[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1987/2 pp17-25 later designated J5.]
[See Journal and Newsletter articles, Pamflet 15 and Cut Spelling by Chris Upward.]

Cut Speling - a Linguistic Universl? Part 1.

Christopher Upward.

Foloing coments from readrs on Cut Speling (CS) as demonstrated in th Simplified Spelling Society Newsletter J3 Sumr 1986 (pp.17-21), this articl incorporates sevrl amendmnts to th systm. Th most impornt ar:
i) letrs representing post-accentul shwa aftr palatized <c, s, t, x> and in th ending <-ual> ar kept (special, nation, actual ar not now cut to specl, natn, actul);
ii) letrs ar not cut if a hetrofone results (hopping, comma ar not now cut to hoping, coma);
iii) <rr> between vowl-sounds is not simplifyd, and final <ss, se> is not cut to <s>;
iv) th foloing letr-chanjes ar introduced
1. <gh, ph>=/f/=<f> (tuf filosofy), 2. /dz/=<j> (e.g. brij, jinjr), 3. <ig>=/ai/=<y> (e.g. syn, nyt).


1.1 Linguistic Universls and this articl.
David Crystal's Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics defines a linguistic universe as "a property claimed to be common for all languages" wich is "biologically necessary" [1]. This articl makes no such sweeping, profound, but ultimally perhaps unprovebl claims. Rathr, it has th mor modest aim of examning sevrl languajs, and abov al english, to see if over th centuris they hav tendd to shortn ther spelings. If so, then CS wud apear in an iluminating historic perspective. No longr, as it may now seem to som observrs, wud it be a somwat eccentric proposal that has insuficient regard for th fonografic principle. Insted, CS wud exemplify th norml, natrl process by wich riting systins ar graduly refined in th corse of time, avoiding upheval, but sheding th superfluus vestijs of erlir forms of th languaj.

1.2 Do languajs becom simplr over time?
Inseprbl from th qestion of th posbl simplification of riting systms is that of th simplification of languajs themselvs. Otto Jespersen rote: "the main direction of change in the development of our written alphabet has been towards forms requiring less and less exertion - and similar causes have led to analogous results in the development of spoken sounds". [2] We wud modify this statemnt to hylyt th way in wich chanjes in speech bring chanjes in th ritn forms in ther train. Thus th romance languajs gretly simplifyd th inflections found in latin, and ther ritn form has natrly folod this simplificatn, tho ritn french now lags seriusly behind th spoken form in this respect. Likewise th elabrat Old English systm of cases and jendrs has disapeard, as has its reflection in th ritn languaj. Modrn ritn english howevr retains numerus featurs of Midl English, especialy vowl-spelings, many of wich hav long cesed to corespond to pronunciation. Som of these featurs hav been subject to fonolojicl chanje (e.g. thru th vowl-shift), wile othrs hav becom entirely silent (e.g. <gh> in night). Th overal claim that languajs becom simplr over time is by no means th hole story (it ignors th developmnt of new forms by boroing from othr languajs, by compounding, by intrusion, etc.), but in practice we see it as a major tendncy afecting both th morfolojy and th fonolojy of european languajs. An incidentl aim of this articl wil be to sho how spelings hav developd, or faild to develop, in paralel with this process of morfolojicl and fonolojicl simplification.


2.1 Chinese.
Th non-alfabetic script of chinese dos not provide a specificly fonografic motiv for simplification, but th advantajs of simplifying th mor complex caractrs hav been recognized. It is reported in Writing without Letters [3] that from 1958-65 2,330 caractrs wer simplifyd wich containd on avraj 15 strokes each befor simplification but only 9 strokes each aftr it, as ilustrated by th foloing 4 exampls, th simplifyd caractr being th loer of each pair.

Simplified Chinese characters

Altho no letrs as such ar omitd, this reform has som afinity with CS, since both simplify lerning and riting.

2.2 Duch.
Jean-Marc Trouille's acount [4] of recent chanjes in duch speling describes a widespred tendncy to cut out letrs to mach pronunciation. Thus we hav <-sch> in many words cut to <-s>, as nederlandsch>nederlands, visch>vis, heerschen>heersen; and <ee, oo> cut to just <e, o>, as algemeene>algemene, noodig>nodig; likewise we hav <f> for <ph> and <t> for <th>, as philanthropie>filantropie. In th recent 'duchification' of som foren words howevr ther hav been instnces of lengthning, especialy wen <x> is replaced by <ks>, as text>tekst; lengthning is also seen in chic>sjiek, unit>joenit.

2.3 French. [5]
Of al languajs using th roman alfabet, th orthografy of french is perhaps th most problmatic aftr english. By th 12-13th centuris those latin letrs that wer no longr pronounced had been cut, and, as th orthografy then servd to indicate how chansons de geste wer to be red or sung aloud, it was fairly fonografic. But especialy from th 14th century legal rathr than littrry texts set th standrd, and fonografic representation was less importnt. Scribes tendd to insert extra silent letrs in ways wich ar familir from th developmnt of english speling too: ther wer etymolojizing or latinizing tendncis (insertion of <p> in corps, and - mistakenly - of <d> in poids, or expansion of povre to pauvre because of latin pauper); ther was th temtation to increse pece-work remuneration by pading out text with extra letrs (animaulx, genoulx for animaux, genoux); and letrs wer insertd to difrentiate homofones (mets aqired its <t> to distinguish it from mes). In jenrl, as in english, many letrs wer used to represent sevrl fonemes, and many fonemes cud be representd by sevrl letrs. Th forms that arose at that time hav been th basis of french speling evr since, and hav not kept pace with chanjing pronunciation. As in England, speling reform was a live isu in th 16th century, but acheved litl. Th foloing brief paragraf from 1534 with a transcription into modrn speling, givs som impression of th shortning of text that has ocurd:

- L'advis feut trouvé bon. Adoncques produict toute son armée en plein camp, mettant ses subsides du cousté de la montée. Le moyne print avecques luy six enseignes de gens de pied, et deux cens hommes d'armes, et traversa les marays, et gaingna au-dessus le Puy, jusques au grand chemin de Loudun.

- L'vis fut trouvé bon. Adonc produit toute son armée en plein camp, mettant ses subsides du côté de la montée. Le moine prit avec lui six enseignes de gens de pied, et deux cents hommes d'armes, et traversa les marais, et gagna audessus le Puy, jusqu'au grand chemin de Loudun. [6]
Th developmnt of diacritics from medeval scribal practices was haphazrd, but ther use ofn saved letrs, as seur>sûr, mesme>même, escouter>écouter. Th dictionris of th Académie Française cut many superfluus letrs in th 17-18th centuris (<h> in mélancholie, <l> in aultre, <c> in droict, <d> in advocat), and in fact, altho a 16th century text wil hav been longr than its modrn eqivalent, an erly 18th century text may wel hav been slytly shortr and hav used fewr diacritics. Th foloing sentnces, taken from a work [7] publishd in 1696, sho som of th difrnces:

- Bonʃoir, Meʃʃieurs, êtes-vous contens du ʃoupé.. Il ne ʃçauroit marcher... Joüons trente ʃols pour paʃʃer le tems... Voiez cette piece ici... Y a-t'il long-temps que vous le connoiʃʃez?... A vôtre service.

- Bonsoir, Messieurs, êtes-vous contents du souper?... Il ne saurait marcher... Jouons trente sous pour passer le temps... Voyez cette pièce ici... Y a-t-il longtemps que vous le connaissez?... A votre service.
Th last two centuris hav seen few chanjes, tho rhythme dropd its first <h>, and a number of comn forms hav regaind a lost silent letr (somtimes for reasns of morfolojicl regularity), as enfans>enfants, innocens>innocents, tems>temps.

In th erly 1960s th then ministr of education, M. Paye, set up th Beslais comission to examn posbilitis of simplifying french speling. Th comission recomendd "une réforme prudente", with sevrl patrns of regulrization but abov al th omission of letrs rufly in acordnce with th CS rules of cuting out letrs irelevnt to pronunciation, simplifying dubld consonnts and replacing <ph> by <f>; furthr shortning wud be acheved by using mor diacritics in place of letrs. Chanjes wud include th foloing shortnd forms, sevrl of wich hav a markd resembince to english CS: orthographe>ortografe, personne>persone, difficulté>dificulté, nommer>nomer, commission>comission, rapport>raport, effet>efet, supprimer>suprimer, consonnes>consones, théâtre>téâtre, rythme>ritme, pharmacie>farmacie, technique>tecnique, relais>relai, legs>leg, asseoir>assoir, acquérir>aquérir, stock>stok, oignon>ognon. This proposal has since been burid, but M. Leconte is launching a campain to revive it. [8]

2.4 Greek. [9]
Modern Greek, tho remarkbly close to its Ancient ancestr, has nevrthles undrgon a process of simplification. Howevr in th 19th and 20th centuris veneration of old forms led to th restoration of som oldr featurs, such as inflections, in th 'purifyd', traditionlist katharevousa form of th languaj advocated for oficial use; but since th return of democracy to Greece in 1974, th populr demotic form has prevaild. Even educated greeks had perenial problms with orthografy, especialy th accents, th breathings, th speling of /i/, and th dubl consonnts. In 1982 som reforms wer introduced by presidential decree into education and th civl service to combat these dificltis: grave and most circmflex accents ar merjd with acute, th dieresis is somtimes omitd, and a singl consonnt can replace a dubl consonnt in many words of non-greek orijn (italian capello 'hat' can be ritn καπέλο). On th othr hand, one regulrization reqires an extra letr: <-η-> in subjunctiv verb endings becoms <-ει->, as in th indicative. Th so-cald 'monotonic' or singl-accent systm that simplifyd th previus complex aray of diacritics was based chiefly on th foloing principls: th breathings ar abolishd, monosylabls ar ritn without an accent, and words of mor than one sylabl ar ritn with an acute accent over th stressd vowl. Exeptions ar alowd, to prevent som comn words becoming hetrografs. Th extent of simplification is shown by th fact that previusly th typsetr needd 13 difrnt alfas, acording to th diacritics reqired, but now ther is a choice only between alfa with and without acute accent. Th foloing sentnces (from Mackridge) ar givn first in traditionl and then in th new simplifyd monotonic orthografy:

Example of earlier Greek Simplified Greek.

2.5 Jermn.
Jermn too has seen fluctuation in th length of ritn words. Many forms in Midl Hy Jermn [10] texts (c.1200) ar shortr than ther modrn eqivalents, modrn digrafs freqently being ritn as singl letrs: niht> nicht, komen> kommen, got> Gott, wise> Weise, hus> Haus. Th shortr spelings represent pre-vowl-shift pronunciations, but conversely th erlir pronunciation cud also giv rise to a longr speling: genuoc> genug. Syncopation (th disapearance of sounds and ther letrs from th midl of words) has not been particulrly comn, but we note exampls such as th foloing: ambet>Amt, angest>Angst, arzet>Arzt, babest>Papst, dekein>kein, einlif>elf, endelichen>endlich, Engellant>England, etelich>eltich, gelouben>glauben, handelunge>Handlung, misselingen>mißlingen. Apocope has ocurd in lamp> Lamm, tump> dumm; caractristicly, english has not cut th coresponding letr in lamb, dumb.

In th 17th century many extra letrs wer insertd, som surviving today in surnames (Lüdtcke cud wel be ritn Lüdke), but th gradual standrdization of th languaj in th 18-19th centuris revertd toward mor economicl forms. In 1901 a confrnce atendd by Austrian and Swiss delegats decided that th silent <h> shud be dropd from words like Thier, Thor, Thür - but, out of defrnce to th Kaiser, not from Thron - and th forms Tier, Tor, Tür ar now standrd [11]. One longr form has been preferd over a comn shortr 19th century alternative th erlir <-iren> sufix on many loand verbs is now always <-ieren>: amüsieren.

Th speling of loan-words in jermn has somtimes been jermnized and therby ofn shortnd. Th widespred substitution of <k> or <z> for <c> (Akzent) dos not afect length, but wen <k> replaces <que>, it shortns: grotesk. Th germnization of french vowl-grafemes freqently shortns: affaire>Affäre, boutique>Butike, bureau>Büro, meuble>Möbel, gracieux>graziös, portrait>Porträt, raison>Räson. Direct modls for english CS ar a numbr of sufixs, as in Aggregat, aktiv, Kultur, Medizin, Prolog, and th midl vowl in Akustik. Forms like akut, abstrus perhaps also merit considration for english. A few jermnized forms on th othr hand hav lengthnd th orijnl french speling: annuel>annuell, ace>Rasse, charade>Scharade; and th comn <ie> ending as in Akademie is longr than th english singulr academy (but plural academies). It is notable that altho sylabografic <l> is familir from bavarian-austrian dialect forms like Dirndl, no advantaj was taken of its potential for econmy in jermnized spelings like abominabel. (In english CS this device is fuly exploitd, as in abomnbl.)

2.6 Italian. [12]
Italian has lost letrs in many contexts over th centuris: <h> has almost vanishd (huomo>uomo, honore>onore, theatro>teatro, christallo>cristallo), <ct> became <z> (direzione), <ph> became <f> (fisico, sferico), <n> is sliping in th vacilation between forms like constatare:costatare, initial <e> has gon from many words like spedizione, and ther has long been uncertnty as to wethr consonnts shud be dubld or not. One instnce of lengthning from th latin form is th replacemnt of intrvocalic <x> by <ss>, as in massimo.

2.7 Rusian.
Frank Knowles tels us [13] that aftr th Revolution so many redundnt letrs wer dropd from rusian (especialy th hard syn, Ъ) that Anna Karenina became 35 pajes shorv. Th paralel texts belo sho how th reform shortnd th ritn languaj:

Example of earlier Russian Simplified Russian.

2.8 Spanish. [14]
With its hyly fonografic orthografy, spanish has simplifyd and regulrized many of th latin forms it inheritd, most notably in th midl ajes by simplifying nearly al th dubld consonnts, as in th merjd prefix and root in abreviación, acomodación, adición, afección, agravación, alegación, anotación, aparición, aquistar (=acquire), asistente, atencivn. Consonnt clustrs that hav been reduced in speech hav also widely been reduced in riting. Th <p> in prompt, assumption has been dropd in pronto, asunción, and in th month setiembre th now silent <p> is ritn only by th oldr jeneration. An atemt has also been made to remove initial silent consonnts in words of greek derivation. Thus th new speling norms (Nuevas Normas de prosodia y ortografía de la Academia Española) promulgated for use from 1959 permitd words begining with <gn-, mn-, ps-> to drop th first, silent, letr, giving such forms as nomo, nemotecnia, sicología for th english gnome, mmemonics, psychology. Th reduced forms of these ofn rathr rare words hav only in part been adoptd, but th shortnd form seudo- for th prefix pseudo- is now widely used, and asthma is ritn asma. Greek-derived <ch> has been cut to <c> as in carácter, coral, crónico, but befor <e, i> is just chanjed to <qu>, as in quimera, química (=chimera, chemistry).

2.9 Discussion.
Skechy tho this survey is, th evidnce it provides clearly sujests a dominnt tendncy towards th shortning and simplification of spelings in many languajs. Somtimes shortning ocurs because sounds hav disapeard or because traditionl spelings wer unecesrly and/or confusingly cumbrsm, and somtimes simplification took th form of reducing th numbr of pen-strokes, rathr than th horizontl length of text. Cases of lengthning ar of varius typs: som wer motivated by (somtimes mistaken) fidelity to suposed etymolojy, som arose from th desire of scribes or printrs to improve ther remuneration by extending ther text, som wer intendd to distinguish homofones, som reflectd shifts from simpl vowls to difthongs or othrwise lengthnd vowls wich wer then spelt with a digraf, and som arose thru natrlization of loan-words. Wile th reasns for shortning and simplifying apear rationl and beneficial, som of th reasns for lengthning ar perverse and unhelpful; to that extent, it is hard to escape the conclusion that cuting redundnt caractrs is an esy, natrl procedure wile new ones hav ofn been insertd without regard for eficiency or facilitating litracy.


[1] David Crystal A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics Oxford: Blackwell, Second Edition, 1985, p.321.

[2] Otto Jespersen Language, its nature, development and origin London: George Allen & Unwin, 13th impression, 1968, p.262.

[3] M A French 'Observations on the Chinese Script', in W Haas (Ed.) Writing without letters, Manchester University Press, 1976.

[4] Jean-Marc Trouille 'Changes in the Spelling of Dutch' in Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J5 1987/2, pp. 14-16.

[5] Alfred Ewart The French Language, London: Faber & Faber, 2nd edition 1943, Ch. 4.

[6] François Rabelais La vie trés horrifique du grand Gargantua, in ed. Louis Moland 'Oeuvres de Rabelais', Paris: Éditions Garnier Frères, c.1919, p.130.

[7] De Veneroni Le Maitre Italien, Paris: Etienne Loyson, 1696, 7th edition.

[8] M Leconte 'Pour une meilleure orthografe', in Le Monde, 7-8 December 1986, p.11.

[9] Peter Mackridge The Modern Greek Language, Oxford University Press, 1985, pp.40-41, 367-68.

[10] Joseph Wright A Middle High German Primer, 5th edition revised by M O'C Walshe, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955, pp.193-227.

[11] Werner König dtv Atlas zur deutschen Sprache Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, 1978, p.109.

[12] Bruno Migliorini The Italian Language, ed. by T Gwynfor Griffith, London: Faber & Faber, 1984, pp.144, 180, 228-31, 237-38, 276-78, 322-23, 372-74, 421-25, 483-85.

[13] Francis Knowles 'Information Theory and its Implications for Spelling Reform' in Simplified Spelling Society Newsletter, J2 Spring 1986, p.13, §13.1.

[14] Colin Smith Collins Spanish-English English-Spanish Dictionary, Collins, 1971, 12th reprinting 1983, pp.xxxiv-v.

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Part 2. English.