[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J26, 1999/2 p29]
[Also on this page: Letters from members, Literature received.]

See other Journal, Newsletter articles and Pamflet 15 by Chris Upward.

Lobbying Literacy Policy Makers
Tony Blair and David Blunkett

Chris Upward

JSSS J21 1997/1 (pp27-32), J22 1997/2 (pp33-34) and J24 1998/2 (pp33-34) carried correspondence between the SSS and various authorities responsible for literacy in the UK; and JSSS J25 1999/1 (pp33-34) carried correspondence with equivalent authorities in New Zealand. We here print our most recent correspondence with the UK authorities.

To: The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, M.P.
The Prime Minister's Office
10 Downing Street, LONDON SW1A 2AA

11 October 1999

Dear Prime Minister

Combating the Conservatism of English Spelling

Our Society was very struck by your call at this year's Labour Party conference for conservatism to be combated in all its forms, and for Britain to be modernized from top to bottom.

Our concern is with a particularly damaging form of conservatism, where modernization would benefit educational standards and written communication wherever the English language is used: the archaic and confusing spelling of so many of its words.

We congratulate the Government on already raising literacy standards. However, if we are to reach the standards so much more easily achieved in most advanced non-English-speaking countries, the problem of English spelling irregularity will have to be addressed.

As the homeland of English, Britain is well placed to give the world a lead in making the written language more learner- and user-friendly, and we will be glad to advise further on the practicalities of doing so.

What is needed is a long-term strategy for managing the modernization of English spelling. As a first step, we urge the Government to make known its intention to investigate the benefits and implications of initiating such a process.

We hope you can respond positively to our call for a particularly insidious manifestation of conservatism in our culture to be publicly acknowledged and its alleviation considered.

Yours sincerely
on behalf of the Society's Committee

cc The Rt. Hon. David Blunkett, M.P.,
Secretary of State for Education and Employment

DfEE Department for Education and Employment
Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street
Westminster, London SW1P 3BT

The Simplified Spelling Society

2 November 1999

Thank you for your letter of 11 October addressed to the Prime Minister concerning English spelling. Your letter has been passed to me for response as the National Literacy strategy falls within my team's responsibilities.

It is encouraging to hear from people like yourself who support the Government's desire to raise standards of literacy in our schools.

I understand that a colleague, Simon Conroy, has replied on behalf of the Secretary of State. I attach a copy for your information.

Yours sincerely
Jan McIntosh, Literacy Team

To: The Rt. Hon. David Blunkett, M.P.
Department for Education and Employment
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street

11 October 1999

Dear Secretary of State

Combating the Conservatism of English Spelling

Our Society has pleasure in sending you a copy of a letter we are addressing to the Prime Minister on the subject of literacy standards and English spelling.

We hope that you may have the opportunity to discuss this with the Prime Minister as a possible developing feature of your literacy policy. We would naturally be glad to discuss the matter further with you.

Yours sincerely
on behalf of the Society's Committee

DfEE Department for Education and Employment
Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street
Westminster, London SW1P 3BT

The Simplified Spelling Society

29 October 1999

Thank you for your recent letter to the Secretary of State concerning literacy standards and English spelling. I have been asked to reply on his behalf.

It is very interesting to read a copy of the letter you have sent to the Prime Minister and I know he is as interested as I am to hear ideas from those who care about raising standards of literacy in our children.

The Government is committed to raising standards, not only in literacy but also in numeracy and that is why we have introduced the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies for primary age pupils. The Key Stage 2 results this year suggest that the strategies are working, with a 5% increase in literacy and a 10% increase in numeracy. However we are not complacent and we are aware that there is much to be done, we need to build on these achievements. Thank you for your letter.

Yours Sincerely
Literacy and Numeracy Operations Team

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J26, 1999/2, pp35,36]
Also on this page: Lobbying letters. Literature received.


Letters are welcomed on any matters raised by items appearing in JSSS, or on any observations or experiences relating to spelling that readers may wish to report.

SeeJjournal articles by Madhukar Gogate.

Parallel routes.

I advocate a parallel route, as I feel it is impossible to rectify English with its present orthography. People in all five continents are familiar with the system. Books, newspapers, signboards, software, dictionaries, grammar books, etc, are geared to present orthography. Governments, publishers, employers, schools are supporters of existing orthography. Whole establishment in English countries favours current system. By English countries, I mean UK, USA, Canada, Australia, NZ and not just England. A better term would be EMT (English Mother Tongue) countries. Non-EMT countries are making increasing use of English language.

At present EMT = 300 million, English-knowing non-EMT = 400 million. Among non-EMT, there are about 40 million persons in India. Non-EMT people are interested in their own languages and likely to oppose English spelling reforms. Our priorities in India are how to control population explosion, how to stop communal riots, how to remove poverty. There is absolutely zero interest in India about English spelling reforms. We have spent millions of dollars buying and making books to teach English, making signboards and using English for all high level business, and we cannot allow that investment to go waste. We learn English spellings by heart, but then whole business opportunities and modern knowledge become available to us.

We have our various scripts, which help us to write pronunciations while we learn English. For example, in my school days, I used an English-Marathi dictionary, with pronunciations and meanings in Marathi script. Thus English in Marathi script is a parallel route for me. That inspired me to design a Roman-script-based new route for English. If some SSS members feel that the English spellings can be reformed within the original route, I would say my best wishes are with you. Please go ahead. If SSS Constitution does not permit a parallel-route solution, please ignore my views.

Language is like a flood. It is difficult to control it. It is difficult to change Hindi, Marathi, French orthographies too. The problem is not that of English alone. But a parallel route has a chance of success. I tried Roman script as an optional scheme for Marathi etc, but I could not convince people. But now I find Roman script being used actively by Marathi people for email. Thus, a parallel route has suddenly opened! People use it with any symbol-sound relations, but a time may come to standardize. A change within existing orthography is not as simple as changing from feet-inches to metres. We measure quantities like feet, kilograms maybe for two minutes in a day. But we read, write, print a language for say eight hours in a day. I look to future. Mankind needs a link language after all. English, with reformed spellings, could be that language. This parallel route could be called Globish.

Madhukar Gogate, Pune, India

See Journal articles and Personal View 11 by Zé do Rock.

Collapse of anti-reform party.

I agree that the spelling cant be chainged overnite in all english speeking cuntries. The german reform was at first only for scools and state departments. The german reform says that til the yeer 2005 the old spelling is considered obsolete but not rong. After that it wil be considered rong.

As reformers, we wouldnt be forcing enywun to uze the new spellings, except that scools would hav to teech it.

Az the traditional spelling would remane axeptabl in english, sum peepl mite continue using it, but start gradually uzing reformed words, especially the mor thay see them ritten. Sum of thees peepl mite axept it but not be sure how to uze it. Uther peepl mite not axept it but sloly get used to it, az it is happening in Germany. Sum would certainly start uzing it altho thay didnt axept it.

The democratic state cant force eny citizen or organization to spel acording to the new spelling - only their own employees, like eny cumpany, wich in the case of the state, meens teechers and oficials.

But the moment the german news agencies decided to spel with the new spelling, all the papers swiched to it, eeven the most conservativ wuns, eeven Der Spiegel, wich swor 2 yeers ago that it would never rite in it. Peepl ar complaning less and less. The book publishers ar chainging gradually, az thay'r afrade students and pupils wont reed their books because utherwize thay'd get confuzed.

It's funny. Now that the reform has been introduced, all the histeria has gon. Eeven Schleswig-Holstein, where the protestors wun a referendum, is sloly 'going bak' to the new spelling, arguing that thay hav to spel like the rest of the cuntry. The papers in Schleswig-Holstein ar riting in the new spelling, so it is getting ridiculous and confuzing for the students to stik to the old spelling. Parents stopped complaning, only the most fanatic anti-reformers ar stil trying to save wat thay can.

The anti-reformers argued that the reform would cost 4 billion marks, but if that is tru (certainly you can make a calculation where that is tru, az well az a calculation where you prove that the cuntry would make a profit of 4 billion) it would cost anuther 4 billion marks to go bak to the old spelling. Suddenly thay didnt care about the costs enymor.

Zé do Rock, München (Munich), Germany

See Journal articles by John J Reilly.

Kounting c.

I did a word count for C and K as used in a list of the 1000 most common words. (My ambitions to do a program for the purpose collapsed when I realized I would have to devise an algorithm for how to pronounce the words. If you could write an algorithm, we would not need spelling reform. Ah!) In any case, the results are pretty lopsided:

There are also 6 instances of Q = /k/ in this list.

A particularly interesting finding is the rarity of K = /k/ as an initial letter. C = /k/ occurs 67 times as the first letter of a syllable, though in no case does C = /k/ occur before e or i. K = /k/ occurs just 12 times at the beginning of a syllable. On the other hand, C = /k/ occurs non-initially only 22 times, while K = /k/ occurs non-initially 31 times. In every case where K is non-initial in a syllable, it is either final or would be final but for an ending. (e.g., works) or a silent letter (e.g., like).

There seems to be a surprising amount of regularity here.

John Reilly, New Jersey, USA

See Journal articles by Jean Hutchins.

Pros and cons of speech synthesis.

The successful use of a speech synthesizer with regularized spelling is exellent news. I gather that speech-activated computers ar stil quite trublsum largely becos of the vagaries of English spelling.

Voice activated software or voice recognition software is used successfully by many, especially dyslexics and people who cannot use keyboards for long periods for various reasons. Such software is remarkably clever in what it does achieve.

The problems are: that the software needs very high specification computers, the user needs to learn the system and remember to speak consistently, to have the skill of composing orally, and to say punctuation and commands exactly. The system always enters correctly spelled words, but these may not be the words you want a) because your words are not yet in its dictionary b) you have mumbled them. The big problem for dyslexics is proof-reading, because they cannot tell whether it has entered the words they want.

Jean Hutchins, SSS Mem Sec. Surrey, UK

Testing reform proposals by speech synthesis.

I just tried a little test on two versions of a passage, one in Cut Spelling, the uther using miscellaneous respelling rules (RITE). I fed the texts into the speech sinthesis engin of Dragon Dictate, tu see how it wood cope.

The engin looks first for correctly spelled words in TO, and then uses a look-up tabel to find the rite pronunciation, and words not found ar then pronounced according to a set of 'Fonic Rules' intended to gess the best possibl mach.

I hav tu report that the RITE speech waz rite, but the CS version caused a few trips, especially th, wich was sounded out as tee aich. RITE was the cleer winner.

I will repeet the test with longer passages and report on the outcum.

Damian Bonsall, Cheshire, UK

Heavy diacritics.

During my 14 months in Vietnam, I've picked up some information about the Vietnamese writing system. It uses the Roman alphabet with lots of diacritical marks to indicate tones. The Roman alphabet was introduced about 150 years ago by a French priest, at which point the Chinese writing system previously used for Vietnames was dropped.

The Roman system seems close to 100% regular, but it's very cumbersome with so many diacritical marks. Also, there are some strange choices, with Ð meaning /d/, but D (without that horizontal line) meaning /z/! Also, some of their sounds do not convert; for example, in Ngoc the final C is a C and a P combined. Further, Minh is two thirds of the way between Min and Ming, but actually neither. I know some educated Vietnamese who could write up the merits and demerits of their system in good English, but they wouldn't see them from a Western viewpoint. I imagine romanized Chinese pinyin lacks tonal marks, so is only a rough guide to speech; Vietnamese writing is much more exact.

Mell Carey, Hanoi, Vietnam

See Journal articles by John J Reilly.

American Editor for JSSS.

We are pleased to announce that John J Reilly has agreed to serve as the Journal's American editor. Contributions from countries on the American continent should in future be sent to him, instead of to the Editor-in-Chief.

Literature Received.

In the past 6 months JSSS has received the following publications:

1. From American Literacy Council Literacy Bulletin Board, Bulletins. 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11.

2. Department for Education and Employment Improving Literacy and Numeracy. A fresh start (The report of the working group chaired by Sir Claus Moser).

3. English, the Journal of the English Association, Vol.48, No. 191, Summer 1999; No.192 Autumn 1999.

4. English Association Newsletter, No.161, Summer 1999; No.162, Autumn/Winter 1999.

5. English Today, No.59, July 1999, No.60, October 1999.

6. Language and Literacy News, newsletter of the United Kingdom Reading Association, Summer 1999, Autumn 1999.

7. nfer news, Spring 1999, from National Foundation for Educational Research, Slough, UK.

8. QUEST, the Journal of the Queen's English Society, No.72, July 1999.

9. Reading, July 1999, Vol.33, No.2 July 1933; No.3 November 1999; from UK Reading Association.

10. Rechtschreibung, newsletter of the Bund für vereinfachte rechtschreibung (Federation for simplified spelling), Zürich, No.178, June 1999: No.179. October 1999.

11. Sprachreport, from the Institut für deutsche Sprache, Mannheim, Germany, 2/1999, 3/1999.

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