[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1992/1 pp11-13 later designated J12]
[See Journal and Newsletter articles by Ken Ives.]

A Spelling Reform for the 1990's
for English Speaking Adults.

Kenneth Ives.

As a contribution to the debate on how to introduce spelling reforms, the following seven steps for adult users of English are proposed, with their rationale, for possible adoption, one a year, from 1993 thru 1999.

For those adopting them, these seven steps offer several accomplishments:

A. Abolish <ough, augh, ph, igh> spellings.
B. Double the use of <j> and triple the use of <z> in English spellings of their sounds.
C. Regularize the spelling of some of the words which need two or more changes.
D. Remove almost all (94%) of "short a consonant e" spellings ("have" → "hav").

Securing the acceptance and use of some spelling reforms by a substantial number of adults is a major challenge facing the spelling reform movement. When a reform secures at least 5% acceptance, it is firmly establisht and can move toward majority use. Unfortunately, even modest spelling reforms in English have rarely achieved this level of acceptance.

A few of Noah Webster's proposals, in his 1828 Dictionary, are now dominant, especially in the United States. Thus "musick, publick" are no longer in regular use. The National Education Association's spelling of "program" is dominant in the US; "catalog, dialog, prolog" are in considerable use. But the Kucera and Francis study in the 1960's found "altho, thru" at about 1% acceptance in printed materials.

While major progress in spelling reform may come thru use of initial and medial teaching media in schools (the metric system is now taut in US schools but not widely used by adults) but adult acceptance of some reforms may be a prerequisite to that.

1. Because getting a first step accepted and adopted is the hardest, and most important, it consists of words already having more fonemic alternate spellings in most American Dictionaries. This parallels the publication by the Simplified Spelling Board in the early 1900's of its list of "Three Hundred Words Spelt in Two or More Ways". There are over 3,000 of these (Emery 1973), but practical lists should not exceed 30 words.
altho, tho, thru, thruout, thoro, thoroly;
dropt, fixt, mixt, spelt, stopt;
catalog, dialog, prolog; cataloged, cataloging;
programer, programed programing;
analyze, -d, compromize, generalize, legalized;
canceled, labeled, traveler, totaled;
buses, gases; defense, offense, pretense;
and for British users: program, favor, honor, labor.

These 28 root words and 6 derivatives (plus 4 British) count at least 2,633 in Kucera's study of a million words, and about 184 in Dewey's count of 100,000 words.

2. The Simplified Spelling Society's STAGE 1 replaces the <ough> spellings with their eight pronounciations, and the <augh, ph> spellings:

enuf, ruf, rufly, tuf;
aut, baut, braut, faut, saut, thaut, thauts;
caut, dauter, taut; laf, laft, lafing;
emfasis, fenomena, fenomenon; filosofy,
filosofer, filosofical; fotograf, fotografic;
fosforus, fone, telefone.
These 19 root words and 9 derivatives count 1,932 by Kucera, Dewey est. 266. Since they include 17 of the 35 different <ough> words Dewey counted, and 9/10 of their occurrences in his sample of 100,000 words, readers can carry the rule thru on the other words with <ough> spellings. (18 words, 38 occurrences). Similarly, the list includes 6 of the 8 <augh> words, and about 30 of the 32 occurances. The <ph> words were 60 in Dewey's sample, with 108 occurrences. The list includes 14, with about 36 occurrences. While the remainder is 46 different words, they averaged 2 times each in Dewey's count so could easily be handled by readers.

3. Somewhat related is the replacement of <igh> by <y>, and <eigh, aigh> by other appropriate vowels.

bryt, delyt, fyt, fyting, flyt;
hy, hyer, hyest, hyly, hyt, hyway;
lyt, lyts, lyted, lytly; myt, nyt, nyts, tonyt;
ryt, ryts,syt, slyt, slytly, tyt.
strait, nabor, naborhood. ait, aiteen, aity.
These 15 root words and 16 derivatives account for a third of the words and 3/4 of the occurrences of these <igh> spellings. The remaining 60 which Dewey found occur only 3 times each, on the average, in 100,000 words, so can be respelt by readers and writers as they come along.

4. Spelling reforms which operate by one rule at a time do not handle well many confusing words which have two or more non-fonemic spellings. Hence the need for some steps composed of such words. A first one myt well be:

avrij, bizness, bizy, colij, cuzin, duz, duzn't;
eezy, eezily, faiz, fizical, foren, nolij;
masheen, -s, masheenery; peepl, peepls;
pozitiv, rezon, rezons; sezon, sez, skeem, wait.
These 19 root words and 6 derivatives count 4,161 in Kucera, about 601 in Dewey's study. They account for about 0.5% of words in an avrij text.

5. While the "soft c" rule is about 100% accurate in English, the parallel "soft g" rule is only 54% accurate. This is below the 75% minimum for a rule to be very useful. The letter <j> was introduced into English only several centuries ago. Its more extensive use could faiz out the "soft g" rule. An initial list of such changes would include some vowel changes, as <ge, gi, gy> are being replaced:

brij, chainj, chainjed, chainjing, chainjes;
charj, dainjer, ej, enjin, enjincer, exchainj,
jencral jeneraw; imajin, juj, jujment;
laj, larjer, larjest, larjly; manajer, orijinat
rainj, rejon, rejonal rejons; reujon, relijus;
staij, strainj, sugjest, sugjested, waij, waijes.
These 21 root words and 13 derivatives count 4,161 in Kucera and about 400 in Dewey. This (with 3 in step 4) more than doubles the 421 <j> in Dewey's count. Thus these words chainj 215 of the 'soft g' spellings, reducing that rule from 54% to about 30% application.

6. While <s> pronounced <z> at the end of words, especially plurals is too frequent and too regular to be changed early, <s> pronounced <z> in the middle of a word is not so regular.

Currently < z> is the least used letter, tho its sound is the 11th most common. An initial list of medial < z> respellings is:

huzband, muzic, muzical; prezent, -ed -ly;
prezerv, prezident, -ial; prizon, -ers;
reprezent, -ing, -s; reprezentativ, -s; rezult, -ed, -ing;
thouzand, -s; vizable, vizit, viziting, vizitors.
These 12 root words and 13 derivatives count 2,376 in Kucera, and about 268 in Dewey's list. With the <z> words in Step 4, they bring Dewey's count of letter <z> from 284 at 0.06% of letters to about 875, three times its present use.

7. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, French scribes could not read their own writing and tell if a word ended in <u> or <v>. So they added an <e> after those ending in <v>, even tho this conflicted in many cases with the rule that "vowel consonant e makes the vowel long". With the advent of typewriters and now word processors, this expedient is obsolete.

hav, havn't; activ, creativ, detectiv, effectiv,
extensiv, expresiv, giv, givs; impresiv, liv (verb), livs;
nativ, negativ, objectiv, relativ, relativly, sensativ: curv, twelv.
These 17 root words and 4 derivatives count 5,702 in Kucera and about 784 in Dewey.


Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
Step 5
Step 6
Step 7















These seven steps together affect about 3% of words in an average text. Thus they are a gradual introduction to reform and to getting the idea of spelling reform accepted.


Viewed from the perspective of people we hope will adopt early steps of spelling reform, what problems do each step help resolve for them?

Step 1 aids reform acceptors who feel they need Dictionary backing for their first efforts, to help them respond to objections.

Step 2 helps readers avoid the confusion of 8 pronounciations for <ough>, and helps writers of words presently spelt <ough, augh, ph>.

Step 3 helps writers with "long i" sound by omitting the silent <gh> now in many such words, and using <y> for this sound, except in the initial syllable, "I, final, item".

Step 4 helps readers and writers with some common irregularly spelt words.

Step 5 helps writers with <j> sound words, reducing and eventually eliminating the alternate <ge, gi, gy> spellings. It helps learners pronounce, reducing their conflict over words having a hard <g> sound tho followed by <e, i, y>, "get, give".

Step 6 helps learners with the words listed, so they don't startle others with "soft s" pronounciations of words usually pronounced "z", and produce confusion between "precedent" and "president"!

Step 7 reduces conflicts in learner's pronounciation with the rule that "final < e > makes the earlier vowel long".

As most of the changes shorten words, when they become familiar they will speed both writing and reading for most people.


Many spelling reformers are convinced of the need for step by step progress on reform. But how do we get a substantial minority of the public to adopt one or more of them or other, steps? This requires some spelling reform effort focused on "marketing". About 80 years ago, Andrew Carnegie contributed about $250,000 over 20 years to this kind of an effort in the United States. This supported publicity, literature, and field staff. Public acceptance of a few changes resulted. One large circulation magazine, the Literary Digest, used a noticeable number of reformed spellings into the 1930's. How can we secure the funds, effort, and program to do as well or better in the 1990's?


Dewey, Godfrey (1923, 1950). Relativ Frequency of English, Speech Sounds. Cambridge MA. Harvard University Press.

Emery, Donald W. (1973). Variant Spellings in Modern American Dictionaries. Revised Edition. Urbana IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Kucera, Henry n W. Nelson Francis (1967). Computational Analysis of Present Day American English. Providence RI: Brown University Press.

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