On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

simpl speling July 1999 part 5. members' supplement.


Meanwhile, back at the office ...

Lady with computer.


[Masha Bell: see Journals, Newsletters, Leaflets, Media, Personal View.]

Back to the drawing board.

As noted, Masha wants members to study her research findings and come to a decision on first steps for reform. Here is an edited version of her findings. For the complete list of words, email her.

Back in 1908 the Society's secretary, Mr William Archer, complained he felt he 'could not throw himself into the work of propaganda with conviction unless a survey into the whole question (of members' views on spelling) was carried out'.

It was a similar need on my part that eventually resulted in our recent ballot of members' views on the type of reform they favored. I was reassured in finding the majority who voted to help shape the future direction of the Society were also in favor of improving English by degrees (staged reform) rather than transforming it in one fell swoop. Nice to know that I am not alone in thinking that drastic changes to the look of TO have little chance of being accepted.

Now we have to tackle the biggest issue of all. What changes to TO should we propose as a first step? In 1910 the SSS discussed asking teacher organizations to support the reform cause, but it was felt that 'General acceptance of simplification would be ineffectual until the Society had a definite scheme of simplification to urge.' Or as Chris Upward wrote in the Journal in 1985: There are societies and groups of spelling reformers, not to mention individuals ... all producing lists of possible reforms, and while these lists often have words or patterns in common, they often demonstrate different views.... It is clear that these differences will have to be reconciled if spelling reformers are to mount an effective, united campaign.

Anyone who has read the PVs which have been published or has been taking part in the deliberations of the SSS internet discussion group must be aware that this problem has not been solved.

The comments which members sent in with their votes suggest that we have substantial agreement on various general aspects of reform.

1. Only improvements to the current system are likely to succeed, not a complete overhaul.

2. Small or big reform stages need to be part of an overall strategy.

3. Any new scheme must have minimal shock effect.


Also, frequently stated views in the JSSS and Simpl Speling have been:

4. Backwards and forwards compatibility is important.

5. Reform proposals must be easy to explain.

6. Benefits of proposed changes must be self-evident - they must indubitably help learners.


But what changes should we recommend? There is so much wrong with TO it is difficult to decide what should be improved first of all.

It seems to me that getting a clear idea of the type and size of problems that make learning to spell English so difficult to master is an essential first step. There is little doubt the overall problem is irregularity. English has fonic patterns, rather than rules, and these often vary depending on a foneme's position in a word, but all this would still be quite manageable if these were regular. Having 132 reliable patterns would make English harder than languages with more fonetic writing systems, but not nearly as hard as it is with the minimum of 250, often random, representations for the 44 fonemes (give or take a few) that we have now. Idiosyncrasies like never doubling a v, not having a reliable representation for the u sound of look or pull, and using letters just for decoration do not help, but irregularity is the main problem.

The chances of improving our current system are not as hopeless as these figures might suggest.

32 TO spelling problems.

The main problems amount to just about 32.

1. The doubling of consonants is largely just random.

2. There are surplus letters all over the place.

3. Most of the heterographs which children take so long to master are completely unnecessary. It is but a form of child abuse.

4. The rules for stem changes before suffixes are mostly just gratuitous, and often lack consistency.


And if a child asks how to spell the following 28, it is impossible to give a straightforward answer. (I see our long-term aim as being able to do so.)
1. Ay as in play, they, ate, raid, or great?
2. Ar as in car, calm, or heart? (Not quite same in US English)
3. Ah as in banana or verandah?
4. Air as in fair, dare, bear, there, or their?
5. Aw as in law, taut, caught, talk, or all?
6. Short e as in bed, head, or many?
7. Er as in her, fir, fur, or worm?
8. Ee as in feet, meat, believe, receive, recede, or he?
9. F as in fun, photo, or cough?
10. Short i as in bit, pretty, or women?
11. I as in die, mile, or fly?
12. J as in jet, gem, or edge?
13. Ks as in accept or ax?
14. Oo as in food, move, group, blue, or do?
15. Oe as in toe, slow, shoulder, boat, or bold?
16. Ow as in cow, bough, or house?
17. Or as in for, door, board, more, or your?
18. Oi as in oil, noise, or boy?
19. Our as in flour or flower?
20. S as in sad, cent, or science?
21. Sk as in skip, school or scalp?
22. Sh as in shop, sugar, or assure?
23. U as in mud, young, blood, or some?
24. Uh as in good, push, or could?
25. Ue as in due, duty, new, ewe, view, or you?
26. Z as in zip or advertise?
27. W as in wait or when?
28. H as in hat or whole?

Much as I would welcome a reform that removed the above uncertainties in one fell swoop, I don't believe such a wide-ranging reform has much hope of ever being introduced. I intend to educate people about all the wrongs of English spelling, whenever and for however long I can.

But for the purpose of compiling a good initial reform package we need to establish what needs doing most, find clear and simple rules for implementing worthwhile changes, try to get a realistic assessment of how much is likely to be accepted, and then work out the best compromise.

My thinking is essentially that English dictionaries are full of errors, according to the fonic rules that English has. Correct the dictionaries and children will no longer need to be corrected and castigated when they are doing nothing worse than trying to be logically consistent. To find out exactly which words need some correction I began by looking for 'misspellings' among the 3000 most frequently used English words.

Problems among 3000 most common words.

Words with problems totaled 876 / 3000. Without derivatives this reduces to 658 / 2250 root words. If missing doubled consonants are included, the figures are 1008/3000 and 779/2250 (or even 1027/ 3000 and 798/2250 with missing doubled v).

I identified 24 separate faults. They are listed below, starting with the most pervasive and going down in order of words affected. The running totals show how much of the total would be reduced if those faults were tackled by reform.

The faults by type of errors in traditional orthography work out as in the box below. [The higher figure is for occurrences which I counted, the lower excludes derivatives.]

 [Running totals]
1. Surplus doubled consonant [eg, accommodation, account] 9583958312.6%
(I have put this first because the 100+ missing doubled consonants more than double the weight of this problem eg, bus, yes, habit, body, proper, study, very)
2. Words with long ee sound [cheap, even, key, agree]
3. Silent final e [are, imagine, simple]
4. Misspelt short u [above, brother]
5. Misspelt Short e [bread, any, every]
6. Misspelt A + magic e [afraid, eight, great]
7. Misspelt I + magic e [bright, blind, wild]
8. Misspelt Air [area, parents, wear]
9. Misspelt Terminal o [slow, show, though]
10. Misspelt Or [board, door, favour]
11. Misspelt Short o [what, was, watch]
12. Misspelt O + magic e [boat, gold, only]
13. Misspelt Short i [women, build, system]
14. Misspelt Terminal u [to, you, shoe, who]
15. Misspelt S [city, scene, listen, psychology]
16. Misspelt Z [has, please, visit]
17. Misspelt F [phone, laugh, rough]
18. Misspelt Sh [sure, social, issue]
207
72
83
55
51
35
26
25
21
19
15
18
15
22
20
12
11
143
70
43
40
33
26
21
14
16
13
14
12
11
17
17
9
9
302
374
457
512
563
598
624
669
670
689
704
722
737
759
779
791
802
226
296
339
379
412
438
459
473
489
502
516
528
539
556
573
582
591
21.6%
10.0%
6.5%
6.0%
5.0%
4.0%
-4%
Lesser problems
19. Use -re instead of -er [centre, desire, fire]
20. Use g instead of j [general, large, vegetables]
21. Random spellings for aw/au [law, bought, taught]
22. Abused final y in short word [buy, die, guy, lie, high, tie]
23. Misspelt all [already, also, almost, fault, quality]
24. H surplus to c [chemical, school, technical]
Assorted silent letters [answer, certain, except, know, whole]
(less than 5 of one kind)
Assorted misspellings [water, accept, they]
9
8
11
6
6
6
27

15
8
7
10
6
6
5
21

14
 8877

 
 890668
(Root words amount to 75% of occurrences.) Ten words had more than one problem (psychology has 4). The number of root words with problems was therefore 658 from an estimated 2250.

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On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 supplement.