Spelling for the Internet

If you're flying to Mexico, you can hold in your hand a little card that shows the spelling of every Spanish sound. Then, when the plane lands, you can pronounce, in Spanish, virtually every word on every sign you see. You won't know the meaning of many words, but you can pronounce them, and that's a good start toward learning the language. 

The reverse is not true. No immigrant coming to say, the United States, can hold a card that shows the spelling of English sounds. Such a card, if  it could be made would be the size of a refrigerator door since we spell our 42 sounds in a potpourri of over 400 different ways. Scores of rules and exceptions add to the confusion.  [Edward Rondthaler]

Most people find English spelling hard. English spelling also makes it far harder for the people of the world to learn and use English as their international language.

English spelling makes our literacy problem worse.

The obvious places to start cleaning up English spelling NOW are the Internet and personal email. These are the great places to experiment, becaus th most sensibl improvements wil catch on becaus they are eficient and practicabl and save time. An oficial Intrnationl English Spelng can develop that wil stil be bakwds compatibl with all we hav alredy in print.

Spelling is only information technology for the written language. It is not sacred. It is not the English language itself. All our other communications technology is constantly being improved.

Does present English spelling meet the needs and abilities of all English-speakers and English-lerners, readers and writers, children and adults, the bright and the backward, the experts and the plodders? No. Then it can be improved, just as every other major language of the world has improved its writing system in the past hundred years.

Three steps to clean up English spelling:

1. Drop surplus letters. Surplus letters in words ar letrs that serv no purpose to represent eithr meaning or pronunciation. They confuse lernrs and cause most adults' spelng problems. Over five per cent of all you write today is waste of time, energy, paper, print and worry. Five pages in every 100 page book. When in dout, cut it out.

2. Use consistent consonant spellings. Most consonant spellings are sensibl alredy, but what about fotograf, languaj, tecnolojy?

3. Reduce the present 318 spellings for the nineteen English vowel sounds to a consistent system of around 40 predictabl spellings.

Leave for the present -

  • The 15 most comn ireguler words as thay ar, at present, as half the words we use ar the most comn words, and about half of those ar iregular. So leaving about fifteen 'syt-words' keeps th printd word less unfamiliar at present. e.g. who was what because there once one might of off
  • Consistent conventions like -ion that keep the visual appearance of English spelling relatively unchanjed, and close to other European languages, e.g. s, t, x, z can be used in Latin-orijin words when they have sounds like sh/ ch/ ksh /zh, as in permision, question, conexion, divizion.

Chanje over gradualy, as it suits you and suits the ocasion. Eventualy we can get oficial intrnational recognition and decisions about what has pruved to be th most useful spelng impruvements for everybody.f

80% of English spelling is systematic. It is only 20% that wrecks the consistency. It is like having landmines in 20% of your garden but you don't know where. Clear up the 20% and everyone is helpd without turning English print into a problem for all those who can read already.

Do you know the English spelling system?

Not many people do. See th page that sets it out.

Some questions ar stil to resolv, since English spelng has got realy messd up over th last few hundreds of years, with its mix of Old English, French, Latin, Greek, the Empire and everywhere else.

Some problems of cleaning up include, for exampl:

i. What du u du about finel s in danse, since, grass, coalesce, cache, finesse, dense, this?

i. y or i for short or long vowel endings - my priti mini-ski flys hy or mi prity miny-sky flies hi?

The future

Sometime there may be a breakthru using internationl logos to make a writing system that can cross languajes, like Chinese but without its difficulties, and that uses alfabetic caracters only for the gramr of each individual languaj.

But until then - try yourself how u wd impruve th spelng of The Chaos, th classic take-off of English spelling atributed to a Dutchman and populer at internationl languaj scools.

If u think u do not need an impruved English spelng, try th Sixteen Spelling Test that is also on th Net. Then see whethr u can aford to think that English spelng stil needs so meny surplus letrs.

Everything else in the world is changing. Present English spelling is only two hundred years old and it is changing too slowly.

The English language wil not stay the internationl languaj of the world much longer unless something is done to help its users. The English ritn languaj needs to improve its spelling to be closer to the spoken languaj while retaining systematic conventions that link its visual appearance to other European languajes. Then English could remain the international languaj of the world, which would be a great benefit to everyone, and be easier for our own lerners, who hav notorious problems in becoming literat.

Some countries like Holland update small details of their writing sytems every so often, but they keep the general appearance of print fairly intact. Repeated larj changes disrupt the ability of skild readers to read fast with automatic visual recognition.

The EEC could implement English spelling chanje in three steps, overlapping the transitions so that internationl chanjes could acomodate themselves to individual needs of readrs, writers, lernrs and lernrs of English as a forin languaj. Degree of spelng chanje used by individuals and th media coud be adaptd to suit each situasion and peple's needs and abilities, and dictionaries in the interim allow more alternativ spelngs for words - they alredy allow several thousand alternative spelngs - e.g jail/gaol, plow/plough, judgment/judgement and the mor sensibl spellings ar winning out, and the old become old-fashiond e.g until recently there wer choices between develop/develope, music/musick, fantasy/phantasy. Hindu/Hindoo.

Problems in improving English spelling

1. The biggest problem with improving English spelling is that it is most easy to read what you are used to. So peple say, 'Not in my time O Lord', not realising how soon they would adapt to reading and writing a system that was much easier. Try reading aloud some Indonesian or PNG Tok Pisin spellings for English-origin words for a bit of fun.

2. Most English-readers do not understand their writing system at all - they lernt spelling by dumb rote. So they think it must be too big a deal to clean up the system - a sort of Aegean Stables. Some even believe the historical clutter has a symbolic significance like a totem which it is taboo to touch.

3. Most English-readers do not know that English is the only major languag in th world which has not had impruvements in its riting sistem in the past 100 years. Reforms include Russian, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Greek, Hebrew, Dutch, Norwegian, Icelandic, Vietnamese, Papua Niugini pidgin, Afrikaans, . . . If they can do it - why can't the English, or us?

Adress of the Simplified Spelling Society, Inquiries Jean Hutchins, 13 Hurstleigh Drive, Redhill RH1 2AA UK.