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Also on this paje: NOW IS THE TIME by GODFREY DEWEY.

BY HAROLD Cox, Former Editor Edinburgh Review.

That it would be an advantage to the world to have a common language for international use few people would deny. Indeed, some people in the hope of producing such a language have invented what is known as Esperanto, but the idea does not seem to make much progress. In essence Esperanto is an artificial language with no history and, worse still, no literature behind it. On the other hand, the international use of English is rapidly gaining ground. It is the common language of the educated classes throughout India who are unable to communicate with one another in their own numerous and widely differing languages. English is also rapidly gaining ground in France and Germany and in other parts of the Continent of Europe. In Turkey the teaching of English in schools has recently been made compulsory. English is the established language throughout the greater part of the North American continent. At a rough guess one may say that English is familiar to not less than two hundred millions of the inhabitants of the world.

As compared with most other languages English has the enormous advantage of grammatical simplicity. There are no genders for nouns, and an adjective takes the same form whether applied to a male or female. The conjugation of verbs is also extremely simple. As a result the student of English has practically no grammar to learn. In addition, from the European point of view, English has the great advantage that it more or less represents an amalgam of languages. It is largely Scandinavian in origin, but also embodies a vast number of words directly derived from Latin, and many others coming to us from France and Italy, besides not a few coming from Germany. This language, thus built up from widely varying European sources, possesses a magnificent literature, unsurpassed by that of any other language in the world.

From these points of view English is an ideal language as an international medium. The trouble lies solely in the fact that our spelling and pronunciation have practically no relation to one another. Attention was called to this fact by the late Lord Cromer in a poem published in the Spectator of August 9th, 1902:
When the English tongue we speak,
Why is "break" not rhymed with "freak"?
Will you tell me why its true
We say "sew" but likewise "Jew"?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"Beard" sounds not the same as "heard";
"Cord" is different from "word";
"Cow" is cow, but "low" is low,
"Shoe" is never rhymed with "foe,"
And since "pay" is rhymed with "say,"
Why not "paid" with "said," I pray?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And in short it seems to me
Sound and letters disagree.
The last two lines concisely sum up the whole trouble. It is impossible for the foreigner to guess in advance the pronunciation of an immense number of English words, and the same consideration applies to the English child. At the Conference of Educational Associations in January, 1926, it was stated that in a number of schools experiments had been made in teaching children to read and write first of all through a simple phonetic scheme of spelling, and that these experiments had been invariably and conspicuously successful. It may safely be assumed that foreigners would equally profit if they were provided in their first study of English with books phonetically printed.

Suggestions have been more than once put forward for the establishment of an educational alphabet. Proposals to this effect were made by a number of distinguished literary men and educational authorities in the year 1915. Similar proposals were made in 1924 and again in 1926. On each occasion the Government was asked to appoint a commission to consider the establishment of a complete alphabet for educational purposes. But nothing has yet been done. The matter unfortunately is one that would win no votes for any political party, and, therefore, all political parties are inclined to leave it alone. At the present moment, however, luckily for the country, we have a Government in power that does not command a majority in the House of Commons, and for that reason is sometimes tempted to look at problems from a national rather than from a party point of view. Therefore there is at least a chance that Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and his colleagues might be willing to lend help in this matter.

The framing of an educational alphabet is not really so serious a matter as it sounds, for we already have in the Oxford English Dictionary an excellent basis to work upon. Indeed, that alphabet, with comparatively few modifications, might admirably serve the necessary purpose. The suggestion here made is that the Government should appoint a Commission to consider and sanction an educational alphabet for use in English schools, in order to teach English children the proper pronunciation of their own language and also to assist them in learning to read English more rapidly than they can learn at present. Such an alphabet would automatically become available for the use of foreigners, and the strides that the English language is making on the Continent indicate how greatly it would be valued.

It would be of immense service in India, where English is the only common language available for 300,000,000 people. The proposed educational alphabet for English could also, with the addition of a few extra letters, be used to represent in Roman characters the various indigenous languages of India, now written in scripts, each of which is entirely unintelligible to the users of other Indian languages. The same alphabet with one or two additions could be used for teaching correct pronunciation of the different European languages. But the greatest gain from the establishment of an educational alphabet would be that the English language would then become easy to learn by the peoples of all countries. The world would thus acquire an international medium of communication which would be of immense commercial and social value both to ourselves and to other nations.


By kind permission of the "Spectator."

[See Anthology and Bulletin articles, by Godfrey Dewey.]

BY GODFREY DEWEY. Hon. Secy. United States Simplified Spelling Board.

Clear recognition of the need for a more rational spelling of English goes back more than 300 years to the time of Queen Elizabeth. Organized effort to improve English spelling goes back at least 50 years to the founding of the British and the American Spelling Reform Associations. The present activly renewd movement dates back more than 20 years to the formation of the Simplified Spelling Board in 1906 and of the Simplified Spelling Society in 1908. Thruout the decades or centuries progress has been continuous but very slight by comparison with the task which stil remains.

The real obstacles to progress ar not the ancient arguments stil naively advanst by opponents of simplified spelling and spelling reform-arguments minutely analized and refuted before most of their proponents wer born. The real obstacles, ar the almost utter ignorance of the English-speaking public as to the most elementary fonetic facts of their own language, the inertia which dreds the effort of the change, and the lack of any social force sufficiently powerful to overcome these handicaps. In this era of universal elementary education, means ar at hand to reliev the present all pervading fonetic innocence, fosterd and perpetuated by our present spelling, which now largely nullifies all intelligent efforts for reform. The immense and stubborn inertia remains, but the tuffest granite ledge will yield at last to the drils and dinamite of progress, and signs ar not wanting, that social forces ar at work or at hand, sufficient, if rightly directed, to shatter even this barrier.

Four years ago at the English Language Congress in Philadelphia, I made the easily proved statement, that as compared with a simple one sign one sound fonetic alfabet, such as recommended by the S.R.A., the mesurable and preventable economic waste due to our present conventional spelling exceded $1,000,000,000 a year. Two-thirds of this is in the mere writing and printing of superfluous letters, one-third the net cost to the taxpayer of the appalling waste of time in elementary education. The Associated Press deemd the statement worth a stickful of space. The significant fact is that this brief item traveld clear round the civilized world, eliciting comment, more often than not favorable, with so much vitality that 5 months afterwards, a single mail brought me from one London clipping bureau 5 clippings from 3 different continents.

The economic waste, staggering tho it is, directly due to our present spelling, is nevertheless secondary in importance to the educational consequences. Careful experiments, from those of Leigh in St. Louis more than 60 years ago down to those sponsored by the Simplified Spelling Society les than 10 years ago, prove beyond question that our present conventional spelling wastes at least a ful scool year from the life of every English speaking child. As education becomes each year les traditional and more scientific, a more significant and vital factor in the life of the whole people, insistent emfasis on this fundamental fact wil exert a constantly increasing pressure for reform which cannot finally be denied.

Of all the social forces, however, which ar moving today as never before to the aid of English spelling reform, the most immediate and powerful is undoutedly the pressing demand for an international auxiliary language. The marvellous increase in facilities for international communication, the rapid development of international relations, the growth of international commerce and travel, and finally such powerful new forces as radio broadcasting and talking pictures, together force the issue of an international medium of communication with an insistence which wil brook no delay. For a century at least it has been widely recognized that English, by its cosmopolitan vocabulary and grammatical simplicity, is uniquely adapted to become the primary medium of international communication-and that the chief obstacle to this manifest destiny is our present intricate and disorderd spelling, as strikingly irregular and difficult as the language itself is simple and easy. Right now, within the next two years, the die wil be cast which wil largely determin the future of English as a world language. The opportunity is unique and the obligation imperativ.

It has wel been said that in its effectiv utilization of existing forces, actual and potential, the effort to develop English in a simplified spelling for general international use, compares with the effort to develop general use of any artificial sinthetic language, as taking a power boat downstream compares with rowing a boat upstream. This is the opportunity which lies before us, and which must be graspt promptly and without fail. And by good fortune the obvious and effectiv means is redy to our hand.

The Anglic movement, elsewhere described, sponsord by Prof. Zachrisson of Uppsala, is more carefully thought out and tested, and better organized, than any previous attempt in the field of World English. More important stil, at a recent international conference (June, 1930) in London, Prof. Zachrisson made certain simple but important alterations in his original proposals ; which should assure him of ful support both of the Simplified Spelling Society in Great Britain and of the Simplified Spelling Board and Spelling Reform Association in the U.S. ; not only as the best basis for a World English, but also as a valid basis for fonetic spelling reform of English for the English-speaking peoples. With such agreement the opportunity is unique for immediate effectiv progress all along a united front. Spelling reforms actually accomplisht successfully within the past generation, in Sweden, in Russia, and Turkey, as wel as the no les radical writing reforms in China and Japan, prove that effectiv progress by deliberate action of social forces is practicable today as never before.

Now is the time.



English children do not learn to read and write as naturally and quickly as they should, or as, for instance, Italian children and as the children of some other European countries do. Is it not ridiculous and humiliating that they should have to look in a dictionary for the spelling of some of our own words; and should have to use spelling which is evidently absurd? I have also been impressed by the difficulties which foreigners find in learning English, solely on account of our defective system of spelling. Since our grammar is so simple, English, but for its difficult spelling, would be easily learned. Delay in adopting improved spelling is the chief obstacle to English becoming a world language. The importance of this point to English trade, and to our political, social and moral influence in the World, is obvious.

I would add that our bad spelling causes bad pronunciation, encourages provincialisms, and discourages the diffusion among the people generally of purer and more consistent English Speech. The Principal of one of our English University Colleges has publicly declared that English pronunciation is more slipshod and slovenly than that of any other language in Europe - or, he believes, in the World With simple phonetic spelling, I think our working men and women would insensibly learn to speak as good English as those who have been educated at our great public schools and universities.

Our spelling also tends towards a divergence between English as spoken in England and English as spoken in the United States and in British Colonies; which divergence, if it goes on increasing, may in a few generations (or much less), lead to American English, Colonial English, and English English, becoming different dialects, like the difference between Dutch and Flemish or Swedish and Norwegian, and later on becoming different languages.

We think of Sir Isaac Pitman when we think of phonetic spelling. His proposal to adopt an alphabet of about 40 letters instead of one of 26 was not accepted, but I do not think Sir Isaac Pitman failed. His work is bearing fruit throughout the English-speaking world, and I feel very sure that phonetic spelling will before very long be adopted, since so many minds have now been directed to the subject, and it is so evidently needed. Its adoption would be an unmixed improvement from many - I think from every - point of view. As Professor Max Müller said, "The innate regard for truth has always proved irresistible, and in the end enabled men to part with corn laws, or Stuart dynasties. The effete orthography would follow suit."

If we do not wish to add to our alphabet and to our printers' founts of letters, it is possible to spell English simply, phonetically, rationally and consistently, without using letters or combinations of letters with which English people are not already familiar. The most competent authorities are satisfied that there is no great etymological difficulty, since our present inconsistent and difficult spelling obscures and conceals as much as it represents the derivation of words. [1] The irksome necessity of learning to spell, and of looking into dictionaries to enable us to spell our own language in the customary ridiculous ways, will disappear as we awake to common sense and apply it to the simplification of our spelling.

It is computed that about twelve months will be saved in the education of children; with great intellectual, and some think with moral benefit. Edward Bulwer Lytton argued (In "My Novel") that learning English spelling, with its irrational contradictions, somewhat perverts the sense of right and wrong in our boys and girls. It is certain that the time spent can be put to much more valuable use. I do not believe learning conventional spelling is a good mental exercise. I believe the mental effect is not good, but bad.

Not the least of the gains from phonetic spelling will be this, that the best pronunciation can be standardised, and the gradual deterioration of English and tendency towards slovenly and slipshod speech, will at least be retarded.

The slight objection due to the unfamiliar appearance of some few words when phonetically spelled will soon pass away. Those who use the old spelling will find no difficulty in reading the new; and those who use the new will have no difficulty in reading the old, although they will see its absurdity.

The improved spelling may be optional. The change may be gradual. All that will be required to ensure its being gradually adopted, will be to allow it in official documents and scholastic examinations. Old books will not lose their value or be superseded, in our generation. Publishers will use the old or the new spelling as they prefer, but the new by its merits will win its way and be adopted. So our English language, being purged of its great defect, will be more widely used throughout the whole world, to the increase of our commerce, our trade and our influence.

The English language has no superior, and indeed no equal, in the present age. It is spoken by a larger number of people - certainly by a larger number of civilised people - than any other tongue. It is more than any other the world language, and would become beyond question a world language but for the one defect - its irrational, haphazard, ridiculous spelling.

To correct and purify that spelling is a necessity, and it will be much easier than is commonly supposed. It will be done soon or late: commonsense will prevail over indifference, prejudice, and habit. The sooner, and the more completely, the reform is adopted, the better it will be for the future of our language and our Empire.

At the risk of reiteration, I will summarise a few of the reasons for Simplified English Spelling, as follows:-

1. It wil make English Spelling perfectly simple and easy to learn.

2. A Simplified Spelling wil save at least one year and in some cases as much as two years of school time (not, of course, in learning to read or even in learning to spell, only).

3. It can be taught by consistent and rational methods without confusing the children's minds and their ideas of right and wrong.

4. It wil improve and standardize English pronunciation and assist in checking the vulgarising and the deterioration of the English language.

5. It wil improve the standard of general English Education. ("The standard of education in England is very low, thanks to the incredibly antiquated spelling." Cologne Gazette).

6. It wil allow more time for teaching religion, morality, citizenship, music, poetry, history, or arithmetic or economics, or for athletic and health exercises, or handicraft work.

7. Anyone who uses the Simplified Spelling wil be able to read books in the Old or the New Spelling without difficulty.

8. It is easy to print, and wil reduce the cost of printing.

9. It wil encourage and assist the people of other countries to speak and write English as a second or auxiliary language.

10. It wil (and this too is very important) make English the most useful and easily acquired world language, for intercourse within the Empire and between the Nations.

The assumption that the adoption of Simplified Spelling wil be very difficult or wil cause great inconvenience is erroneous. It wil not hav to be acquired by those accustomed to the present conventional spelling. Being so simple, there wil be no need to learn it. Books wil not hav to be reprinted. Similar improvements hav been made in other languages, including German, French, Russian, and Turkish.

When Simplified Spelling is permitted as an alternative, in examinations and in public and legal writings, it wil be gradually adopted and used by those who prefer it and in time by its superiority and simplicity wil come into common and general use.


[1] Professor Skeat, Litt.D., LL.D., D.C.L., Ph.D., wrote "In the interests of etymology we ought to spell as we pronounce." The late Sir James A. H. Murray, LL.D., D.C.L., D Lit., Ph.D., wrote "The ordinary appeals to etymology against spelling reform utterly break down upon examination."

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