What is underrepresentation?

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Underrepresentation is using one symbol to represent more than one phoneme, or using zero representation of a phoneme (Dawson, J. 1986).

  • Stress
  • Tone
  • Length
  • Glottal

Mother tongue speakers (of the language being developed) who learned to read a language of wider communication may want to write their own language. They would probably use the same set of symbols as the language in which they learned to read. In many cases, this could lead to underrepresentation in the vowel, consonant, and tone system.


Here is an example of underrepresentation in Ebrie (Kwa, Cote d'Ivoire):

  • When the Ebrie orthography was first developed, no orthographic distinctions were made between fortis and lenis /p/, /t/, /c/, and /k/. This underrepresentation caused problems in learning to read and write the language.

    As a result of linguistic analysis and testing, the contrast between fortis and lenis became clear. The mother tongue speakers of the language immediately wanted to represent this contrast in their orthography as follows:












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