News4. (underlined words and letters are in italics here.)
On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4.

Newsletter November 1983 part 3.

[See Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, Bulletin articles, Personal View 10 and web by Valerie Yule.]



This is written in "cut" spelling which is not that used in most of today's "News Letter".

Why bother with research in spelling reform?

Spelling is information technology. All improvements in modern technology need to be tested to see which one works best. All assumptions about what will work and what will not need to be tested also - not just argued about.

I have been asked to describe some directions of my current research, small-scale and unfunded as it is.

The main aim is to find what sort of spelling would not only help learners, but also adults alredy literat, readers as wel as writers, machines as wel as humans, foriners as wel as nativ English spekers - and also remain linkd with other European languages and compatibl with present spelling. In th future, a radical reform completely diferent from current orthografies is qite posibl, but it is not likely to resembl any spelling reform devised yet.

Two spelling modes are currently being tested, and comparisons are being made with pure 'spelling as you speak'. One of these ideas is 'cut' spelling - finding what letters in words ar realy not needed at all. Th working definition of a surplus letter in a word is:
1. It is not needed to show how the word is pronounced (and may even mislead).

2. It is not needed to clarify the meaning of a word and show its relation to other words. (This function of spelling can help lerners to work out new words, and can help all readers to read faster for meaning.)
My series of over 24 small experiments need replication and extending, but they tend to show that when 'clutter' is dropd from English spelling, within 20 minuts good readers tend to read faster, 'average' readers ar picking up after initial surprise, and many poor readers ar able to read better imediatly.

The advantage of removing 'clutter' as a first step in spelling reform is the imediat benefit to those alredy literat. It makes a 5% economy in ordinary text, which adds up to considerabl savings in materials, input, storage and output, and can co-exist with present spelling so that 'th better spellings can win' thru popular choice. Cutting out is easier than altering. Writers can ajust as they plese, using their own reason to work out which letters hav no purpose, and having at last a sensibl rule to decide about dubl letter problems in spelling.

The other spelling mode that interests me is a 'morfo-fonemic' type, which modifies consistent sound-symbol relationships by consistent representation of gramatical markers (e.g. plural 's'), and similar visual appearance for word roots acheved by a consistent use of the 'magic e' principl to distinguish long and short vowels, placed after a consonant rather than midsylabl as in New Spelling.

Anyone is welcom to try out this experimental material. Varius types of experimental design ar being used, and presentation may be in print or on television screens - where I think 'unclutterd spelling' may come in first.

Different texts, spelling modes, subjects with differing degrees of ability ar all being tested. Generaly, there ar three groups of subjects, all tested in normal spelling, but one group also tested in the experimental spelling, and another group reading similar sorts of spelling changes - but made in the wrong words.

Each subject reads a series of passages of a story or articl, with each passage timed, and ansering comprehension qestions.

In another type of experiment, subjects read three paralel forms of a standard reading test - in ordinary spelling and the two changed modes, or other experimental mode, e.g. 'spelling as you speak'.

In a third type, subjects ar asked to slash all the odd spellings they can detect on reading a story thru once. Other subjects ar given the same story in normal spelling, with one exampl of how to slash 'surplus' words, and then asked to slash out 'surplus' in the rest of the story. These experiments show what sort of changes subjects notice and do not notice in reading when they ar looking out for changesg and how much peple agree on what letters ar not realy necessary.

The fourth experiment tests the difference in silent and oral reading in schoolchildren, who ar askd to slash all the words they can read in reading silently, and then the teacher marks all the words they can read aloud. This experiment shows what sort of spelling can benefit lerners.

I am now working on ways of testing whether 'cut' spelling coud be used as an 'initial lerning spelling' for children and foriners, in a way that gave imediat transition to present spelling on the same page.

More subjects ar needed to substantiate findings in these experiments, and I am also looking for - a small grant for obtaining subjects, stationery, fotocopying etc.; a larger grant for a reserch assistant or student; or better still, other reserchers to take up this form of study.

Valerie Yule. Department of Psychology University of Aberdeen.

[See Journal and Newsletter articles by Madhukar Gogate.]


By Madhukar N. Gogate, Bombay (India).

In his introduction to his articl concerning the use of the English language in India, Mr. Gogate writes:

"Silent letters in words "palm, debt, knight" impress upon us the importance of silence when angered". I thought that sounded rather nice. It shows that even the most useless things can be of value to somebody!

Mr. Gogate continues with an article seven pages long, of which we print the first three. Before you read them, glance at his vocabulary and look at his spelling. Both, you will agree, are excellent, in spite of his native language being so different. You'll realise as you read, that his weakness must be in pronunciation, for we don't pronounce "sail" like "sell", or "Station" as "stetion". The fault is entirely ours, for our spelling is so irregular, so inconsistent.

Many foreigners (honour) (honor) us, by wanting to use our language as the Romans once used Latin - as a link between peoples. We're proud of that. But oughtn't we to work for a spelling which will make the link in speech, as well as in writing? Oughtn't we to make our spelling rules consistent for British children's sake? (You may not hav noticed that "gave" and "save" and "have" ought to sound alike but don't; or that "doe" and "does" look alike, but have nothing in common but "d"). Instead of admitting that there's a matter to change or "reform", most people think of spelling as a trial of their skill, or as a hurdle to fall down at, as a child's worry thru' the threat of punishment, and often as a horrid bogey, always haunting every piece of official letter writing, or as a simple matter to be ignored.

And judging by two recently received receipts of mine, and individual's notices put up in local shops and post offices, it hasn't even been learned yet!

M. Cross, Editor.

"I am interested in spelling reforms for two reasons. Firstly, in India we use English for higher education and higher business. Secondly, I advocate romanization of Indian languages. Many English words have entered our languages and are written in respective scripts as per pronunciation. But there would be problems, if and when romanization takes place. Should we write "cement, station" as in English, and retain links with Western literature, or should we write them as "siment, steshan" as per pronunciation? English language has landed into chaos because it borrowed some foreign words like "colonel" in total disregard of their actual pronunciation. Should we repeat those mistakes? Our problems would be solved if English spellings are themselves reformed.

There is another problem. Which pronunciation is standard? In India, we study various irregularities of spellings and certain shortforms like "can't" in place of "cannot". But, beyond these, we take spellings at their face value. Pronunciations change in every live language. In south England, letter "r" is now silenced in pronunciations of words "perhaps, morning". People over there say "ov" in place of "of". But, in India, we continue to pronounce "r", and also "of". English is not our colloquial language. We do not use it 24 hours in a day. It is like a bicycle, good for fast travelling, but one does not sit on it all the time. Subsequent observations are based on Indian perception of pronunciations.

It would not be out of place to state why I am advocating romanization of Indian languages, now written in ten different scripts. India is a multi-language, multi-religion, multi-costume nation. A common Roman script, with suitable improvements, would help to integrate the people. It would help to reduce illiteracy at a faster rate. Whether we like it or not, English is going to stay in India. With English, all modern equipments like typewriters, teleprinters, computers designed for Roman script are bound to stay and grow. To achieve economies of scale, it would be better if all Indian languages switch over to the Roman script. There is a parallel shining example before us. Actually, all Indian languages have separate numeral symbols. But, by common consent, Indian Parliament decided that the numerals on all public instruments should be in International forms (0123456789). As a result, all clocks, coins, thermometers, measuring tapes, telephone dials, car number plates etc. bear International forms of numerals, and the country enjoys great benefits due to this uniformity. Individual style numerals are still in vogue, for private letters and some language newspapers, but slowly these too are changing. India has experience of discarding foot-pound system, and adopting metric system too.

If Roman script has advantages, why does not India adopt it? The reason is same why English spellings too are not reformed. Every society has great inertia against making changes. Moreover, like English-speaking countries, India too is a democracy. The comedy of democracy is that it permits free debates. And the tragedy is that there is no conclusion and implementation! Kemal Pasha in Turkey, Mao in China could romanize their languages because they had powerful fists! So, advocates of romanization in India must mark time. Eventually we shall succeed. Fifty years ago, when contraceptives were introduced in India, the pioneers were slandered. Today, Family Planning is our national policy, and we spend enormous funds on publicity and incentives for sterilization.

I may be wrong, but I feel that romanization in India would take place earlier than spelling reforms in English. Our languages have limited literature, and they are spoken in limited regions. On the other hand, English has vast literature and it has percolated to various levels on all continents, and also on the moon! So, the task of reforming spellings looks to me pretty difficult.

I shall now come to specific suggestions for reforms. But where should I begin? If you ask a German friend to make suggestions, he may say that letter "j" be adopted for the sound denoted by "y" in English word "yes". The reform scheme would depend on the starting nucleus, the linguistic experience of the reformers. As said earlier, I have hopes for romanization in India and I have doubts about spelling reforms in English. It would be good, therefore, if I take Indian language as nucleus, consider phonetic elements predominantly required for those languages and then try to show that English spellings too can fit that pattern.

Some English-speaking reformers may not agree with this approach. My request to them is to consider this suggestion, because it comes from an English-language user, who too is entitled to voice suggestions. English is no longer English, it is really Globish. English-speaking thinkers should consider themselves as trustees of the spelling reform movement. Their voice would definitely carry some weight, but they alone are not the masters of this world treasure, the common language called English.


"Some ten years ago I had concentrated on teaching English to multilingual children of non-German origin by using a computer-assisted approach along with a special script and the reading scheme, Dr. John Downing had experimented with;" (Editor: Was this i.t.a. I wonder?) "and while the British decided to scrap all for domestic reasons, I found that in nine months my boys and girls struggled better than others in a torrent of foreign (non-English) sounds, and they simply loved English best.

English is an international language spred by new technologies rapidly all over the globe, and now is the time to make decisions simultaneously for both the inland and the foreign markets."

[See Journal and Newsletter articles by David Stark.]



David Stark is one of a group of three letter writers, namely Robert Craig and Richard Lung, who ar thinking out what they believe should be this Society's approach to Spelling Change.

"If one is an idealist, one would start at the ideal and work back to the first practical step; if one is a pragmatist, one starts with the most practical first step and heds towards a rufly defined target.

The big problem, of cours, is introducing reform to an existing literat English world. One could wait for a revolutionary social change to slip in a revolutionary reform such as a new information technology revolution. Or one can introduce reform in various stages. Two hav been suggested. Firstly, a transitional alfabet as a large step to the ultimate perfect reform. This I would still regard as revolutionary. Secondly, the step-by-step reforms. These, I would argue, ar too limited to engender any significant potential for further reform.

What I am trying to do in my paper on Spelling Reform is to conceive a step between using a transitional alfabet and step by step reform, which would be large enuf a change to be significantly consistent, and generally fonetically based, but not too large that it scares off existing English literats. It also has the advantage of considerably extending step-by-step reform in the form of syllabic rather than alfabetic translations.

The problem with eny transitional reforms is that they might end up as final ones. While they might not be perfect, it might not be worth the bother of changing them.


: The last sentence expresses a problem which can only be avoided by bearing in mind the Society's function as expressed by our President, Dr. John Downing, in the quotation given in my own letter.



During the summer, the Adult Literacy people issued a report stating that literacy problems amongst adults wer not being eradicated, as some people had thaut they would at the beginning of the scheme. Eny simplified spelling reformer could hav told them that. As well as being difficult to learn, English spelling also needs constant practice to retain a high level of skill in it.

Today the oral and visual stimuli in the media dominate to the point where written communication for meny people is relied on less. A reading age of only 8 or 9 is required to read the mass circulation newpapers, and a large number of people hav little or no requirement to write. I hav all my letters audio-typed and could well be a poor speller without enyone at work noticing.

The Adult Literacy Campaign does not seem to realize that it is not people who ar deficient, but the spelling system, and that the present time is as ripe as eny for simplification to be pursued.

Mrs. Thatcher's educational policy could benefit from simplified spelling. If a system wer adopted, it could be argued that one year of schooling could be omitted from the present basic eleven, with the same result in terms of educational learning. Think of the savings possibl in the educational system. Why not abolish 'primary one' and start a child at the age of six? Less teachers would be needed and the wage bill consequently reduced.

Back to the top.
On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4.