[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1988/3 pp.30-33 later designated J9]
[Edward Rondthaler: see Journals, Newsletters, Anthology, Bulletins, Personal View 8, ALC web.]

Updating Edward Rondthaler's Simplified American Spelling.

Many readers will already know Ed Rondthaler's major work, the Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling, with its associated computer program for converting TO automatically into the new orthography. Ed Rondthaler has always been open to discussion and suggestion, and has been steadily refining the system; we here present the 1988 update. It is a mark of his generosity towards the Simplified Spelling Society that he has made copies of his Dictionary available free of charge, and we have now received further copies of the 1986 edition. We follow the Update below with a review of the Dictionary from Valerie Yule.

1988 changes in 'American' spelling.

The December 1986 'scholars' edition' of the American Spelling Dictionary was issued with a call for suggestions to improve compatibility between traditional spelling and American spelling, to clarify the rules and, where possible, to provide better phoneme-grapheme correspondence.

Change 1: Terminal <-s> replaces terminal <-z> in plurals, possessives, and 3rd person present singulars.

A weakness of American spelling is the use of the suffix <-z> (and <-ez>) for most plurals (roomz, wishez), for possessives (carz), and for third person singular present tense (he cheerz, she singz, it runz; he pleezez, she loozez, it cauzez). This frequent use of suffix-<-z> is uncomfortable to present readers.

Suffix <-z> easily changes to suffix-<-s> (and <-es>) when it is understood that in plurals, possessives, and third person singular the suffix <-s> is normally given a <z>- sound (rooms, wishes, cheers, sings, runs, has, mobs, beds, car's, gums, sisters; pleezes, loozes, cauzes) - unless it is audibly impossible to do so (its, lips, baks, reefs, fifths, tonics). This takes advantage of a 'predictable generality' in our traditional orthography. In speech we normally give suffix <-s> a <z>-sound after voiced phonemes when the resulting inflection is plural, possessive, or third person singular present tense. Predictable generalities in traditional English spelling are often cited as an explanation for our illogical spelling. Most generalities in English spelling, however, have unpredictable exceptions, and are 'predictable' only to those who have already learned the exceptions. The use of suffix <s> pronounced as /z/ for plurals, possessives, and present tense third person singulars has no exception in American spelling.

Replacing suffix <-z> with suffix <-s> in these circumstances affects 67% or 6107:53335 of the plurals and present third person singulars. (The remaining 33% are already written with suffix <-s>: <cs, fs, ks, ps, ts>, and voiceless <ths>.) This change makes many more words - about 4.4% on an average page - identical with or significantly closer to traditional spelling. It also removes 3 important words (is, his, has) from the 'sight word' list.

TO
1986
1988
TO
1986
1988
rooms
roomz
rooms
runs
runz
runs
wishes
wishez
wishes
lips
lips
lips
car's
carz
car's
its
its
its
cheers
cheerz
cheers
fifths
fifths
fifths
movies
moovyz
moovys
backs
baks
baks

Change 2: Terminal <-s> in other uses.

The above change leaves about 1,000 root words - words without suffixes - ending with an <s>-sound:

English
American
class
clas
condense
condens
dance
dans
atlas
atlas
service
servis

Very few <s>-ending roots have a <z>-sounding 'twin'. Fortunately <s>-enders are largely one-of-a-kind. There are, for example, no such words as:

clazcondenzdanzatlazserviz

Thus a single <s> serves the reader as sufficient signal for the terminal <s>-sound:

clascondensdansatlasservis

In the occasional case where an <s>-ending root does indeed have a <z>-sounding twin, context will make the meaning clear, precisely as it does in speech:
Thair ar six tens in sixty.
It was a tens meeting.
She goes at a fast paes and paes her dets promptly.
It should be pointed out, of course, that endings in <z>- sound that are neither plural, nor possessive, nor third person present tense will continue to be written with terminal <z>.

TO
1986
1988

But:
TO
1986
1988
jazz
jaz
jaz

closes
cloezez
cloezes
glaze
glaez
glaez

rises
riezez
riezes
fuse
fuez
faez

flies
fliez
flies
rise
riez
riez

bees
beez
bees
close
cloez
cloez

Change 3: <ur> becomes <er>.

The distinction between <er> (unstressed) and <ur> (stressed) as shown in the 1986 dictionary, is dropped in favor of <er> in all cases. This eliminates the first two sentences of Rule 5 p.15 in the 1986 Dictionary.

The change affects 2.3189%, or about 12 words on a page. (2006:23189)

TO
1986
1988
TO
1986
1988
third
thurd
therd
learn
lurn
lern
urgent
urjent
erjent
turned
turnd
ternd
adversity
advursity
adversity
perverter
pervurter
perverter
early
urly
erly
fern
furn
fern
lurks
lurks
lerks

Change 4: <uur> changes to <ur>.

The above change frees the digraph <w-> for other uses. It replaces <uur>, thus reducing the frequency of the unfamiliar <uu> digraph by 26%. This limits <uu> to about half the frequency of <oo> - to once in every 83 words rather than once in every 60.

Changing <uur> to <ur> would affect 0.4493%, or 2 words per page. (213:4493)

TO
1986
1988
jury
jury
jury
sure
shuur
shur
plural
pluural
plural
your
your
yur
neuritic
nuuritic
nuritic
touring
tuuring
turing
pleurisy
pleurisy
plurisy

Note: <ur> preceded by <c> retains the <er> pronunciation: curb, ocur, curent

Change 5: Unstressed <ue> becomes <eu>.

TO   accumulate
1986   acuemuclaet
In normal speech we have three variations of pronunciation for long <u>:
1) Stressed as in unit
2) Unstressed as in unite
3) Diluted as in the second <u> of accumulate.

The third variation is best described as a diphthong consisting of 'half long <ee> plus schwa' (i.e. schwi + schwa). The American 1986 <ue> spelling for schwi + schwa is unsatisfactory. It does not represent the sound. A new American digraph - <eu> - diluted and always used medially, is a better representation. See Rule 14, page v.

This change would affect 0.2426% or about 1 word per page. (386:2426)

TO
1986
1988
TO
1986
1988
TO
1986
1988
1988
accumulate
acuemuelaet
acuemoulaet
monument
monuement
moneument
attribution
atribueshun
atribueshun
atribeuting
communist
comuenist
comeunist
muscular
muscuelar
musceular
argue
argue
argue
argeument
ambulance
ambuelans
ambeulans
soluble
insoluebl
insoleubl
ridicule
ridicuel
ridicuel
ridiceulus

Such <ue/eu>change in a derivative is rare.

Change 6: <y> as a consonant. <e, i, y> as half-ee (schwi) vowels.
Eliminating <lly> affects 0.0610%, or one word on every 4th page. (68:610)

TO
1986
1988
TO
1986
1988
million
millyon
milyon
bilious
billyus
bilyus
millionaire
millyonair
milyonair
cognac
connyak
conyak
brilliant
brillyant
brilyant
familiar
famillyar
familyar
familiarrity (6 syllable)

Eliminating <nny> affects 0.1076% or 1 word on every 2 pages. (85:1076)

TO
1986
1988
TO
1986
1988
onion
unnyon
unyun
communion
comuennyon
comuenyun
union
uennyon
uenyun
senior
seennyor
seenyur
convenience
conveennyens
conveenyuns
saviour
saevuer
saevyur

Wording of the vowel-<y> Rule 3, page v, will be:

"The vowel known as 'schwi' (1/2-ee) is heard in the first <e> of between, the second <i> of trivial, and the final <y> of yearly. It has a tonal quality midway between long-ee and short-i. It always ends a syllable. It is never stressed. In the first syllable of a word it is written <e> (evict, befor, reality). Medially it is written <i> preceding <ly> or any vowel except <e, i> (historian, abreeviaet, champion, patio, patioes, auditorium, hapily). Elsewhere it is written <y> (hapyest, chilyer, bountyful, carrying, victory, victorys)."

Change 7: <nn> becomes <n>.

It has been suggested that the awkward <nn> Rule 6, p.15 of the 1986 ASD could be eliminated by stating that the prefixes <en-, in-, un-, con-> deactivate the digraph <ng> (engulf, ingres, unglamorus, conglomeret) unless the <ng> digraph is followed by <g> (conggres).

This change would affect 0.0191%, or 1 word in every 10 pages. (46:191)

TO
1986
1988
engulf
engulf
engulf
ingress
inngres
ingres
unglamorous
unnglamorus
unglamorus
conglomerate
conglomeret
conglomeret
congress
congress
conggres

Change 8: off, oss, ong.

A more accurate wording for Rule 7 on p.15 of the 1986 Dictionary:
"Short <o> followed by <ff, ss, ng> (offer, cross, long) is frequently pronounced <au> as auto, or midway between short <o> and <au>."

Change 9: due, tue, nue

Rule 13, page v, eliminates the need for two-thirds of p.293 in the 1986 ASD.
"When the long vowel <ue> is preceded by <d, t, n> (duty/duety, tune/tuen, numeral/nuemeral) it is frequently pronounced <oo> or midway between <ue> and <oo>."

Change 10: Improving awkward combinations.

The most unfamiliar combinations of letters in the 1986 American spelling are unstressed <choo, zhoo, joo>:

TO
1986
TO
1986
TO
1986
casual
cazhooal
usual
uezhooal
eventually
evenchooaly
infatuate
infachooaet
situation
sichooaeshun
virtuoso
verchoooeso
actual
akchooal
intellectual
intelekchooal
throughout
throoout
individual
indivijooal
graduate
grajooaet

This unfamiliarity has been reduced in 1988 American by taking advantage of the 'generality' that frequently employs <u> to represent the "unstressed co-sound followed by a vowel" in traditional spelling (casual, infatuate, virtuoso)

This leads to Rule 12, page v:
"When the unstressed co-sound follows <j, ch, zh> it is written <a>."

TO
1986
1988
TO
1986
1988
TO
1986
1988

casual
cazhooal
cazhual
usual
uezhooal
uezhual
eventually
evenchooaly
evenchualy
infatuate
infachooaet
infachuaet
situation
sichooaeshun
sichuaeshun
virtuoso
verchoooeso
verchuoeso
actual
akchooal
akchual
intellectual
intelekchooal
intelekchual
throughout
throoout
thruout
individual
indivijooal
indivijual
graduate
grajooaet
grajuaet


[Valerie Yule: see Book, Journals, Newsletters, Media, Anthology, Bulletins, Personal View 10 and web.]

Edward Rondthaler Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling.

Review by Valerie Yule.

Edward Rondthaler & Edward Lias Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling: an alternative spelling for English, New York: the American Language Academy, 312pp., US$12.00 (US$13.50 overseas).

Valerie Yule is now based at the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Clayton, Vic., Australia, but was previously Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Psychology, University of Aberdeen. This review was written before the announcement of the 1988 changes to Simplified American, as listed in the previous item in this Journal.

Authors and background.

One of the last frontiers for the application of science, curiously enough, is improvement of the writing system for the English language. In the eyes of many it remains an impossible dream - a realm for armchair argument and eccentrics. There are straws in the wind that this situation may be changing, although this dictionary can hardly be called a straw.

It is the work of two men who have been pioneering spirits in other fields. Dr Edward Rondthaler was one of the founders of modern photolettering and typesetting techniques, and is still active as President of Photolettering Inc., and Chairman Emeritus of the International Typeface Corporation, the firm responsible for 90% of contemporary typefaces. Dr Edward Lias, the author of Future Mind, is an international consultant specialising in emerging technology and the study of the future, a Director of Worldwide Educational Information Systems, Unisys, Inc., made up of both Sperry and Burroughs. It is understandable that such a combination of inventive minds in two fields of visible communication should turn to the biggest communication problem still facing the English-speaking world - its spelling.

The computerised dictionary of 44,000 words they have produced is actually an historical landmark. Firstly, it demonstrates how the technological problem of printing and transliteration in an improved English spelling which once appeared the greatest problem, is now soluble, and indeed relatively simple, with computerisation. Their computer program can automatically produce any orthographic or language version programmed in by it for any of its 45,000-word databank in English spelling. It is like a Spelling Checker - but works as a Spelling Improver. Secondly, there are the aims of the authors themselves.

The goal is to provide alternative spellings for English that are compatible with present spelling (unlike traditional spelling reforms), and so can co-exist with it, but which nevertheless represent American speech so clearly and consistently that the English language could be "written as it sounds and pronounced as it is written". Unacceptably high rates of illiteracy and semi-literacy in English have persisted despite exceptionally high investment in education in English-speaking countries for over a century. The authors' belief is that there could be a substantial reduction in this problem if learners did not have to learn two languages, the spoken and the written, which were so different and so inconsistently related to each other. Many others have been of like mind - men of action like Andrew Carnegie or Theodore Roosevelt, of linguistic scholarship, such as Skeat, Godfrey Dewey or Gimson, or of brilliant and inventive genius, from Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Bernard Shaw to Isaac Asimov, the doyen of science fiction writers, and John Atasanoff, the co-inventor of the electronic digital computer.

The publishers, the American Language Academy, include among their trustees John Henry Martin, the educator responsible for the Writing to Read literacy program sponsored by IBM, in which children begin to read and write in a simplified version of present spelling, to facilitate immediate transition to reading and writing conventionally, and thus avoid the drawbacks of the Initial Teaching Alphabet. Evaluation of this project has not yet, but must, at some stage, sort out the value of such an introductory spelling from the value of the particular pedagogy used and the IBM hardware and software that is also employed, but final outcomes will surely illuminate the question of how much advantage may be gained by closer links of written with spoken English.

The Importance of Research.

Whether learning to read and reading itself could both in fact be made more efficient by modifying the task is a question that cannot be resolved by continuating century-old armchair arguments about spelling reform. What is required, surely, before the year 2000, is empirical research, both scholarly and action-oriented. Rondthaler and Lias' work provides a useful handbook to assist such research. It has great potential value as a computerised resource, because it makes possible the retrieval and sorting of information about any phonological or orthographic feature of English, at the touch of a button - for example lists of words that include a particular spelling, such as <-ious>, or words that include a particular pronunciation, such as /zhun/. It becomes a simple matter to check empirically any anecdotal evidence about the nature of English spelling, for example to test the Chomskys' [1] [2] claims that English spelling represents the "deep structure" of the language. The supplementary detail included provides a useful reference, giving for example frequency figures for each word listed, detail how the 44 or so English phonemes are currently represented by more than 400 graphemes, information on alternative spellings already in current use (including advertising), and notes on questions such as homophones, dialects, diacritics and how to represent plurals that are sometimes pronounced as /s/ and sometimes as z/.

Rondthaler and Lias also face and illuminate some of the problems that are built into our present spelling that make any consistent improvements difficult-for example, how to represent final /s/ and /z/ sounds where they are common as tense and plural inflexions as well as terminal sounds of singular nouns. Is there value for fluent reading for meaning in the current custom of using final <-s> as a grammatical marker, regardless of pronunciation (which is an artefact of articulation anyway?) If so, what should happen to the spelling of singular nouns such as dense, fence, grass, oasis, coalesce or impasse? Again, what happens to 'Chomsky' words in a simple speech- representing spelling, when suffixes result in changed pronunciation of vowels, as in nation: national, recede: recession? Would a completely phonemic spelling, such as naeshun: nashunal or reseed: reseshun make it harder for learners to identify new vocabulary or skilled readers to read fluently for meaning? Testing, not hunches, is required.

Ideal vs. optimum orthographies.

Rondthaler leaves some of the most common words, such as is, was unchanged, which is in line with concessions to practical use made by the world's more consistent orthographies, both recently reformed or custom-made for formerly illiterate societies. Indeed, it is quite possible that a spelling 'ideal' in theory might not be the 'optimum' spelling in practice, which might involve systematic modifications where these would facilitate learning or reading. 'American Spelling' itself gives some examples of how theoretical perfection might be in practice a deterrent. Although overall it is more economical than present spelling by cutting out 'surplus' elaboration - as in litl rather than little - a proportion of polysyllables is in fact lengthened. Spellings such as depreeshyaeshun appear repelling as well as pedantically representing speech. It would be quite terrible to spell, and indeed, would probably be more difficult to read than depreciation itself The lessons from the 'natural' spelling of child beginners, and from English pidgin orthographies seem to be that single letters for vowels are easiest to learn and use, and that pronunciation patterns are usually picked up quickly as long as they are systematic. As I see it, it is a problem that 'American Spelling' may reproduce slurred informal speech further than may be useful for readers.

The reason for this is that the authors perceive potential application of the system as the standard pronunciation notation for dictionaries. Many if not most of the re-spellings provided could in this way also enter the orthography as acceptable alternatives, joining hundreds of alternative spellings that are already listed in modem dictionaries. Its principles of spelling are so simple that they are listed in a small box on every page of the dictionary listings and could be understood by children.

In view of the difficulties of providing notation that children can understand, most current children's dictionaries and wordbooks do not give pronunciations, although it is these young learners who need the most help.

Slurred spelling for slurred speech?

However, the result of this lexicographic ambition is that American Spelling has to follow speech rather too closely in some instances. Although most of us may say pikcher, akehooairial and abolishun and only a few of us enunciate picture and actuarial as clearly as they are written, there may be semantic advantages in retaining the visible link of picture and depict, and of retaining act in actuarial, and in keeping the internationally recognisable terminal grapheme <-ion>. The more formal spelling could assume a more slurred articulation. A more 'morphemic' spelling, that is, representing units of meaning more closely, might also help those whose speech has already slurred into pichi and achairialto have a clearer 'form of the word' to speak as well as to say. The editors recognise this problem.

Research is beginning to investigate how adult readers respond to different types of spelling change, and is finding that some forms require no special adjustment or retraining (Yule and Greentree) [3] and do not affect 'backwards compatibility' - that is, maintaining access to everything at present in print. Modern computer technology also solves the previous seemingly intractable problem of change-over and transliteration.

However, for any change in English spelling to be the best possible, we need to reanalyse our existing research on human abilities and needs in the whole field of literacy according to this practical question, as well as carrying out more direct investigations (Yule). [4] An international English spelling that made universal literacy in English more possible would rank not far behind our electronic achievements as one of the greatest benefits to communication of this century. And everywhere that research for this will be carried on, the Dictionary of Rondthaler and Lias will be invaluable.

It need hardly be added that in a work by the co-pioneer of photolettering, the typeface is beautiful and the layout excellent.

References.

[1] Chomsky, C (1970) 'Reading, writing and phonology' in Harvard Educational Review, 40, pp.287-309.

[2] Chomsky, N & Halle, M (1968) The sound pattern of English, New York: Harper and Row.

[3] Yule, V and Greentree, S (1986) 'Readers' adaption to spelling change' in Human Learning, 5, pp.229-241.

[4] Yule, V (1986) 'The design of spelling to match human abilities' in Harvard Educational Review, 56, pp.278-297.



Media: 'Spelling it out' on BBC 1.

Between 16 October and 18 December 1988 BBC television is broadcasting eight 10-minute programmes on English spelling. They are being shown on Sunday evenings at 1815 and repeated the following Sunday morning at 1010. Though lighthearted in tone (with cartoons as mnemonics), the programmes have a serious educational purpose, with an accompanying book and produced in association with ALBSU and the Open College. Each instalment includes some factual information about the history, structure, social status etc of English spelling, and the producer, Charles Pascoe, took advice from the Simplified Spelling Society for programme 5 (November 20/27), which deals with spelling reform and shows Edward Rondthaler's Simplified American Spelling, as well as explaining the work and aims of the Society.


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