I see folks pointing out that, to answer productively, we need to define our terms, such as "what do we mean by standardized, and what do we mean by written down".
I think there's another question we must ask to clarify the problem space for this question-and-answer thread:
- What is the point of writing? What is the use case or purpose?
This might seem silly, or overly broad. Specifically what I'm driving at is, are we talking about "spelling" to capture the sound of the word, or to capture the meaning?
My background is working in and with the Japanese language, and to a related but lesser extent, Chinese.
Written Chinese is widely described as logographic, where individual graphemes convey meaning more than sound. This allows for a very flexible relationship between text and speech, to the extent that (at least some) Chinese poems from 2,000 years ago still make sense and still work as poetry, despite substantial changes in spoken Chinese during the intervening years.
That flexibility allows folks in China to read and write across linguistic boundaries, such that someone who grew up speaking only Mandarin can still carry on a written correspondence with a Cantonese speaker. This flexibility also means that, to a more limited extent, folks from China can still get around in Japan, and vice versa, despite Chinese and Japanese being completely different languages, with wholly unrelated grammars, and large chunks of unrelated vocabulary. In effect, the written language becomes a shared context separate from the spoken language.
For alphabetic / abjadic / abugidic writing systems, meanwhile, the individual graphemes record sound more than meaning. This kind of default tighter coupling to phonetics necessarily leads to one of two approaches in writing, which we see reflected to some degree in all of the examples brought up so far in this thread:
- Writers focus on the spoken forms, and spellings change as pronunciations change -- be it due to the passage of time, or to differences in sociolect.
** We see this in English up through at least Middle English. Chaucer's knyght was pronounced basically as written, as /kniːçt/.
- Writers opt instead to focus on the written forms, and spellings remain the same even as pronunciations change.
** We see this in English since some time after Shakespeare. Chaucer's /kniːçt/ became /naɪt/ instead, but the written form preserved the now-silent ⟨k⟩ and ⟨gh⟩.
English might be a bit of an outlier for alphabetic languages, where the individual graphemes have lost their phonetic values when appearing in specific contexts. One could argue that the meaningful graphemic unit has shifted in some cases from the letter to the entire word -- perhaps making English's oddball spelling closer in some respects to logographic Chinese, and similarly allowing for mutually intelligible written correspondence even across mutually unintelligible differences in pronunciation -- becoming a shared context separate from the spoken language.
To loop back to the OP's question:
Are there any modern languages which are written down but without standardized spelling?
We also need to define what do we mean when we say "language"? Are we referring solely to the written form, where such exists? Or are we referring to the spoken form? Many of the spelling variations mentioned by earlier posters in this thread arise from variations in pronunciation. Where do we draw the line between "language" and "dialect"? The "variations" seen here might well be internally consistent enough to call "standardized", and are only cast as "variations" due to the sociopolitical status of different speech communities within the shared polity that contains them.
Just within the US, any attempt at expressing vernacular speech in writing would be cast as a "variation" or "non-standard". Just look at web postings for a smattering of these.
From this perspective (the indefinability of "language" versus "dialect", and what is "standard"), the answer to the OP's question is arguably, "all of them". 😄