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.