Re: Spelling flame

I Find Karma (
Wed, 4 Feb 1998 15:26:03 -0800

Yay verily, Greg Bolcer spouteth...
> > >[...] they're first job will be [...]
> > Jeez Rob, you must be a major chump to mix up "they're" with "their".
> I strongly believe in the evolution of language, and being
> a prescriptivist, think all occurrences of they're, their, and
> there should be replaced with 'there' as everyone can determine
> the meaning by the context anyways, and for those who can't,
> it will make it easier for them.

Reminds me of the classic from Mark Twain, "A Plan for the Improvement
of English Spelling"...

> For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped
> to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer
> be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained
> would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2
> might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the
> same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with
> "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.
> Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear
> with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12
> or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants.
> Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi
> ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" -- bai now jast a memori in the maindz
> ov ould doderez -- tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli.
> Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud
> hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

Which itself reminds me of this notice I once got from the Simplified
Spelling Society...

> Simplified Spelling Society World HQ c/o Bob Brown, 133 John Trundle Court,
> Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DJ, tel. 071-628 5876.
> US HQ c/o Ken Ives, 401 E 32, Apt 1002, Chicago IL 60616.


A Streamlined Writing System for English

a proposal for modernizing English spelling by removing redundant letters
Enquiries to Chris Upward
Chairman of the Society's Cut Spelling Working Group
61 Valentine Road, Birmingham, B14 7AJ, England
Tel. 021-444 2837, Fax. 021-359 6153.


Why reform English spelling?

English spelling is notoriously hard to master. It is a centuries-old
writing system whose contradictions and eccentricities were never
designed for a fully literate society. We all suffer from its clumsiness
and inconsistency: it takes far longer to learn than more regular
systems; it limits people's ability to express themselves; it causes
mispronunciation, especially by foreign learners; most people acquire at
best an erratic command of it (even skilled writers are prone to
uncertainty and error); and many millions are condemned to functional
illiteracy. It is therefore small wonder there is such concern about
standards of literacy in English-speaking countries today. Yet many of
those countries have in recent decades seen the benefit of modernizing
equally antiquated systems of currency and weights & measures. Similar
modernization of English spelling is badly needed.

Is reform possible?

Spelling reform is an unfamiliar idea to the English-speaking world, but
other languages show it is feasible and indeed a normal way of
preserving a writing system from obsolescence. The letters of the
alphabet were designed to stand languages show it is feasible and indeed
a normal way of preserving a writing system from obsolescence. The
letters of the alphabet were designed to stand for the sounds of speech,
but pronunciation evolves in the course of time, and confusion sets in
when letters and sounds cease to match: the way we speak words now no
longer tells us how to write them, and the way they are written no
longer tells us how to speak them. That is the central problem of
English spelling. In the past century many languages have modernized
their spelling to improve this match between letters and sounds, and so
aid literacy. To ensure continuity, only small changes are usually made,
and while schoolchildren learn some new, improved spellings, most adults
continue to write as before. It may therefore take a lifetime before
everyone uses the new forms. Ideally, spelling reform needs to be an
imperceptibly slow, but carefully planned and continuous process.

Problems of regularizing

Many schemes have been devised for respelling English as it is
pronounced, but apart from some small improvements in America none has
been adopted for general use. Several fully regularized systems have
however been tried in the past 150 years in teaching beginners, with
dramatic success in helping them acquire basic literacy skills, the best
known recently being the i.t.a. (initial teaching alphabet). However,
all these schemes have required learners to transfer to the traditional
irregular spelling as soon as they can read and write fluently, and much
of the advantage is then lost. Ideal though total regularization may
ultimately be, the effect such schemes have on written English is so
drastic as to be a major deterrent to their adoption. The following
sentence, in the Simplified Spelling Society's New Spelling (1948),
perhaps the best thought-out and most influential of these fully
regularized orthographies, demonstrates the effect:"Dhe langgwej wood be
impruuvd bie dhe adopshon of nue speling for wurdz". Less radical
proposals have therefore been made since then, so as to avoid such
visual disruption, suggesting for instance that at first only the
spelling of one sound, like the first vowel in any, should be
regularized; or a single irregularity, like <gh>, should be removed.
However, the immediate benefit of such a reform would be slight. A new
approach is called for if today's readers are not to be alienated, yet
learners are to benefit significantly.


Cutting redundant letters

In the 1970s the Australian psychologist Valerie Yule found that many
irregular spellings arise from redundant letters. These are letters
which mislead because they are not needed to represent the sound of a
word. Writers then cannot tell from a word's pronunciation which
letters its written form requires, nor where to insert them, while
readers are likely to mispronounce unfamiliar words containing them. A
group within the Simplified Spelling Society therefore decided to
explore which letters are redundant in English, and the effect their
removal has on the appearance of the resulting 'cut' text. This Cut
Spelling (CS) is now demonstrated.

Esy readng for continuity

One first notices that one can imediatly read CS quite esily without
even noing th rules of th systm. Since most words ar unchanjed and few
letrs substituted, one has th impression of norml ritn english with a
lot of od slips, rathr than of a totaly new riting systm. Th esential
cor of words, th letrs that identify them, is rarely afectd, so that
ther is a hy levl of compatbility between th old and new spelngs. This
is esential for th gradul introduction of any spelng reform, as ther
must be no risk of a brekdown of ritn comunication between th jenrations
educated in th old and th new systms. CS represents not a radicl
upheval, but rather a streamlining, a trimng away of many of those
featurs of traditionl english spelng wich dislocate th smooth opration
of th alfabetic principl of regulr sound-symbl corespondnce.



Th secnd thing one notices is that CS is som 10% shortr than traditionl
spelng. This has sevrl importnt advantajs. To begin with, it saves time
and trubl for evryone involvd in producing ritn text, from scoolchildren
to publishrs, from novlists to advrtisers, from secretris to grafic
desynrs. CS wud enable them al to create text that much fastr, because
ther wud be fewr letrs to rite and they wud hesitate less over dificlt
spelngs. Scoolchildren cud then devote th time saved in th act of
riting (as wel as that saved in aquiring litracy skils) to othr lernng
activitis. Simlr time-saving wud be experienced by adults in handriting,
typng, word-procesng, typ-setng, or any othr form of text production. Th
reduced space requiremnt has typograficl benefits: public syns and
notices cud be smalr, or ritn larjr; mor text cud be fitd on video or
computer screens; fewr abreviations wud be needd; and fewr words wud hav
to be split with hyfns at th ends of lines. Ther wud also be material
savings: with around one paje in ten no longr needd, books and
newspapers wud require less paper (alternativly, mor text cud be carrid
in th same space as befor), and demands on both storaj and transport wud
be less. And th environmnt wud gain from th loer consumtion of raw
materials and enrjy in manufacturng and from th reduction in th amount
of waste needng to be disposed of.

Targetng spelng problms

Less imediatly obvius is th fact that CS removes many of th most trublsm
spelng problms that hav bedevld riting in english for centuris. Ther ar
thre main categris: ther ar silent letrs, such as <s> in isle or <i> in
business, wich ar so ofn mispelt eithr as ilse, buisness, or as ile,
busness; th latr ar th CS forms. Anothr categry is that of variant
unstresd vowls, as befor th final <r> in burglar, teacher, doctor,
glamour, murmur, injure, martyr, wich CS neatly alyns as burglr, teachr,
doctr, glamr, murmr, injr, martr. Thirdly ther ar th dubld consnnts, so
ofn mispelt singl today, as found in such words as accommodate,
committee, parallel(l)ed; CS simplifys these to acomodate, comitee,


Cutting rules

These three problem areas of traditional spelling correspond to the
three main rules of Cut Spelling (CS).

Rule 1 Letters irrelevant to pronunciation

About 20 of the 26 letters of the alphabet are sometimes used with no
bearing on pronunciation at all. Some, like <e> in love, <gh> in though
and <w> in answer, were once sounded, but fell silent centuries
ago. Others were taken from foreign languages, like <ch> in yacht
(Dutch), <h> in honest (French), and <p> in psyche (Greek), but are
always silent in English. Yet others were inserted by analogy (<gh> in
haughty to match naughty, <l> in could to match would) or to show a
dubious or imagined derivation (<b> in doubt, <c> in scythe). Two vowel
letters are often written when the pronunciation only needs one; thus
<a> in measure, <e> in hearth, <i> in friend, <o> in people, <u> in
build are all redundant. CS removes letters such as these from hundreds
of often common words; most strikingly, CS eliminates that most
grotesque of all English spelling patterns, the <gh>.

Rule 2a Unstressed vowels before <l,m,n,r>

Thousands of English words contain <l, m, n> or <r> after an unstressed
vowel, though the pronunciation fails to tell us which vowel letter to
write. In fact, it is often redundant and can be cut, as seen from such
rhyming pairs as apple/ chapel, centre/enter: CS Rule 1 cut the silent
<e> in apple, centre, and the resulting appl, centr show that unstressed
<e> can be cut in chapel, enter too, giving CS chapl, entr. Likewise the
forms rhythm, mustn't show that the unstressed <o> can go in fathom and
the unstressed <a, e> in resistant, insistent, giving CS fathm,
resistnt, insistnt. Sometimes two letters can be cut: CS reduces
curtain, luncheon, fashion to curtn, lunchn, fashn. CS Rule 2 cuts a
swathe through one of the areas of greatest uncertainty in English

Rule 2b Vowels in certain suffixes

Similar is the cut of vowel letters in some major suffixes: the plural
of ax(e) is cut to CS axs, distinguishing it from the uncut plural of
axis (axes); the verb form learned is cut to CS lernd, but the adjective
is distinguished as lerned. Strange at first is the cut of <-ing> to
just <-ng> in verbs whose root ends in a consonant (waiting, hating
diverge as CS waitng, hating), but an important gain from this cut is
that it allows numerous troublesome doubled consonants to be simplified
by Rule 3. A notable simplification is that the confusing <-able, -ible>
suffixes are mostly reduced to just <-bl>, turning eatable, edible into
CS eatbl, edbl.

Rule 3 Doubled consonants simplified

Doubled consonants sound like single consonants, so the writer cannot
tell when doubling is required: frequent errors are the inevitable
result. CS simplifies nearly all of them, as in CS abreviate, embarass,
omitd/comitd/benefitd, travld/ compeld and (by Rule 2) hopng/hoping for
hopping/hoping. The main exceptions are disyllabic words ending in <y>
and words ending in <ss>; furry, tinny, hiss, discuss therefore remain
distinct from fury, tiny, his, discus.

Substitution rules

The key feature of CS is that it removes rather than replaces letters.
However, 3 simple substitutions are also made:

1 When <gh, ph> are pronounced /f/, they are spelt <f>. This produces
forms such as CS cof, tuf, fotografy, sulfr.

2 When <g, dg> are sounded as <j>, they are spelt <j>. This produces
forms such as CS juj, jeolojy, jinjr.

3 When <ig> is pronounced as in flight, sign, it is spelt <y>,
producing aligned forms such as fly, flyt, sty, sy, syn.


This leaflet barely outlines the CS proposal for modernizing English
spelling. A full account is given in a three-part Handbook. Pt I
(pp1-160) discusses the rationale of CS, its main features, its
advantages, its psychological, linguistic and educational implications,
and ways in which it could be implemented; but above all Pt I gives a
detailed analysis of the present irregularities of English spelling and
how cutting redundant letters improves the crucial interface of writing
and speech. Pt II (pp163-231) illustrates the various cuts and provides
exercises for literate adults to practise converting traditional
spelling to CS and writing CS for themselves. Pt III (pp233-297) is a
dictionary of over 20,000 of the most common words with redundant
letters, giving their simpler CS equivalents. At the end is a
bibliography of works for readers planning further study of the
complexities of English spelling and the possibilities for its

Unfortunatly th first edition of th Handbook is now out of print. A
secnd edition is now in prepration, but th publication date is not yet

Christopher Upward
CUT SPELLING: a Handbook to the simplification of written English by
omission of redundant letters"
306pp, Simplified Spelling Society, 1992, #10 or US$20
to non-members + p&p #2 or US$10 outside Europe,
ISBN 0 9506391 3 3

Christopher Upward
Editor-in-Chief, Simplified Spelling Society
Senior Lecturer, Modern Languages Department, Aston University, Aston
Triangle, Birmingham B4 7ET, England.

Christopher UPWARD
Aston extension 4215, fax 021-359 6153
Home address and telephone
61 Valentine Road
Birmingham B14 7AJ
tel. 021-444 2837


Committee Rules:
(1) Never arrive on time, or you will be stamped a beginner.
(2) Don't say anything until the meeting is half over; this
stamps you as being wise.
(3) Be as vague as possible; this prevents irritating the
(4) When in doubt, suggest that a subcommittee be appointed.
(5) Be the first to move for adjournment; this will make you
popular -- it's what everyone is waiting for.