[Simplified Spelling Society Newsletter Spring 1986/1 p18 Later designated Journal 2]
[Madhukar N. Gogate: see Journals, Newsletters and articles about India.]

A World Script is Necessary.

Madhukar N. Gogate.

[Madhukar Gogate is founder and Director of Roman Lipi Parishad, the movement for a common romanized script for Indian languages, and he submitted this paper to the 1985 Simplified Spelling Society Conference. He would welcome correspondence from readers. See Links.]
English dictionary is like a holy book. It gives thousands of commandments such as FRIEND/ SELL/ CHEMICAL/ THROUGH in place of rational spellings FREND/ SEL/ KEMIKAL/ THRU. The question is whether the spellings can be reformed and how.

To answer above question, it will be useful to know impressions of non-English persons. I am an engineer, and not a linguist, so my views may differ from what the experts feel. Having clarified this, I go ahead. My mother tongue is Marathi, spoken in Maharashtra state in Western India. The language uses devnagri script. When we learn a language, we learn its script, spellings, grammar, vocabulary, idioms and so on. I find English grammar relatively simpler. For instance adjective WHITE is applicable to horse, horses, cow, cows, paper, papers. In Marathi, the adjective changes according to gender, number and also the case. Numbering system in English is far simpler. After first twenty numbers, further numbers run in cycles, such as twenty one, twenty two, twenty three... thirty one, thirty two, thirty three... But in Marathi, all hundred numbers have non-repeating names. Thus 52 is read in Marathi with no bearing how numbers 5, 50 and 2 are read. The disadvantage of irrational spellings in English is thus compensated elsewhere.

Standard Oxford and Webster dictionaries are used in later life, but in schools we use local dictionaries, with English words, Devnagri pronunciations, and Marathi meanings. Since Devnagri is reasonably phonetic, with clear sound-symbol relations, our task becomes easier in the pronunciation part. As regards mugging and reciting spellings, that ordeal has to be gone through.

A script acts as a beautiful filter or armour. Take words LAMP (single L), ALLA (double L, both pronounced), CHURCHILL (double L, but one L is redundant pronunciationwise). In phonetic Devnagri, the extra L in the last word is omitted. This shows that one way of solving the spelling problem is to use Devnagri script for English! But that would be unpractical.

Incidentally, Devnagri is not totally phonetic and often its phonetic quality is not properly used. Assume A = A in Alone and AA = A in Army. In Devnagri, word SARKAAR (=government) is actually written equivalent to SARAKAARA. A male name SHAAM is written equivalent to SHYAAM, with a silent Y consonant added. In my name too, due to Devnagri influence, a silent A has crept in, and my surname rhymes with COLGATE, WATERGATE, when I go abroad. I do not respell it to GOGTE, because it becomes a problem of certificates, passport, phone book, books written by me and so on. In no Indian language is India called India, we call it Bharat. Electron is both a particle and a wave. So I am called both GOOTE and GOGATE. Fine. I do not mind this duality and distortion. Such distortions occur also for Indian names with retroflex (N'), as English has dental (N). Even within Devnagri, Hindi and Marathi pronunciations differ for one symbol as GYA and DNYA.

Some of the symbols in Devnagri script are queer. For instance, MURTI is written in Devnagri in sequence MUITR. This can be rationalized by changing some stroke lines but the reform is not accepted due to public inertia. We find that it is very difficult to change even a single dot in our scripts.

The foregoings should console the spelling reformers that other languages and scripts too have some absurdities. Spelling reforms, if they are to be made, need not be therefore 100% phonetic and 100% rational. A script, or a spelling system, is not a hifi taperecorder. People change fashions. People migrate from villages to cities. But people are reluctant to change spellings or script. I think the reason is simple. Whether to wear moustache or not, is a man's personal choice. But a change from FRIEND to FREND, howsoever rational, involves whole society, its books, its dictionaries, its roadsigns.

And yet, I am working for using the Roman script for Indian languages. Last year, along with some like-minded persons, I started an institution called Roman Lipi Parishad to popularize the Roman scripts (lipi). In India we have 15 languages written in 12 different scripts. Multiplicity of scripts results in barriers among people speaking different languages. A common script is necessary for things like phone books and train reservation charts. Otherwise there will be chaos, and we have been using the Roman script (English) for the purpose. In India we use English for higher business and higher education. Industries, the main consumers of typewriters, teleprinters, word processors, computers need machines only for English. Our scripts, though phonetically good, are not linear like Roman script. Their complex symbols can be accommodated in big printing presses, but not in above compact office equipment. India's economy is not such as to have luxury of machines for every script. On these considerations, we feel that a common Roman script will be useful for India.

Roman Lipi Parishad has held several meetings to consider sound-symbol relations, and within few months they would be finalised. Booklets etc. in different languages, with Roman script. Meanwhile we would like to know whether English spelling reformers have developed a master plan for sound-symbol relations.

I shall indicate the trend of our thinking, regarding the sound-symbol relations. These symbols are for Indian consumption, English spelling reformers may like to reserve A for vowel in APPLE and digraph AU for vowel in AUTHOR. But no Indian language requires vowel of APPLE, except for words of English origin. We have many words wherein vowel A is followed by vowel U, and vowel of AUTHOR may be shown by us as AW. We may use A as in ALONE, AA as in Army, AE as in Apple. We may take D for TH in They, and D' for D in Dog. Thus words INJECTION, DOCTOR, COLOUR (COLOR) may be written in our language as INJEKSHAN, D'AWKT'AR, KALAR. In day to day writing, we may omit apostrophe marks. We are inclined to use a colon sign (:) after personal names, and highly technical words like POTASSIUM. It is not necessary to respell them. The colon sign would indicate that the preceding word is spelled in scheme not accepted by us.

When dealing with English words, for internal usages in our languages, we may either reform or deform spellings. Every language, including English, deforms words absorbed from other languages. Moreover, our languages are not international. So whatever formula we adopt will not upset the world.

But with English spelling reforms, there would be objections both at national and international levels. Suppose the reformers agree to respell FRIEND, SELL as FREND, SEL. What happens next? No student or typist will implement these changes unless authorities in different places accept them. Newspapers and book publishers would not accept them, as they are interested in selling their publications nationally and internationally. Non-English countries who teach English as a second language, may not approve the reforms. They too have made investment on current spellings and basically they are interested in their own languages, and not English. Without reference dictionaries, it may be difficult to use the reformed spellings for any serious work. They can be used for say some poems and nothing further. I am interested to know how the spelling reformers would handle popularization. In the case of Indian languages, romanization is likely to get boost from the machine infrastructure. Economic and integration compulsions would drive us towards the Roman script. Romanization does not clash with existing script and a parallel language can be built. What are the compulsions behind spelling reforms movement? Are they life-or-death issues? My personal feeling is that English spelling reforms are possible if an international, logical script is developed usable by all languages. With this script, even names should be respelled and local feelings respected, naming JAPAN as NIPPON etc. The world will take interest in this project and an international pressure would be built up. Publishers and governments in English speaking countries would be electrified into action. The script would be logical like the metric system.

This new script may consist of lower case letters, without any capitals, with suffix symbols like apostrophe, colon and with slant stroke in place of full stop, to distinguish sentences. This script is available on existing machines.


Possibly after 50 years, 50% of mankind may know English. An attractive thought for world brotherhood. But to help future generations, today nobody will accept chaos. If spelling reforms were that essential, American government would have sunk millions of dollars on the project. Why are they indifferent? Probably because their economy is highly developed and interwoven. Everyday, millions of business letters and technical drawings are issued. Everyday, millions of newspapers and books are printed. The superpower cannot change spellings, which are bolts and nuts of its huge industrial apparatus.

A world script too may not be realized, due to political reasons. But an interesting possibility is that the spelling reformers may get thousands of sympathizers in India, when India accepts the Roman script.

Today, there are no Bengali-Marathi, Hindi-Tamil, Urdu-Kannada dictionaries etc. It is hard to locate complex symbols in one's own script, let alone other scripts. People will soon see the advantage of a linear Roman script in achieving mutual understanding and in economy of machines - the same machine for any language - and then there will be a big surge towards romanization.

Since India makes active use of English, Indians will start asking why English spellings are not rationalized. Today, about 20 million Indians know English. 20 millions, over one third population of Britain.

It must be understood that India will take trouble to romanize to uplift India and not to uplift English. Indians have great respect for English, but their hearts are with their mother tongues. Indian language literature is of fine quality. It awakens us to our social problems. We are more comfortable with our languages than with English. We have no patriotic songs or prayers in English.

Naturally, Indian sound-symbol relations will be such as to suit their languages, prepared by their near-phonetic scripts. They are likely to reshape English words as follows (if absorbed within their languages): America = A/ME/RI/KAA. Bible = BAA/Y/BAL. Unity = YU/NI/T'I. Freedom = FREE/D'A/M. Air = E'/A/R. Rod = RAW/D' = RAWD'. Road = RO'/D' = RO'D'. Pump = PA/MP. Some people may like to reserve A' for AA, since A is presently used for both A and AA. Perhaps, to accommodate English, Indians may take U' = (U in UP), I' = (I in BIBLE), reserving U for (U in PUT) and I for (I in IT). With a single apostrophe sign, no other sound can be considered. I wonder how far spelling reformers and romanizers may cooperate.

Whether Indian sympathizers will help English spelling reform - only history can tell.

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