Let's Make English Spelling Simpler!

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).


21 Responses to “The, dhe or ðe?”

  1. Andrew said

    ̧̌”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.”

    Will you spell “loath” and “loathe” in the same way, then?

    • max425 said

      No, they will be spelled loath and loadh/loað respectively. I think the final “e” in “loathe” will be superfluous in this case.

      On second thought, I decided to use digraphs like “ie” and “oa” to denote the diphthongs [aı] and [ou] in words like “kind”, “mind”, “pint”, “most”, “old”, “gross” (kiend, miend, pient, moast, oald, groass), etc. But it would probably be better to introduce the letter “ð” to denote the sound [ð] because, unlike “dh” or “th”, it can be consistently doubled in words like muððer (mother), uððer (other), etc.

      • Ricardo said

        They should be distinguished, so as to distinguis “this” and “think”. Introducing new letters is always somewhat difficult. Most of the authors propose to keep th for the sound of “think” and introduce a new one “dh” for the sound of “this”. The “dh” has the advantage that it looks quite similar to languages such as Dutch or German with common roots.

        For example, “that” would be written as “dhat”, quite similar to “dat” in Dutch or “das” in German.

      • LoboSolo said

        I don’t know how yu guys are saying these words but as a nativ English speaker (and a speaker of German) I can tell you that that the ‘th’ in ‘that’ does not sound anything like the ‘d’ in ‘das’ or ‘dass’. I make the sounds otherly in my mouth. Saying ‘that’ as ‘dat’ is rife among the less lernd, the lazy, … and foreigners. Foreigners hav the excuse that most of them don’t hav that sound in their own tung so they struggel with it. That is understandable.

        Any otherness in the sound between the ‘th’ in this and that is mainly shape’d by the following vowel. I don’t try to sunder the ‘h’ sounds in ‘hit’ and ‘hat’ … the slight otherness is shape’d by the vowel … The same with this and that or the two ways to say ‘the’ … thee or thə / thuh

        Always keep in mind that English is a stressd-time tung. The sounds of unstressd syllables or even words will chanj or drop in a sentence hinjing on hwer the stress in the sentence falls.

  2. Mark said

    Revive ðe old English standard of eð and þorn; it’s ðat simple.

    0. No digraphs (ruling out dh)
    1. Ð and ð for Ðis and ðat.
    2. Þ and þ for Þink and þank

    • max425 said

      Good idea. The only problem that worries me is that in this case the English language would require a special keyboard layout. However, on second thought, it’s not that difficult to create it :)

  3. Mark said

    I use ðe extended English macintosh keyboard:

    alt+d = ð
    shift + alt + d = Ð

    alt+t = þ
    shift + alt + d = Þ

    Ðese are faster ðan typing ðe digraphs.

    Ðe oðer issue is wiþ ðe words of Greek origin, like thermometer, I still use ðe digraph.

    I don’t þink simplification of spelling is good if it obscures etymology.

    • max425 said

      >I don’t þink simplification of spelling is good if it obscures etymology.

      Well, but the English spelling is all etymological :) e.g. “good” was once pronounced [go:d], “two” — [two:], etc.

      But your idea wið þ and ð is very good indeed. However, I þink ðat words like “thermometer” wouldn’t suffer too much if we began to write ðem as “þermometer” :) On ðe oððer hand, in Greek words “th” is always pronounced as a voiceless [θ], so there is no ambiguity in pronouncing ðem anyway :) All ðese þings considered, here I side wið ðe most consistent spelling possible, i.e. wið spellings like þermometer or maþematics.

      At ðe moment, I am considering the possibility of introducing ðe letter æ in words like “bæd”, “fæt”, “ræt” (as words of ðis kind were actually spelled in Old English) or, more importantly, “nætural” & “nætional” as opposed to “nature” and “nation”.

  4. Mark said

    Acknowledged, ðere is never a clear line as when a word adopted, and when it should retain its etymological properties. No one is advocating returning to spelling alcohol, al-kohul.

    As far as ðe “æ”, I concur. Anyþing to avoid ðe overloading of letters in English, and reïntroduction of ðe digraph.

    But ðere is ðen anoðer overlap wiþ words like encyclopædia, which means æ will again be overloaded.

    I wouldn’t write national as nætional because it obfuscates ðe Latin origin.

    I would write bad as bæd because it’s English, and comes from ðe original word bæddel.
    In oðer words it should never have been written as bad in ðe first place.

    So my rules are:
    1. Only change iff:
    a. Better mapping of sound to glyph
    b. Etymology is retained, ie. no information loss.

    Ðere are no official spelling rules anyway in English, unlike for French and German, so in theory you can write it any which way.

    I which case ðis þread is moot, bu ðere are certainly better ways of spelling English depending on your objectives.
    Personally, I don’t like to make aggressive idiosyncratic changes to my writing, wiþ ðe exception of eð and þorn because it makes my writing less readable.-ðe real fact is ðat all changes make it harder to read because ðe widespread use of standard spelling.

    Most of ðe reforms for spelling are simplifications, implying information loss, so in general I am not a proponent. Spelling “Telefon” in German drives me up ðe wall.

    • max425 said

      You are an etymologist too, aren’t you? ;)

      >I wouldn’t write national as nætional because it obfuscates ðe Latin origin.

      But writing “nætional” would indicate ðe difference in pronunciation from “nation”, which is pronounced with æn [ei] raðer ðæn [æ]. Ðis would simplify many things for English learners, which would stop confusing “a” representing [ei] and “a” representing [æ]. As for now, many English learners in Russia say “national” and “natural” with æn [ei] raðer ðan wið æn [æ], using æn ænælogy wið “nation” and “nature”.

      >But ðere is ðen anoðer overlap wiþ words like encyclopædia, which means æ will again be overloaded.

      Lætin words like “encyclopædia” may be spelled “encyclopedia” (as ðey are actually spelled in American English), which would reflect ðeir pronunciation more consitistently and rule out such overlæpping.

      Why do you spell “reïntroduction” with an ï instead of “i”?

      >Ðere are no official spelling rules anyway in English, unlike for French and German


      >Spelling “Telefon” in German drives me up ðe wall.

      Well, in ðis particular case I always want to write “Telephon” instead too! :)

      However, in Romænce languages such æs Itælian or Spænish (but not French), ðe Greek ph has been completely replaced with an f, probably for simplification. For example, “telephone” is “telèfono” in Italian and “teléfono” in Spanish. Anoððer example: ðe Italian for “physics” is “fisica” :)

  5. Mark said

    >Why do you spell “reïntroduction” with an ï instead of “i”?

    Ðere is a diaresis between ðe two vowel sounds instead of writing ðe hyphen.


    Yes, really. You just look uneducated if you can’t spell correctly, but ðere are no official rules. So spell differently to your heart’s content.

    Reviving non-standard spelling was even advocated by the spelling society (http://www.spellingsociety.org) to raise awareness of how antiquated ðe system is, but again some standard, however poorly conceived is better ðan none. Ðe world is full of sub-optimal arrangements ðat persist because of ðe massive beneficial effects of convention (þink computer keyboards, music notation, etc.) I am not saying it is impossible to break such conventions, but it is highly unlikely–ðe best way in my opinion is simply to start spelling how you see fit. Ðe spelling society has been trying to reform English spelling for more ðan a century and hasn’t gotten very far. Internally ðey are not even sure what English spelling should look like, and reading some of ðeir simplified documents, I find ðeir way of spelling too radical.

    I might however adopt ðe simplifyd, convention of “-yd” for ðe past tense as it seems more English, iff we revert to ðe y’s in company to “-ie” companie, to reflect ðe Latin origin.

    Ðere was an article about how spelling shouldn’t be too phonetic because many dialects/accents use ðe same language–choosing a spelling like “wið” as you have done leaves me out in ðe cold because I pronounce it voiceless, wiþ. Would multiple spellings be valid? Ðis would defeat ðe purpose of simplified spelling reform because ðere would be two words now instead of an unsightly “th”

    >Well, in ðis particular case I always want to write “Telephon” instead too! :)

    I hate ðe elimination of ðe ph, a stand-in for phi, in French, Italian and Spanish too. It reminds me of children writing who don’t know where ðe words come from.

    • max425 said

      I know about the Simplified Spelling Society. In my lead-in article “Why Reform English Spelling?” I also give a link to it. By the way, here is another link relevant to our subject: a project of one-to-one phonemic English spelling called Neato English.

      I am a devoted etymologist too, but I think that ordinary people shouldn’t suffer from a spelling which is more complicated just because of etymology. So, variants like “encyclopedia” or even “telefone” and “fysics” might well be fine :) Not only does this make it simpler to spell different words, but it also make them shorter in spelling :)

      I accept your variant of -y(e)d instead of -ied in the past tense, etc. In order to simplify things, one could rule out the alternation -y/-ie at all: lady — ladys, simplify — simplifyes, simplifyed (-yed with an “e”, because otherwise we’d get a different pronunciation according to the rules).

      >Ðere was an article about how spelling shouldn’t be too phonetic because many dialects/accents use ðe same language–choosing a spelling like “wið” as you have done leaves me out in ðe cold because I pronounce it voiceless, wiþ.

      And I pronounce this word as “wið” and so I have spelled it :) However, I’m not a native speaker of English, so I might have chosen a less common pronunciation (though the dictionary renders both pronunciation variants as correct). The above-mentioned article about Neato English (section “Reasons to Reform English Spelling” which I recommend you to read from beginning to end) says among other things:

      Who says that there must be one and only one correct spelling per word? Just spell things as you say them; I know that not everyone says the same word the same way. I say putáytoe, and you might say putótoe. I say tumáytoe and you say tumótoe. Fine with me. Let’s call the whole thing off.

      By the way, dialectal differences is one of the main reasons why the Chinese language hasn’t yet abandoned its extremely difficult system of writing and did not, and is not going to, accept Latin or any other sound-to-letter alphabet. In this case, speakers of different Chinese dialects (which are said to differ VERY greatly from one another) would not be able to understand texts written in another dialect — while traditional Chinese characters reflect the meaning of a word rather than the way it sounds, so it can be understood by all Chinese speakers.

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  7. Sakari Kestinen said

    Æs ø dženeral komment tu jår blog, ai wud sei ðæt jú šud ækkwaiø ðe Nordik letters å, æ, ø ænd jús þorn ænd eð džast laik in Aislændik. Ðe “schwa” saund (“er”, “a”) is meibi æmbigyøs, sow aim not jet suø, šud jú jús “e” or “ø”.

    Rigarding ðe long ænd šort vowels as wel æs ш ж ц ч saunds, aid sei ðæt Ček længwiž hæs ø gúd soljýš’n. Long vowels ár márk’d wið ø “hácek” (´), “sh” bikams “š”, “dz” is “ž”, “ts” renders æs “c” (ðow “ts” is betø in Ingliš) ænd “ch” is “č”. Sow šudn’t længwiž raþø bí čeinžd ðis wei?

    Änatör vei vut pii taiping äs sam finis piipol pronauns inglis. Ai vut sei tät tis lätter van is mats moor vörs.

    • Mark said

      I could read most of what you wrote except for the last few words when you wrote like a Finn.

      Well we could all write wiþ ðe International Phonetic Alphabet and be done wiþ it.

      No etymology, just pure phonetic bliss.

    • Bruce said

      I agree that Czech spelling (orthography?) would work well for English consonants. However, I think the bigger problem in English is the method of spelling vowels. There are so many different vowel sounds in English, and they vary dramatically based on the speaker’s native accent. The examples provided above are a good start, but they definitely mean the reader ends up speaking in the accent of the writer. In response to questions above, I think using ‘dh’ for voiced th and ‘th’ for unvoiced (instead of Icelandic letters) makes sense. Also, ‘c’ and ‘k’ should always be different sounds, as well as ‘q’, ‘x’, ‘y’, and ‘w’, since those sounds can be represented by ‘k’, ‘ks’, ‘i’, and ‘u’.

  8. LoboSolo said

    1. Changing the ‘th’ to thorn (þ) or eth (ð) does not in any way “simplify” English spelling. It only shortens the word by a letter. Indeed, bringing back both letters for ‘th’ makes it worse! It’s hard to say the ‘th’ sound the wrong way unless you say it like a ‘d’ so you only need one of them.

    2. This has alreddy been tried! And it was a big flop. The nativ Anglo staf (letter) for ‘th’ is thorn (þ). The eth (ð) was brought in by Irish monks to try to sunder the two sounds. It didn’t work. Scribes swappt them at will. The same would happen today or both would be ignord.

    3. Spelling often hides the etym of a word. Not that it matters, most folks are clueless when it comes to the etym anyway. ‘Through’ looks nothing like the OE ‘þurh’ … The ‘thru’ spelling is much nearer to the etym roots but you don’t see folks jumping to note it for the etym. They write it for that it’s shorter and is fonetic. Speaking of fonetic, the ‘ph’ is nothing more than a translit of the Greek. No one says, “p-fone” or “telep-fone”. There’s no reason not to English it.

    Trying to tie spelling to etym roots has given us some of our worse spellings! The so-called lernd men of the day swappt ‘ch’ for ‘k’ in ‘ake’ on the mistaken belief that it had a Greek root, same thing for putting the ‘c’ in ‘sithe’ (thinking it had a Latin root) and the ‘s’ in ‘iland’ (also thinking it had a Latin root). They put the silent ‘b’ into ‘det’ to make debt. So on and so forth. In OE anchor was ‘ancor’ (‘anker’ in ME). Truthfully, the Greek χ would be better translitted as ‘kh’. But a straight up ‘k’ or hard ‘c’ would work. Most folks don’t say, “kharacter”, they say “karacter”. Either way is fine with me but the ‘ch’ should only be for the ‘ch’ like ‘church’.

    All that being said, sumtimes a littel I’ll take an etym spelling. If you want to get back to the etym roots then OE hwæt or hwat for what, OE hwæl or hwael for whale … swap back the ‘cw’ from the French ‘qu’ … OE cwic (quick), OE cwen (queen) … swap the French ‘le’ back to ‘el’ … OE litel, lytel (little), OE middel (middle) … swap the French ‘re’ back to ‘er’ … OE acer (acre) … and so forth.

    The spelling of many words were chaenjd (changed) owing to French spelling rules with the Carolina script … OE munec became monk but we still say ‘munk’, wundor became wonder but we say ‘wunder’, tung, tunge became tongue but we say ‘tung’ … and so forth. French spelling rules forbade and still mostly forbid that words in a ‘v’. OE lufu became love but we say ‘luv’, same for above, ‘abuv’ … and so forth. All of these could easily be cleand up.

    Latinates taken straight from Latin are mostly fonetic. Those that came thru French often are not. So, for byspel, that would mean color insted of the Old French colour (Latin color) and the same for honor (Latin honor).

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