might someone use all caps in a sentence?

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Answer

For emphasis and exaggeration.

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What types of punctuation are there?

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

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Why is punctuation important?

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Answer

Correct punctuation minimises potential confusion in a piece of writing.

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

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Answer

A full stop can also be used in abbreviations.

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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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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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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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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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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.

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

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Answer

People often use them interchangeably when this is actually incorrect.

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What do apostrophes do?

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Answer

Indicate omitted letters or indicate possession.

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Why might writers neglect punctuation?

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Answer

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

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Question

Orthography is a term that refers to the conventions and rules of ________ language. Fill in the blanks.

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Answer

Written

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Question

What are the three orthographic features in the English Language?

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Answer

Spelling, punctuation, and capitalisation

Show question

Question

The orthographic features of a language depend on its writing system. True or false?

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Answer

True

Show question

Question

Orthographic features are the _____________ that are followed when writing a language down. Fill in the blanks.

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Answer

Standard grammatical rules

Show question

Question

Why is orthography important?

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Answer

It helps the reader to understand the text

Show question

Question

Spelling is generally standardised. True or false?

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Answer

True

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What is spelling?

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Answer

The way we order the alphabet to form words

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How does a standardised spelling system help us to communicate?

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Answer

It helps us to decipher the meaning of words. If a word was spelled in many different ways then it would be hard to know the meaning of it. 

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Poor spelling never alters the meaning of a word. True or false?

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Answer

False

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The words stationary and stationery have two different meanings. True or false?

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True

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Bad spelling in more formal contexts makes us look professional and makes a good impression. True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

What is punctuation used for?

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Answer

Punctuation is used to break up and organise text.

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Question

What can punctuation show?

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Answer

Where to pause

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