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Friday, November 14, 2008

Let's Reform Spelling

I'm going to be lazy and just copy and paste this from this site.

WHY ENGLISH SPELLING SHOULD BE UPDATED.

-English spelling is too difficult for most people.
-Even after 11 years at school barely half of all English speakers become confident spellers.
-Italian children can spell accurately after just 2 years at school.
-Italy has only half as many identified dyslexics as England.
-Around 7 million British adults and 40 million US adults are functionally illiterate.
-English speaking adults always come near the bottom in international studies on literacy.
-In 1992 Dr. Lamb reported on the poor spelling standards of university students in the UK.
-In 1998 Bernard Richards reported on the poor spelling of many students at Oxford.
-In all UK schools there are some teachers who regularly make spelling mistakes on school reports.

OK, back to me. As I see it, there are basically five arguments for retaining the current spelling system:

1) the aesthetic argument (the extra letters make the words look nicer)
2) the etymological argument (the spelling makes it easier to identify the word's origin)
3) the discipline argument (pointless drudgery is good for children)
4) the asshole argument (I can spell and you can't- hahaha!)
5) the chaos argument (changing the spelling system would just cause more confusion)

Argument #1 is way subjective. Spellings have changed many times over the years. At what point in history did the words acquire just the right number of extra letters? Even if it is more beautiful, is it worth the enormous effort required to teach it?

Argument #2 is even flimsier. Only linguists and other specialists care about the origin of words. How many English speakers are aware that "goodbye" is a corruption of "God be with ye"? In many cases, the current spelling distorts the root word even more. If the word "dungeon" was spelled "dunjin" would it be easier or harder to tell that the word originiates from the Middle French word donjon?

Argument #3 doesn't hold up very well either. Isn't the purpose of education to teach children how to think? But in order to spell properly, logic and consistency must be tossed aside.

Argument #4 is the domain of people who derive a living from the current system: English teachers, spellcheck software companies, etc. They oppose reform because it threatens their livelihood, which is understandable, but is that really a good reason to keep things as they are?

Argument #5 might hold water if not for the fact that we now have movable type. Printing books is not really that big a hassle these days, and in any case, books wear out and have to be reprinted anyway. Given the already high rates of illiteracy, I fail to see how it is possible to add to the confusion. 40 million American adults can't read a newspaper? Sounds like plenty of people are confused already.

If you're still not convinced, here are some more reasons to simplify spelling:

-Simplified spelling would greatly reduce illiteracy, which in turn would lower crime and unemployment.

-A simple spelling system would free up more time to teach other subjects in school.

- Simplifying English spelling would make it easier to teach as a foreign language. More people speaking English strengthens the status of English as a world language. English is in an excellent position to be a universal language: it has a large number of native speakers, a wealth of literature and other media, simpler grammar than many other languages, and it uses the latin alphabet, the world's most widespread writing system.

The only other minor obstacle I can think of for spelling reform is orthography. Any choice for orthography is arbitrary so, I will choose US English as my basis. It is worth noting that the US and UK use different spelling for many words already, even when they are pronounced alike (e.g. "center" and "centre") so there are already two main standards for English spelling.

My New Spelling System

The vowels:

a as in "hat" ai as in "pain" ar as in "farm" aw as in "law"

e as in "get" ee as in "bee"

eer as in "beer" er as in "herd"

i as in "lip" ie as in "pie"

ier is new; thus "fire" would be written as "fier"

o as in "dog" oa as in "boat" oi as in "oil" oo as in "book"

oar as in "boar" ow as in "how"

u as in "run" ue as in "glue"

The consonants:

b as in "bug" ch as in "chin" d as in "dim" f as in "fig" g as in "gum"

h as in "hen" j as in "jump" k as in "kin" l as in "long" m as in "man"

n as in "not" p as in "pen" r as in "red" s as in "sit" t as in "tan"

th as in "thin" v as in "van" w as in "win" y as in "yes" z as in "zen"

plus a couple new ones:

dh is new; thus "them" would be written as "dhem"

kw replaces q in words like "quit" and "enquire" to get "kwit" and "enkwier"

zh so "pleasure" becomes "plezher"

ks replaces x in words like "hex" to get "heks"

OK, in many plurals and verb forms that end in "s", the actual sound is "z". For example, "trees" sounds like "treez". To keep things simple, plurals and verbs formed by adding "s" will still take "s" even if the sound is actually "z." For the same reason, past tenses formed by "-ed" will stay the same.

The unstressed vowel will not been written unless is comes at the beginning of a word:
associate -----> usoaseeait (verb), usoaseeit (noun)
people -------> peepl
cradle--------> kraidl

Maiking dhu Inglish laingwij eezeeyer tue lern dus not weeken it; it strengthens it.

Join dhu rebelyin!

*Last edited on 22-11-2008 to add "aw", "ow", and "-ed" rule.

4 comments:

steve said...

SB: Spelling change could add to the confusion of the already literate. If the orthography changed overnight as it did in Turkey and Azerbaijan lots of people suddenly become semi-literate in the new spelling.

How do you reduce the burden on the young without annoying the already literate?

You suggested this reform:
associate -----> usoaseeait (verb), usoaseeit (noun)

SB: No need for such a radical change: Probably no need to change unstressed vowels.
a-SO-ci-ate is good enuf for the verb. asociat for the noun.

If we extended your idea of using u to represent /V/ and /@/, we have such spellings such as *ugo and *sofu for ago and sofa. Your new spellings would probably be mispronounced by the already literate. ugh-oh, soh-foo
(rime for tofu).

The average english speech sound (phoneme) can be represented 14 different ways in the traditional writing system. Just reducing this to 5 ways (the 5 high freq. spelling patterns) should help a lot.

My Suggested reform: remove the superfluous letters and low frequency spelling patterns. Keep most of the existing spelling rules - just get rid of many of the exceptions.

- Steve

Gus said...

We shd ol go t Qikryt.!!
Dis is a sistm similr t d populr txtq seen evriwer beiq usd by lots v kids on dr sel-fons. Bt dis sistm is far mor fonimic & shortr dan txtq, drby eesi'r t lrn & mor practicl fr evribodi as wel..
Se d Yahoo Saundspel grup fr mor info on it...

steve said...

The original post referenced www.spellingsociety.org

Gus' posting references http://groups.yahoo.com/group/saundspel

qikryt is an interesting phonemic alternative to texting. Unlike Mr. Steg's proposal, it does not respell ago as ugoe or sofa as soefu.

Instead, it adds a rule for unstressed initial and terminal vowels.

Rules are OK as long as there are not too many of them and they are consistent.

associate = asosiait? in QR

uh-SOH-she-ate in Dr. Seuss notation.

àsóçiát in WLO

asociate in HS min. change notation where unstressed syllables are not respelled and the long a /eI/ is usually spelled aCe. e.g., ache-ake, great-grate, phrase-frase (not fraze). malaise-malaze? WLO: màláz

-Steve

Allanstr said...

Good to see you copy the home page of The Spelling Society website.
I'd just add two points:
1. When we upgrade our spelling it needs to be done internationally. We do not want to end up with American spellings, British spellings, Canadian spellings, Indian spellings, etc. We are lucky our language is the internaitonal lingua franca. Lets keep it that way.
New spellings should be based on the two major 'standard Englishes' – General American and Received Pronunciation (British), as exemplified by NBC and BBC newsreaders.
2. For change to happen there needs to be general acceptance of the need for change. Raising awareness of this need is the current strategy stage for the Society.