The Simplified Spelling Society
working towards the
Modernization of English Spelling
• more effective education • higher standards of literacy•
• easier mastery of the language • a more efficient writing system•
Why Simplify Spelling?
The need to modernizeSpelling is a system of letters giving words recognizable written form. If the letters are used consistently to show how words are pronounced (as they are meant to), literacy is easily mastered. However, the spelling of words may become out of date as pronunciation changes thru the ages, and literacy then becomes more difficult. To avoid this, spelling needs to be updated to ensure sounds and letters still match. Many languages have updated their spelling in the past 100 years, but English has not done so systematically in the past 1000. English spelling today is therefore so antiquated that it presents a serious obstacle to education.
What's wrong with English spelling?English spelling is full of contradictions. Letters may stand for the wrong sound, like o in woman or u in busy or gh in cough, and most are sometimes silent, like b in doubt or s in island. Consonants vary from single to double, like f in afraid but ff in affray, or t in omit but tt in omitted. Endings are unpredictable: compare beggar, teacher, actor. Success in the modern world depends on literacy, yet English spelling is so disordered that after 10 or more years schooling many people still have only a shaky command of it, and millions are functionally illiterate. Even in the hands of professional writers it is an uncertain and clumsy instrument. As a medium of world communication, English is learnt by hundreds of millions of non-native speakers, yet their access to the language is likewise obstructed by the mismatch between speech and writing, which arouses anger, ridicule and frustration. Native and non-native users alike would gain from simpler, more regular, more predictable spellings.
Introducing simpler spellingSuch a complex, worldwide system of communication cannot be revolutionized overnight. Awareness first has to be spread of the advantages of simplification: greater consistency would improve literacy, make written communication easier, and benefit all education. Society then needs to ensure that schools teach simpler, more regular spellings, and that publishers provide texts using the new forms, which would also have to be listed in dictionaries. In this way simplified spellings would gradually become accepted as a new standard.
SSS - Past, Present and Future
Historical perspectiveIn Shakespeare's day English spelling was fluid, with no fixed "correct" forms for words. In the 17th century printers came to prefer most of the forms we now consider correct, but they gave little thought to consistency (eg, they opted for receive but relieve, speak but speech, etc). Since then, eminent linguists, educationists and others (eg, Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster, Isaac Pitman) have called for reform, yet little has changed even by the end of the 20th century. Today's need to improve literacy and assist world communication in English gives a new urgency to calls for the spelling to be simplified.
New Spelling and the i.t.a.The movement to reform English spelling reached a peak before 1914, with support in America from President Theodore Roosevelt and in 1908 the founding of the Simplified Spelling Society (SSS) in Britain. The SSS first proposed a fully phoneticized system (New Spelling), which radically changed the look of the language and implied a standard pronunciation. Its most positive outcome was its adoption by James Pitman (later SSS President) as a basis for the Initial Teaching Alphabet, a regularized spelling system with extra letters which was used in the 1960-80s in many schools in several countries. It showed the dramatic gains that regular spelling brings to the process of literacy acquisition, as well as the feasibility of co-ordinating spelling reform between countries.
New approachesThe later 20th century saw new approaches to the problem, aiming at partial regularization as a first stage. A Swedish proposal (1959) concentrated on helping readers rather than writers. Australian reformers (1969) proposed a series of small simplifications, from which the SSS (1984) derived a set of 5 changes giving forms like hed, fotograf, caut, cof, giv. More recently, Lojikon (1995) proposed regularizing the spelling of consonants only, while Cut Spelling removed the 10% troublesome redundant letters, so also creating the economic benefits of time and materials saved in writing and publishing.
The SSS thus now offers a range of reform possibilities.