[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J23, 1998-1, p30-31]
[On this page: reviews of Crystal and of Schramm.
See Journal and Newsletter articles by Robert Craig and Chris Gledhill.]

Reform through International Auxiliary Languages

Christopher Gledhill reviews Lango

Robert Craig & Antony Alexander (1996) Lango - Language Organisation Douglas, Isle of Man, 87pp (ISBN 0-9529446-0-X)

1. International auxiliary languages.

The overall aim of Lango is to set out an alternative view of the international language problem and to propose a reformed version of English as an international auxiliary language. The argument builds up to a spelling reform proposal, although the main strength of the book lies in the initial chapters and their argument that modified international English ('Lango') would allow for rational spelling reform. Well over half of the book is dedicated to discussing the development of English and there is a considerable variety of discussion as the authors build up examples of other auxiliary languages, from French and Esperanto to Chinese and Creoles.

For a publication that is published by the authors, 'Lango' is a relatively substantial book (87pp), and at best entertaining. Although the book's main aim is to argue the possibilities of specifically adapting English to international use, unfortunately little space is given to what the authors actually put forward as the international auxiliary language. There are promising hints in the initial chapters, but nothing is said of them when the time comes to put them together. One interesting idea is to import vocabulary to English from other languages in order to replace homonyms. But there is no justification of why homonyms are such a problem and the proposal is dropped in the later chapter that tries to deal with Lango's vocabulary.

2. Letters reassigned.

Similarly, spelling reformers are likely to be disappointed by the project as presented in Chapters 16-18. The principle is to effectively create a new alphabet: reserving the roman uppercase for vowels and the lowercase for consonants. This allows for some pretty radical reassignments. Rational linguists and spelling reformers would perhaps reassign letters with some mnemonic for sound according to an existing system, but Craig and Alexander plump for shape of letter, breaking completely with the conventions of the roman alphabet. So the letter A symbolizes /ð/ as in the. I presume this is because of the slight typographic resemblance to the Old English symbol 'eth', but again there is no discussion of this in the book. They do argue grounds for D to represent the vowel /ɒ/ as in frost, and there are many other changes, but the reader is left to figure out what motivates the bulk of the system. Chapter 18 shows us what this does to "Our Father, which art in heaven", which becomes '.BU .fMaU, wIe Mt In hEvUn' (full stops indicate capitals in the Lango system). Considering that the authors spend a lot of the book stating that the language is to be based as far as possible on what most speakers of English and other languages are familiar with, this is way too disruptive.

3. Unjustified assertions.

Unfortunately, there are numerous factual and stylistic slips, and the experienced spelling reformer or linguist will wince at the way certain arguments are presented. There are many good points, but almost every fact is accompanied by a judgement that is either unbelievable or unjustified in the text. There are descriptions of languages that 'do not have parts of speech', or have only 'partial phonologies', the infinitive is described as 'essentially a self-directed imperative'... The structure of English and Finnish is said to affect the behaviour of English and Finnish speakers, and Shakespeare's neologisms are termed failures when they 'did not stick'. I could go on... The basic problem is that these pseudo-facts are unsupported by academic or rational argument and act as a frustrating distraction from the main aims of the book. If the authors want to describe the linguistics of English, they should direct us to Crystal's encylopedias and get on with the main theme: the future of a planned international language. Topics chop and change, amid repetitions and contradictions. The expert reader is not of course the intended target of the book, but I doubt many people will appreciate the pomposity of some of the writing, or understand why terms like 'praxis', 'climacteric' are so emphasized. Nonetheless, the non-linguist would probably enjoy the introductory chapters and appreciate the glossary, although they will not find 'climacteric'...

4. Basic contradiction.

The ultimate problem with this book is not the quirky presentation or the unjustified nature of some of the proposals but a basic contradiction. In the opening sections the authors insist that organic, small-scale, almost 'democratic' change is better than rational approaches proposed by academics (Esperanto is the main culprit here). But they then go on to propose their own highly biased and idiosyncratic system for the express attention of an 'international language committee'. The real point should be the insight that international communication does not have to be bound to one rationalized artificial language or to a dominant but irrational national language but can be a happy medium of the two: an internationalized, modestly streamlined version of English which would permit a degree of flexibility with its written form. I don't doubt that much of what Craig and Alexander predict will come to pass: they present some convincing evidence and much of what they claim is common sense. Yet their treatment of the subject and their proposals are based on a naive view of language and are far less realistic or intriguing than their initial description of the problem.

[See other articles by David Crystal and Paul Fletcher.
On this page: reviews of Lango and Schramm.]

Paul Fletcher reviews English as a Global Language.

David Crystal (June 1997) English as a Global Language, Cambridge Univ. Press, ISBN 0-521-59247-X, £12-95

The rise of English to its present-day dominance among the world's languages started with the Pilgrim Fathers' expeditions to America and was then extended by colonialism and the political and commercial dominance of Britain in the 19th century and of the USA in the 20th. Although the seeds were sown earlier, the meteoric rise of English has happened since 1950, and the collapse of communism has left the USA, the main English-speaking power, without a rival.

David Crystal is one of the world's leading experts on language and a former professor of linguistics at Reading University. He has written and broadcast widely on English and edited a number of Cambridge University Press encyclopedias.

His lively and interesting account is not marred by the jingoistic and anecdotal approach used by so many writing about English. Instead he first defines what is meant by a global language, then he explains why English has become pre-eminent: the historical reasons, the cultural foundation, and the cultural legacy, in particular the use of English by international agencies, Hollywood, scientific research, Teaching English as a Foreign Language and the Internet.

Unfortunately, Crystal makes only passing reference to our eccentric spelling and rather discounts it as a stumbling block to the rise of English. His thesis is that despite any intrinsic difficulty in a language, its survival or popularity depends entirely on politics, culture and commerce.

He confidently predicts an ever widening role for English standardized by modern communications in parallel with the continued development of local forms of the language. For spelling reformers this means that to concentrate on the internationally used form of the language must be the first priority and that users of the local dialect or form of English can be left to their own devices (and possibly retaining TO).

[See other articles by Steve Bett.
On this page: reviews of Lango and Crystal.]

Steve Bett reviews Sounds and Symbols in American English.

Bea Schramm (1994) Sounds and Symbols in American English: Keys to Phonics and Spelling Patterns, Lafayette, IN, 52pp, ISBN 0-9640725-0-5

The proponents of phonics as a method for teaching reading are often the source of ammunition for spelling reform. The book by Bea Schramm is a good example. Schramm, until her retirement, was the director of a high school reading lab. She felt that the knowledge of phonics and spelling patterns enabled many of her students to master the art of reading. Her 52-page book is a well organized attempt to reveal the hidden code. The chapters include: long vowel sounds, short vowel sounds, spelling vowels, consonants, word lists, 2-vowel spelling patterns.

Schramm distinguishes 45 distinct sounds. She lists all the different ways these 45 sounds are spelled in English. At no time does she suggest that the code is inconsistent and inefficient. She provides lots of rules such as " The letter G can stand for the J-sound when the G is followed by E, I or Y. The exceptions to the rule include get, give, girl, and gift. The letters L, R, M, and N at the end of a syllable always carry a schwa-sound with them as part of their pronunciation: prism and subtle become 2-syllable words because of this."