[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1994/2 p25,26 later designated J17]
[Doug Everingham: see Journals, Newsletters, Bulletins.]

A Pidgin-like Bridge to English.

Doug Everingham.

Doug is a former family doctor and federal Minister for Helth. [1] He edited Spelling Action, the newsletter of the Spelling Action Society, from July 1986 until December 1989 when the Society dissolved. In retirement he is compiling a grammar and dictionary of an English-derived language using simplifications of (a) the international auxiliary language movement (Esperanto, Ido, Interlingua etc.), (b) Basic English, (c) natural contact languages (pidgins and creoles) and (d) spelling reformers. At the same time he proposes an improved version of Blissymbolics, the interlingual writing which has found its first application as the sole verbal expression medium for palsied pre-literate and post-literate folk, predominantly cerebral palsied children. The chief aim is to encourage development of a global learners' and shoppers' contact language or lingua franca. Like Australian pidgin and its creole offspring (Kriol), this may become a bridge to English, the world's most used and sought bridging language. Tlis article deals only with spelling and word building aspects.
Lindgren proposed that English users, wherever they dare, should now use a single spelling reform (SRI) based on a single rule defined purely in phonetic terms. This was a new approach, because most reform schemes base their rules on common traditional spellings of some or all of the phonetic elements of English, and often compromise these rules to conform with traditional spellings of some words.

Lindgren did, however, compile as tentative examples two comprehensive reform schemes, Phonetic A and Phonetic B, to illustrate possible outcomes of an orderly series of about 40 such steps (SR2, SR3, etc.) at yearly or longer intervals [2]. These would suffice to make prevalent spelling practically fully phoneticized.

An innovation of Phonetic A and B was the use of an apostrophe for the obscure or neutral vowel (schwa, and in most cases for its often dialectal variant schwi) as in the less stressed syllables of salad, surfeit, ragged, rapid. This apostrophe was omissible between consonants which could not be pronounced in English without an intervening vowel: knaiv, brou'k, fnetk, horr, of'sr (but of's'rz), gramr, sistr, martr, kulr, hansm, litl. These would replace connive, heroic, phonetic, horror, officer(s), grammar, sister, martyr, colo(u)r, handsome, little. I follow Lindgren in dropping an apostrophe or second part of a digraph before non-prevocalic rin words like tar(t), fer(d), wir(d), sor(t), fur(l) in place of tar(t), fare(d), weir(d), sore, sort, fur(l). My proposed a replaces an apostrophe at word ends to avoid confusion of the apostrophe with a single unquote mark. In monosyllabes it can replace aa (e.g. ma for mother).

By careful choice of the order and spacing of the changes, the phonemic codings would also be more consistent with the phonetics of other languages and with the International Phonetic Alphabet than prevalent traditional spellings. Thus the dipthong spellings in aisle, veil, soul, sauerkraut would not need to change to the commonly recommended iel, vael, soel, sourkrout because years before such spellings as sail, seize, out/now, sauce/saw would have become less familiar than such words as seil, si'z, aut/nau, so's/so'. In turn, seil and aut/nau would be recognized without confusion because the seize and sauce/saw changes would have become prevalent much earlier.

Phonetic A adapted the then current Ripman and Archer's New Spelling (sponsored by SSA and SSS, the UK Simplified Spelling Association and US Simpler Spelling Association [3] good muun. The reasons of the American Literacy Council (ALC), successor to SSA) for preferring guud moon persuade me. I have therefore adopted ALC's uu. I compromise between ALC and Phonetic A with the following vowel and dipthong sequences:


respectively, the full stops indicating the end of a syllable (word ending, hyphen, or vowel letter not forming a digraph with the preceding letter). The a' represents a vowel sounded variously as in ant (more usual in the New World) or as in aren't (more usual in the Old World, Australia etc.).

For (unaccented) monosyllables ending with schwa, I omit both apostrophe and final a. The words involved are few but common, e.g. t, fr, tu, for replace standard English to, for, two, four.

The vexed question of when to obscure or neutralize an unstressed vowel has been put in a 'too hard' or 'too slovenly' basket by most reformers. Lindgren tackles it. Most pronouncing dictionaries do so too, with liberal use of a schwa symbol. It is unnatural and inaccurate in phonetic terms to de-neutralize every vowel symbol. The rules for doing so are at times as big a dilemma as whether to use a schwa symbol at all. For example, one needs special non-phonetic rules for de-neutralizing in spelling the unstressed vowel in captain, bo's'n, fo'c's'l, forehead, sovereign, porous, thorough, should've, what'll, boss's. ALC uses capten, the Oxford Concise Dictionary 1971 uses capti˘n.

Lindgren's rule [4] is to use the spelling that conforms with non-slovenly everyday speech: kaptn. My project avoids nearly all of this problem because of its vocabulary economy like that of Basic English (fewer than 1,000 word stems). Nearly all stems are monosyllables. Some have also a single unstressed suffix. In most cases this is a single vowel, or a single consonant preceded, where needed for case of pronounciation, by schwa. That schwa is shown only by an apostrophe, and that only where the following consonant might otherwise adjoin the vowel of the previous syllable and change it into a different word stem.

Word structure.

Consonant clusters and consonants terminating syllables are much rarer outside the Indo-European and Semitic language families than in Esperanto, Basic English, or even Pisin (Melanesian pidgin English). Esperanto has flustri for whisper. Pisin tolerates insertion of a vowel to break up consonant clusters. Thus straight becomes sitiret for meny Melanesian speakers. My project shares this option but avoids most of the consonant clusters and polysyllables of Basic English. Basic is an interlanguage frugal in grammar and vocabulary, proposed by C K Ogden and commended by H G Wells, W L S Churchill and F D Roosevelt as suitable for universal learning and use as an auxiliary language by the year 2000.

lu'r(ing); puul
a/c; advertisement
apparatus; machine
connection; join

The -ing and -t endings illustrate an economy lost in Basic. Dropping the suffix makes available a different part of speech, frequently a verb. Basic limits itself to 18 operations using verb forms, declares them not to be verbs, and proceeds to combine them with other words (make an adjustment, put out an advertisement, have/give some amusement, see a connection etc.) to avoid including a long list of verbs. Meny such verbs come easily to pidgins and creoles, for example by dropping a suffix, or to Esperanto by changing a suffix.

Esperanto claims to have only five vowels, but these vary in practice with the native tongue of the speaker. English speakers pronounce differently the E and e of Esperanto. My project, like pidgins, chooses most word roots so that speakers who find the different phonemes of English hard to distinguish are unlikely to be misunderstood if they confuse the sound of a lone vowel with that of a digraph including that letter, altho occasionally there will be a chance of confusion (e.g. of rod and ro'd).

The way forward.

I would be grateful for discussion of the aims, principles, development and possible value of this concept. I appreciate helpful comment so far from Mark O'Connor, an Australian prize-winning poet and tertiary English teacher who has used SRI in some of his published work.


[1] SRI [Lindgren's Spelling Reform step One] used: Thus eny clear short vowel sed as that in hemmorrhage and led may here be red as e insted of eny spellings wider spred, as approved by a Sidney Morning Herald Education Supplement, a Teachers' Federation and other journals and Australia's two Nobel laureate Fellows of the Royal Society: Sir Mark Oliphant, Sir Macfarlane Burnet. The chief aim: to curb social costs of old spellings by reviving their prime purpose: recording sound categories which show word differences as in pronouncing dictionaries regardless of local brogues.

[2] Spelling Reform: A New Approach. 1969. Pages 110-4. Alpha Books, Sydney, Australia.

[3] Pages 107-8.

[4] Page 82.

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