[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Winter 1982 pp7-10]

SSS Conference 3: Development of improvement in English Orthography, continued.

"An account of the 'English Maximally Simplified Writing' (EMSR)"

by Prof. V. A. Vassilyev, Leningradskage Shosse 112/1, Moscow, U.S.S.R. and Prof. A. C. Gimson, Univ. College, the Open Univ., Milton Keynes, England.


The rationale of EMSR is to remove all discrepancies between pronunciation and spelling. Spelling reforms, no matter how badly needed, are impossible to put into use to supplant traditional spelling. MSR is planned to co-exist with traditional spelling. Variant spellings are considered. Kinds of writing. Advantages of MSR. The use of schwa helps to indicate stress. Ways of introducing MSR. Better knowledge of speech sounds and its use in phonics. Chart of consonant, vowel symbols and key words. The system is based on Received Standard Speech (Southern British).


The rationale of EMSR is to remove all discrepancies between pronunciation and spelling. It is not intended to be an official orthography obligatory on all literate people, but to be an unofficial and optional re-spelling system to be used alternatively with the traditional spelling (TS). It is to emphasise this unofficial character of MSR that the word 'rieting' rather than 'spelling' is used in it.

Spelling reforms as such, no matter how badly needed, are impossible to enact, as proved by the failure of more than a hundred projects to reform English, French, Russian and German. It is a mistake to believe that because reforms are 'evidently rational', they can easily be introduced by means of official governmental spelling reform. Reform depends upon highly literate people who are dogmatic, conservative, and have forgotten how hard the learning was for them. They firmly believe that if they themselves overcame all such difficulties, so can all others. Many proposed reforms have been so revolutionary in design that orthographic unity would be broken internationally, since it is unlikely that countries could agree on a common change.

MSR, however, is planned to co-exist with the official TS. It could be learnt easily because it denotes each of the language's sounds with a separate (only one) letter or constant letter combination almost exclusively belonging to the language's traditional alphabet ('one sound-one grapheme' principle).

As phoneticians, the devisers of MSR are at pains to distinguish the 'sound types' which are the bases of MSR from the more technical and even controversial elements of the spoken language, phonemes and phonetic elements, although the sound types function as phonemes in that they distinguish language units from each other.

The number of rules for pronunciation and respelling in MSR are approximately the number of sound types and phonemic sub-types in the language, viz, about 47, and there are no exceptions to the rules. This means that for the learner to write in the MSR system, he must be able to break up his own (dialectal) speech and the (standard) speech which he hears from others (including speech on radio and television) into the language's sound types and phonemic sub-types (to do which he must know their inventory) and write each of them by the appropriate grapheme.

The second part of the above general rules means that for the learner to read in MSR, he must be able to pronounce correctly (i.e. in accordance with standard pronunciation) all the sound types and phonemic sub-types which he sees presented by the appropriate graphemes. The knowledge of both parts of these general rules frees the learner from the necessity of memorising any particular pronunciation and spelling rules. Thus the number of learning-to-read-and-write difficulties is reduced to an absolute minimum. All the learner would have to do would be:
1. To learn the handwritten and printed shapes of the capital and small letters of the alphabet and their names.

2. Memorise the inventory of the language's sounds (about 47).

3. Acquire the ability to break up words into these sounds.

4. Acquire the ability to denote each of these sounds by the appropriate graphemes.
In order to co-exist with TS, MSR uses the absolute minimum of letters and consonant letter combinations not used in TS. A symbol is needed for the neutral vowel, the schwa (a) because its absence from an alphabet violates the one-grapheme-one-sound principle. The symbol used is an upside down 'e' (ə) which can easily be put on any typewriter.

Eight English sounds which are not denoted by any special graphemes in TS are represented in MSR by <dh, zh, uu, ə, iə, eə, oə, ooə> as in dhae, vizhn, duu (do), (cur), hiə (here), cheə (chair), goəj (gorge), pooə (poor). Full details are presented in the monograph by Prof. Vassilyev and Prof. Gimson, "The Quickest and Easiest Way to Learn to Read and Write in English," which attempts to provide a solution to the problem they see that "it is impossible to devise a re-spelling system for English which would still be simple and still close graphemically to ETS without violating the crucial principle for MSR of one-grapheme-one-sound, and without oversimplification.

As well as 'sound-typing', 'monographemnis' and 'graphemic closeness' to TS, a fourth pre-requisite for coexistence of EMSR and TS is maximally possible letter economy by eliminating silent and doubled letters, including nonspoken vowel letters, resulting in a 5% economy overall. Even schwa is omitted when not actually necessary.

Writers in ESMR can choose the variant to the pronunciations to which they are most accustomed. The great extent of free variation therefore may be criticised by the argument that the reader who comes across several different spellings of one and the same word will have his recognition of words hampered. The counter arguments are proposed that:
1. A reader in MSR will become accustomed to several slightly different spellings of some words through practice.

2. Readers will learn that there are several equally correct pronunciations of the same word.

3. The benefit for writers is important.
Reading both in TS and MSR without special learning to do the latter may be called 'automatic lectal biliteracy.' The first stage in the introduction of MSR systems is practising TS and MSR lectal biliteracy. The second stage will be practising reading in TS by those who have learnt to read first in MSR. To what degree this second stage of lectal biliteracy will also be automatic can only be discovered through experience and special experiments (both of which are now lacking, of course). But it is assumed that little additional teaching and learning will be required for originally MSR readers to start reading in TS as well because except for 9 graphemes, all graphemes are already used in TS, and only a small number of words would differ from their TS counterparts in more than two graphemes, and many of the TS rules of pronunciation can be guessed or deduced from knowledge of English. The authors assume that readers in their native tongue will have this knowledge of the English language, although foreigners would have to pass from reading in MSR to reading in TS after acquiring a good knowledge of the language or to frequently consult the dictionary if they start reading in TS immediately or very soon after learning to read in MSR. All sorts of context - linguistic (grammatical, lexical, fonetic, orthographic), and semantic will also greatly help initially only MSR readers to read correctly sentences written in TS.

If however, some or even all of these factors prove, contrary to expectations, invalid, there is also the wellknown fact that it is comparatively easy to learn only reading (without writing) in any TS system, especially in one's mother tongue, and even in a foreign language no matter how complex and difficult its TS is. There are a great many people who read (without being able to write) in a foreign language or even more than one who read (usually silently 'to themselves' without even mentally pronouncing words). Practice will also contribute to ensuring that MSR and TS lectal biliteracy could be achieved readily.

This lectal biliteracy will exclude the necessity to republish in MSR what has been, is being, and will be published in the TS system.

Writing is quite different from reading - physiologically, psychologically, in their varieties and uses. There are people who read well but write badly. These discrepancies between lectal biliteracy and scriptal literacy exist in TS but the authors assume that those who read in an MSR system would, ipso facto, be able to write in it as well. In other words, learning to read in an MSR system would be at the same time learning to write in it. (Comment by summariser: from my own experience, I think this would need to be tested experimentally rather than assumed. VY)

Only about 1% of the population need to write for publication in the TS, because that is the official system - while MSR is to be used to write what is not meant for publication - the other 99% - who will not need to consult dictionaries.

Thus a tremendous amount of classroom and homework time, mental energy, material means and even manual labour in spelling exercises will be unnecessary, since school children will not have to learn to write TS, just as higher mathematics is only learnt by a few in a higher educational institution.

The advantages of a writing system such as MSR

1. It applies across languages, such as English, French, Russian and German.

2. The saving of time for schools in teaching and learning; the saving for adults not having to consult dictionaries.
3. Readers will improve both their native and foreign language pronunciation since texts will reflect the standard speech.

4. The use of schwa will help to indicate stress.

5. Economies of 5% in English, 7% in French, and 0.5% in Russian.

6. Linguistic works would not need special phonetic type.

7. Makes possible the development of portable cybernetic typewriters and similar developments in electronic sound-symbol transliteration without requiring expensive and complicated dictionary memories. Cybernetic readers will be possible. True, the pronunciation of such a cybernetic 'reader' will be unnatural, especially in the matter of prosody (length, stress and pitch) but it will be comprehensible. Since they could be made cheap and portable, they could supersede Braille for blind people.

8. Better methods can be designed for teaching reading and writing with a simple MSR system - as well as for switching to bilectalism.

9. Typing speeds could improve, since the system involves no superfluity of graphemes to denote one and the same sound to increase nervous system decisions and processes.

10. It is possible that reading would also become faster.

11. MSR in the original European languages now could blaze the way for MSR in other languages with complicated or no spelling.

12. Publishing opportunities will increase, in a wider literate public, as well as expanding into MSR publishing itself.

13. The lectal and scriptal rules for MSR can be given in a nutshell on a postcard, with MSR/TS keywords adduced to illustrate each rule.

Ways of introducing MSR.

1. Publicity to inform the public, using all media.

2. Literacy teaching in educational institutions using MSR, with special streaming to allow teaching in both MSR and TS for those who wish it or whose parents desire it. Those who already can read in TS may only require one teaching period in MSR.

The authors estimate that a fortnight with the help of special audio visual aids and specially designed textbooks would be sufficient to help beginners and second-language learners to master the techniques of reading and writing in any MSR. (Summariser's comment: We are so used to learners taking 18 months for 'the penny to drop' and three years for independent reading that we have not really considered how to organize teaching very carefully for 'speed learning'.)

The necessary skills to learn would be the ability to break up words and wordforms into constituent sounds, to know the meaning of the term '(speech) sound', and the inventory of the language's sounds, and to be able to identify as sounds and letters the vowels and consonants, voiced and voiceless consonants, stressed and unstressed vowels. The authors think even pre-school children can 'easily acquire' this 'phonetic minimum' if the methods are appropriate.

As an initial learning medium MSR would have the advantages of Pitman's i.t.a. without its drawbacks - the advantages of earlier and easier learning to read and write, without the disadvantage of transition, abandoning so much old learning to learn so much new.

3. Publishing in MSR, including the 'nutshell postcard' reference table of lectal and scriptal rules for handy reference in early use of it, news about the use and introduction of MSR systems at home and abroad, a summary of the main domestic and foreign news printed in TS elsewhere in newspapers, the 'nutshell rules' printed on the covers of exercise books.

4. Support by voluntary organizations and movements, in addition to an official MSR movement, such as the Simplified Spelling Society could be.

5. The 'orthoconservatists' and 'orthodogmatists' will not be inconvenienced themselves by the introduction of MSR because they can still read and write in TS - and will find MSR easy to read if they desire to do so. The orthoconservatists' insistence that everybody should learn to read and write only in TS and spend on it an immense amount of time, mental and physical energy and material means, including money, is manifestly undemocratic - an orthographic dictatorship, so to speak. MSR is completely democratic; only those will use it who wish themselves to do so. There is no need to doom humanity to eternal orthographic torments, paying through the nose for them at that.

The public have the right to be informed of MSR, so they can have the experience of using it for their mother tongue and for foreign and second languages, and by their own experience become convinced of the advantages and benefits.

In the long run, even those who insist on publication only in TS will get so used to the look of national MSR systems and enjoy the benefits that they too will start using it. That will mean a natural spelling reform - and MSR will pave the way for it.

6. National and international organizations that can help promote MSR: a) ministries of education, b) societies such as the Simplified Spelling Society, whose stated object is "to recommend and propagate simpler spellings of English words than those now in use' does not go far enough - it should be seeking the maximally simplified spelling. (Some of its attempts at rule-making, e.g. The Pioneer, September, 1979, p. 3, 4 have been incredibly complicated, and impossible for learners to apply even if they memorise the rule.) Such societies should have their own publishing house and be internationally organized, with numerous national branches. c) The British Council and the English Speaking Union - the latter also has the Duke of Edinburgh as a patron. d) The International Phonetic Association and the International Society of Phonetic Sciences. The IPA's aim of scientific and practical representation of different languages remains so far largely unachieved, but MSR could be the way to achieve its orthographic aims. The ISPhS has within it an Orthographic Reform Committee, and one member of this committee has written, "The new and the old spelling must be close enough to co-exist indefinitely. . . nobody would have to change his spelling habits. Let everybody continue spelling as he was taught in school; thus the irregularities would become obsolete with the passing of current users and the rational form would gradually become standard thru common usage. . .' e) UNESCO. The overwhelming majority of the earth's population is illiterate. MSR may be crucial in achieving UNESCO's stated aim of doing away with both lectal and scriptal illiteracy.

V. Vassilyev. 23.7.1980. (Summarised by V. Yule)

A commentary on Vassilyev and Gimson's proposals will appear in a future issue of Spelling Progress Bulletin.

Letəz ənd konstənt letə kombinaeshnz
widh dheə naemz and sound valuez in IMSR
(Ingglish Maksiməli Simplified Rieting)

 Vouəlz and
Kee-wəədz in
 dheə naemz

and dheə naemz



ee /dubl ee/
aa /dubl ae/(r)
au /ae, ue/(r)
uu /ue, ue/
ue /ue, ee/
p /pee/
b /bee/
t /tee/
d /dee/
peep, pee
baa, baa(r)1
taut, tau(r)
due, duep
peeɒ, pea
baa, bar
taut, taught; tore
due, dupe
əə /dubl shwaa/(r)
i /ie/
e /ee/
a /ae/
o /oe/
oo /dubl oe/
u /ue/
Ǝə shwaa/ (r)2
k /kae/
g /jee/
m /em/
n /en/
ng /en, jee/
f /ef/
v /vee/
th /tee, aech/
kəək, kəə(r)
kirk, cur
ae /ae, ee/
ie /ie, ee/
oi /oe, ie/
ou /oe, ue/
oe /oe, ee/
2/ie, shwaa/
eə /ee, shwaa/
oə /oe, shwaa/
(=au /ae, ue/)
dh /dee, aech/
s /es/
z /zed/ (US: /zee/)
sh /es, aech/
zh /zed(zee), aech/
h /aech/
ch /see, aech/
j /jae/
dhae, baedh
boiz, zuu
noe, vizhn
they, bathe
boys, zoo
no, vision
here, hear
ooə /dubl oe, shwaa/
w /dubl ue/
(=wh /dubl ue, aech/)
y /wie/
wooə(r), pooə(r)
when (=wen)
yes, unyan
wooer, poor
yes, onion,
l /el/
r /aa(r)/
lip, bel
lip, bell
rite, right, write
hire, higher
flour, flower

1. Dhə letar r in brakits signifiez dhat it iz not soundid in an r-əmiting vərieəti əv IMSR (e.g. in British IMSR) ət dhi end əv ə wəəd prənounst in iesəlaeshn aur ət dhi end əv a sentəns bət iz soundid imeedyətli bifaur ə voual prənounst widhout dhə slietist pauz bifaur it, cf. 'faa', 'It's faa,' widh 'faawae', 'It's not faar ət aul.', 'dhə Faar Eest'.

2. Wot iz sed hiər əbout dhv letər r in brakits aulsoe əpliez tə dh shwaa imeedyətli preeseedid bie i, e, o and oo, viz. (r), (r), (r) and ooə(r).

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