Let's Make English Spelling Simpler!

Attempts at reforming English spelling: before and today

Posted by Massimo on January 25, 2010

There is a long and noble history of trying to change the English language’s notoriously illogical system of spelling. The fact that through, rough, dough, plough, hiccough and trough all end with -ough, yet none of them sound the same as any of the others, is the sort of thing that has been vexing poets and learners of English for quite some time. Proponents of “fixing” this wayward orthography have included some of the most prominent names in American history. Benjamin Franklin suggested changing the alphabet, and Andrew Carnegie provided money for people to study the problem. President Theodore Roosevelt issued an edict in 1906 that gave the Government Printing Office a list of 300 words with new spellings: problem cases like artisan, kissed and woe were to be changed to artizan, kist and wo. Roosevelt was largely ignored by the G.P.O., and the matter was soon dropped. Although this issue has been extensively studied and argued over by these and other eminent thinkers, there has been an almost complete lack of success in effecting any substantial progress
Perhaps the most successful attempt at spelling reform (at least in America) was wrought by Noah Webster, who managed to forever make Americans view the British honour and theatre as off-kilter. Some portion of Webster’s determination to change -our to -or and -re to -er was due to nationalist fervor; he wanted his countrymen to break free of the orthographic bonds of their oppressors. He was noticeably less successful in convincing Americans of the utility of many of his other ideas, like spelling oblique as obleek, machine as masheen and prove as proov
Read the whole article “The Keypad Solution”

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Updates on my project

Posted by Massimo on January 14, 2010

Today I’ve eventually got round to updating my project of reforming English spelling after six months of stagnation (!), though some ideas of updating it had appeared earlier. You can see my updated project on the page  “Why reform English spelling?” . Some earlier spelling variants have been struck out and replaced with newer variants according to my updates.

Comments, criticism, and suggestions are welcome.

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Shaw and his alphabet

Posted by Massimo on July 6, 2009

This is a post from which I probably should have started this blog, and the quotation cited below might well serve as an epigraph to the whole blog. But better late than never :)

In the preface to Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw writes:

The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They cannot spell it because they have nothing to spell it with but an old foreign alphabet of which only the consonants – and not all of them – have any agreed speech value. Consequently no man can teach himself what it should sound like from reading it … Most European languages are now accessible in black and white to foreigners: English and French are not thus accessible even to Englishmen and Frenchmen. The reformer we need most today is an energetic enthusiast: that is why I have made such a one the hero of a popular play.

Actually, Shaw himself was such an energetic enthusiast and supporter of reforming English spelling. It was he who indicated the inconsistencies of English spelling by inventing a new spelling for the word fish, which was ghoti. He said that ghoti might well be pronounced as [fıʃ], because gh is sometimes pronounced as [f] (as in enough), o is pronounced as [ı] in women and ti is pronounced as [ʃ] in words like nation, ration, etc. Shaw proposed his own version of English alphabet known as the Shavian alphabet and bequeathed a large sum of money to establish it. His alphabet consists of  bizarre-looking characters which are quite different from standard Latin alphabet; they were designed “to avoid the impression that the new spellings were simply misspellings”. Shavian alphabet was designed to be phonetic, that is, that is, letters should have a 1:1 correspondence to sounds (this principle is quite successfully applied in the artificial would-be international language of Esperanto). However, this project did not gain acceptance, and only one book was published in Shavian spelling, namely Shaw’s play Androcles and the Lion, in bi-alphabetic edition with both conventional and Shavian spellings.

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Five yeres in Novgorod

Posted by Massimo on July 4, 2009

Tooday iz dhe Amerrican Independence Day – and five yeres since I came too Novgorod too apply for studdies in Novgorod State University.

I can remember dhat day – the fórth of July, 2004 (tóo thousand fór) – quite clerely. On 10:15 p.m. my muddher and I got off dhe train from Pskov at dhe Central Railway Station in Novgorod. We caut a taxi and went too dhe landlady ov our first rented flat in Novgorod.

Dhat day seems too hav been dhe Day of dhe Yooth; at leest, I remember dhat sumthing woz cellebrated in Novgorod dhat day and certainly it woz not dhe Amerrican Independence Day – fortunately we doan’t cellebrate it yet. Allso, on dhat day there woz dhe final match of the Football European Championship 2004 in Portugal, where, as I lerned late at nite, Greece beet Portugal 2:0 (tóo-nil) and became dhe Champion ov Europe.

Much wauter has flown under dhe bridge since dhen. I became a student ov Novgorod State University, and nou I am a gradduate and even a poastgradduate. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut wood say. Nou I like this citty verry much, even dho Novgorod is not widhout trubbles (primarily munny trubbles), but still I wood like too stay here raadher dhan moove too Moscow or St Petersburg. Az dhe Russian singer Trofim sings:

Пусть Нью-Йорк и Париж
Дарят блеск и престиж –
Мне милей суеты разукрашенной
На реке на Оке,
От столиц вдалеке,
Городок под названьем Навашино.

(Let Nu York and Paris
Giv glammor and prestige,
But wot’s better for me dhan dhe embellished vannity iz
A small toun named Navashino
On dhe rivver Oka,
Far away from dhe cappitals. )

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No diacritical marks!

Posted by Massimo on July 4, 2009

Well … after some consideration I decided not to introduce any diacritical marks in my project of English spelling, because it would mean changing keyboard layouts all over the world. English is one of the few languages that use Latin alphabet without any diacritical marks (except loan words such as café or résumé); that is why English texts can be typed in any standard English / Latin keyboard. However, more consistency should be imparted to English spelling system. As for the above-mentioned problem of doubling consonants in words such as other, brother, etc., this problem can be solved by spelling such words as uddher, bruddher, etc. Why not? Similarly, words such as don’t, host, most, post, ghost can be spelled as doan’t, hoast, poast, goast. And words such as  behind, kind, mind, find, pint can be ritten as behiend, kiend, miend, fiend, pient (and words like believe, field, fiend, piece could be spelled as beleeve, feeld, feend, peece).

However, I am currently considering the experience of Romance languages such as Italian and Spanish which use accent marks to distinguish homonyms, e.g. Italian e “and” and è “is” or Spanish “you” (singular) and tu “your” (singular). As we can see, an accent mark (grave in Italian and acute in Spanish) is used when one of two homonyms is in a stressed position in a sentence and is not used when a homonym is in an unstressed one. Accent marks might as well serve to distinguish English words like to, too and two, which could be spelled too, tóo and tóo respectively. The same can be said of for and four, which would become for and fór respectively (and their homonym fore could probably remain as it is).

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Posted by Massimo on July 2, 2009

In medieval England, various monasteries, which were the centres of thought and education in the Middle Ages, used different spellings to write in English, because at that time there were not any standardized variants of English spelling. In some spellings of that time we can find attempts to consistently use doubled consonants in order to indicate the shortness of the preceding vowel; undoubled consonants, in their turn, indicated the length of the preceding vowel in such spelling. An example can be “Ormulum”, a 12th century Biblical exegesis written by an English monk named Orm. Here is a passage from that work:

Icc hafe wennd inntill Ennglissh
Goddspelles hallghe lare
Affterr þatt little witt þatt me
Min Drihhtinn hafeþþ lenedd.

“I have translated a holy teaching of the Gospel according to the little wit that my Lord has given me”.

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Ðe Beetles – Yesterday

Posted by Massimo on June 30, 2009

So, let’s beguin wið wot has allreddy becum common nolledge and wun ov ðe best nown Inglish-language songs.

Yesterday, all my trubbles seemed so far away,
Nou it looks as ðo ðey’r here too stay,
Oh, I beleeve in yesterday.Suddenly, I’m not haaf ðe man I used too be,
Ðare’z a shaddow hanging over me,
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

Wy she had too go I dôn’t now, she woodn’t say,
I sed sumthing rong, nou I long for yesterday.Yesterday, luv wos such an eesy game too play,
Nou I need a place too hide away,
Oh, I beleeve in yesterday.

Wy she had too go I dôn’t now, she woodn’t say,
I sed sumthing rong, nou I long for yesterday.

Yesterday, luv wos such an eesy game too play,
Nou I need a place too hide away,
Oh, I beleeve in yesterday.
Mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm.

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The, dhe or ðe?

Posted by Massimo on June 29, 2009

̧̌At the moment, I’m considering whether the sounds [θ] and [ð] should be distinguished in spelling. The sound [ð] usually occurs in the middle of the word (e.g.  fathom, mother, smithereens) and in the beginning of the article the and pronouns like this, that, then, there, but usually not in nouns or verbs where we find [θ] instead: thing, think, thank, etc., including words borrowed from Greek such as theme, thermometer, thesis, etc.

In my previous post written in Inglish, I did not venture to go as far as that and wrote the, thare, etc. But I learned while writing my diploma paper that in Old High German the Germanic sound [θ] changed into [ð] and then into [d] in the 9th century, and it was represented by the change of spelling: th > dh > d, as in ther > dher > der “that”. Hence, presumably the letter combination dh represented the sound [ð] for the short time that in existed in Old High German. So, the same representation of the sound [ð] could be used in English, but the thing is (dhe thing iz) that it would probably be more convenient to introduce the letter ð for representing the sound [ð] (by the way, the letter ð exists in Icelandic) and write faððom, muððer, smiððereens, ðe, ðis, ðatðare , but I do not make up my mind to introduce another letter in the language that has long shunned using any letters beyond the 26 standard letters of the Latin alphabet. That is why I also linger to introduce symbols like the letter î for representing the sound [ai] in words like fînd, kînd, mînd, wînd (verb – as opposed to the noun wind [wınd]) or pînt (as opposed to mint), hînd, behînd (as opposed to hinder, hindrance). It would require  introducing another letter to the English layout, but it’s not so high a price, I hope; anyway, if universal keyboard layouts like this one gained acceptance in the world, this problem – and many others – would be quickly solved. The advantage of the symbol ð over dh is the possibility of doubling it, and one of the main ideas in my developing project of reforming English spelling is the consistent use of doubled consonants to show how the previous vowel should be pronounced, e.g. rellatively, considder, enny, menny, moddern, etc.

Since this blog is none other than (nun  uððer ðan) a sort of field for experiment, I will try to employ the symbols ð and î in my future posts in Inglish and see whether it gives a positive result in spelling. Also, I will consider using the symbol ô to represent the sound [ou] in words like môst, pôst, grôss (as opposed to loss), rôll, pôll (as opposed to pollen), etc. So far, I have used oa to denote [ou] in such words, e.g. moast, oald, etc. (as in my previous post).

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Hanseattic Days ov Nu Time in Novgorod

Posted by Massimo on June 24, 2009

On 19 – 21 June 2009, the Internattional Hanseattic Days ov Nu Time took place in Novgorod. It wos an event for wich the citty has prepared in the verry laast moment, if wun mite say so.

For those hoo doo not now: in 1980, a decision too recreate the Hanseattic Leeg (olso nown as the Hansa) wos made. The nu Hansa included the citties wich comprised the oald Hanseattic Leeg as well as sum citties wich wer not members ov the meddieval Hansa but hav prooved their trade relations with the Hansa. In the Middle Ages, the major trade partner ov the Hansa in Russia wos Novgorod, but 11 utther Russian citties such as Pskov, Tver, Veliki Ustuyg etc. allso joined the Hansa. Since Nu Hansa wos re-established, eech yere the internattional festival nown as the Hanseattic Days of Nu Time is held in wun ov the Hanseattic citties. This yere it was held in Novgorod, and delegations from sixteen cuntries took part in it.

The main events of the Hanseattic Days included the presentation ov Hanseattic citties (the thing that I personally liked moast of all), and the festival of historical reconstruction, the parade ov modern and meddieval ships, etc. Wun ov the moast spectaccular events wos the procession ov the participants ov the Hanseattic days, wich took part in the therd and the laast day ov the festival.

During the festival, nu objects ov tourist attraction hav appered in Novgorod, such as the symbol ov the Hansa or the Hansa fountain, on wich the coats-of-arms of oll the sixteen member cuntries of the Hansa are depicted. We hope that this festival will enhaance the internattional status ov Novgorod, wich has long been well nown in Russia as “the Berthplace of Russia”. Olso, I am nou considdering vizzitting the next Hanseattic Days, wich will be held in the Estonian citty ov Pärnu in June 2010.

P.S. This September Novgorod olso cellebrates its 1150th anniversary, wich will attract international attention too the citty wunce again. And my hope is that aafter oll these events the werld will discuvver anutther marvelos Russian citty wich is probbably no less werth vizzitting than the renouned Moscow and St Petersburg.

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About this blog

Posted by Massimo on June 18, 2009

The main aim of this blog is to demonstrate one of the possible ways of reforming English spelling by making it simpler and more logical. This project of reforming English spelling is made by me, the author of this blog. You can read information about me here.

Why did I bother to try to reform English spelling of all things? You can find the answer to this question and my project of reforming English spelling here.

If English claims to be the international language, its spelling must be reformed! English has a relatively simple grammar but a horribly difficult spelling. If English spelling were as logical as that in Spanish, Italian or even German, it would be much easier to learn by people from all over the world.

In my project I do not propose changing the rules of pronouncing letters and letter combinations, I only propose simplifyng the use of them. So, I will write my next posts in reformed English spelling (in Inglish, in other words), and I hope you will be able to understand the texts if you read all the words in it according to standard rules.

All the best,

Maxim Sharapov

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