[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J27, 2000/1 p2]


Chris Upward

Strategy options

The new edition of the Society's Principles & Practicalities leaflet circulated with this issue of JSSS should perhaps be considered in the following context.

The Simplified Spelling Society has always operated on two levels, the theoretical level of orthographic design and the practical level of public representation. At certain points in its history it has been able to take at least a first step toward combining the two, applying an orthographic design to the teaching of literacy: New Spelling in a few schools in the UK in the first half of the 20th century, and the Initial Teaching Alphabet (organized by SSS members, though not an SSS project as such) in thousands of schools in several countries for a couple of decades in the second half of the 20th century.

Landmarks though these projects were, providing crucial evidence and a high public profile for the advantages of simplified spelling, ultimately they failed to advance the cause of simplifying the way the English language is written. By implication the SSS last year acknowledged an underlying reason for this failure, when a majority of members voted against promoting any 'big bang' spelling reform (such as NS and the i.t.a. in effect were) that attempted to right all the wrongs of today's spelling at one fell swoop. Such schemes, it was recognized, could neither be publicly acceptable nor implementable on a world scale.

This had already been recognized by some, at least since the 1950s, and had motivated partial reform concepts over the years such as Regularized English (Axel Wijk), SR1 (Harry Lindgren), Cut Spelling (Yule/Upward), LOJIKON (Govind Deodhekar) and others. Currently in preparation is a further proposal, known by the acronym RITE, being created by a group of SSS-members through a process of email voting on a score of suggested mini-regularizations. Accompanying all these possibilities is the continuing question for the non-American-spelling world of whether the adoption of American in place of British variants could offer a worthwhile reform too.

So with a handful of possible Stage 1 reforms in its quiver, how should the SSS deploy them? It appears likely that a 'best' Stage 1 proposal will never be found and perhaps can never exist: all have pros and cons. One purpose of the enclosed leaflet is to provide a guide, both for SSS members and for the public, through the many types of reform that might lend themselves to promotion in different circumstances. For instance, an opportunity for promoting American spellings has just arisen in New Zealand, as we shall report in JSSS 28. With such a menu of different reform schemes, the SSS should be in a position to respond to whatever opportunities arise.

Some features of this issue.

This issue celebrates the millennium, or rather the turn of the century, with two distinctive items, one harking back to the early 20th, the other casting a prophetic eye forward to the turn of the 21st-22nd centuries.

William Archer's 'Etimolojikal Arguement' first appeared in 1909, but was judged important enough in 1941, 17 years after its author's death, to be re-issued as the SSS's Pamphlet No.3. It offers a rich reading experience. Written in the substantially phoneticized Nue Speling system (developed by Archer with Walter Ripman), it provides valuable experimental material on which to test the 'forward compatibility' (ie, readability) of a 'big bang' reform. Readers may like to note how long it takes before fluent reading sets in (if it does), and whether certain spellings remain stumbling blocks to the end (and if so, which?). In addition, the pamphlet both gives and is itself determined by historical context: it delves into the history of English word-forms and of ideas for their reform, but is itself a historical document, reflecting British social, cultural and educational conditions in the first decade of the 20th century and the kind of spelling reform the SSS then thought feasible.

By contrast, Ed Rondthaler's sci-fi compilation of alternative literacy reports from a New York Times of 2100 gives plenty of scope for the imagination.

Adam Brown's critical appraisal of the role of phonemes as a basis for spelling reform gives a useful corrective to the assumption that all that written English needs is for a given symbol to be allocated to the consistent representation of each sound. He reminds us that the concept of the phoneme was devised as a tool for analyzing how languages are pronounced and cannot be considered (least of all in English with its huge variety of accents) as a necessarily objective, absolute feature of the language that can be pinned down alphabetically. This point is abundantly reinforced by differing views on pronunciation aired in recent email discussion by SSS members.

The report on how news agencies have handled the recent German reform gives a useful view of one of the practical consequences of spelling reform: the way in which the press can help (or hinder) reform, while itself being driven along by the reform.

The text of the Society's recent submission to the British Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Education appears under our 'Lobbying Literacy Authorities' rubric. It was perhaps a long shot, as the sub-committee's brief chiefly concerned pre-school education; but at least it gave the SSS the opportunity to make its views known to politicians in the UK.