[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J30, 2002/1 pp1,2]
[Also on this page: Schemes.]

[See Journal, Newsletter articles and Personal View by Steve Bett.]

Editorial.

Alternative Transcription Systems.

As the moderator of the phonology forum, one of the most common questions that I receive from those who are convinced that English needs reform is "What reform proposal should I support?" My answer has always been to study the options and make your own determination. For most, this is not a satisfactory answer.

Those who have lectured on the absurdity of English spelling know that it is possible to keep the audience as long as you do not suggest a specific reform. It is not hard to demonstrate the need for reform. [See the polyvalence chart or list of 18 ways to spell /u:/].

Once tuned-in to the irregularities, someone in the audience will ask, "What system of regularized English should we support?" "What system of respelling do you recommend?" For some, the answer is the latest system that I have worked up. But, many in the audience want something more. They want "a stable established system they can actively support."

Gregersen [JSSS J27 2000/1 pp16-18] added the following: Reformed spelling should not undermine traditional pronunciations and should try to accommodate as many varieties of English as the feasible with compromise forms from major classes of words. Some variant spellings will have to be admitted but they should, as much as possible, be kept to a minimum. Valerie Yule (p. 28 f) thinks that the morphemic principle can be integrated with the phonemic principle.

I have listed some of the alternatives below. The number of different schemes may number in the 1000's but there appear to be as few as three starting points. One of the key distinctions, found in several of the articles in this issue, is between spelling reformers who start by reducing irregularity, and alphabet reformers who start with a one sound per symbol.

Spelling Reform or Alphabet Reform.

Gregersen is a classic spelling reformer, he wants a regularized English to be as close as possible to the traditional system and is content with removing a few irregularities. Spelling reformers are convinced that the public will reject any proposal that requires changing more than 15% of the traditional spellings. [However many "mild" reforms actually respell over 35%]

Alphabet reformers acknowledge that removing just a few irregularities will minimize the visual shock but they feel that a Webster type reform will not have enough impact on the problems of teaching and learning to make it worth the trouble.

Some view mild reforms such as those endorsed by Teddy Roosevelt and McCormick as major changes in their beloved language. So seemingly unobtrusive reforms can create an opposition and a backlash.

Some alphabet reformers are revolutionaries like Benjamin Franklin who think that inconveniencing one generation will be worth the effort. Others like G.B. Shaw wanted an easy to write parallel phonemic system that would compete with the traditional writing system.

Alphabet reformers represent about 30% of the people who are attracted to the society so they need to be acknowledged rather than merely dismissed as impractical visionaries. While it is true that the Shaw alphabet appealed to less than a million people, Shavian represents only one of the possible Alphabet reforms. We have not really "been there done that" with respect to alphabet reform.

While alphabet reform [or an over 95% phonemic reform] is often characterized as a "non-starter," there are few successes that the supporters of gradual unobtrusive reforms can point to that puts them in a different category.

I have suggested that the way to introduce alphabet reform and pronunciation guide spelling is as a second writing system as is commonly done with IPA in an ESL classroom. This is an i.t.a. approach with something extra - a dictionary where the code remains as the pronunciation guide spelling. The problems with IPA is that it is not supported by standard keyboards and is not a particularly good transitional code.

World Vote.

If we poll the general public [see Wade's article on the World Vote], they may prefer "patches" such as thru for through, catalog for catalog, and perhaps unconshus, hite, (rend, axident, and nesesary to any systematic reform. However, the majority may still prefer no change to such small changes.

We have not studied any groups that have learned how to sound spell. Knowing better might have a profound effect on spelling preferences. It is still premature to close the book on alphabet reform and near 100% phonemic spelling.

Alphabet reformers start with a symbol for each speech sound and go from there. The starting point is a "phonographic alphabet" to use Twain's description, where each symbol represents one and only one of the 36 uncombined sounds of English speech. It is rather odd that we have to make this qualification since this is what we mean by an alphabetic writing system. The reason that Twain thought it was necessary was that the popular view of the alphabet as an ordered character set without any requirement that each character represent sound in any systematic unambiguous way.

Comparative Literacy.

A consistent theme in the JSSS during the past 20 years has been the comparative difficulty of non-phonemic writing systems. It is not that logographic or whole word systems do not work but that they are much more difficult to learn and use. Two articles summarize the recent findings that children learning transparent or consistent writing systems have it easier. For example, Italian children achieve a level of literacy in their "shallow" orthography after one year of study that is unmatched by children learning a "deep" orthography until their third year. [see p. 30]

-S B



Schemes.

There are a variety of different proposals to solve the alphabet problem in written English. Here are a few of the better known ones. New Spelling was one of the first to be endorsed by the Society and continues to have the greatest number of variants [three listed below]. Cut Spelling was the next scheme to be endorsed by the society because removing the redundant letters seemed like a logical 1st step.

RITEspel - Reduced Irregularity in Traditional English spelling - begins with cut spelling and cuts more irregularity. CAP systems use the capital letters as unique phonograms effectively doubling the available number of sound signs on a standard keyboard. SAMPA is a unigraphic cap system. Some CAP systems such as Shavian require a special font to convert to a non-roman visualization. Follick and Spanglish are digraphic systems that based on Middle English and Latin sound-symbol correspondences. Like the IPA, they are designed for an International audience familiar with the traditional Latin sound values.

KEY: TO-traditional, NuSpl-New Spelling, CAP-capitalized long vowels, IPA-International Phonetic Alphabet

Vowel
Rep*
Transcription System
author, year
Web Page
GP table
& rules
PV
No.
Active
Devel.
Group
Con-
verter
Dictionary
[on line]
Dict.
[book]
Book
NuSpl
NuSpl
NuSpl
NuSpl
New Spelling Ellis, 1900
ALC Fonetic Rond, 1980
Truespel T. Zurinskas, 1995
i.t.a. - J. Pitman 1960
Yes *Y
Yes *Y
Yes *Y
Yes *Y
--
12
--
--
No
Yes
Yes
No*
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
Yes+
No
?
Yes
No
No?
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
TO
NuSpl
Cut Spelling Upward, 1988
RITE - Bell, Rock, . . 2000
Yes No
Yes No
book
see 13
No
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
Cap
Cap
IPA
IPA
IPA
Unifon - J. Malone 1950
U2 [Unifon II] 2001
Saxon Spanglish, Bett, 2000
Follick / Nu Folik 1935
SAMPA - J. Wells 1989
Yes Yes
Yes Yes
Yes Yes
Yes Yes
Yes Yes
--
--
--
7
-
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
in dev
No
No
No
No
No* in dev
No
No
No
No
No
No
No
No*
No
Cited
No
No
Cited
Cited
IPA*
IPA*
Shavian - Read 1950
QuickScript - Read 1960
Yes Y
Yes Y
--
--
no
no
in dev.
no
No
no
No
no
Yes
No

Col l. Vowel Representation: There is about an 85% overlap among highly phonemic solutions to the alphabet problem. The main difference is in the representation of the long vowels and diphthongs.

Various solutions for long vowels

A scheme is a notational system for visualizing speech. The last typology was developed by Bob Brown in the 1990's. Bob used several divisions including normative and descriptive.

Col. 3. Most of the transcription systems have a Web page. A highly phonemic solution can be reduced to a simple symbol-sound correspondence chart. Systems with over ten exception rules are difficult to reduce to such a table. Rondthaler, for instance, insists that ALC SoundSpel cannot be represented as a simple set of grapheme-phoneme correspondences. Cut Spelling and RITE may be rule based but cannot be reduced to simple chart. There are just too many exception rules. The first task of a reform notation is to eliminate "code overlaps." It is O.K. to have several ways to represent a sound, but a symbol should not represent more than one sound. The first task might be to make English as simple as French, then we can set our sites on Italian.

Col. 4. If there is a PV (Personal View) the number is given here.

Col. 5. Active Development Group. Several orthographies are stable so the development group is only involved in developing teaching materials, new fonts, and a dictionary. Truespel just released a training CD with instructional audio clips.

Col. 6-7. A converter is a program that replaces traditionally spelled words with reformed spellings. Entire books can be quickly converted with the on-line converters or with the stand alone See Links.

Col. 8. A dictionary is actually an ordered list of traditional spellings with the appropriate reformed spelling. The correspondence table used for the converter could be published as such a dictionary but is rarely done. ALC Soundspel is the exception. The list in two transcriptions is titled: Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling. See Links.

Col. 9. Only about half of these schemes has been around long enough to be mentioned in a book. i.t.a. has the most mentions. See cut spelling handbook.

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