Spelling for the Internet
Speling without Traps
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
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
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
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
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,
3. Reduce the present 318 spellings for the
nineteen English vowel sounds to a consistent system of around
40 predictabl spellings.
4. Leave for the present -
Not many people do. See the page that
sets it out.
- 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
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,
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
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:
i. What du u du about finel s in
danse, since, grass, coalesce, cache,
finesse, dense, this?
ii. y or i
for short or long vowel endings - my
priti mini-ski flys hy or
mi prity miny-sky flies hi?
iii. There is no distinctive spelling for the vowel sound as in put look wolf should worsted
Sometime there may be a
breakthruusing 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 chanjein 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
judgment/judgement and the mor
sensibl spellings ar winning out, and the old become
old-fashiond e.g until recently there wer choices between
Problems in improving English
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
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
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