[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1988/1 p17 later designated J7]
[Also on this page: Stanley Gibbs: 1971/2 NS, Ayb Citron on re-distribution of power.]
[David Stark: see Journal, Newsletters.]

Defining a Literary Phonetic Standard for World English.

David Stark.

David Stark is an architect who has been grappling with the design problems of English orthography over the last ten years, since he started tutoring adult illiterates. The following is a summary of the paper he presented at the Simplified Spelling Society's Fifth International Conference in July 1987. The ideas it contains were also discussed in previous issues of the Society's Newsletter, subsequently Journal.

In the history of spelling reform, it has usually been assumed that spoken language is the base from which regular spellings are formed. Perhaps this is to be expected when so many spelling reformers have been scholars of phonetics, and no conference on spelling reform would be the same if it were not for the moments when discussion is diverted to argue the 'correct' pronunciation of a word.

The premise of my series of articles for the Journal and my address at Conference was that the written word is the basis of alphabetic orthography in a multi-dialect language, and not the spoken word. The latter is too variable and indefinable for most people for it to be used as any more than a rough guide to the 'approved' pronunciations which can be used for spelling.

For example, if we decide RP should be the reference dialect, how do we know who speaks it? the Queen? Frank Bough? all middle-class people brought up in SE England? Even if we could define it, how can we ensure that it is familiar to every person throughout the world who wishes to read and write English? If the standard pronunciation is based on one dialect, how do we counter the resentment felt by adherents of other dialects to the increased importance of the one chosen?

In any major language with an alphabetic orthography, the written word, which is available to all who wish to read and write, is the starting point. From this, hopefully with the aid of regular alphabetic rules, a spelling pronunciation can be defined. I call this the Standardised Spelling Pronunciation or SSP. The SSP is learned, and with the alphabetic rules, converted back into written form when required. Any help from one's one knowledge of the spoken word, where this may happen to coincide with a part or the whole of the SSP, will be regarded as a bonus in helping one to remember the SSP.

The SSP's used for spelling are frozen abstracts and not living speech. They form a literary standard which cannot be a mere transcription of dialect. Phonetic experts must realise that budding literates will not analyse word pronunciations in the same way that they do. An ordinary person will know that there are 26 letters in the alphabet but will have no idea how many phonemes there are in his dialect.

The unstressed vowel schwa will not exist for most people as there is no letter to represent it. A phonetic expert would analyse the word Sanfrancisco as having at least two unstressed or schwa vowels. However, a speller will need to split a long word like this into manageable units (usually syllables) in order to process it. If he has heard Frank Sinatra sing that he has left his heart in San/fran/cis/co, he will have no problem spelling the vowels in the word. Taken syllable by syllable, all vowels are stressed.

The scholar eager to learn to spell will not bother if many words indicate an SSP which does not accord with a familiar spoken pronunciation. An extreme example is the word meringue which can easily be learned by remembering the SSP /meringyoo/. However, this aspect is more important to a spelling reformer, who, wishing to keep the revised spelling of a word like tune as close as possible to the t.o. spelling, can safely suggest an increasingly obsolescent pronunciation as the SSP, rather than re-spell the word as <choon>.

If English existed in only one small geographical area with a relatively homogeneous dialect community, the SSP's could be designed to relate, more or less, to well known spoken pronunciations. Unless we accept that different spellings are possible for different parts of the English-speaking world, the spelling reformer will find it impossible to match the SSP's and the spoken word for more than a minority of English literates.

However, if we adopt a 'loose fit' strategy in the rules which form SSP'S, we can introduce some leeway into the relationship between SSP's and familiar pronunciations. If in these rules we adopt a minimalist approach in the number of phoneme contrasts we recognise, we can match SSP's to more dialects.

For example, the vowels in the words lass and pass are different in RP. The sound split from a previously single vowel did not occur in General American or in many other dialects. In some dialects, where the split has occurred, it has taken place in different ways to RP. Many Australians use the shorter vowel whenever /n/ or /m/ follows. Other Australians, West Indians, New Zealanders and South Africans always use the longer vowel. Scottish and Northern Irish accents always use the shorter one. If one grapheme were given to both phonemes, the relevant SSP's would be less dialect-specific, and more people would get more help from their own accent in memorising the SSP's.

There are several, potentially confusing pairs of phonemes which can get the same treatment. However, we will be limited in this by considering the number and importance of the minimal pairs involved. These are pairs of words in which the particular phoneme contrast is the only difference between them. If there are only a few minimal pairs like aunt/ant the possible confusion between such words when they are spelled the same will be no greater than when we spell homophonic pairs identically in a revised spelling system.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1988/1 p33 later designated J7]
[Stanley Gibbs: see Journals, Newsletters, Leaflet.]

1971/72 New Spelling Amendments.

Stanley Gibbs.

Sometimes I have noticed the 1948 and 1956 versions of Nue Speling quoted in the Society's correspondence. In fact during 1971-72 some important 5 amendments were made, and the Nue Speling as amended is the official policy for the Society until our revised version is officially approved. All of these amendments were designed and proposed by Herbert Wilkinson. The amendments are:

Resolutions II 1971.
1. <dh> to be removed, <th> to represent <th> in both that, thick etc.
2. <oo-uu> to be reversed, thus guud food, fuul moon etc.
3. Alternativs aafter/after, baath/bath to hav a singl <a>: after, bath, pas, gras etc.
4. Replace ue, uer, ueth, Uel, uerself by yoo, yoor, yooth, Yool, yoorsey. But u to be used for you (yoo = yew).
5. For children, a ligature to be inserted during the learning stage only: consonants <ch, sh, thin, this, wh, zh, ng>, vowels <aa, ae, ee, oe, oo, ie, oi, ou, ue, nu>.

Resolutions III 1972.
1. Double <r> to follow the five short vowels (formerly restricted to <arr, orr, urr>. Thus karri, horrible, hurri, and now also cherri, lirrik etc.
(Note: the idea was to make a tidy rule: all five short vowels have a following <r> doubled: <arr, err, irr, orr, urr, - SG)
2. Adoption of <o> for the long sound at the end of words: tomato, kaliko etc.
3. Adoption of wur insted of wer, to line up with hur, sur, fur, stur, blur etc; thus eliminating wer as a wordsign.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1988/1 p33 later designated J7]
[Ayb Citron: see Journals, Newsletters, Anthology, Bulletins.]

English Spelling, the Underclass, and the Distribution of Power.

Ayb Citron.

Ayb Citron is Exec. Dir. of BEtSS Better Education thru Simpl. Spelling.

A miserable inefficient English spelling system designed with a foreign alphabet in feudal eras for leisure classes, and used today in technological societies, constitutes an extreme case of cultural lag.

Spelling reform, brushed aside by the academic establishment, has been identified, when thought of at all, as a matter of pedagogy, as a debate in curriculum, or low-priority discussion in psycholinguistics.

However, the use of writing over its six-thousand year history reveals a clear trend-it spreads from use by a privileged few to wider usage by additional groups and classes. Furthermore, this history shows that, in general, those who use writing, whether nations, classes, or individuals, possess more power than those who do not.

Our own culture is now moving into a post-modern, computerized, information-processing, service-centered economy which demands higher levels of literacy than ever before. It is at this point that our educational institutions, despite remedial programs, are failing to reduce the number of illiterates in the population.

Illiterates and functional illiterates are especially helpless in the complex and technical society around them: they form an increasingly large sub-group characterized by multiple problems and constituting a relatively unyielding underclass.

The support of this tenacious and slowly multiplying group, costly in all social services, is felt as a growing burden by the other sectors of the economy.

A direct approach to this problem, which would be effective in radically reducing it, is a rationalized spelling system, with an emphasis on pre-school education and a re-emphasis on basic skills in the primary grades. The key element here is a reformed, rationalized spelling system along phonetic lines. This will mean the continuation of the wider distribution of power thru the wider distribution of literacy.

Further, a rationalized spelling system will improve the writing and reading skills of all Americans, and will stimulate greater productivity and vigor in the total economy.

Thus, the issue of spelling reform should be seen as Promethean, as an effort to meet the crisis in our society by the transmission to wider groups in our population of the means to power.

Spelling reform is not a mere 'matter of curriculum', it is an issue of the re-distribution of power.

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