Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society 1987/2 p4 later designated Journal 5.]
[Also on this page: Esperanto.]

The House of Lords on English Spelling.

Edited by Chris Upward.

On 4 March 1987 the House of Lords debated The English Language for nearly two and a half hours. We here give relevant extracts from those speeches that had some bearing on spelling, as printed in Hansard pp.656-687.

The debate was opened by Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who had previously had a meeting with the Society's Chairman, Chris Jolly. He noted the large number of members of the House who had put down their names to speak. His address then included these remarks:

"The other day there were some alarming references to illiteracy - even in this country after 100 years of universal education... We obviously owe a duty to those children in respect of the English language.

We also owe a duty to those who honour and benefit us by learning English as a second language. When considering an improvement, we must do nothing, I venture to suggest, that may cause the break-up of the English language, as Latin, a world language, broke up into French and the other Roman languages...

My third object is to identify, if possible, the means by which any desirable improvement can be brought about easily, painlessly and economically... the main difficulty in learning English is the divergence between spelling and pronunciation. The examples are numerous. I intend to mention only one or two of the most notorious. The most quoted points the way to ease of improvement. It is, 'OUGH', as in bough, brought, cough, plough, though, through, thorough and many others. The Americans spell plough plow. We have no difficulty with that. That saves two-thirds, does it not? We could spell though as it was spelt in the 18th century - tho. That is a saving of 50 per cent...

How do we improve matters? The Americans have again showed the way. Theodore Roosevelt directed that all government writing should be in the new, improved and easier manner. That could be done right away by the government. The Department of Education and Science and its predecessors have been pretty obstructive in the past in this respect. However, the new Minister seems to have come along with a stick of ginger. I hope that the noble Baroness will tell us something about Professor Kingman's new committee which... has to report in 12 months.

The final method I would suggest is that we have a language commission like the Law Commission... A language commission could well carry out wide consultations, circulate green papers, and then put forward recommendations for making our language easier to learn."

Lord Ardwick, as second speaker:

"...I wondered whether he" (Lord Simon of Glaisdale) "meant making English itself easier to learn or simply making it simpler to learn the English language. Did he want to change the language or the learning situation? Was he wanting to impose on us that monstrous spelling reform which was Bernard Shaw's terminal sick joke? This I always regarded as being as dangerous as it is ugly."

Lord Kilbracken said:

"As a former sub-editor... I know the perennial problems that arise in writing English. Hyphenation, the use of capital initials and italicisation are always difficult problems. Is a word ending in the suffix '-ise', spelt I-S-E or I-Z-E?... there are often no hard and fast rules and an ad hoc decision must be made for each publication..."

Lord Elwyn-Jones referred to the Bullock Report:

"The report looked, among other things, at the difficulties of spelling... It concluded that English shares with French the disadvantage of being among the most complex in its spelling pattern. The majority of the committee remain unconvinced - by the case for national reform of the system of spelling for English. They thought the issues too complex and made no recommendations."

Baroness Hooper, for the Government:

"Changes in language and language use take place all the time in a living language but they do so naturally and gradually. I am not convinced that attempts to regulate or direct that process would achieve the desired results. Indeed, I am inclined to think that English would not be as universally spoken as it is if it were not that it is already much more simple and flexible than many other languages.

Even if it were possible to wave a wand and reform or simplify English spelling or grammar across the world, would that be desirable? The richness and variety of the English language are matters of which we are rightly proud, and many people would be sorry to see them lost even in the interests of greater simplicity.

The Government are therefore concentrating their efforts not on trying to change the English language but on trying to improve the way that it is taught...

... the Secretary of State... also regards that as a priority and that is why he has recently established the high level independent committee of inquiry... to advise on what pupils should know about the English language. The committee is chaired by Sir John Kingman, Vice- Chancellor of Bristol University, and has a distinguished membership drawn from education, industry and the arts.

The committee has already invited evidence from anyone with views on how English should be taught in schools, and in particular on the needs of society in present day England as they relate to an individual's ability to communicate in speech and in writing; to the skills of literacy and communications generally needed in a rapidly changing world; and to the training, both initial and in-service, of the country's teachers in relation to those needs.

... adult illiteracy cannot easily be quantified and consequently the available evidence is not always consistent. The National Child Development Study survey of 1981 found that 10 per cent. of 23 year-olds asked said that they had had reading problems since leaving school. Of those, 3 per cent. said that those problems had made things more difficult for them in everyday life. A recent MORI survey of a sample of the population of Rochdale found that 10 per cent. of teenagers asked said that they had some problems with reading and 13 per cent. had some problems with spelling. The findings of the Department of Education and Science's Performance Assessment Unit suggest that only a small minority of pupils aged 15 have great difficulty with reading or writing.



[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1987/2 p13 later designated Journal 5.]

The Spelling of Esperanto.

Arnold D. N. Pitt.

Arnold Pitt, BA, DBEA, ALAM, is a former Head of Remedial Department and now editor of Esperanto Teacher. This article expresses the author's views rather than the views of any Esperanto organization.

For anyone who wishes to reform language the path is strewn with frustration, whether the aim be to reform spelling in an ethnic language or to introduce an auxiliary, neutral language. Indeed the history of the spelling reform movement in many ways parallels that of Esperanto. Both have tried to influence those in authority and appeared to take two steps backwards for every step forward. Both have been supported by people who were ready to dedicate time and money to what appeared to them to be glorified common sense. Both have tried to work through the education system and met with little support and sometimes downright hostility.

In the case of Esperanto however these factors have not been limited to the English speaking world. Since English is at present as near as we have to a de facto world language, it may well be that reform of English spelling is now a world necessity rather than merely a national one.

There may well therefore be things the two movements can learn from each other in ways of getting their messages across. One of these is the sheer practicality of phonetic spelling. Esperanto is as near phonetic in its spelling as a language can be, and it comes as a surprise to most students of the language that they do not have to look up the spelling of any word they know how to pronounce nor the pronunciation of any word they know how to spell.

Esperanto uses the Latin alphabet with certain minor modifications. Many of the consonants sound as in English and for practical speech can be said to be the same. These are: <b, d, h, k, l, m, n, p, t, v, z>. Several more have the same value as the most common use in English: <f> as in farm (never as in of); <g> as in gate (never as in age); <s> as in star (never as infuse or sugar); <r> is lightly trilled as in trap and never used to extend a vowel. Two letters have quite different values to English: <c> has the /ts/ sound found in tsetse, and <j> has the <y> sound found in yes.

There are five additional consonants formed by the addition of a circumflex accent (ˆ). These are: < ĉ > as <ch> in church; < ĝ > as <g> in age or < ĵ >in jam; < ĥ > as <ch> in Scottish loch; < ĵ > as <si> in vision; < ŝ > as <sh> in ship. <q, x, w, y> do not occur in Esperanto.

The vowel system unlike English has only 5 vowel sounds compared with the approximate 20 of English. These are: <a> as in father (longer than in cat but shorter than in cart); <e> as in bed-, <i> as the <ee> in seen; <o> somewhere between the <o> in hot and the <ow> in narrow; <u> as the <oo> in boot.

The one semi-vowel <ŭ> is like our <w>, but except in non-Esperanto proper nouns it usually occurs in the diphthongs <aŭ> like <ow> in cow and <eŭ> like few in a Welsh accent. There are 3 other diphthongs: <aj> like <y> in try; <oj> like <oy> in boy; <uj> does not occur in English but is like <oo> in good followed by <y>.

It is worth comparing the vowels in the two languages. Most monophthong English vowels are included in a kind of scale of sound in the following sentence: shoes to sole, all clogs are done first and men say it's cheap. This scale of vowels is here given in the I.P.A., with the corresponding Esperanto vowels well spread out beneath them:

/u:, ʋ, o, ɔ:,  ɒ, ɑ:, ʌ, ɜ:, æ,  ɜ, e, ι, ɪ:/
<u><o><a><e> <i>.

Thus it does not matter very much if the vowel is not precise in its value since it is unlikely to cause confusion.

It may surprise readers to find that word-origins are easy to discover despite the phoneticized spelling. Can you guess the origins of the following Esperanto roots: kverel (from English); fenestr (from German and French); kverk (from Latin); kanjon (from Spanish). (Answers at end of article.)

A further strength of Esperanto spelling is that the sounds are much nearer to the international norm with <i> and <u> instead of New Spelling's <ee> and <oo>, and similarly among consonants, < ĵ > instead of <zh> and even <j> instead of <y>. On the other hand some people might dislike <kv> as a replacement for <qu>. I regret the use of diacritical marks, particularly the <ŭ> instead of <w>. To my mind a limited use of digraphs for the other accented letters would have been preferable. Diacritics are a confounded nuisance on a typewriter, almost impossible on my word processor, and too easily omitted in script. All these however are carping criticisms: both Esperanto and New Spelling show the indubitable value of consistency.

A new spelling in English gains from having regard to past spelling, and it is difficult to know whether this is more important than international custom. <i> for <ee> or <u> for <oo> leave the problem of distinguishing the sounds already signified by those letters. However, an acquaintance with Esperanto would help spelling reformers to see the value of phonetic spelling in everyday use and would demonstrate the pitfalls of diacritical marks. On the international stage a purpose-built International Auxiliary Language is a better solution to the language problem than tinkering with English.

Answers: kverel-quarrel; fenestr - G Fenster, F fenêtre, window; kverk - L quercus, oak; kanjon - S cañon, canyon.

GLOSA, evolved 1978 by Ashby & Clark from Hogben's INTERGLOSSA, claims to be the simplest international language, with vocabulary based on Latin & Greek. Its numbers are mo, bi, tri, tet, pen, six, sep, ok, non, dek or mo-ze, 11 = momo, 14 = motet, 100 = cento, 1,000 = kilo, 1987 = mo non ok sep. Vowels are pronounced as in fAther, thEy, machIne, mOre, lUnar, while the vowel in bIte is spelt <ae>. Consonants diverge from t.o. as follows: <c> as <ch> in riCH, <j> as <y> in Yes, <y> as <ee>, <th> = <t>, <ph> = <f>.

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