[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1993/2 p12-14 later designated J15]
[Also on this page: "Informal spelling", Computers in Education.]
[See Journal and Newsletter articles and web by Madhukar Gogate.]

Towards Roman Lipi.

Madhukar N Gogate.

Following our reports back in the late 1980s (JSSS J6 1987/3, p12, & J11 1989/2, pp18-20) on the RLP (Roman Lipi Parishad, founded 1984, the movement for introducing Roman alphabet scripts for the languages of India), we here provide a first update for the 1990s. The following is the background paper for the 4th Roman Lipi Sammelan (conference), held in Bombay in December 1991. (The paper was widely distributed as a printed circular, with nearly 10,000 copies.) It describes the linguistic situation in India, the particular factors affecting the development of writing systems in that situation, and the practical steps taken by the RLP movement to advance its cause. We have to thank Madhukar N Gogate, Executive Director of RLP, for keeping us abreast of RLP's activities.

1. India is a multi-language, multi-script country. Roman Lipi Parishad (RLP) recommends optional use of Roman lipi (script) containing symbols abcd...xyz and global numerals 0123456789 for writing Indian languages. Roman numerals I, II, III, IV, etc are not recommended.

2. Existing scripts have certain merits, sentimental value and vast literature. They are not to be discarded. Roman lipi may be used where existing scripts prove inadequate.

3. Advantages of Roman lipi are: (a) All compact machines such as typewriters, computers etc designed for English would be usable for our languages. (b) Language leaming would be simplified.

4. We use English for higher education and higher business. Roman symbols are displayed on industrial products. RLP is not against making compact machines for various scripts. But looking to the thrust of English language, and for reasons of economy, it is advantageous to accept Roman lipi. Moreover, our scripts are multi-tier with symbols interconnected at various levels with distortions. Roman lipi is linear and very convenient for typing work, phone books, dictionaries, address diaries, computers etc.

5. It is baffling to see signboards in unfamiliar scripts when visiting different states in India. Obviously, signboards in 2 scripts (local and Roman) would help everyone. Communication will be hampered if phone books, vehicle number plates etc are made in various scripts.

Selection of Symbols.

6. RLP had convened three Sammelans (conferences ) in the past, to select symbols for various sounds. Three principles were adopted (a) Roman lipi should be phonetic. (b) Minor sound variations may be ignored for simplicity. A script is not a taperecorder. (c) Take symbols available on English printing machines.

7. Roman script contains only 26 symbols. So some combinations have been accepted, such as aa, ae, d:, t: (see table of symbol-sound relations below). Symbol <:> is called colon. Only small symbols <abcd...> may be used for our languages, reserving capital symbols <ABCD...> for special uses such as telegrams, personal names and brand names (if not changeable) and original English sentences, if required to be quoted within Indian language text.

8. For a natural phonetic flow, it is necessary to respell names and English words (absorbed in our languages as per our way of pronunciatlon). Thus words icecream, pencil, company, nurse, injection, pneumonia, cricket, oxygen, Germany, Cambridge, John, Anand will be recast in our languages as aaiskrim, pensil, kampani, nars, injekshan, nyumoniyaa, kriket:, awksijan, jarmani, kembrij, jawn, aanand. Note that aanand is a male name (spelled in English as Anand) and also a common noun 'delight' in many languages. saamne aanand pensils kaa kaarkhaanaa hai 'Factory of Anand Pencils is in front' looks well in Hindi. But, if the brand name cannot be changed, write saamne ANAND PENCILS kaa kaarkhaanaa hai. Some English words, if not respelled, may clash with regular words.

9. Dictionary sequence for words would be abcd...xyz.

10. Punctuation marks would be as in English. But prose writing becomes difficult to read when only small symbols abcd... are used in the text. For clarity, use slant stroke </> in place of the full-stop <.> at the end of a sentence.


11. Obviously, Roman lipi cannot be imposed on people. Then how and where to popularize it? For the last few years, RLP had concentrated on Marathi language for some experience, which is summarized below.

12. Marathi (maraath:i) is written in Devanagari script, almost similar to Hindi's Devanagari. English explanations and examples (k-king, l-lamp etc) are necessary for multilingual readership. For Marathi readers, Marathi explanations and direct Devanagari-Roman relations (in Devanagari sequence) are far more effective.

13. Mailing of printed circulars to intellectuals generates a thin written response, but it keeps the movement under public eye. Occasionally, it draws media-attention, donor-attention.

14. Printed circulars may be hand-delivered, followed with personal meetings to clear doubts. Circulars may be distributed at public meetings of educated persons. Some of them may be interviewed during recess hours. Circulars should be brief, giving main reasons for taking Roman lipi on an optional basis. They should give the symbol-sound relations, with few examples of sentences in both scripts. Numerous intellectuals support Roman lipi as it would instal Marathi on all machines. However, all these supporters do not start using Roman lipi. (How to begin?)

15. Meetings called to discuss Roman lipi are thinly attended. It is better to combine a talk on Roman lipi with other programs arranged by clubs, colleges etc.

16. There are, of course, many critics. Initially, some of them saw a foreign hand in the movement. But RLP's constructive approach has dispelled such doubts. Devanagari is like rail-travel. Roman lipi is like air-travel. Use either option, to suit. This analogy helps to win supporters.

17. Doordarshan took interest in the movement and invited RLP for a 25-minute telecast on Maharashtra-Goa network. Excellent publicity.

18. No attempts were made to teach Roman lipi to illiterates or to Devanagari literates not knowing English at all. According to some literacy-campaigners, Roman lipi is easy and yet unsuitable. There are no story books or jobs awaiting the Roman-lipi-literates.

19. Rural shopkeepers with Devanagari signboards do not need Roman lipi for their business. Moreover, additional Roman lipi signboards involve expenses, wall space etc. (Next question: why Roman Marathi? why not English itself?)

20. Some elected representatives and officers of Government/Municipal bodies were contacted. Would these institutions accept Marathi letters typed in Roman lipi, while the official reply may go in Devanagari? The suggestion was appreciated by many, but it cannot be implemented without government approval.

21. Tests show that the printers (adults, experienced in both Devanagari and English typesetting) are initially puzzled, but they grasp Roman lipi with 15 minutes discussion. Use colons, slant strokes, no capitals, etc. Directions should be given. Printers are not concerned with the symbol-sound relations. They would need a properly written Roman manuscript (and not a Devanagari manuscript) for executing a printing order in Roman lipi (similarly, for typists).

22. Tests show that a class of 30 children in Marathi-medium schools, age 14-15 (with 3 years study of English ) can be oriented to Roman lipi within 45 minutes. Distribute xerox copies of symbol-sound relations, sample words and sentences in both scripts. Read loudly in the class, intermittently taking responses. There should be 2 exercises each of say 10 simple sentences. One is about reading Roman sentences. Almost in chorus, children give correct answers. Other exercise is on romanizing Devanagari sentences. Children hesitate, but slowly some of them attempt on blackboards. Explain mistakes in a friendly way. Children (and the curiously-watching teachers) are happy to leam a new script. They like Roman lipi. Treat this as a game.

23. Several newspapers published RLP's articles on reasons for taking Roman lipi, and gave free publicity to a poem competition, mentioned below. But newspapers are commercial ventures. Their space is valuable for news and advertisements. They cannot oblige every time.

24. A poem competition in Roman lipi was held. Thousands of explanatory pamphlets were distributed. To avoid printing mistakes, a sample poem in both scripts and symbol-sound relations were typeset, and blocks/bromides were supplied to newspapers. This put RLP to heavy expenditure. 109 entries were received, checked, and token prizes were awarded. Two conclusions emerged. (a) Response is fairly good. People are willing to try Roman lipi (b) 75% entries did not use symbol-sound relations properly. Tutorials (explain, students err, correct errors, take examinations etc) are needed to set Roman- Iipi in public mind.

25. Generally speaking (there are exceptions), Active English-users (doctors, engineers, scientists) support optional Roman lipi and global numerals in Devanagari text. Active Marathi-users (authors, journalists) are indifferent to Roman lipi and insist on Devanagari numerals, though they see global numerals on watches, coins, calculators, phone dials, thermometers, playing cards etc.

26. Literature develops within a framework of standard symbols, words, orthography and grammar. Devanagari has some flaws, but its framework is known to authors, readers, teachers, printers. Both Literature and Roman lipi would acquire bad name, if the untrained printers use wrong symbols. It would be premature for Roman lipi to enter the field of Literature. However, for public practice and evolution of orthography, Roman lipi may be tried for short pieces such as poems, jokes, cartoon strips etc. For guidance, RLP has published a booklet on few Marathi poems in Roman lipi.

27. Roman Lipi supporters generally agree that the orthography in Roman may be modified. Thus, eliminate the duality of short-long vowels in Devanagari. Write sarkaar (government), madhe (within) in place of non-phonetic Devanagari equivalents sarakaara, madhye. Split long words where possible for dictionary convenience, thus rashiyaa madhe (within Russia), and not rashiyaamadhye as done in Devanagari Marathi. However, grammar should not be over-simplified. Thus, genders allotted to inanimate objects are irrational, but their removal would be unacceptable.

28. Film titles are given in Devanagari and Roman on posters. These are spelled according to the 'lucky' number of symbols, advised by astrologers. Hence, one sees a variety of spellings such as gita, gitaa or geetaa. (Variety is amplified since South Indians prefer <th> in place of <t>. This raises question - who is golng to enforce standardization of symbols? Do we allow marginal adjustments of symbols for every language?).

29. Shortforms of names are preferred in Devanagari style. Devanagari is written in syllables (consonant plus vowel). Thus raam govind joshi may be shortformed to raa.go.joshi and not r.g.joshi (pronounced aar. ji. joshi).

30. Industrialists have shown some interest in the movement for 2 reasons: (a) Roman lipi is helpful for quick training in spoken Marathi, for non-Marathi staff in Maharashtra for better customer relations. (b) Roman lipi is useful for industrial culture. "One machine - all languages" gives a strong message of productivity, wide market and mutual considerateness. RLP hopes to get the Industrialists support for starting training courses, 2-script advertisements etc. RLP's booklet on few trial sentences in four languages is well appreciated.

31. A practice lesson is given below, with some sentences in Marathi in Roman lipi, separated by slant strokes. Basic words are alphabetically listed in a dictionary extract. Various suffixes for gender-number-case-tense are not listed. Even then, a non-Marathi, non-Devanagari, English-knowing person can judge substantial meaning of the Marathi sentences, as seen from tests made on some persons. Proper English translation is given.

Practice Lesson in Marathi.

rashiyaa madhe kraanti chaa prayatna zaalaa/ me 91 madhe maaji pradhaan mantri raajiv gaandhi yaanchi bawmb sphot:aat hattyaa zaali/ gaajaraa madhe si jivansatva aste/ shikshakaan chaa pagaar vaadh:vu ase mukhya mantryaani aashvaasan dile/ aaj paaus pad:el asaa tarka aahe/

Dictionary Extract (English words italics).

aahe is / aaj today / aashvaasan assurance / ase like this / aste exlsts / bawmb bomb / chaa 's (possessive suffix) / de give / gaajar carrot / hattyaa assassination / jivansatva vitamin / kraanti revolt / maaji former / madhe within / mantra minister / me May / mukhya chief / paaus rain / pad: fall / pagaar salary / pradhaan prime / prayatna attempt / shikshak teacher / sphot: explosion / tarka guess / vaadh: increment / yaa come; this / zaalaa happened.

English Translation.

A revolt was attempted in Russia. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a bomb explosion in May 91. Carrots contain vitamin C. Chief Minister gave an assurance to increase the salaries of teachers. Rains are forecast for today.

(Readers may write the practice lesson in their language so that the end English Translation is same. Please comment on various points such as 8, 10, 27, 28, 29; make tests as in 21, 22; discuss with intellectuals.)


a (u in up), aa (a in car), ae (a in apple),
aw (aw in law), b (boy), ch (church),
d (soft-th in they), d: (hard-d in dog),
e (egg), g (girl), h (he), i (it), j (jam),
k (king), l (lamp), l: (hard-l), m (man),
n (no), o (open), p (pin), r (run),
s (sit), t (soft), t: (hard-t in toy), u (put),
v (w in woman), y (yes), z (zebra)


a) Sound h is combined in bh, chh, dh, dh:, gh, jh (s in measure), kh, lh, mh, nh, ph (photo), rh, th (thin), th:, vh (wh in what, v in victory).

b) Long vowels e: (ay in may), i: (ee in meet), o: (oa in boat), u: (oo in cool), vowel nasalizer m: are used for some languages. Thus kyom: (why) is pronounced kyo with o nasalised in Hindi.

c) Read me, ham, tame, ai, au as m-e, h-a-m, t-a-m-e, a-i, a-u, and not as in English words.

d) For additional sounds in some languages, use f, q, x, zh, h: (visarga), r: etc.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1993/2 p31,32 later designated J15]
[See Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, SPB articles, and Personal View by Edward Rondthaler.]

"Informal" Spelling as a Way to Literacy

for our Immigrants and 40 million Adult Illiterates.

Edward Rondthaler.

An immigrant's concept of written words is entirely different from ours. Words in his or her native language are spelt as they sound. He expects ours to be the same. He expects our spelling to help him learn English. But most words in English are not spelt as they sound.

Our spelling is a hand-me-down of irregularities inherited from the time when British aristocracy failed to simplify English spelling - failed to make reading and writing easy for the masses. These ancient spelling irregularities haunt us today, and are largely responsible for our widespread illiteracy.

If you are flying to Mexico you can hold in your hand a little card that shows the spelling of every Spanish sound. Then, when the plane lands, you can pronounce, in Spanish, virtually every word on every sign you see. You won't know the meaning of many of the words, but you can pronounce them, and that's a good start toward learning the language.

The reverse is not true. No immigrant coming to the U. S. can hold in his hand a card that shows the spelling of English sounds. Such a card would be the size of a refrigerator door, since we spell our 42 sounds in a potpourri of over 400 different ways. Scores of rules and exceptions add to the confusion.

In our major cities over a hundred different languages are in daily use. For many immigrants this means little or no communication beyond their ethnic borders. They never see the big picture. We lose them as creative and productive citizens.

An innovative proposal:

Instead of compounding our multilingual problem by printing information in more and more languages for those who cannot read English, we should begin to remove our reading and writing roadblock. How? By denouncing the folly and shortsightedness of our British linguistic ancestors and using selectively - or at least experimentally - an optional spelling that matches the sound of our speech, and blends comfortably with present spelling. It might be called "informal" spelling.

This proposal, doubtless seen by many as heretical, recognizes two undeniable facts: Present remedial methods reach only 10% of those in need. Functional illiteracy is increasing and has no prospect of diminishing unless very innovative steps are taken. Optional, alternative spellings reflecting our speech may well be the only realistic way to rescue our 40 million illiterates, to end the vicious circle of generational illiteracy, and to address credatively the immigrants' English language problem.

What then is needed to give us a simple, logical spelling?

(1) The simpler, "informal" spelling must not be a hodgepodge of everybody's "invented!' spelling, but a practical, rational, well-conceived, sound to letter system. Other countries have done it. We can too.

(2) It must be as near normal spelling as possible, and easily read by present readers.

(3) It should, of course, be a little shorter than our current spelling, and completely compatible with standard keyboards.

(4) The rules for "spelling the words as they sound" must be minimal.

Computer software that converts ordinary keyboarding into "informal" sound-spelling is now available. It unscrambles our inherited topsy-turvy spelling. As a demonstration, the above paragraph is repeated below, converted automatically by computer into a carefully considered reflection of English speech likely to be no more awkward to present readers than a regional dialect.

Whut, then, is needed to giv us a simpl, lojical speling?

(1) The simpler, "informal" speling must not be a hojpoj of evrybody's "invented" speling, but a practical, rashunal, wel- conseevd, sound-to-leter sistem. Uther cuntrys hav dun it. We can too.

(2) It must be as neer normal speling as posibl, and eezily red bi present reeders.

(3) It shuud, of cors, be a litl shorter than our curent speling, and compleetly compatibl with standard keebords.

(4) The rools for "speling werds as thae sound!' must be minimal.

Among the millions to benefit from "informal' spelling are the poor and disadvantaged, half our prison inmates, most of our high school dropouts, virtually all of our immigrants - and our industries, schools, penal system, and taxpayers who estimate the all-inclusive, nationwide cost of illiteracy at $180 billion a year. Computers stand ready to help root out the root of English illiteracy. The only losers will be the promoters of spelling bees.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1993/2 p31,32 later designated J15]

Computers in Education.

Michael Gianturco.

Functionally illiterate adults in the U.S. - nearly 15 % of the adult population - cannot read and write well enough to understand a want ad or fill out a job application. Fortunately, desktop computers and innovative software promise to help.

By the turn of the century, there will be at least as many personal computers in this country as there are people. There are currently a paltry 3 million computers in public schools, about one computer for every 16 students. A few educational software companies have already emerged as dominant suppliers to this growing base.

Josten Learning Systems, a subsidiary of class ring and yearbook vender Jostens Inc., is one. Last year the subsidiary sold $220 million worth of computers and educational software into the schools. Jostens' chief competitor is Computer Curriculum Corp., part of Simon & Schuster.

Computers bring many advantages to the classroom. They deliver self-paced, one-on-one instruction. They are infinitely patient and quick to reward progress.

The teacher, in computerized instruction, is really the programmer. He or she is in effect cloned - multiplied - by the number of computers in use. Hence, for each student, a personal teacher.

Jostens offers a range of English-teaching software for everyone from kindergartners to adults doing remedial work. The American Literacy Council has developed and tested over a period of years the program "Sound-Speler," which instantly corrects misspelled words like "speler".

The key is instant feedback - the constant, endlessly patient correction of errors. Contrast that with, say, a graded paper returned to the student a full week after an exam.

One of the most exciting developments is the advent of digitally synthesized sound. A tiny company in Vancouver, B.C., Boswell Industries, has developed a multimedia computer that uses voice chips and a special, simplified keyboard like that used by court reporters. Non-English speaking students, starting from zero, can use the Boswell technology to bootstrap into a working knowledge of English in about one-fifth the time they might spend using the familiar language lab.

Forbes, August 16, 1993, p110.

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