[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Fall 1983 pp2-9]
On other pages: Sounds part 1, List 1, Chart 1.

The Sounds of Language - an Added Dimension in Reading Instruction, part 2,

by Joseph E. Brown.*


The open forum is the best test of the validity. of any proposed learning mechanism. All challenges and suggestions are welcomed.

Premise: Given a valid, consistent, reliable system, the implementation strategy becomes as important as the process and the product.

Theme: "Thinking too precisely upon the event is a common abuse of the faculty." Hamlet

Question: How will such a system be used?

A.) Try this simple experiment: Imagine you are a child just learning to read (or an adult new to the English language), and you see the word "laugh" or "could" (mould, wound, would, though, bought, tough, pour, hour, tour, etc...) in your reading exercise.

Though you have heard, recognized, understood, comprehended, and used the word many times in daily conversation, it is a total, in some situations, psychologically hostile stranger to you. Feeling "dunce-like", you cannot "recognize" the word in print; nor can you "sound it out" vocally or sub-vocally because of its a-logical spelling.

1) When a system such as this one proposed is adopted, your school book publishers will use it, for example, to introduce and teach your new word (vocabulary) lists preceding different reading levels, in the traditional format, teaching you words such as "laugh" by respelling it as "laf." You will then be able to sound it out, and immediately recognize it in print because the symbols used are consistent with common speech sounds. No symbols such as läf or lâf will be used. (as school book pronunciation)

Later, when you see a word like symbiosis in your science book, it will look like this:
symbiosis (sim-bee-O-sis)...
You will be able to "recognize" the sound of the word instantly, and if you have paid attention in class, you also will be able to understand and comprehend the word semantically.

At the split second when you recognize a printed word, or learn how to make the "linguistic generalities" about how to recognize printed words (and in many cases, how not to go about recognizing them) you will have come to a certain realization about the reading and spelling of our language: Most "problems" lie in the orthography of the language.

The magic instant may come about consciously, subconsciously, intuitively, incidentally, concomitantly, by direct or indirect instruction, or a combination of these; but the realization will be the key to your literacy.

Typically, afterward, you will either continue as an observable and measurable reading-school success, or you will join the swollen ranks of those classified as "problem readers," with many enduring consequences. Those are inherent probabilities of the learning-to-read process.

2) As a Dictionary Pronunciation Notation: In time, your dictionary publisher will have learned to avoid troublesome and expensive diacritical markings as pronunciation guidance notations and as teaching tools. Dictionary entries will be re-spelled like this:
symbiosis (sim-bee-O-sis): two entirely different organisms living together in a way that they support and benefit each other in nature.
This appears to make pronunciation (sounding-it-out) for learning purposes a simple matters.

3) Phonetic Dictionaries: Later, your dictionary publisher will discover both the educational importance and the universal cultural value of simple phonemic re-spellings. He eventually will produce a Phonetic Dictionary for you in which all entries are printed in this style:
laf (laugh): to make sounds of amusement as when you hear a good joke. (läf and lăf are no longer acceptable)
sim-bee-O-sis (symbiosis): two entirely different...

mie-o-KAR-dy'l in-FARK-sh'n (myocardial infarction): a type of heart attack resulting in the death of some heart tissue because one of the branches of the coronary arteries is blocked by a blood clot or embolism (IM-bo-lism).
Educators and publishers of the future will know that diacritical markings are very subtly, but very powerfully, detrimental to the learning-to-read process, and the markings will be eliminated completely from both dictionaries and school books.

4) Foreign Language Dictionaries. If you are a native English speaker learning a foreign language, or a native foreign language speaker learning English, your future language texts and foreign language dictionaries will also adopt a system like this one proposed for English Regularized Spelling and Pronunciation Notation.

5) Dyslexia, Therapy: The Dyslexias, Agnosias, and Aphasias, along with other linguistic-neurological reading and learning difficulties appear to be a problem in neurological patterning. This orthographic system may have some characteristics that will contribute to the treatment, and prevention of these learning problems.

Little can be done totally to treat reading related disorders like dyslexia. The treatment is basically tutorial, individualized, and uncertain, involving repatterning of the neurological systems in a limited variety of printed language processing techniques. Essentially, it's a problem in very low voltage electrical circuitry.

The human brain is the most sophisticated computer in existence. It operates on electricity, producing, distributing, and operating our neurological system on an estimated 25 watts of electrical power.

Everything our computer-brain has stored in its banks (knows) as intellect accrues through bits of sense information coming to it in coded electrical impulses. The impulses come from our sense organs: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Sight and hearing are most important in matters of neurological learning disorders. The sense of touch (tactile) is used somewhat in traditional therapy.

The input and output messages, as coded and patterned electrical impulses transmitted by the senses must travel through electro-neurological pathways to the cortex (message center or main frame) to trigger responses or reactions.

For example, when we touch a hot stove, our sense of touch sends an urgent message along neural pathways to our brain, telling us so by electrical impulses generated by the neural cells of the hand. The brain receives the message and sends an immediate response message, coded electrical patterns developed from experience, telling the hand to jerk away quickly. The messages are sent over well established (conditioned-patterned) electrical circuitry; and the many neurological pathways over which they travel with the speed of electricity, have begun to form long before birth. The message arc occurs so quickly and naturally that we are not even aware of it in many cases. We might trigger the entire process automatically, as in the case of jerking our hand away from a cold stove before realizing it is not hot.

Sometimes something goes wrong in the building of some of our neural circuitry. It generally has nothing to do with the lack of native intelligence. In fact, such learning disabilities might tend to occur among people of higher intelligence. Many geniuses have suffered from dyslexia.

As a result of a combination of many conditions, some individuals' neural pathways fail to become well established by way of biological patterning. The incoming and returning messages to and from the sense organs travel along poorly formed electro-neurological paths, presenting garbled or weak messages to the brain. The messages in the form of very low power electrical impulses (no pre-amplifiers in the neurological system) may travel erratically. Perhaps they never reach the cortex at all. Like a faulty electromechanical relay system in your car, the message, centers involved might vacillate, chatter, and even "burn out" some of the circuitry completely. The messages are garbled or lost, expended as electrical energy trying to overcome too many ohms of resistance in the circuits.

The ability to read printed words is based on that same system; but our English spelling system tends to send garbled messages from the start because of its inconsistent orthographic patterns.

As the eyes of the reader (or would-be reader) scan the patterns of printed words they must search for and find identifyable spelling sequences to develop into a code for word recognition use. Like radar scanning the horizon, they must find something identifyable to convert into intelligent information. The electrical impulses generated by the vision system must travel over well developed neutral circuitry to the cortex where the patterned impulses must be converted into meaning and comprehension by a recognition process. Note the careful use of the word "re-cognition" in view of the reading axiom: We can read only that which we already know (have cognized).

Dyslexia, and similar learning faults, occur when the word recognition electrical code patterns are weakly formed and must travel over poorly developed afferent neural systems to the cortex. No consistently meaningful patterns or code sequences are established; and the central neurological mechanisms operate like an erratic, vacillating electrical relay that receives weak or faulty electrical signals or no signals at all to operate on because of poorly established electrical paths.

The irregular and inconsistent spelling patterns of our English words serve many purposes; but they also promote faulty neural circuitry: Dyslexia and other learning disorders. The spellings are a hand-me-down system inherited from languages and cultures worldwide, traceable to origins preceding ancient Greek and Latin languages. They have little sight-to-sound relationship, which is critical to both neurological linkage and to the identification-to-recognition linkage needed by the reader to find meanings in the letter sequences of printed word patterns.

Any system of regularized orthography suggesting therapeutic use in the treatment of dyslexia must offer orthographic consistency and must promote a direct relationship to spoken language sounds in order to establish the necessary, usable neurological circuitry. Orthological consistency and validity are the keys to that relationship. This cannot happen unless some form of "alternate" orthography is accepted and utilized in a relatively wide range of communication activities.

Q.) How is a system such as this to be put into wide circulation and use?

A.) Through Textbook and Dictionary Publishers. It is entirely a business matter. Only those educational publishers who are willing to make a commitment to better reading-learning programs...

The dominant influence in education since colonial times has been the school book and dictionary publications industry. In a large sense, they determine curriculum: What is taught, when it is taught, and how it is taught in our classrooms across the nation.

They provide hardbound school books; and the durable highly structured textbook is the staple of schoolrooms from kindergarten to postgraduate, nationwide. Mini-computers and microfilm will never totally replace them in classrooms and on library shelves.

School book and dictionary publishers exist because millions of their books are sold and distributed annually on the basis of a complex school book "adoption" system. One publisher persuades school systems to use his books only, in all grade levels, in preference to another publisher. The stakes are high.

The text book adoption system Is a marketing and distribution system based on two different types of sales territories the "Closed" and the "Open" territories. The state of Texas, for example, is: a "closed" state. A state-wide, selection (adoption) committee "picks" the textbooks for all six elementary school grades, for example, to be used by every teacher and every student in every classroom in the state for the next several years.

Other states, Michigan for example, are open states. Each single school district, and sometimes classroom, "adopts" its own choice of school books often through curriculum or selection committees of various kinds. Some committees follow very carefully controlled study and evaluation steps. Some purchase their books out of catalogs. Others adopt a series of books largely because another school system uses and recommends them. Detroit is prime open-state territory.

The Implementation Strategy in operation is to persuade those influential of "adoption" of a publisher's books, especially in closed territories and large metropolitan open territories that only the school books and dictionaries should be "bought" that have a commitment on the part of their publishers to "regularized spelling and pronunciation guidance" for improved education and a higher rate of literacy in our country.

Regularized Spelling, and Pronunciation Helps.

In-Line Pronunciation Helps - Dictionary Pronunciation Guides - Phonetic Dictionary.

Preface Notes: Because this orthographic system involves clear-cut implementation strategies, and the strategies are as important as the end product itself. Please keep these considerations in mind when examining any illustrative transcriptions.

Introductory Sequence: The following is the preferred 6-step sequence for its application.

Step 1. In-Line Pronunciation Helps: In school books, as in new word (vocabulary) lists at the varying levels of Reading/Language Arts books, and as pronunciation helps for difficult words in science books, for example, (leucocyte - LOO-ko-siet, not lū-kō-sīt. These are more economical to print, simpler, and more consistent.

Step 2. Dictionary Pronunciation Notation: In dictionaries, following traditionally spelled entry words in lieu of more complicated and varied diacritical markings for apparent reasons: onomatopoeia: (ŏn''ō-mat''-Ō-pe'ya - ah-nuh-mah-tah-PEE-yuh...)

Step 3. Phonetic Dictionaries: As in the basis for the Phonetic Dictionary entry system (UPPER CASE indicates PRIMARY STRESS).
kawf - cough:to expel air forcefully from the lungs.
laf - laugh: to make sounds of pleasure.
HER-ee - hurry: to act or move quickly.
mie-o-KAR-dy'l in-FARK-sh'n - myocardial infarction: a type of heart attack.
Step 4. Foreign Language Dictionaries: for use in foreign language dictionaries for pronunciation and definitions Foreign Language-to-English and English-to-Foreign Language.

Step 5. Alternative (Informal, Non-Academic) Spelling: allowed to evolve as it proves useful and economical for personal, non-academic informal written communication.

Step 6. Dyslexia Therapy: As a possible source of prevention and treatment for linguistic-neurological reading and learning difficulties.

Chart I and List I follow, to illustrate the complete set of symbols involved with this spelling-pronunciation notation system. They summarize the added dimensions to reading instruction.

Symbol Selection: Each symbol on the Chart was selected after lengthy deliberation and comparison on the basis of these primary considerations:

1) Only traditional alphabet letter characters should be used in any alternative spelling system. They must be found on any typewriter or computer keyboard, and in any type font.

2) The symbols chosen must represent the phonemic spelling components of the simplest and most ordinary spoken words - not necessarily of words that appear most frequently by count in selected printed context.

To illustrate that combination of word-symbol choises: Never will your family physician ask you to say "a" during your annual checkup. He would prefer that you say "ah." Nor will he ask you to köf when he wants you to "kawf."

By design and choice, the symbols require a working relationship to real-life language in preference to one based on printed running text occurences.

3) Re-generating the dependency upon fabricated rules, generalities, and a plethora of exceptions, common to traditional spelling and pronunciation, should be avoided. There should be no need to rely upon such generalities as "I before "e" except after... and except in such words as...

4) The diacritical marking systems for pronunciation and for any approach to alternative spelling should be avoided. Extensive-intensive teaching experience and observation have proved the markings complicated difficult to learn and to apply, and inconsistent among various publications. These characteristics become educationally critical, especially among "slow starters" and learners who have not "kept pace" in the development of their reading skills.

As learning tools, diacritical markings serve only the apt and the scholarly well; and ultimately "the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker" but the rest of the community must be served with equal interest if we are truly concerned with literacy and the fullest development of human potential.

Typical Dictionary-School Book Examples:
anthocyanin (an-tho-sy-ə-nin) - standard Dictionary (actual)
anthocyanin (AN-thuh-SIGH-uh-nun) -actual school book lesson.
anthocyanin (an-thuh-SIE-uh-nin) - proposed.
Other Applications.
6) For Computer Use: Because the 50 graphic symbols of this system are so stable and consistent linguistically, and represent the fullest usable range of recognizable speech sounds in English and other languages. It lends itself well to OCR (Optical Character Recognition). Its full range of uses may depend upon the skills and imagination of computer experts.

The wide variety of traditional spelling possibilities is eliminated, leaving, in effect, only 50 possible spelling components. They have been assigned numerical values as an integral part of the system.

For the Study of Linguistics.
Theatrical and Dramatic Uses (Dialects).
Radio and Television: Pronunciation of difficult English and non-English proper names. (sol-zhuh-NEET-s'n).
Foreign Language Phrase Dictionaries.
Informal (Personal) Spelling. For strictly private (Non-Academic, Non-Published) writing.
Unusual Learning Disabilities: For use in instances in which learners are totally unable to communicate in writing using traditional spellings.

In this application, as in all applications, the system should be totally adaptive, used only when it has clear and specific advantages.

Example: In personal spelling and cases of unusual spelling disabilities, there should be absolutely no objection to spelling thick and thin as thik and thin. It's a practical matter.

Selective Adaptation: To adapt certain spellings for informal usage, or for controlled educational usage, in cases of simple, frequently used words that tend to cause learning-reading-spelling problems.

See: ear-learn-earn-bear-beat-wealth, for example.

An Illustrative Transcription.

The Complete Gettysburg Address [1]
from "The Sounds of Language" by Jos'f EE. Brown.

For skor and sehvn yirz uhgo owr fahtherz brawt forth awn this kahntinent uh neu naeshn, kuhnseevd in libettee, and dehdikaetd too thuh prahpuhzishn that awl min ar kreeaetd eekwal.

Now wee ar ingaejd in uh graet sivil war, tehsting whehther that naeshn, or inee naeshn, so kuhnseevd and so dehdikaetd, kan lawng indeur. Wee ar meht awn uh graet batlfeeld uhv that war. Wee hay kuhm too dehdikaet uh porshn uhv that feeld as uh fienl rehsting plaes for thoz hoo hir gaev theht lievz that that naeshn miet liv. It iz awltoogehther fiting and prahper that wee shud doo this.

Buht in uh larjer sens wee kanaht dehdikaet wee kanaht halo this grownd. Thuh braev min, living and dehd, hoo struhgld hir, hav kahnsuhkraetd it far uhbuv owr poor power too ad or deetrakt. Thuh werld wil litl not nor lawng reemehmber hwaht wee sae hir, buht it kan nehver forgeht hwaht thae did hir. It iz for uhs, thuh living, rather too bee dehdikaetd hir too thuh uhnfinisht werk hwich thae hoo fawt hir hav thus far so noblee advanst. It iz rather for uhs too bee dehdikaetd too thuh graet task reemaening beefor uhs - that fruhm theez ahnerd dehd wee taek inkreesd deevoshn too that kawz for hwich thae gaev thuh last ful mehzher uhv deevoshn; that wee hir hielee reezahlv that theez dehd shal naht hav died in vaen; that this naeshn, uhnder Gahd, shal hav uh neu berth uhv freedm; and that guhvernmint ubv thuh peepl, hie thuh peepi, for thuh peepl, shal naht pehrish fruhm thee erth.

[1] Notes:

1. By Abraham Lincoln.

2. This transcription is for illustrative purposes only. The "Regularized Spelling and Pronunciation Notation System" is designed for specific instructional and learning purposes. See: The 6-step Implementation Strategy.

3. When stress (accent) is considered, only primary stress is indicated. Upper Case Type is used to indicate primary stress: GEHTeezberg aDREHS... FAHtherz... KAHNtinint... NAEshn.

4. ER endings are maintained for the sake of consistency. They are optional.

Back to the top.
On other pages: Sounds part 1, List 1, Chart 1.