[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Spring 1980 pp2-5]

Abstracts of papers presented at

the 2nd International Conference on Reading & Spelling.

Baker, Robert G. Spelling Reform and the Psychological Reality of English Spelling Rules.

Proposals for reformed orthographies for English have generally been the brain-children of individual linguists or educators or of committees of such individuals. Thus such spelling systems conform to the sophisticated linguistic intuitions of the experts. The systems are designed, however, for use by non-experts and it is non-expert opinion which holds political sway in terms of the adoption and implementation of any proposed spelling reform.

An experiment is described in which linguistically naive literate native adult speakers are asked to reform the spellings of selected English words according to their own notions of orthographic rationality. Results are discussed in terms of the psychological reality of particular spelling rules and by implication the intuitive plausibility of particular dimensions of orthographic change. Subjects were also interviewed and asked to explain their behaviour toward spelling reform. Results provide a picture of attitudes towards English spelling and a framework of considerations which should be borne in mind by would-be spelling-reformers.

See article.

Bakowski, S. Reading and Writing in English.

A foreigner like myself is very much aware that learning English is like learning two languages - the spoken language and the spelling - and yet, in spite of this, what advantages English has might help it to be the international language of the world were it not for its unreliable spelling.

In my own attempt to tackle this problem, I put forward a proposal I call system B, but since this is very different from what literate English people are accustomed to, a supplementary proposal, 'system Z', modifies system B by admitting move features of familiar spelling.

See article.

Beech, John R. Some Proposed Principles for Simplifying English Spelling.

There would be several advantages for everyone learning to read to changing our present spelling system to make it more accurately represent our present pronunciation of words. However, there would be many problems with changing to a completely phonetic system.

The following guidelines for regularizing traditional orthography are proposed.

1. Where several rules apply, adopt the most frequent one.

2. Retain frequently used but non-phonetic combinations (e.g., -tion).

3. One should tolerate cases in which one letter, or a multi-letter combination may represent more than one phoneme.

4. Subtle distinctions in sounds should be ignored (e.g., s and z sounds should be represented by the common letter 's').

5. Ambiguous vowel sounds, particularly at the end of words, should be omitted.

6. Double consonants and the letter 'k' should be abolished.

7. In cases of spelling ambiguity, a spelling should be based on most frequent spelling responses by laymen.

8. Spelling reform should take place simultaneously over all English speaking nations and it should be made standard.


The aim of these guidelines is to retain as many as possible of the rules of traditional orthography but to employ these rules in as regular a fashion as possible. A system to which any adult can transfer without much difficulty is far more likely to be acceptable to everybody and consequently from the political point of view is far more likely to be implemented.

See article.

Betts, Emmett A. Graphic R.

Graphic r represents both consonant and vowel phonemes and, therefore, is a maverick for both phonemicists and orthographers. Hence, it provides frustration par excellence for educators concerned with phonics - the relationships between graphemes (spellings) and phonemes (sounds). Perhaps this and succeeding reports on graphic r will have served one primary purpose: to spotlight traps and, at the same time, to offer a rationale for regularizing spellings for beginners in reading.

See article.

Betts, Katherine P. Language, Orthography and the Schwa.

This discussion has focused on a somewhat exhaustive examination of the schwa /ə/: its definition, phonemic basis, occurrence in syllabic l, m, and n, morphophonemic alternations, variability in dictionary respellings, graphemic basis, and a mini-study of its interpretation in 48 proposed orthographics for English. However, the undercurrent of this discussion propels the schwa in terms of its broader implications for reading and writing. Thus the schwa has served as a classic example of several controversial facets of the English phonemic-graphemic system, as well as an example of the morphemic basis of English spellings. Also pondered upon - but briefly - have been the effects of syllable and phrase stress on English phoneme-grapheme relationships which shift in discourse (as they should). Furthermore, syllable and phrase stress combine with pitch and juncture to form the melody - or intonation - of language.

Consistency and simplicity of phoneme-grapheme relationships in the English language are viable objectives, worthy of pursuit, particularly for the beginner attempting the acquisition of reading and writing skills. That English spellings are notoriously complex in their representation of speech, is a valid premise. That several languages (e.g., Spanish, Greek) have a more nearly consistent phonemic representation in their writing systems must also be accepted. However, a one-to-one phoneme-grapheme correspondence is a goal in conflict with the melody of the English (or most any other) language and the many dialects it represents.

In any event, may our efforts be guided by empirical evidence in the classroom, by professional objectivity, and by the practical application of a sound theoretical structure. To bring complex, worthwhile goals to fruition requires the collaborative efforts of many and, above all, a genuine concern and love for mankind.

See article, and Appendix.

Bisgard, Helen B. Modern Technology and Spelling Reform.

The introduction mentions the significance of certain developments in the past 100 year history of the Phonemic Spelling Council and its antecedent organizations as they encouraged investigation of all aspects of phonemic spelling of the English language. The Council's recommendations for making easier the learning of writing and reading range from merely making initial learning of standard spelling emotionally satisfying to promoting permanent reform for public acceptance as soon as possible.

The liklihood of the computer's causing this change is exemplified by the reading machine for blind people now available in a few libraries thruout the nation. A reverse process may perfect a device which will "hear" spoken messages and write them on paper using phonemic spelling. Such a system of spelling would become familiar and eventually acceptable to the public.

The standard of pronunciation used by the machine will be the generally accepted one now used by a dictionary. This is the General American speech used in Voice of America world-wide broadcasts.

The task of organizations such as the British Simplified Spelling Society and the Phonemic Spelling Council is to assure the certainty of success. A strategy must be developed for becoming experts in computer linguistics.

See article.

Bye, Alan. The Teaching of Spelling.

Working from the premise that many poor spellers have poor powers of visual memory and visual imagery for words, this paper suggests some principles for training these subskills by teaching careful word study and encouraging the use of spelling mnemonics.

See article.

Citron, Abraham F. and Jones, Cloyzelle K. Traditional English Orthography as Psychic Child Abuse.

In the international year of the child we should look more insistently for the sources of the difficulties which block great percentages of children in English-speaking lands from learning to spell, to write and to read.

The law of consistency or of reliability is basic to all learning. We are consistent with almost all symbols (traffic, directional symbols, time-telling symbols, musical notes, numbers, etc.) which we desire children to learn. Only in our orthography do we abandon consistency; and it is precisely here that we encounter grave academic problems.

Through a long and varied development, English orthography has evolved into a form which too often abuses the basic alphabetic intent and purpose of its origin, which is signifying or calling forth the sounds of speech.

Three main defences of inconsistent spelling are put forward by the reading establishment: the dialectal argument, the etymological argument, the lexical argument. Under scrutiny, all of these arguments collapse. Experience with i.t.a. and with Unifon demonstrates that children learn to read more easily, with lower failure rates, with regular orthographies, than children using traditional orthography.

Insistence on the maintenance of traditional spelling as a necessary guarantee of high level written communication constitutes a huge educational hoax.

Pounding irrational forms into the heads of children is not education; it is the action of a mindless tradition acting with iron authority. Stripped of its elaborate traditional rationalizations, this practice can be recognized for precisely what it is, a form of child abuse.

See article.

Downing, John. Research on Spelling Reform.

The members of the Simplified Spelling Society are united in their belief that the traditional orthography (t.o.) of English should be simplified, but they are divided in their ideas about the manner of the simplification. Research in human psychology can help the Society in two ways:

(1) Psychological research findings contain the proof that the general objective of simplifying English spelling brings great benefits in the education of children whose mother tongue is English and in the teaching of English as a second language.

(2) Psychological research on human motivation can be used to plan a practical strategy for spelling reform that will satisfy the divergent views of different members of the Simplified Spelling Society.

This paper will summarize the evidence on both of these matters.

See article.

Eustace, S. Sinclair. Ess Ess Ess Fonik.

A phonetic system of representing unambiguously all the sounds of European languages by means of letters available on typewriters. Not intended as a system of reformed spelling.

See article.

Gassner, Walter. On the Cboice of the Right Symbol.

The English language needs a reform of its orthography because at present there is no reliable relationship between the sounds and the letters. To those who, in principle, support reform, but wish to tread warily, it has to be pointed out that it is not enough to concentrate on certain glaring absurdities. If there is to be a reform, it has to be a thorough going one, a reform that creates a situation in which it is always possible to deduce from the written form of a word, an acceptable spoken form of that word, and like-wise - subject to certain qualifications - to deduce from an established spoken form, its written form.

With all the disadvantages it exhibits, traditional orthography can still serve as a basis for a reformed system that complies with these requirements. In this reformed system, only the letters of the Latin alphabet are used.

It is sometimes argued that indicating the pronunciation is not the sole purpose of writing, and that etymology and the way in which words are related to each other should be decisive factors. But if spelling is to provide certain additional information, it should never do so at the expense of its chief duty - that of indicating the pronunciation.

The fact that certain words have different meanings in different contexts is sometimes a disadvantage. With regard to cases in which traditional orthography does not discriminate between them, it has to be borne in mind that a spelling reform cannot do away with all disadvantages; it should solely aim at doing away with the disadvantages that are due to the unphonetic character of traditional orthography. But the reform should not create new disadvantages that cannot be anticipated.

It should not be advisable to introduce spelling reform in a large number of small steps, for this would, on every occasion, require reprinting of dictionaries, etc. and would render obsolete all matter previously printed. This is too much of a handicap to overcome.

Jamieson, Hugh V. One Sound-One Symbol: the Sensible Solution to Simplified Spelling.

What is functional literacy? According to one modern dictionary, it is the ability to read well enough to function in a complex society. A functional ability in mathematics, citizenship, science, and health has, by the very nature of things, to be accomplished by a functional use of reading and writing. However, the broad use of misfunctional symbols to form words has been a tormenting handicap during the whole development of language.

A child is born with an amazing instinct for logic, starting with how he gets his first meal and lasting until he begins learning to write words he has just learned to speak. From then on he is forced to cultivate illogic by our present spelling system. By a 30,000 word count in' One Sound-One Symbol' dictionary, it is shown that there are over 60,000 misuses of symbols in our present spelling system.

That is why it takes from kindergarten through high school for the average child to become functional in reading and spelling.

I have discovered that our alphabet has an even 40 symbols that are each recognized universally for one particular sound. Unfortunately, they are used so very often for other sounds in other words that our spelling has to be learned by rote and not by a system.

In this presentation, I will describe a workable 'One Sound-One Symbol' system for spelling the English language.

See article.

McBride, Fergus. Phonographic Relationships in English Spelling and their implications.

Simplification of the writing system is required much more from the writer's point of view than the reader's. Experienced readers of traditional orthography can cope with almost any innovation using the conventional alphabet because, in reading, we have cues from a variety of levels to draw upon in order to get the message. By contrast, in writing, the cues to "correct" spelling are few and unreliable. The difficulties in spelling arise when one has to make a choice between alternatives which are acceptable on phonemic grounds. The existing rules, commonly thought to assist the speller in making these choices, cover a minimal number of cases are invalid (i.e. do not operate) in even a majority of instances, and in addition are difficult to understand and apply. Almost 70% of Scottish teachers use them. Interestingly, the rules covering the inflexions are generally dependable. The morpheme referenced rules are more useful than the phoneme referenced ones.

We can determine the spellings which present most difficulty, i.e. where there are plausible alternatives. We must either produce effective rules (I've found this impossible), or reform phonemically.

More generally, we need much more communication between reformers who tend to be isolated with tunnel vision concentrated upon their own ideas or spelling system. Conferences may help to do this. Is it too early to ask for a Government Commission to hear views and reach a consensus? Could we prepare a questionnaire for reformers on their views on major issues such as gradual or all at once?, representation of the schwa?, additional letters to the alphabet, etc. in order to get a consensus upon which way to "progress."

Moseley, David. Patterns in Pupil's Spelling Errors.

Abstract not available.

See article.

Oakensen, Elsie. Is Spelling Reform Feasible?

The origin of spelling: Originally spelling was the true matching of spoken sounds each with a different symbol. It began when symbols were first used to represent sounds instead of pictures.

English is a composite language. Although the individual spellings which have been incorporated from other languages may have been systematic, they are incompatible with each other.

English, although richly endowed with many advantages has, in comparison with other languages, one serious defect - its unphonetic spelling. One letter may vary in many ways with regard to its pronunciation, while one particular sound may be spelt in an equally large number of different ways.

Additionally every letter of the alphabet is silent in some words.

Four definite advantages are seen for a reform of our spellings. The opposers of spelling reform see five insuperable obstacles to its use. The proponents of spelling reform offer in rebuttal six arguments. But still there is the problem: if it were decided to introduce a reformed spelling, which type of reform would be selected, and how?

See article, Appendices.

O'Halloran, George. A Pedagogical Purview of Orthography.

The English language has long been used as a means of class discrimination, until this century when it was decided that all (or nearly all) children ought to be able to read and to spell. A spelling reform would make it easier for children to learn reading and spelling. But which pronunciation should the new spelling be based upon? It seems unlikely that there will ever be a unification of the various dialects of English.

If we were to change to a phonemic script, could we retain the diaphonic property of the present English spelling? The author's experiences in The Gambia in trying to devise a phonemic script are detailed. His theory is that the later in its development a language is written down, the better for all concerned. English was probably written down too soon. He also thinks that a phonemic reform would contain in itself the germ of the dissolution of the English language.

See article.

Paulson, Vic. The Cultural Impediments of English Orthography.

Inspired by the failure of the Federal Government's ten-year "Right-to-Read" program, this paper by the designer of TORSKRIPT is a comprehensive package which

(1) relates English illiteracy to the so-called "correct spelling" now in use,

(2) traces that "system's" historic origins,

(3) analyzes the nature of its deep-rooted investiture, and,

(4) presents novel strategy for displacing it.


Evidence is presented to support the author's proposition that conventional spelling is a pathogenic reflexive cultural entity that makes prisoners of those conditioned by it. The incapacity to escape from that bondage is classified as a collective mental disorder of societal proportions. A psychotherapeutic approach to the dispersal of it is suggested, beginning with the use of the clinical term "pathography" to describe conventional spelling.

Three additional steps in the strategy are as follows:

(1) large-scale comparative tests of a variety of alternative writing systems designed for Modern English.

(2) A dynamic legal attack against conventional spelling as exclusive usage, on the grounds of anti-trust violation, environmental pollution, consumer fraud, and sex discrimination.

(3) The publishing of vital public information in bi-literate form, with an improved alternative writing system side-by-side with the old.


The author does not mention any particular alternative system.

See article.

Scragg, D. G. Analogy in English spelling.

English orthography has a history of ten centuries - longer than any other language using the alphabet. English spelling has grown organically - not haphazardly. Understanding how our spelling evolved betters our chances of seeing why it went wrong, and how to right the anomalies it contains. Analogy is a powerful factor in language - especially so in spelling. Spelling errors are often due to analogy. Analogy is sometimes blamed for interfering with etymology, and correctly so. Visual links to closely related words are important but some such visual links to the past have outlived their usefulness. Wijk has applied the principle of analogy systematically and this author applauds it. But analogy must be applied with caution and scientific study.

See article.

Smith, Philip T. In defence of conservatism in English spelling.

This paper reviews recent psychological studies of reading and spelling. It will be argued that, on the evidence available, the best characterization of the reading process is one where the reader creates many different levels of linguistic representation in the course of reading the text (phonetic, morphemic, lexical, syntactic, semantic, etc.). Because English orthography contains information pertinent to many of these levels (unlike a phonetic alphabet, which, by definition, provides only phonetic information), it is suggested that current English spelling is of more help to a fluent adult reader than, most of the alternatives offered by spelling reformers.

See article.

Thackray, D. V. The Effects of a Simplified Spelling on Children's Readiness to Read.

Lack of experimentation in England until recently was due to a lack of published reading readiness tests.

In the author's first experiment, the earlier reading readiness results were correlated with the later reading achievement results, visual and auditory discrimination correlated significantly with later reading achievement.

Because of its simplicity in its visual and auditory characteristics, protagonists of i.t.a. have suggested that children using i.t.a. should be ready to read at an earlier age than if learning to read with the more complex t.o. The author, knowing of the importance of visual and auditory discrimination for reading readiness, investigated this hypothesis using 300 children in 16 schools over a period of three years.

Matched groups of i.t.a. and t.o. children were established.

The results showed that children learning to read with i.t.a. were ready to read six months to a year earlier than the t.o. children. The Bullock Report was discussed.

See article.

Wijk, Axel. The Right To Read.

It is suggested that an experiment should be undertaken to test whether English reading and writing can be caught more efficiently and successfully by the aid of the proposed new method than by the various combined Whole-word and phonic reading schemes that are now in general use. Owing to the confused spelling system, a large proportion of English children experience immense difficulties in learning to read. In this connection, we should further draw attention to the "Right to Read" movement in the U.S.A.

An approach to the reading problem which will enable children to learn to read more or less exclusively by the aid of phonics methods is by the aid of a regularized spelling. Regularized Inglish Spelling offers such a possibility, and deserves a full investigation.

The reading scheme consists of two parts: Book One for the introductory stage and Book Two for the advanced stage. Each book indicates the phonic details in the progress of the reading ability of the pupils. The Manual is written in Regularized Inglish so that the reader can see that anybody who can read traditional English can easily read in the new regularized form.

See article.

Yule, Valerie. A Transitional Spelling Reform for Adults and Learners.

The scheme recognises the need to find the 'best fit' spelling for the sometimes conflicting requirements of learners, machines and fluent users, the educated elite and the 'educationally handicapped,' native speakers and second language learners, the changing English language and the maintenance of continuity with present English spelling.

A very simple initial learning spelling follows the lines of World English Spelling. Learners then progress to a Transitional Spelling which achieves a regularised approximation to conventional English spelling by modifying Lerner's Spelling with 12 rules and 12 sight-words.

Transition Spelling is immediately readable by today's readers, and as with Lerner's Spelling, the rules can be programmed for electronic machines. It can be introduced into print and learnt for writing, in four straightforward stages which, if unmodified by the 12 rules, would lead directly to Lerner's Spelling. As it is reform by stages, it can begin now, with Harry Lindgren's SR-1, and later forms can be modified as research and experience determine.

The full schemes includes proposals for more effective techniques to teach reading and writing once present unreliable spelling no longer complicates 'the reading process.'

See article.

Yule, Valerie. The Practical Matter of Implementing Spelling Reform.

Spelling reformers must consider the needs, attitudes and abilities of the people who are to use a reformed spelling. A theoretically perfect phonemic spelling might prove impracticable for general and technological use even if public resistance to its introduction were overcome.

This paper looks at aspects of 'the psychology of spelling' - practical criteria to consider in designing a more efficient orthografy and planning its introduction, with techniques of consumer education and marketing.

See article.

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