SS10. On other pages: part 1, part 3, part 4 (Supplement).

simpl speling November 1999 part 2.


Leave it to the pros.

A common suggestion with members' votes in the Society's recent strategy poll was that we need an agreed spelling scheme as a basis for an upgrade, staged or one-step.

While our existence attests to our agreement on the need for change, we have never agreed on how to change. Did our adoption of New Spelling further our cause?

Our concern at TO does not extend to a common approach to fixing it. Our ideas differ and no one has so far managed to bring us into line. We are amateurs, free spirits. Nobody can demand compliance or results from us.

So, in searching for an agreed plan for change, are we attempting the impossible? Are we setting ourselves up for failure?

The ultimate decision makers are unlikely to hand us the task of devising and implementing the changes. it will be given to people paid to achieve a result. In other words, professionals.

They - possibly including Society members - will be commissioned by a coalition of governments, publishers, educationists, lexicografers, or international organizations with the ability to act. We may be asked for suggestions.

So why not leave the hard graft to them9 They will have the means.

However, no authority will take up the task until they see the need.

That's our role. 'We are the lobby group for spelling, the agitator to goad the powers to action.

We should concentrate on creating dissatisfaction with TO, leading to the appropriate authorities taking up the cudgels.

As employers holding the Pay checks, they will demand results from the people they commission.

But we have to spur them to it.

Allan Campbell


What's the first step?

Now that we've decided to take things a step at a time, what's the first step? People who say we need to lay out the entire program before beginning are probably right, but that seems unusually onerous. Why not pick the thorniest problem, and then solve it?

The thorniest problem is almost certainly the representation of the long vowel speech sounds. The simplest solution is, as proposed by Dr Rondthaler, to add an e, giving us ae, ee, ie, oe, and ue. Dropping the e from the vowel-consonant-e sequence is simple enuff, and placing it after the vowel itself is almost automatic when u do that. I'd suggest we go with this.

George Lahey, USA [See Newsletters, Personal View.]

Building a house style.

Let's start to build a house style. If more than 50% of votes favor a change (that could be 66% if u like) then that would be incorporated into the house style. Anyone could put a proposal to the membership. This would be an example of the membership's preference for option B in the recent survey being implemented. Simpl Speling is the vehicle to develop this house style.

Most correspondents favor tu. This differentiates between o and oo, eg, tu but so. Let to be replaced by tu.

L is never pronounced in could, should, would. Let these be coud, shoud, woud.

Break, great, steak. Let these be breik, greit, steik.

Reasons: 1) it involves only change of a to i; 2) ei is the most internationally accepted spehing for this sound.

I don't like U. Let this be yu, or revert to you.

Let oo as in good and ou as in could be uo, eg, guod, cuod, buok, luok, etc.

Robert Craig, England.(Abridged). [See Journals, Newsletters.]

Adjust over the years.

In German Life, a US magazine about German life (October/November 1995) Gerhard Weiss reported on the German spelling reform. He mentions the previous reform of German spelling in 1901 and goes on, 'In the 20th century, however, language has exploded beyond traditional boundaries. Grandfather's spelling rules no longer reflect today's realities.'

He tells of a decision in 1994 for a 'modest' spelling reform, and comments, 'Of course, in many ways, these "modest" proposals simply follow common sense.... Revising spelling rules every 90 years or so is not quite revolutionary. What is really proposed here is an adjustment, not radical change.'

Does this attitude exist for many people regarding English spelling, or can we create it? Can we soften the English-speaking world to accept at least some spelling change à la German? I'm hopeful.

Cornell Kimball, USA. [See Journals, Newsletters.]

Rhotic schwa, the hidden foneme

Taking the definition 'A foneme may be thought of as the smallest contrastive linguistic unit which may bring about a change of meaning' (Gimson's 5th ed), then:

1) There is a contrast between the final vowel in beta and baiter/beater, for rhotic speakers, therefore two neutral vowels are involved, a 'rhotic schwa' and a 'non-rhotic schwa'. The words forward and foreword contrast neutral vowel length.

2) As the abbreviation com (as in contrasts with calm for British speakers, short o is an English foneme. Since the o in lost is pronounced in the USA as laust the orthografic short o cannot be considered as always representing the allofonic 'short o/long a'.

3) There is no fonemic contrast between a non-rhotic schwa and the 'neutralized a' (as in cup), but since stress is a foneme in English, they can be separated. Thus the same vowel in uncover has secondary stress, then primary stress and is finally unstressed (for non-rhotic speakers).

4) There is an allofonic contrast between laud and lord and between 1ava and larva, for rhotic speakers but not for non-rhotic speakers.

This gives an English repertoire of seven vowels, length, 22 consonants and two kinds of stress, making 32 available fonemes. Since non-rhotic accents, like RP, do not separate the two neutral vowels, they only have a complement of six vowels.

The full vowel list is: an open, unrounded vowel (a); a middle, front, unrounded vowel (e); a close, front, unrounded vowel (i); an unclose, back, rounded vowel (o); a close, back, rounded vowel (u); an unrounded, central vowel with a rhotic element (r) and an unrounded, central vowel without a rhotic element. The supra-segmental foneme 'length' is associated with five of these vowels.

While it is true that the contrast between a short and a lengthened vowel may also be a contrast of quality (lax/tense), in the broadest terms, they can be represented by the same symbol.

There are many instances of multiple fonemes; diphthongs, triphthongs, affricates and even lengthened vowels, but only single fonemes are being considered here.

R Stygall, UK (Abridged).

A call to get 'into real action'

I propose something that could unify us and get us into real action.

Recently I've talked to people about what we're up to. When I began I talked about spelling reform, and no one wanted to hear. These two words in combination are about the two most off-putting words in our language. So instead I talked about promoting English as a Global Language (EAGL) for literacy, commerce, global unity, and cross-cultural understanding.

Bingo! Everyone's 100% on board!

Then I tell them the inconsistent way we spell English is a hindrance to this end; not sacred and can be changed; and if it were changed, they could still write in TO and they could read the new orthografy because it would be backwards compatible. Everyone gets excited about it!

So I propose we use this approach, not just for verbal and moral support, but also to get financial backing. A lot of it.

Surely our commitment is enuff to go beyond our little discussions about the pros and cons of magic e.

Here's my proposal and my commitment:

Who might be interested? International corporations? Government agencies and foundations concerned with literacy rates? Peace-keeping foundations? Filanthropists? Ecology foundations? The computer/techno industry? Maybe u can think of others.

I say let's do it, go professional, leave the English-spelling-reform-is-my-hobby days behind

Elizabeth Kuizenga. USA.

Net chat.

Excerpts from a few of the posts in the SSS internet discussion groups.
A pun on the word 'net'.

Support from minorities?

A great help could be to organize the handicapped groups, like dyslexics, to demand some improvements to their task. And also ESLs and immigrants.

A migrant to Australia told me he thought there should be an English 'spelling for migrants' and let the other Australians keep their ... own spelling. And aboriginals should be moving, altho I can't encourage them to do so. They do have a song called Bran Nue Dae and a school called Koori Kolej (koori = aboriginal) so they have made a start but I can't get them to really organize!

Valerie Yule. Australia.

• If I want to influence laws and customs about whether stores may be open on Sunday, I strive to influence public opinion, for the legislature will follow a majority. But if I want to stop apartheid, I strive to influence laws directly, mostly thru the (non-democratic) courts because 100% consensus among minorities will not win at the polls.

I expect reforming spelling would help ESL [English as a second language] students. But I expect the majority to spell however they want, so I also expect ESL students will not significantly help us win reform. I recommend public relations and advertising over lobbying.

Nelson Helm, USA.

The best

[In response to a claim that 'We are amateurs'].No need to be so modest. The collective knowledge of the SSS is the best there is, anywhere. There are no 'professionals'. Even people who've written massive books on English spelling (I won't name names here) don't understand it as we do. We combine a wide range of experience from many walks of life. The academic 'experts' typically have a narrow perspective and can't see the wood for the trees. The ones who understand the complexities of english spelling know nothing about literacy. The ones who know about literacy haven't considered how literacy could be made easier by simplifying spelling. Etc, etc. We have to broaden their horizons.

Chris Upward. England

Functions of e.

Teachers doing SpLD courses do not understand the different functions of e. They were surprised when I gathered up the reasons (cribbed from another teacher).

1. Magic e, or modifying e, changes the preceding vowel sound, eg, hat, hate. Also in toe, potato/otatoes.

2. Softening e, affecting preceding c always and g mostly as also does i and y but not a, o, u. Eg, cent, gem. In cage the e has two functions, which is why u need d in cadge!

3. Silent e after v, as no real English word ends in v, eg, have.

4. Silent e after s, to show the word is not plural or the third person verb, eg, house.

5. Silent e, for no reason at all that I know of, eg, come.

6. Silent e, absolutely stupidly, in suffixes, eg, baby/babies.

(This would be one of the first I would abolish.)

Jean Hutchins, England

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On other pages: part 1, part 3, part 4 (Supplement).