[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J23, 1998-1, pp14-18]
[See other journal and newsletter articles by Cornell Kimball.]

Pragmatic Strategies for Promoting Spelling Reform.

Cornell Kimball.

Cornell Kimball is a transportation engineer who works for the highway department in California. He has been interested in language as a hobby for a couple of decades, and has read much about language in his spare time. His detailed look into the workings of the English language led him into an interest in spelling reform.

An earlier version of this proposal was conveyed to the 1997 AGM of the SSS. It is here presented in an amended and extended form.

Looking at earlier efforts.

I've done a lot of reading on the history of spelling reform. Some of the ways in which we're trying to advance it have been tried before. I am most familiar with the American experience, and the examples that I illustrate are all from that. But I think that these can apply to spelling reform anywhere.

The press.

One idea is to persuade editors of newspapers, magazines and books to use simpler spellings in their publications. A prominent example of a publication using simpler spellings was that of the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune adopted 80 simplified spellings in 1934 for the paper's in-house style. There was much controversy against it, and the Tribune whittled down their list over the years. The number of simpler spellings in use was reduced by about half after a few years, a few adjustments were made in the 1940s, then the list shrank further in the 1950s and 1960s. The Chicago Tribune 'threw in the towel' on this in 1975. [See Chicago Tribune articles.]

Other American periodicals have also used simpler spellings. In the first few decades of the 20th century, when the (American) National Education Association was promoting its list of 12 simpler spellings (thru, tho, catalog, etc.) and the Simplified Spelling Board was promoting its spellings, some newspapers and magazines did use some of these spellings. However, in every case, the publications went back to the conventional spellings.


Another idea is to get simpler spellings into dictionaries. Once in, the thinking goes, people will start using them. But this very thing has been done before. During the 1940s and 1950s, Funk & Wagnalls, an American publisher and maker of dictionaries, listed the Simplified Spelling Board's 300-plus simpler spellings alongside the conventional spellings in their volumes. Thus, entries read such as:
rough (ru&f) adj. 1. having the texture
ruf of coarse or....
debt (de&t) n. 1. a state of owing money
det or other....
This might have seemed like a breth (the use of this and other "e" for "ea" spellings is explained later in this article) of fresh air which would encourage such forms, but the inclusion of these spellings in a major dictionary for many years still didn't create any increase in their usage.

I have contacted dictionaries and periodicals to further simpler spellings, as noted in my article in the December 1996 SSS Newsletter. I have sent dictionary editors citations of a few alternative spellings appearing in print, and I have tried to encourage writers and editors at periodicals to use a few simpler forms. What seems possible there is to strengthen the positions of a few alternative forms already in use. As noted in a news item in the March 1998 Simpl Speling, Random House dictionary altered a couple of entries in response to citations I sent in of thru and such. However, I don't think any one of us can go much beyond that right now. I think that the only way to get editors to accept additional simpler forms is to first get a number of people - who will include a number of people beyond our current ranks - supporting those spellings.


We are also trying to persuade government officials to implement use of the spellings. This too has been tried. American President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the United States Government Printing Office to use the Simplified Spelling Board's 300 or so proposed spellings. This order was issued on August 27, 1906 (while the U.S. Congress was in recess). This was thoroly resisted by the Government Printing Office and others who were to carry it out, and when Congress readjourned that fall, they revoked Roosevelt's order: Congress voted, 142 to 24, that "no money appropriated in this act shall be used (for) printing documents...unless same shall conform to the orthography...in...generally accepted dictionaries." Thus, it ended up that simplified spellings were used only in written items coming from the White House itself, and at that, only 12 were used. When Theodore Roosevelt left office in January 1909, the New York Sun had a huge, one-word headline in response: THRU.

Public campaigning.

So, we've had dictionary makers, newspaper editors, and government officials institute the use of simpler spellings. But none of these efforts have wethered the controversies. Why? From what I've read, it's because these spellings had the support of a few editors or officials - but didn't have the support of the public as a whole.

To make this really happen - and stick - we're going to need more than editors and government officials on our side. We need to broadcast the word to a much larger audience. We need public, grassroots support - not just official support.

To publicize the spelling situation to a large number of people is an enterprize requiring money of course, and a lot of it, and this isn't something that we can turn around and do right away. As the first step in this, we simply need to build membership. With a greater amount from dues some years down the line, we'll then have increased funds with which to begin 'selling the public'.

Advertize to recruit teachers.

My proposal is this: that the Society place adverts or other forms of announcements in a number of publications, such as the 10 American journals listed below, to recruit new members.

In looking at spelling reform efforts, I have found that teachers have often been spelling reform's greatest ally. Many in the Society are educators (educationists) already. There are undoubtedly other teachers out there who are sympathetic to the idea - the only problem is, they've never heard of a 'Simplified Spelling Society', or of any organization promoting spelling reform, for that matter. Of the 10 magazines listed, 9 are aimed at teachers. The other magazine is the organ of the 'World Future Society', a group looking at what may come in the future, and I think we may find a few potential members among that readership too.

All 10 magazines are published in the United States. I chose publications that I could get information on, and of course most of what I could obtain were American periodicals. Too, there are many potential members in the U.S., given its size. It should be stressed tho, that this idea should naturally and ultimately be expanded to include advertizing in publications in many countries.

Titles for advertizing.

The magazines I proposed we consider advertizing in are these (information on format descriptions and circulation figures comes from Ulrich's International Guide to Periodicals.)

Learning - Creative ideas and insights for teachers. Contains teaching tips and curriculum ideas for kindergarten thru middle school. Circulation: 285,000.

Instructor - Features articles on a variety of topics of interest to elementary school (kindergarten thru grade 6) teachers. Includes articles on computer applications for teaching techniques, educational software reviews, and children's fiction book reviews. Circulation: 254,000.

Teaching K-8 - A magazine for teachers of preschool thru grade 8. Articles cover innovation and techniques of individualized instruction. Circulation: 133,000.

Teacher - Provides a national communications network for teachers, enabling them to be better teachers and effective teachers. Circulation: 100,000.

Technology and Learning - The leading magazine of electronic education. Features, reviews, news, and announcements of educational activities and opportunities in programming, software development, and hardware configurations. Circulation: 80,000.

American Educator - Main organ for the American Federation of Teachers. Circulation: 700,000.

Reading Teacher - A journal of the International Reading Association (Newark, Delaware, U.S.A.). Circulation: 65,000.

English Journal - Main journal of the (American) National Council of Teachers of English. Circulation: 57,000.

Educational Researcher - Journal of the American Educational Research Association. Contains news and features of general significance in e educational research. Circulation: 19,000.

The Futurist - Main organ of the World Future Society (Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.A.). A journal of forecasts, trends, and ideas about the future. Circulation: 30,000.

It was later pointed out to me that the British-based SSS Committee is focusing its efforts on British institutions at present. So, I am emending my proposal, and am now suggesting that the SSS advertize for new members in a few British publications which are similar to the American ones just noted. Too, any American members can look into running ads in some of those magazines and possibly handle the details of placing the ad, and members in other countries could do the same with teachers' magazines in their countries.

Public profile.

There have been many discussions, both now and in the past, as to what plan the SSS should adopt. "What scheme should we back?" is a question often wrestled with. My observation is that, during the 120 years that we've had organized spelling reform efforts, many optimal schemes with great backing arguments have been made, altho none of that has furthered our efforts to improve English spelling.

Another observation I make is that very few people are aware that there even are any kind of spelling reform activities going on now. In short, hardly anyone knows we exist. When I 'met' Allan Campbell by e-mail about three years ago, and I told him about Better Education thru Simplified Spelling (I still hadn't found the Simplified Spelling Society), Allan commented that he'd never heard of something like a group dedicated to spelling reform. There are undoubtedly other people out there who are quite supportive of reform but who have never come across any mention of such organizations.

Spelling reform's most important allies, as well as its most vocal opponents, are teachers. As I noted in my proposal, I think that teachers would be a good source of potential members. Too, as I am beginning to learn, one obstacle to newspapers, etc. using spellings such as thru and tho is that teachers and others concerned with education write letters of protest. Per one source I'e corresponded with, many of the letters to the Chicago Tribune opposing its use of simpler spellings came from teachers - while, as well, many of the letters supporting simpler spellings came from teachers. Joe Little's article in the July 1997 Newsletter keeps us abrest of this too, as he notes a newspaper copy editor who mentions such aspects. So, I think our priority right now should be to reach out to teachers and PTA groups, both to get some new members and to 'quell' the reservations that others of them have about spelling reform.

Alternative forms currently in use.

I'll note what some members have written recently in SSS publications - Dan MacLeod in letters to both the Journal and Simpl Speling, Robert Craig in a Simpl Speling article, and Harry Cookson in a letter to Simpl Speling - there are certain alternative forms in use by 'the public'. I think it would be most effective to go along with these right now, rather than trying to sell some grand scheme. Too, while we as reformers may believe in really going thru and overhauling English spelling, we must remember that it is general human nature to want to keep things familiar. I surmize that most people will resist any great change.

Now of course, as we're making our point to people about the need for change, some will naturally ask, "What spellings are you planning on changing?" For that reason, I do believe that we should have some sort of short plan (with fewer words even than the current German spelling reform has, at the outset).

As recent letters from members have reminded us, thru, tho, and a few other GH simplifications have some circulation in popular usage. To this I'll add observations about some other spelling changes, such as noting that in American English catalog has supplanted catalogue as the standard, more commonly used spelling over the past few decades, and that analog, dialog, and others have some currency as variant forms.

One type of change with a helthy track record is the use of -IZE rather than -ISE in 'American' spellings, e.g. realize, organize, summarize. Now there are also 20 or so words in which the standard American English spellings do have -ISE for the /aiz/ sound. But for a few of these, there are variant forms with -IZE that can be found in some dictionaries: advertize, surprize, comprize, merchandize (when it's used as a verb), exorcize.

Opportunities with GH.

I agree it might be a good idea to have some proposal to show the public which way we're planning to go. And one part should be those GH simplifications which already have some usage:
thru tho altho thoro donut nite
(Note: As of now, lite is only widely used for the specialized meaning of "having fewer calories or less substance" but not for other meanings of light, which is why it's not included.)

Too, we could add solid compounds with thru and thoro, and other -OUGH to -O changes:
thruout breakthru thoroly thorofare boro furlo
And, for all countries except the United States, promote greater use of these two forms which are standard in American English (and seen many times in Canadian English):
plow draft (for all meanings).
We might want to hold our GH changes to just this. It is tempting to add those other cases where GH is pronounced as /f/, but there will likely be disagreement over exactly how to respell these. Most reform plans propose, say, tuf and laf as the new spellings for tough and laugh. However, Dan MacLeod notes seeing tuff, in his letter in JSSS J22, and in my article in the December 1996 Newsletter, I note finding tuff as well. Too, I have found several cases of laff, in print no less, but haven't seen laf anywhere. Rather than debating the merits of tuf vs. tuff, I think that for our initial set, we're best off to avoid potential disagreements which could drag the thing down. Let's go with those changes that we and others agree on (those words listed in the paragraphs above), and save these unsettled points (how to respell tough, laugh, etc.) for later.

There has never been complete agreement on how to respell thought, bought, etc. - some want thot for thought, some think it should be thaut, still others support a third or fourth way - so I think those too are best left off for now.

-OGUE > -OG and -ISE > -IZE.

The -Logue to -Log changes as in catalog are modest; these aren't the highest frequency words, nor is the -LOGUE ending the most trecherous aspect of English spelling. However, these form a group of changes with 'momentum' - as noted, the -OG variants are for the most part dictionary-accepted, and having something that already has some official sanction, in my opinion, lends a credibility to the movement. So, for most of the English-speaking world (excepting the U.S.) add:
And for all countries, promote:
analog dialog monolog travelog deolog prolog epilog.
You can also include -GOGUE to -GOG changes:
synagog demagog pedagog
I stated above that, of the words where -ISE is currently standard thruout the English-speaking world, a few have variants with -IZE listed in dictionaries. So, let's also promote all -ISE to -IZE changes - stress the current American -IZE forms in other countries, and promote the remaining changes everywhere. For all, for starters, promote those that are variants in American English:
advertize surprize comprize merchandize (verb) exorcize
(There is a problem, I will readily admit, on adopting the spelling advertize: What do we do when we come to advertisement, given that some people pronounce the ISE as /s/ or /iz/ while others say it as /aiz/? This is indeed a problem, and granted, one not yet with a solution. However, I promote advertize because it is in some dictionaries, and I think such things can really help us get moving.)

And we could add remaining ones (which aren't yet variants anywhere); among these are:
compromize disguize guize surmize exercize enterprize chastize franchize
With this class of words, as with all initial reforms, I think we should be prepared to only go part way at first if it turns out that some individual changes get a better reception than others. There might, say, be a willingness to go with compromize, enterprize, and changes to the other -MISE and -PRISE words, and at the same time be, say, a strong resistance to writing sunrize and clockwize, or to revize and incize. If that occurs, let's be willing to go with only some changes rather than trying for all, to at least get the thing going.

Part of Lindgren's SR1.

Now, shouldn't we show the public that we want to go beyond that? In my personal opinion, no. However, the general feeling in our organization is that we should be pioneering some new types of changes as well. With that in mind, if we wish to add something else, I recommend adopting part of Harry Lindgren's SR1, which advocates regularly spelling short /E/ just as E.

Why SR1? We pretty much all agree that OUGH is a priority for change, but there are many opinions as to what should be delt with beyond that. However, I have noticed a number of reformers giving fairly high priority to changing EA to E when a short /E/ is sounded.

As I've stated, I believe that the changes we make in our 'first step' should not be too great. And another reason that I believe SR1 is a good one to go with is because the changes don't alter too much of the word's form. Many, admittedly worthwhile, changes are rejected by 'the public' because the new form is 'too different looking' from the conventional spelling. SR1 has changes such as going from cleanliness to clenliness - no one has trouble immediately recognizing those as the same word, and I believe this will help in public acceptance.

Another, not unimportant, reason that I think we should choose the particular spellings listed below if we want to extend things a bit: this particular set is already 'in use' within the SSS, as it's part of the Simpl Speling 'house style'.

I've been told that there were some objections to SR1, especially concerning words such as eny, agen, sed, where it was noted that not all English speakers used those pronunciations. (I am told that any is often pronounced like Annie in Irish English, for example.) Perhaps then a 'modified' SR1, minus these 'problem' words, could be what we use.

I noted above that it might be best to hold off on changing spellings where GH currently represents /f/, as disagreements over what spellings to use (one F or two) could bog us down unnecessarily. Similarly, with many SR1 words, potential disagreements may come up between reformers and 'the public' as to how to respell the words.

Reform plans would generally call for respelling ready as redy. But when I've seen this word respelled in advertizing and such, it's reddy (or even reddi). I've seen steddy (or steddi- in compounds). So, I suggest that we hold off on proposing changes where the form we propose might 'conflict' with what the public would go with.

The question here, of course, is whether to have one consonant after the E or to double that consonant. To avoid cases where this is an issue, I recommend just words where two or more consonants currently follow the short E sound.

Thus, the SR1 forms I recommend as an initial set:
helth welth stelth relm
wether fether lether hether frend
breth bredth brest abrest
clense clenliness trecherous trechery
delt ment lept dremt brekfast
I have left off gess and gest - there will likely be arguments that the dropping of the U here is not the same as the dropping of the A in breath or the I in friend. Again, I think that at the outset, we're best to avoid those changes that might raise additional objections - we can get to those later.

Conclusion: support first, reform second.

You may be looking over the words in the groups above and thinking, "But there aren't many changes here which would help children who are learning how to read and write." And you're right, there aren't. But organized spelling reform has been trying to get such changes implemented for over 120 years, and plans with any kind of sizable changes have never gained either wide or lasting support. There does, tho, seem to be a willingness to go along with a few changes.

From all I've read on reform and that I see at present, I believe that this can only be done in steps. We need to build support first, and win people over to the whole idea of changing spellings. These first words are not ment by any means to make a major reduction in spelling problems, but are to get the ball rolling; and the only way I see of doing that is to 'win over' a now-skeptical public by proposing just a few spellings, along the lines of what popular usage accepts.

Summing up, I think our main focus over the next several years should be getting more members, both to raise more revenue and to spread the word of the need for reform. And rather than being too concerned with finding the best possible scheme, I think we should adopt a small body of words which has a base in what others are already using, and that should be what we present to the public.


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