A Diacritic in English spelling reform

A rationale for ùsing the five vowel letters a e i o u
for bòth 'long' and 'short' vowels
and distinguishing the long vowels when necessary by a dìacritic

to help lerners and for faster visùal reading for meaning

Pàge still to be complèted.

For a fuller discussion, see Seven principles to repair the English spelling system, 2006 PDF

The five 'long' vowels, pronounced as in A E I O U, are the greatest spelling problem in English. There are 80 different spelling patterns for the five 'long' vowels in the English language (pronounced as A E I O U). They are the greatest spelling problem in English and one of the greatest puzzles in how to reform it.

A Gordian-knot solution for experiment -
Spell both 'long' and 'short' vowel sounds with the five vowel letters a e i o u
Distinguish the long vowels as in à è ì ò ù, as in bàby mèdia kìnd mòst mùsic and minùt (contrast minut),
as needed for lerners or to clarify meaning.

Word familys would improve their visibl connection, as in NATIONAL/ NÀTION,    REPETITION/ REPÈT,   SUCSESS/SUCSèD     PROCèD/PROCESS    FINISH/ FÌNAL,   DISPOZITION/ DISPÒZ,     PRODUCTION/ PRODÙS.

1. What ar other posibl ways to spel the five English long vowels AEIOU?
2. What ar the disadvantages of a diacritic to spell them?
3. What are the advantages?

What ar the alturnativ possibilities to spell LONG vowels ?

1. Stay as we are -   with 17-plus spellings for long A alone, as in lady/gate/sail/break/veil/they/eight/play/rein/reign/straight/dahlia/raise/gaol/melee/ ballet/bouquet/

2. Changes that would make it harder to access our heritage of print, present and past, such as new alfabet letters.

3. Using capitals for long vowels. This would upset readability of print fonts.

4. Silent e following a consonant   as in mate mete mite mote mute .   (This can still be an expedient when diacritics are not tecnologicaly posibl, but is only feasibl for the last vowels in words.)

5. Using consistently familiar present digraphs such as in main meet might moat suit, or a few sets of approved alternatives to reduce the present 80. This means introducing new letters into words, and often lengthening words instead of shortening them. Experiments so far indicate that this disrupts present readers more than single-letter substituions, which are still objected to more than surplus letter omissions.

6. Using unfamiliar combinations of letters, as meny spelling reforme proposals do. These are often systematic, as in ae ee ie oe ue, but even these have problems of acceptability, and the completely unfamiliar are far too idiosyncratic.

Another document explains why 'Continental' vowel pronunciations as in pasta, ballet, police,depot tabu are unsuitable in the English language to appropriate for the vowel letters a e i o u.

Are there Disadvantages in Using
Grav Diacritics for the Long Vowels?

1. Diacritics are an extra nuisance, and where they occur in other languages, they are now often droppd in electronic communication.
A. They are still used when they are needed, to clarify words or pronunciation.   This optional usage retains advantages.

2. There is still some tecnology where grav diacritics are not posibl or require 3 or mor keystrokes.  
A. This will change as technology can do more and more (cf Asian writing systems on the Web)

What are the advantages?

  • Aid for pronunciation for lerners of literacy, including learners of English language. Text for learners would thus inclùde mor diacritics than would adult text. Use in adult print and handwriting would be far less than our present tittles on i and j.
  • International visual recognisability of shared vocabùlary, backwards compatibility with tradspelling, the special linguistic relationship of 'long' and 'short' vowels in English vocabùlary, and the argùments of the 'Chomsky' thesis for the visibl representàtion of underlìing structùr, which is often stated to be why Englihs spelling is 'optimum' as it is. Analisis of the spellings of wurd familys shows that English spelling is only 'optimum' in this way for a relativly few sets of wurds, such as   STATION/STATION
  • Visual advantages in reading for meaning . The relation of spoken 'long' and 'short' vowels is a specifically English language feature.   They often toggle within word-families.   With reading being so much by eye as well as by ear, the long vowels in words in those word families are often rendered with a single vowel letter identical to that in related words with short vowels, sometimes, not always, by the expedient of a modifying 'silent e' following the next consonant.
  • Intuitiv understanding by present readers of what the diacritics do in 'Interspel', so that reading them requires no training. One instruction is sufficient for lerners to understand the functions of all five acsented letters.
  • Easy to write, and going with the direction of the eye reading, including for print.
  • Inconspicuous.
Streamlined economy in print

The tendency to spell words with single letters rather than digraphs is also how children tend to spell, and almost the rule in 'slang spelling' for SMS text messages. Single vowel letters are also commonly used to represent long vowel both in children's vocabulary and in adult vocabulary of classical origin - eg. communication.   In a Victorian primary school spelling book of 1386 words,   single letters were used to represent long vowels in 23% of word families.)  

The use of a grave diacritic to distinguish the long vowels would help learners without visually disturbing present readers.   It would be needed less often than the current diacritics - the dots over i and j.    Print for present readers would not even need the diacritics for long vowels currently spelled with single letters, as for example , baby, menial kind gold education .

The highest proportion of spellings that are 'traps' for learners is in the most common words, which are met with first.

See also:

International English spelling 2006
Seven principles for improving English spelling