In my strange and wonderful book collection I have a third edition of Pollards Advanced Speller by Rebecca S Pollard, originator of the synthetic method of teaching reading. Copyrighted in 1897, the title plate is followed by this page:

Spelling Reform
The American Philological Association has recommended the following “Rules for New Spellings”:

1. Drop the ue at the end of words like dialogue, catalogue, etc., where the preceding vowel is short. Thus spell demagog, epilog, synagog, etc.
2. Drop the final e in such words as definite, infinite, favorite, etc., where the preceding vowel is short. Thus spell opposit, preterit, hypocrit, requisit, etc.
3. Drop the final te in words like quartette, coquette, cigarette, etc. Thus spell cigaret, roset, epaulet, vedet, gazet, etc.
4. Drop the final me in words like programme. Thus spell program, orifiam, gram, etc.
5. Change ph to f in words like phantom, telegraph, phase, etc. Thus spell alfabet, paragraf, filosefy, fonetic, fotograf, etc.
6. Substitute e for dipthongs æ and œ . Thus spell Colian, asthetic, diarrhea, subpena, asofagus, atheneum, etc.

I was intrigued. I had never heard of Spelling Reform or the American Philological Association and had to find out more. What I found was more interesting than I expected and I share it now with you, lucky noder.

The American Philological Association (APA), founded in 1869 by "professors, friends, and patrons of linguistic science” In 1876, they adopted 11 new spellings, and began promoting their use: ar, catalog, definit, gard, giv, hav, infinit, liv, tho, thru, wisht. They expanded their list into the rules I found in my old speller. They still exist today but now as an educational society to study classic literature and translate Harry Potter into Latin.

The Simplified Spelling Board was founded in 1906, and also had a list, this one of over 300 word spellings. A founding member was Andrew Carnegie, who donated more than $250,000 before he died.

One day in 1906, while the U.S. Congress was in recess, Teddy Roosevelt ordered the Government Printing Office to use the Simplified Spelling Board's 300 spellings. When Congress re-adjourned that fall, they angrily revoked Roosevelt's order.

"…no money appropriated in this act shall be used (for) printing documents ... unless same shall conform to the orthography ... in ... generally accepted dictionaries."

But President Roosevelt used reformed spelling for all White House memos until he left office in 1909. When Andrew Carnegie died, he left no money for the Simplified Spelling Board and they soon languished.

George Bernard Shaw was a spelling reformist too. When he died in 1950, his will provided for a contest to design a new, phonetic alphabet. A man named Kingsley Read won the contest with his Shavian Alphabet, but alas, it never gained popularity for many reasons, not the least of which was that it was based on the phonetics of England's King George V.

Who else supported Spelling reform you ask? Mark Twain (who wrote a short satiric essay about his Uncle Cadmus who tried to get the Egyptians to eschew hieroglyphics for the written letter), Charles Darwin and Alfred Lord Tennyson, but my personal favorite is the Dutch writer Dr Gerard Nolst Trenité. He was an academic who moved to the US to become a teacher. He was so disgusted with the English non-phonetic system he wrote the first half of this poem in 1908 and obsessed and added to it until he died in 1946. The Chaos includes 800 “irregular” words.

The Spelling Reform movement is alive today. Over 200 members strong and thay want yew to join them in ther holy kwest to mak reeding and lif a little eeser for all the children ov the erth.


sources and stuff:
http://www.diac.com/~entente/spkent2.htm
http://www.simonbarne.com/shavian/index.html
the book Written Dialects by Kenneth Ives

Most people regard English spelling as grossly illogical, but also near perfect and impossible to improve on. They don't actually say this second part, but it comes out in their reactions to any suggestion that we actually do change it.

Any suggested change is laughed at or fulminated over as bizarre and unreadable, and people are always thankful that Webster's more cranky and absurd suggestions never took hold. This reaction applies to such monstrosities as H-E-D for head. We swallow knight as comfortingly familiar, and strain at the gnat of hed. It's a very strong and common reaction. It's also, of course, utterly irrational and unfounded, when it applies to every change, though undoubtedly justified against some radical reforms.

We can't switch to a fully phonetic spelling, even one restricted to our present 26 letters. Here is my opening sentence in one form of phonetic spelling: Moust piipl rigaad Ingglish speling aez grousli illojikl, bat oolsou nia peufikt aend imposibl tu impruuv on. - There are two big problems with that, first that it is totally alien to the rules and character of English as we've always known it, and second that it takes no account of different dialects.

Both these problems are to a large degree soluble, and not too difficult. For a start we give up the idea of its being fully phonetic. Given the confusion of the present system, some closer approach to phonetic regularity will be an improvement, even if it's done piecemeal or with exceptions. And, as I shall argue, there are good reasons why there should be exceptions.

The inertia in our personal comfort with old forms is because we're used to them visually. We don't read, or spell out, phonetically, we read to a large extent in learned visual blocks. So part of the answer is to preserve these: don't make any changes that seriously violate our familiarity with shapes or rules (such as they are). This is best illustrated by the exceptions.

No-one has a problem remembering how to spell of or to, and changing them to a phonetic ov or too would have us constantly stumbling in every sentence. So leave them as they are. A handful of exceptions are no burden to the learner. The word know is pronounced no, which would be a better spelling except for the confusion that would no doubt arise if we didn't no how to read it instantly. Such an important word deserves to keep its signal k. However, I think we would kno what was meant, without difficulty, if it lost its w.

The letters ow have essential work to do in how now brown cow, and we don't need both of them taking on a different sound when we can just as easily write TV sho, gro up, bo tie, swing lo.

In tie, lie, die we have a valuable use of a digraph. We don't need the same digraph cluttering up field and thief when we have the perfectly good and unambiguous ee, which occupies about the same space visually: beleef, feeld, peerce, sheeld, theef make perfect sense by existing English rules, and are quite easy to read.

The digraph ea is a drone. All its functions are equally or better expressed by other existing combinations with similar visual shape: let's use ee in beerd, cheet, dreem, eesy, eet, feer, leep, meen, and e in bred, deth, helth, ment, welthy, and er in ern, erth, lern, and lastly air in bair.

Lose silent letters only when they won't be missed. Gh is useless in taught, we can change bright lights to brite lites, but we should hesitate at ought. Initial letters shoud be treeted with especial conservatism, and aut mite not be so recognizable. It's not obvious that tauk or tawk has the same word-shape as talk. If in dout, leeve it be. There is no harm in leeving some irregularities and exceptions in common words, and in letting rules have sub-rules. A generation or two down the line we mite be able to change it again.

Dialect differences are handled by the same principle of conservatism. Tot and taut and tort need to be different, and you lern the sub-rule appropriate for your dialect: "au and or are pronounced the same", in my case. But taught can be folded into taut. It doesn't cover everyone's dialect - we can't afford to cater for those few who distinguish rein and rain, or those Londoners for whom throttle is fwo'aw - but it does reconcile the main standard accents.

The last problem is printing. The collective inertia of the vast Anglo-American culture is a reel problem, but so is the fact that most peeple can't spell entirely correctly anyway. Take the stigma out of variant spellings, bring small changes in gradually, and remember that peeple will be effectively bilingual for sevral generations. Most books peeple reed are new; newspapers always are; and we don't reed Shakespeer in his original spelling. You woudn't have to revise evrything in evry library. And the children and foreners won't curse and cry quite so much.


Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it.
-- George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1946


It has often been noted that English has very irregular spelling. A basic understanding of the sound that each letter of the alphabet is supposed to represent will do you very little good -- there are multiple ways of making nearly every sound, and multiple sounds for many of the commonly used letter combinations. There are any number of reasons why this is bad. Perhaps the reason felt most strongly is that the current system isn't aesthetic, practical, simple, or particularly interesting. Who wants a chaotic language? The other big reason given for spelling reform is that it would be much easier for children (particularly children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia) and foreigners to learn a phonetic system.

Disadvantages to enacting some form of spelling reform are primarily that it would be a lot of work for those of us who have already learned to read once. While learning a simplified system wouldn't be as much work as it was the first time we learned to read, it still wouldn't be much fun. Not only would the re-education be an annoyance, but a large amount of material goods (books, road signs, and, if we change the graphemes, keyboards) would have to be replaced. It would be impractical to replace them all at once, but having both systems going at once would give rise to another set of problems (imagine having two spellings for each node title...)

Spelling reform has a long history. Noah Webster was a strong supporter of making the English spelling system more efficient; he is responsible for some of the differences between American and British spellings. He changed -our to -or (colour to color) and -re to -er (centre to center). American president Theodore Roosevelt tried to introduce simplified spellings of 300 words into the English language, but it didn't catch on. Other famous campaigners for Spelling reform were Benjamin Franklin, George Bernard Shaw, who inspired the Shaw Alphabet for Writers (AKA Shavian), and Melvil Dewey, who helped form the Spelling Reform Association (I am proud to own a copy of his 1921 Outline Decimal Classification and Relativ Index {sic}, written in a slightly simplified spelling format).

It is the nature of spelling reform that it attempts to create a more phonetic system. But you could not possibly have both a formalized English orthography (conventionally correct spelling) and completely phonetic system; there are too many different regional accents and acceptable alternative pronunciations. This is not a real problem, but it does give some leeway in how structured you want to make your system. Do you simply drop the obviously redundant letters (full to ful), and replace the obviously incorrect (of to uv or ov), or du yu create new symbols for each vowl and consonant sound?

The field of spelling reform is quite well developed in many areas, but there isn't much agreement on what is the best solution. There are any number of suggested improved spelling systems. I'll attempt to briefly list many of the more notable ones here, but this is far from a complete list. I hope that these will all someday be noded.

Revised Orthography (RO) is a general term for any new spelling scheme. This is contrasted to Traditional Orthography (TO), or Traditional English Spelling (TES).

Most ROs are ment to be permanent, but there are some temporary ones. Usually, these are ment to be used as teaching aids. Sir James Pitman invented the Initial Teaching Alphabet for this purpose, in which vowl sounds and some consonant clusters were given their own graphemes. This alphabet is an improvement as far as reading goes, but is hard to write. Th. R. Hofmann's English Teaching Alphabet is another example of this, although it is hard to find information on.

Digraphic systems are those that use the current alphabet; there are no new letters, altho some existing letters may be dropped (usually x, q, or c). Any new sounds that are needed are represented by combinations of pre-existing letters. New Spelling (AKA Nue Speling) and New Spelling 90, as presented by the Simplified Spelling Society, are good examples. (Closely related is E2s mutant version, uespeling). Govind Deodhekar's LOJIKON is another example, unique in that it doesn't modify the vowels, but focuses only on the consonants. Probably the most popular of these systems today is Saxon-Spanglish (often shortened to just Spanglish), which attempts to use the Saxon alphabet in order to create a phonemic transcription of English. (Some versions of Spanglish use special graphemes for some of the vowels, or diacritics, which would put it into another category).

Cut Redundancy (AKA Cut Spelling) systems will generally fall into the above category, but instead uv working to replace some letters in order to be more phonetic, they simply drop redundant letters, most often double letters and silent letters. This is an easy way to simplify the language, and the resulting spelling is very close to the original, making it easy to read. This may be the least radical of all spelling reforms (see also 'consistent rules' below). Usually simple and obvious substitutions are also allowed (f for ph, etc). Christopher Upward's Cut Spelng is a recent model of this format.

Diacritic systems are closely related, but instead of using letter combinations to represent sounds, it uses diacritical marks. These are rare, in part because English typesetters and keyboards are not prepared for extensive use of diacritics. Sometimes standard punctuation marks (',", :, etc.) are placed next tu the letter they are modifying. When they are used, they are used on the vowels; if consonant reform is also needed, the system may be a digraphic/diacritic hybrid. Harry Lindgren has developed some systems using diacritics, called Phonetic A and Phonetic B.

Augmented Alphabet systems actually ad new graphemes into the mix. This can be quite useful; it leads to shorter words, and once you take the time to learn the system it is quicker and easier to read. Also, English is already critically short on vowls (there are at least twice as many distinct vowl sounds as there are vowl grafemes); adding a new set of grafemes for the long (or short) vowl sounds kan be an immense help. Shaw's alphabet was almost completely composed uv new grafemes (o, s, and i were the only ones recognizable). Benjamin Franklin's reform also involved new grafemes (he eliminated six, c, j, q, w, x, and y, and added six new ones). Pitman's Initial Teaching Alphabet, as menshuned above, is the most well-known augmented alphabet. It should be noted that any good English dictionary will already use an augmented alphabet in order to communicate pronunciation.

Consistent Rule systems are on the other end of the spectrum; they attempt tu take specific rules of current English spelling and apply them to all English words. By ironing out inconsistencies, you not only make the language more sensible, but keep it in a form that the current speakers are familiar with. Axel Wijk's Regularized English is probably the best known of these. He attempts to make as few changes as possible, but still ends up re-spelling many common words such as 'is', 'of', 'are', 'give', 'all', 'most', and others. He also had a disturbing number of rules as to how the current spelling should be changed. Denzel Carr later came up with Semiregularized English, which has more changes to spellings, but has a much simpler rule set.

Slow Change . H. Lindgren's SR1-50 and Kenneth Ives' Economy Spelling are attempts to introduce changes into the language slowly (in 50 and 30 steps, respectively). Spreading out the change would make it easier for the speakers of the older system take up the new system, but it would work best when used in the mass media. While a newspaper can easily adapt to many small changes over time, books, road signs, and even web pages are intended to last for years -- updating them each time, or even every few times, would be a pain. One advantage to this system is that while the average English speaker might have some trouble adapting to a completely new spelling system all at once, we've all had practice reading through small changes in spelling (kwik-E-mart, donut, Krispy Kreme). It might be a little disconcerting, but it's certainly manageable. Cornell Kimball proposed that spelling reform could make a good start by simply accepting current "improved" spellings (thru, donut, gage, surprize, and tho, for example) as "official" words, and dropping the less phonetic spellings.

There are also some proposed changes to the language itself, as opposed to just the system of spelling. These are not the focus of this node, but I will mention Winglish, which eliminates some traditional English phonemes, and Anze, which changes irregular tenses and abbreviates long words, because both of these systems also include spelling reforms.

On a lighter note, someone, possibly Mark Twain, presented an overwrought RO in the classic work A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling.


Further reading:

George Bernard Shaw -- http://www.unifon.org/shaw-alfa.html
Benjamin Franklin -- http://trill.berkeley.edu/ICPhS/history/franklin/franklin.html
Simplified Spelling Society -- http://www.spellingsociety.org/index.html
New Spelling 90 -- http://www.spellingsociety.org/pubs/pamflets/12ns90.html
LOJIKON -- http://www.spellingsociety.org/pubs/pamflets/14lojikon.html
Saxon-Spanglish -- http://victorian.fortunecity.com/vangogh/555/Spell/ss-0.html
Cut Spelling -- http://www.les.aston.ac.uk/book/cutspelhb.html
Cut Spelng -- http://www.spellingsociety.org/pubs/leaflets/cutspelng.html
Phonetic A and B -- http://www.lysator.liu.se/runeberg/authors/lindghas.html
Regularized English -- http://www.unifon.org/wijk.html
Winglish -- http://victorian.fortunecity.com/vangogh/555/Spell/wingspan.htm


Other pages:
http://www.spellingsociety.org/pubs/pamflets/13typology.html (great page)
http://www.unifon.org/beautiful-princess.html (gives examples)

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