SS11. On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4 (Supplement).

simpl speling March 2000 part 3.

[Jean Wilkinson: see Newsletters .]

Jean Wilkinson, USA, writes:

Of ladders and confusion.

My husband asked me to fone around about buying orchard ladders for his farm. One store quoted a price list that had a longer ladder cheaper than a shorter ladder. When I called back I got a different man, who gave me an entirely different list of prices for the same items.

At another store two salespeople respectively told me their 10ft aluminum ladder weighed 25 pounds and 28 pounds - the same ladder!

We chose the first store and asked if we could pick up the ladder tomorrow. No, he said, it would be about a week. But he did mention where they were ordering it from. It was local, so I called and was told they had the ladders right there; with a purchase order number from the retail store, we could pick them up this afternoon. So I called the retail store, who said the wholesale store no longer had that personal pickup policy, and he would check it out.

I guess we all have our stories to tell of confusions such as these, but what I immediately thought of was our language. Every English-speaking child has to face just such inconsistencies as I did in buying ladders. Take stove: the e makes the o say its name, right? Good rule. Then take love, above, come, some, other, etc - a whole tribe of words where the e has lost its influence and o says uh. And then - the child finds move and prove, with a third sound for o! Shall we blame the e for being entirely out of control of the situation? Or shall we decide it's time to lasso English and tame it so children can ride without falling off?

We've been discussing only 'easy' words; we haven't mentioned tongue or corps or chaos or phlegm or rendezvous. U've probably got a favorite list, too.

I read (I intend present tense here, not past) that Spanish, Dutch, and Turkish children, to name some, typically have their spellings under their belt by the end of first grade. But it takes the average English-speaking child thru fifth grade to get a handle on the basic English spellings, with some still struggling long, long after that. Surely no other language has such mconsistent spelling.

It isn't the children's fault! With spellings matching spoken sounds, many or most spelling-disabled children wouldn't even know they had a disability! When spellings don't match sounds, we have to memorize each one like Chinese picture writing.

Do we really want to be doing this to our kids? And to be paying our teachers to continue to do it?

[Damian Bonsall: see Newsletter.]

What newspapers may require to alter their spelling.

Damian Bonsall, England.

Damian Bonsall is a member of the Society, and works for The Guardian and The Observer. He is based at the Manchester Evening News.

In the Society's discussion group I had this put to me: U know the environment better than any of us. Imagine u were editor of a big daily, and the government said to u: 'We want to simplify English spelling.

What would the practical implications be for your publications. Please advise us.'

An interesting question. Donning an imaginary editor's hat, I answered as follows:

Maximum freedom.

1. No legal obligation to use the reform.

Everyone hates compulsion, especially when it is enshrined in law. This is particularly true of newspaper proprietors and editors, who are professional cynics and suspicious of everything governments do. Further, legal obligations even when there is a clear intention to follow them, imply a risk they may not be fully met, raising the specter of court action, large legal costs, and possibly protracted and complex insurance claims.

2. No threat to enforce the reform, eg, loss of copyright or taxation.

Following on from the above, it is conceivable other strong arm tactics could be used, without invoking the criminal law. I once thought this may be a wa yforward, but now am convinced persuasion is the only practical tool for advancing spelling reform, and any threat, or implied threat, would kill off any project.

Maximum motivation.

3. Convincing evidence that the reform will be generally beneficial to society.

If persuasion is the only method available, the arguments in favor need to be carefully martialed, and supported by well defined and relevant evidence.

4. Convincing evidence that reforms in foreign languages have benefited them.

Other countries have cherished and nurtured their orthografies thru periodic spelling (or in some cases alfabetic) reforms. That this effort and cost has been worth while to them would need to be demonstrated if the English-speaking world is to follow suit.

Maximum reassurance.

5. Reassurance that the reform is industry-wide, ie, all newspapers, wire services, and publishers (including government publications) are changing, and schools are teaching and will continue to teach the reform.

No publisher, especially after the Chicago Tribune's efforts, is going to go it alone. This implies a defined reform, and

in particular, not a degeneration into a free-for-all, where mutually exclusive schemes are used.

6. Reassurance that the reform is international, that all (or almost all) English-speaking countries and international organizations such as EU/Nato/UN are all reforming too.

Minimum grief.

7. Defined reform in terms of
a) A list of old/new spellings, and new/old.
There will be available an alfabetic lookup, in both directions, so new spellings can be found, and an unrecognized new spelling can be referred back to its original.
b) A changeover date with six months' notice.
8. Early availability of a reformed dictionary (ie, six months in advance).

9. Minimal reform which is instantly and unambiguously readable by existing staff, customers, advertisers and readers (ie, TO trained readers).

There is no time or money to retrain staff, so the new spelling must be instantly readable.

Minimum cost.

10. Free, idiot proof, integrated, easy-to-learn-and-use conversion software for all major platforms and programs, eg, Atex, Quark Express, MSWord, DTP, HTML, etc.

This means work prepared by a competent TO speller, unable or unwilling to learn the new regime, can be automatically converted by computer. Further, speech recognition programs would need to be able to output directly into the reformed spelling, and foreign language dictionaries and machine translation software updated.

11. The free conversion software mentioned in (10) to be format preserving, ie, will preserve size, color, font, etc, not just a text-to-text conversion.

12. Free, easy to install spellcheckers for all major programs.

This means spellcheck dictionaries and their auto-suggest features, and also the separate auto-correct lookup tables.

13. No extra newsprint cost because text is longer (eg, for The Guardian, a 9% increase in text length means a 3% increase in newsprint which equates to well over a million pounds a year).

Minimum flak.

14. A body to whom all complaints, queries, and concerns regarding the reform can be directed, eg, 'Don't contact us about how we spell, but write to the Spelling Control Commission Ombudsman.

Minimum period.

15. A gold-plated cast-iron guarantee set in stone and concreted permanently in place that there will be no more changes for three years, and that those will meet the requirements here, including this one.

[Steve Bett: see Journals, Newsletters, Personal View, Web links.]
[Web addresses have not been linked as they are unlikely to be valid now. Search engines may find the people or topics.]

Spelling on the net with Steve Bett.

Resources for Y2K.

Starting points:
JSSS assistant editor, John Reilly, USA, has developed one of the best starting points for those interested in spelling reform. He has a web ring which allows anyone to cross link their page with other related pages. All members of the reform ring include a link back to John's page. It is a kind of do-it-your-self Yahoo. If you have a page related to spelling reform, you are invited to join the ring. See Links page.

On-line pronunciation dictionaries.
Dr Ed Rondthaler, USA, remarked, 'All this English vs American pronunciation voting business surprises me when there's a highly authoritative source already available. The Oxford American Dictionary has an excellent pronunciation scheme satisfactory for both countries. On-line dictionaries also have excellent pronunciation guides:;

Spelling and applied linguistics.

OBI: The Online Book Initiative:

Literacy resource sites.

International directory.

The First International Multilingualism and Dyslexia Conference, Manchester, England, June 1999.
Several researchers at this conference reported that English spelling and lack of regularity in fonological patterns are indeed an obstacle to reading and spelling efficiently. One researcher contended that 'English is a dyslexic language.' With its many irregularities and vast vocabulary, he said, English causes greater numbers of dyslexics than other languages do. Two keynote speakers agreed.

ITA in a nutshell. There have been several requests for information on the Pitman's initial teaching alfabet - here are two resources.

KidsSpel, a scheme by K W Rees:

Funetic spelling:
John Fox does not present his solution to the alfabet problem until the reader wades thru a 30-page preamble. This link bypasses the long introduction and jumps to his proposed reform.

Crazy Spellings:
According to this web page there are 302 crazy spellings (of 38 fonemes): average 8-spells per foneme (!!). Thus, 264 contrived spellings (who did this crazy stuff?).'

Complaints from authors and publishers:

The problem with spelling: SSS web, then at Aston Univ.

The history of spelling reform: See Links page.

A more extensive version of this page can be found at

New spelling schemes, critiques of TO.

Ugh-free spelling:
Ugh-free spelling is not substandard English. It's 'superstandard.' Ugh-free spelling is cleaner and more regular than standard English.

Ughish examplesugh-free prototypes alt ugh-free pattern
rough, tough
cough, trough
though, borough
plough, bough
thought, bought
caught, aught
sleigh, weigh
eight, weight
sigh nigh
right, night

buff, cuff
off, scoff
go, no; doe, floe
flu, gnu
how, cow
taut, astronaut
taut, astronaut
draft raft
staff, chaff
bay, day
bait, gait
bite, kite
pie, tie
bite, kite
ruf, tuf
cof, trof
tho, boro
plau, bau
thot, bot
cot, ot
slei, wei
eit, weit
slait, kait
sai, nai
rait, nait/ryt, nyt


Our family spelling joke is Patrick, just learning to read. The car arrives at a petrol station and Patrick reads the sign. 'Look! It says "oil" and it has two silent letters!'

(The sign said Mobil.)

Valerie Yule, Australia.

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On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4 (Supplement).