A major problem for improving English spelling is that hundreds of amateurs have
invented schemes to make their own sound-symbol correspondences
regardless of the fact that present English spelling holds a tremendous amount of the
world's print, past and present.
These schemes scare off everybody else, to think that spelling reform must be hare-brained and impossible.
Any reform to be practicable must be a simple modification of what we have already -
until there is some breakthru to a writing system that can cross languages -
like Chinese but without its problems.
Here are some criteria for practicable reform.
practical improvement of English spelling
The ideal writing system would cross languages and meet
all needs for reading, writing and learning. This breakthrough has
not yet been invented.
What is possible now
Our present spelling can be made more user-frendly and
efficient internationally than it is now. Learners could then
'teach themselves to read' using audiovisual tecnology - which is
not fully feasible with present spelling as it is.
In the present fluid state of language and the Internet, spelling
improvements can be introduced
in the same way as changes in the
spoken language, by changes in common practice.
These can also be
tested on the Internet, so that no proposal is taken up simply
because it seems fine in theory.
Then an International English
Language Commission can standardise and authorise the most
New characters are not yet posibl for everyday use that would
allow one-sound-one-symbol correspondence for the 40+ sounds in
English speech. This probably has to wait until the QUERTY querty
keyboard is overtaken by progress.
However it is posibl to hav a practicabl spelling reform would
meet all the common objections to improving English spelling
- The status quo is the underlying reason for all
opposition to all modifications of a writing system. English spelling
is still regarded as a totem rather than as an instrument for
comunication.Yet Spelling is not the English language - it is a means
to communicate the language. However, once a change is made and found
to be better, the new status quo is preferred - as with other reforms
around the world that were originally resisted- such as the recent
official reforms in Germany.
- It is not true that the interests of readers, writers,
learners and computers are so conflicting that any reform that
helps one group must hurt another. Challengeable arguments and assumptions underlie these
claims (See Part 2). An improved spelling can be designed to meet
their different interests and their common interests too.
communication. A standardised updated English spelling would
be internationally more efficient for
communication rather than more divisive -
unlike 'spelling as you speak' reform.
- Access to our heritage of print can be
maintained. 'Fastr Spelling' is backward compatibl with present
spelling, and is even often closer to the spelling of Chaucer than
the present. It can be read on first sight. It keeps a close
visual resemblance to present English spelling and up to 95% of
letters in text remain unchanged
- Present readers need no extra training to read
or spell. Transitions would be phased in as alternatives for
present spelling, accepted in dictionaries, as many changes are
already being accepted.
- 'Fastr Spelling' is not 'spelling as you
speak' which would lead to a confusion of idiosyncratic
spellings and dialects. Most people, including most spelling
reformers, assume that any spelling reform must be 'spelling as
you speak', regardless of other overseas models of writing
systems. 'Fastr Spelling' transcends the problems of dialects,
because it makes a standardised broad-band 'diafonic'
representation of speech.
Spelling conventions are like conventionalised drawings which are
universally recognised, for example, a stick-figure man which is
unlike a photograph of a specific man. One broad sound category
can 'embrace all those different phonemes (speech sounds) from
which a listener is able to identify and comprehend a word, in
however many regional and individual pronunciations it may be
spoken.' (Pitman & St. John 1969.)
The principles of 'Fastr Spelling' are consistent, clear and
simple, as with Italian and Spanish spelling. An example of this
in practice is how English words are respelt in pidgin Englishes -
uncluttered and 'broad-band' to facilitate fast learning and easy
comunication by the masses. Another example is how anyone can read
or spell banana, regardless of their own dialect, although the one
simpl spelling 'a' is used for three speech sounds. To respell it
with closer phonics such as bannaana would advantage noone except
- 'Chomsky principles' for optimum
spelling are extended, not disregarded. Visual relationships of
word families (morphemes) and grammatical markers are enhanced,
not patchy, and so facilitates fast reading for meaning, give
visual clues to understand unfamiliar vocabulary, and maintain
spelling resemblances to the vocabulary held globally in common by
- The nature of the English
language. 'Fastr Spelling' is designed to suit the English language
with its multiple linguistic origins, compound word-structure,
many homophones and 40+ phonemes yet with only 26 roman letters to
- Costs of change are less than you
think, because it is a clean-up not a shake-up, and transition
is by merging.
- Cost-benefits include shorter learning time for
beginners, reduced failure rates, skill-improvement for the
already literate, and the advantages of a literate people
- Fastr Spelling's economy is a significant saving in
materials, effort and time - text is 12-15% shorter . Even the
first step, omitting surplus letters, saves 5-10% of letters.
- Printing costs. Electronic updating of print is now
at the touch of a button. Almost everything that most people read
today has been printed or reprinted in the past ten years, so that
introduction of new spelling does not require excessive special
new publishing, except for dictionaries. Present print would
remain easily accessible for many years even after the final steps
- That is, the advantages of present
English spelling are maintained, while the disadvantages are cleaned up.
Trivial arguments -
' Isn't our
antiquated spelling lovely!''
The urgent need for mass literacy should be more
important than the private delights of mulling over 'quaint'
spellings which may have up to ten or so different ways to
pronounce them, such as
COUGH- DOUGH -LOUGH- ROUGH-SLOUGH-THROUGH- THOUGHT- THOROUGH.
Cof . . . . . Doh . . . . . Loch . . . .Ruf . . . . .Slow . . . . .Thru . . . . . . . Thaut . . . . . . Thurra
What becomes familiar becomes more loved than what is obsolete
Etymology is retained in Fastr
Spelling when it gives clues to meanin, but not when it is a mere
antiquarian interest better catered for in dictionaries, as other
languages use dictionaries. Nobody wants to have the history of
their cars, computers or space rockets built into their dashboards
and keyboards permanently - but they like reading about them
'I worked hard to spell, so everyone
Difficult English spelling has been valued as a social
screening test that sorts out people, and keeps off competition on
the ladder to success. But today we need efficiency, mass literacy
and cutting waste more than we need an elite. English spelling
snobbery was given by the Swedish sociologist Veblen as a
conspicuous example of wasteful 'Conspicuous Consumption'.
'Not in my time, O
Do not worry. The spelling changes recommended here can
co-exist and mix with present spelling. Traditionalists can
continue to read and write in present spelling. They can read
Fastr Spelling with ease, but need never write it themselves.
Quibbles such as how to re-spell MAUVE or CALF do not
justify mothballing reform yet again, for a ha'porth of tar. Some
posers are soluble by pronouncing them as they are spelt - as
happens already among those 'not in the know'. Until a finalised
reform, a few minor 'exception' spellings can remain as temporary
concessions for current readers and no major problem for new
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