This page is part of the IESC Archive. It is retained for historical interest. Information may be out of date and hyperlinks should not be relied on.

These are International English Spelling Congress (IESC) Guidance Notes for proposing a spelling scheme for consideration by the Congress.

As the deadline for submission of schemes has now passed, this page is primarily for historical information.

  • This is the 1st edition, dated 2018-01-29. This document will be finalised after the first session of the IESC. A template for submissions will be issued shortly thereafter. Authors should therefore not send in their works at this stage.
  • Comments on these notes may be made through the Society Blog.

The object of the IESC will be to come up with an alternative system which on the one hand improves access to literacy by making English spelling more predictable and on the other hand avoids unnecessary changes which are likely to make the task of general acceptance more difficult. Subject to that overarching principle, authors are encouraged to note the following:

  1. In order to be forwarded to the Expert Commission, proposals must be contained in a standard template (to be circulated separately) which will permit easier assessment by the commissioners.
  2. The commissioners may suggest improvements to an author for consideration. The author does not have to accept such suggestions, but refusal to accept them may lead to the proposals not being included in the list sent by the commissioners to the reconvened IESC.
  3. Authors should exercise discretion in adopting diacritics (accents) or new letters.
  4. Wherever possible, letters and letter combinations should be used to represent the same sounds as occur in current spelling. (This does not preclude reducing the number of existing ways in which a sound can be represented.)
  5. The proposals should not require significantly more characters to represent sounds in a standard text than in current spelling, and preferably should require fewer characters.
  6. Care should be exercised in the number of ‘signwords’ to be retained. (‘Signword’ is a term for abnormally spelled words in common usage which some authors of revised spelling proposals retain to reduce intrusive changes.)
  7. If the proposals are to be based on applying the underlying rules of current English spelling more faithfully, then such rules should not be unduly complicated compared with current conventions.
  8. If it is proposed that changes should be introduced in stages, then the author should explain how to identify the stages, suggest how the implementation would proceed, and how conflicts with current spelling would be dealt with, (given that governments are unlikely to take on this role, at least initially).
  9. The proposals should if at all possible enable speakers of the main varieties of spoken English (e.g. British, Irish, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand South African, Caribbean and others) to interpret the new conventions according to their own traditional pronunciations. This does not rule out a few different spellings where the pronunciations are highly divergent.
  10. All authors submitting proposals will be asked to confirm in writing that, should their proposals be finally selected, they will not seek any remuneration or fee or impose restrictions on their proposals being used by others.
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Did You Know:

• Ask your friend what Y-E-S spells. They won't have any difficulty saying yes. Then ask what E-Y-E-S spells. It's easy when it's written down, but surprisingly difficult when it's spoken. See a YouTube video of this.

• Who has not heard i before e, except after c. A University of Warwick statistician put it to the test. He plugged a list of 350,000 English words into a statistical program to see if the math checked out. It didn't.

• When Adam met Eve for the first time, he said Madam, I'm Adam. This is a palindrome — a phrase or sentence in which the letters, words or even lines read the same in either direction. Adam hoped to impress the most beautiful woman in the world, but she more than matched him by replying simply, Eve. Not bad given that writing, and therefore palindromes, and English ones in particular, had not yet been invented! More palindromes, and a wonderful palindromic poem.

• How would you pronounce ghoti? Pronounce it like this:

and you get ... fish! Thanks to Charles Ollier for writing this in 1855 — and for showing that English spelling has been ludicrous for quite some time.

• One of the arguments in favour of keeping English spelling unchanged is to show the etymology of words. For example, the silent s in island shows the link to the Latin insula. But island actually derives from the Old English íglund, not from the Latin at all. More examples at Mental Floss.


Page editor: N Paterson. Contact by email or form.

​Spelling reform is not a new idea!

Benjamin Franklin "The same is to be observed in all the letters, vowels, and consonants, that wherever they are met with, or in whatever company, their sound is always the same. It is also intended that there be no superfluous letters used in spelling, i.e. no letter that is not sounded [...]"  Franklin proposed a spelling scheme with 6 new letters. (Franklin 1806 p359)

Theodore Roosevelt "It is merely an attempt [...] to make our spelling a little less foolish and fantastic." Theodore Roosevelt promoted the Simplified Spelling Board's gradual reform (see Twain below). (Roosevelt 1906, p3)

Mark Twain "It is my belief that an effort at a slow and gradual change is not worth while. [...] It is the sudden changes [...] that have the best chance of winning in our day. Can we expect a sudden change in our spelling? I think not. But I wish I could see it tried. [...] By a sudden and comprehensive rush the present spelling could be entirely changed and the substitute spelling be accepted, all in the space of a couple of years; and preferred in another couple. But it won't happen, and I am as sorry as a dog." (Twain 1997, pp208-212)

Page editor: N Paterson. Contact by email or form.