SS17. On other pages: part 1, part 3, part 4 (Supplement).

simpl speling March 2002 part 2.


'Not a language, a speech impediment'.

I lived and worked in Sweden during the 1950s, and became reasonably fluent in Swedish. Later, I traveled in Norway, and found that the Norwegians understood my Swedish, and that by and large I understood them when they replied in Norwegian. Written Norwegian was fairly easy to understand as well.

In Denmark, the written Danish language looked the same (to me) as written Norwegian. It was just as easy to read, and I have never been able to distinguish between written Norwegian and written Danish.

However, spoken Danish is totally incomprehensible to me. I once had to sit thru a 30-minute speech in Danish, and I understood not one word.

A Swedish man told me that 'Danish is the most difficult language in Europe'. Other Swedes and Norwegians have explained that 'Danish is not a language; it is a speech impediment'.

Having read what has been said in earlier issues of Simpl Speling, I suspect that if the spelling of Danish were modernized, I for one would no longer be able to read it. I have met a few foreigners who could read English, but not speak it or understand it spoken. Modernizing English spelling might not suit such people.

Colin Davies, England. See Journals.

Start with best current spellings.

A good place to start reform would be to use the best spellings currently in use.

The so-called 'American' spellings are, on the whole, better than the so-called 'British' spellings. So, that is decided.

There is another source of better spellings. They are to be found in word-processing spelling checkers. If we assume, for example, that ware, wear, and where are homofones, then one is the best spelling.

If bar can have a number of meanings, so can ware (most reform systems, eg New Spelling, assume this).

Thus 'Ware are u going?', 'He will ware a shirt', etc.

This principle can be expanded - 'A pare of cuff links', 'Peel an apple and a pare', 'The bare growled', 'She combed her hare', 'Witch do u choose?' 'Wen are u coming?' 'Watt time is it?' 'They red there books', 'We here singing', 'We herd a noise.'

Robert Craig, England. See Journals, Newsletters.

[Chris Jolly: see Journals, Newsletters, Media, Bulletins.]

Reflections of the outgoing Chairman.

What has changed.

Christopher Jolly, England.

Looking back over the past 20 years, as Allan Campbell has asked me to do, there has been a mix of huge changes in the Society in some areas, and almost none in others.

The greatest change has been in the way we communicate. The occasional letter has given way to a flood of emails, so much so that it is almost impossible to read all the emails on each of the Society's discussion groups, tho Jean Hutchins does manage it!

Back in 1981 Mona Cross produced a homely newsletter. The Journal that followed is a much more professional publication thanks to the efforts of Chris Upward, and it has become highly respected. In addition we have had this lively publication, Simpl Speling, and also Personal Views, produced by Paul Fletcher, which allows members to publish their own schemes and ideas. The Society also has its own web site, recently updated by Fred Swartz.

With all this extra activity, has anything been lost on the way? Well, yes it has.

We had a series of conferences, starting in Northampton in 1979 (my first encounter with the Society), Edinburgh in 1981 (when I was elected chairman), Southampton in 1985, and Birmingham in 1987.

They were residential, over a weekend, and gave a wonderful opportunity to meet and discuss reform issues. I remember that the delegates ranged from Vic Paulsen (a taxi driver from San Francisco, who had his own scheme) to Patrick Hanks (chief editor of Collins English Dictionaries).

When I joined the Society it was clear there had been some friction between committee members. Indeed at one meeting a member, who shall remain nameless, objecting to the initial teaching alfabet, emptied a jug of water over its founder, Sir James Pitman! It soon became clear to me that almost every member of the Society has their own ideas on spelling reform and that the Society needs to respect these differences if it is to survive.

So what has not really changed?

Sadly, little progress has been made in bringing about reform. The subject is still considered an obscure minority interest, and indeed our membership numbers have not changed much over the years.

However this static position hides a major change internationally. Some 20 years ago there were two spelling reform groups in Australia and two in the US. Spelling Progress Bulletin (later Spelling Progress Quarterly) was published in the US until 1985. Today effectively it is the SSS that is the focus of the English spelling reform movement in the world, and the only one with a publishing program. Globalization and emails have led us to have the one forum.

The benefits of spelling reform, in improved literacy, are, if anything, better understood today (as shown in Professor Prais's Social Disparities and the Teaching of Reading), but 'pressing the right buttons' has eluded us.

Recent submissions to both the UK and NZ parliamentary Select Committee investigations were not used, while the use of the initial teaching alfabet came to an end in the mid-1990s. Some good articles and letters have been published, but they have not led to more.

Like other members I have no doubt this change will come, and somehow we will find the way to achieve it!

Analyzing spelling reform options.

Ian Hunter, New Zealand.

Progress on getting reform implemented over the past 93 years has been modest.

If we can't persuade governments to do a decent analysis of spelling reform options, we should find someone who can, or do a pilot study ourselves.

I visualize the following:

Select a few options, eg CutSpel, a phonemic digraph system, Ritespel [see Links page], and the status quo.

Take a nominal sample of, say, 1000 people and split them into peer groups born in the same year. Not sure about representative countries, because different systems might have different impacts on different countries.

From the reform's start-year, estimate the average net benefits and costs for each of the following 50 or 100 years, and compute the weighted average Net Present Value (NPV) of each, at current costs and a discount rate of, say, 3%. For each system, there would be some 90 x 50 numbers, easily processed by a spreadsheet, or similar. For non-economists, NPV converts a series of future payments into a single equivalent present value, allowing for interest charges. See NPV() on your Spreadsheet Help.

Differences would indicate the relative merits of each system. With luck, and good management, it should reveal the best all-round system.

The hard part is getting the numbers. Ideally we could test a few groups of children and adults to test the learning and usage process, but this would be tricky, because the testees would be living in an unreformed environment. Perhaps we could estimate some effects by extrapolating simpler tests and ITA results, and using foreign data.

Few, if any SSS members would have all the skills required, but we might be able to conjure up enough skills in sociology, pedagogics, statistics and economics.

So, what about democracy? I have done some polling of lay people and ex-teachers and taken note of others' polls. I found that asking simple questions gave simple answers. Most had difficulty thinking beyond their own accent, and suggested piecemeal changes which would not add up to a workable system. I also found that if I could persuade people to answer more complex questions, they started to search for patterns, such as using the same digraph for a given diphthong irrespective of where it occurred in a word, eg, try, trydent.

My suggested strategy is to do an analysis good enough to convince open-minded professionals, such as teachers, sociologists, psychologists and economists, that there may well be a reform system which is workable and economic.

Then we would have something to wave at the public and politicians. And if the analysis says no, don't even ask.

(TS, rather than SS style, used at Ian's request. - Editor)

[Jean Hutchins: see Journals, Newsletters.]

Some rules of English spelling! Add, double, drop, change.

Jean Hutchins, England.

That is the name of a card game for suffixing that many dyslexia tutors use with learners. We complain about the great number of irregular words, but at least they are always the same every time you use them. However, root words vary according to the suffix!

We add some suffixes without changing the root, eg, to vowel digraf words, plain/ plainer/ plainly; to final two-consonant words, rest/ resting/ restless; to final long vowels, go/ going, low/ lowest/ lowly.

We double final consonants before vowel suffixes but not before consonant suffixes, eg, thin/ thinner but thinly.

We drop final e before vowel suffixes, but not before consonant suffixes, eg, hope/ hoping but hopeful, love/ loving but lovely.

We drop final softening e before e,i but do not change it before a, o, eg, manage/ managed but manageable, service/ serviceable, courage but courageous.
Exception: singe/ singeing.

We change final y before vowel suffixes and before consonant suffixes but do not change y before i suffixes, eg, duty/ duties/ dutiful, busy/ busily/business, try/ tried but trying.
Exceptions: tie/ tying, die/ dying, dye/ dyeing, ski/ skiing.

We do not change 'vowel-y', eg, play/ playing/ playful, key/ keyed, boy/ boyish, buy/ buying.
Exceptions: eg, day/ daily, say/ said.

Some suffix words are confused with other words, eg, mined/ mind, passed/ past.

An article in JSSS29 2001/1, The optimality of English spelling, pointed out the consistency of suffixed words. However, dyslexics who do not remember what the words look like, find it impossible to learn, remember and apply these rules.

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