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 the best solution might be. There are any number of suggested improved spelling systems, and I'll attempt to briefly list many of the more notable ones here. However, this is far from a complete list, or even a complete list of the most well-known. 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 temporary ones 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, and that the International Phonetic Alphabet is already in use in many fields where phonetic transcription is important.

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 two that include significant spelling reforms: Winglish, which eliminates some traditional English phonemes, and Anze, which changes irregular tenses and abbreviates long words.

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 --
Benjamin Franklin --
Simplified Spelling Society --
New Spelling 90 --
Saxon-Spanglish --
Cut Spelling --
Cut Spelng --
Phonetic A and B --
Regularized English --
Winglish --

Other pages: (great page) (gives examples)