[Simplified Spelling Society Newsletter Autumn 1985 p6,7. Later designated Journal 1]
[See Journal articles and Pamflet 14 by Govind N Deodhekar.]
[Also on this page: Engineer's point of view, Literate adults' response.
Govind N Deodhekar.[Govind N. Deodhekar migrated from Bombay to London in 1951 and taught Science and Maths in a South London School until his retirement in 1979.]
I started learning English, at about 10, when I first stepped into a secondary school in a small town near Bombay. I soon learnt that English written consonants had a fixed sound - but not always! Vowels had a system of sorts, as when the cat sat on the mat. But it seemed to break down ever so often and was a bewildering contrast with our well-defined Devnagri vowel-symbols. There was no way out of it I was told, but to learn each group of spellings and each eccentricity, separately. Luckily, I was good at memorizing and I survived.
It had never occurred to me that English children could find English spelling a handicap until I started teaching in England and came across the problem and saw the heroic struggles being waged by the remedial teachers and their pupils.
The need for reform of English spelling is obvious to every foreigner who tries to or has to learn the language. But the English intelligentsia 'don't want to know'. In any case, the English upper class has a tradition or a penchant for deliberate distortion of speech to mark itself off from the common people. Hence they speak of Brumpton for Brompton, and Fanshaw for Featherstonehaugh, and Sisiter or Sirenster for Cirencester, no one being quite sure which is the really 'exclusive' pronunciation! "If we can master our admittedly difficult spelling, why can't they?" is the basic attitude. With such an attitude among the upper class intelligentsia, it is no surprise that reform is long time a-coming.
The English language, however, is not merely the mother tongue of the Anglo-Americans. It is the language of international technology, commerce, aviation, etc. If it has gained acceptance in the British Commonwealth because of history, it has gained ascendancy in other parts of the world because of America's leading role, but above all else because of its simplicity, when compared with French. Lingua Anglica is truly displacing Lingua Franca and is becoming the language of world unity. All it needs now is to be rescued from the stranglehold on its spelling by the short-sighted intelligentsia of Anglo-America. Some pressure towards this end could come from India, but in the last analysis, alas, the decision must come from those whose mother tongue it is.
In view of the importance of English as an international language, and my experience of the non-English speaking peoples, I would like to make a number of suggestions.
1. Consonants.Regularization of consonant symbols is obviously a simpler matter than that of vowels. A number of changes are needed here.
a. Use F rather than PH. This is so widely agreed among spelling reformers that no comment is needed.
b. Remove the dual value of G, and reserve it for the hard sound as in 'get', while J can be used for the soft sound of G consistently. Hence 'jem' rather than 'gem'.
Foreigners do not learn English by constantly looking up their dictionaries for the pronunciation of each word. The language is taught by 'live' teachers and once an error has been introduced, it persists. I am slightly taken aback, but not astonished, at the number of times I hear well-educated people in India referring to 'tarjets.'
c. Use only K for the /k/ sound, and not C, CK or CH. Hence 'arkitekt in his kar', but 'archbishop in his chair'. There is some hesitation among reformers for whatever reason, but simple logic demands the use of K for its own sound.
d. Remove the confusion of 'silent' letters. Such an absurdity is inconceivable in the Sanskrit or Devnagri script. Alternatively, let us establish a convention that if silent letters are ever pronounced (as they were, at one time, presumably) that will be accepted as Received Pronunciation!
Many people have begun to drop the G in 'recognition', but RP accepts the full use of the G as an alternative (or does it regard the pronounced G as correct and the silent G as slovenly?). Let us keep to this convention because the 'genius' of English speech is to keep on dropping or swallowing all sorts of letters. I cannot see how spelling reform can keep pace with 'trific', 'tikly' (particularly), 'pleece', 'griller' (the hominid) with any degree of 'akrasy'.
e. S & Z, -shun & -tion: there are of course other consonant changes like these but I wished to illustrate rather than write exhaustively.
2. OUGH & AUGH.Reforms F, G/J, K, -TION , I think, are more urgent than S/Z. But we also need to get tuf with OUGH and AUGH words. There is very wide agreement on these. Already I find the use of 'tho' in letters from India from a friend whose command of English spelling is near perfect. I have never discussed spelling reform with him, and his reform is, I am sure, spontaneous.
3. Vowels.If there is general agreement among reformers that the vowel reform suggested by Harry Lindgren in SRI (fed/ hed/ sed ) and ar/ hav etc should be the first step, I can go along with it. But at the same time, we must have a complete scheme ready, as in Nue Spelling or Revised Nue Spelling or whatever.
4. Other Schemes.From time to time spelling reforms are suggested which may be of some help to English children with reading difficulties. The Initial Teaching Alphabet was one such scheme. Shortened spelling dropping shwa-type vowels or even full-blooded vowels may be other such schemes. These are based on the assumption that the learner has English in the head already. They are, possibly, interim measures for helping English readers but they are not likely to be of any use to a foreign learner.
It may be argued that the needs of English children must come above those of foreign learners. But this is a sentimental argument. Such schemes, however useful, are no substitutes for a logical English spelling of universal use. If indeed we succeed in getting a reasonable spelling reform through, we shall not only expedite the use of English as a world language, we would also help English children as an automatic consequence of spelling reform.
[Simplified Spelling Society Newsletter Autumn 1985 p7. Later designated Journal 1]
Spelling Reform from an Engineer's Point of View
Dr R I Damper[Dr Damper is a member of the Man-Machine Systems Research Group in the Department of Electronics and Information Engineering at Southampton University.]
Abstract.To set the scene, I will give some initial thoughts on the issues raised by spelling reform, from the point of view of an engineer essentially untrained in linguistics and phonetics. What then is my authority for presuming to speak on the subject? It is partly that my work in human-computer interaction has brought me face-to-face with some of the technical difficulties caused by the complexities of English orthography. But, also, I would contend that the 'engineering' discipline of information theory is at least as relevant to the matter as linguistics and phonetics.
The areas of human-computer interaction where the vagaries of English spelling lead to problems will be reviewed. These areas include text (or word) processing, speech synthesis by rule, computer-aided transcription, and automatic recognition of spoken or written language. The nature of the problem will be analysed in each case, lend the extent to which spelling reform would assist will be assessed. The broad conclusion is that the availability of computer-based aids to language generation makes it easier than ever before to conform to the constraints of 'correct' spelling, and that any gains from simplifying our spelling system would be small in proportion to the immense effort required to gain acceptance for the new spelling.
It is conceded that the arguments advanced are incomplete, and leave out of account important factors such as the difficulty or ease of learning any particular spelling system. Nevertheless, the essential point remains that, in my opinion, the advent of the 'computer era' will of itself give little or no impetus to spelling reform.
[Simplified Spelling Society Newsletter Autumn 1985 p7. Later designated Journal 1]
[See Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, SPB articles and Personal View by Valerie Yule.
Literate Adults' Response.
Valerie Yule[Valerie Yule has worked as a psychologist in the fields of reading and spelling both in Australia and Britain, and now researches in the Department of Psychology at the University of Aberdeen. She also organized the Society's Edinburgh Conference in 1981]
Abstract.The design of spelling reforms can be counter-productive without research to check that however perfect a reform may be in theory, it will actually be suitable for human users and learners. Spelling reformers have in the past ruined their own cause by lack of attention to human engineering - fitting the task to actual needs of users.
Two experiments were briefly reported, which tested how experienced readers reacted to three changes in spelling they had not met before, each representing a possible direction for spelling reform. Omitting surplus letters, changing even up to one word in three, was found to cause no disruption to reading speed or spelling, but other forms were more difficult on first acquaintance, though not impossibly so. This improvement could easily be introduced in trial forms as alternative spellings to test public preferences.
Other pilot experiments were mentioned, whose design could well be copied, to check whether spelling reforms might indeed be the optimum form to benefit those they seek most to help - learners, writers, foreigners, as well as readers.