Personal Views are the self-expression medium for Society members. The views expressed here are the author's and are not necessarily shared by the Society, or a majority of its members.
[PV 10 stated an earlier version of SSS Aim.]
[See Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, and Bulletin articles and web by Valerie Yule.]
Personal View 10. 1999.
by Valerie Yule.
Valerie Yule thinks that English spelling reform is essential for international
literacy. This is essential for knowledge and inspiration, bases for imagination and
essential for survival of the living planet and quality of life. She has worked on
all these fronts as a clinical child psychologist teacher, academic, researcher and
writer. Publications include contributions to professional books and journals,
literacy videos and collectedstories by disadvantaged children.
Unpublished books are on imagination, ideas and inventions, preventing poverty, the alternative householder, psychology for teenagers, spelling and society, literacy innovations and thinking.
Dr Yule is a Fellow of the Galton Society, Vice-President of the Simplified Spelling Society and founder of the Australian Centre for Social Innovations.
SPELLING FOR BEYOND 2000.
Human engineering and spelling reform.
- 1. How 'human-engineering' principles answer objections to spelling reform.
- 2. Criteria to meet the needs & abilities of readers, writers and learners.
- 3. The 1st step - SurplusCut Spelling.
- Sample texts.
- On another page, part 2.
- 4. Guidelines for International English Spelling.
- Sample texts.
- Notes on guidelines.
- 5. Short reading list.
- 6. Action for the future.
Yet few of us can read well and most of us cannot spell well, and all are directly or indirectly disadvantaged by traditional English spelling 90). Methods of teaching literacy are seriously handicapped. Other countries successfully improve their writing systems, and English spelling is not a sacred totem. Human engineering applied to all other communications technology fits tasks to their users. It can be applied to English spelling.
The criteria for improving English spelling must go beyond the aims of the Simplified Spelling Society to promote easier learning and more economical spelling. Our spelling system should be a best fit to match the needs and abilities of the wide variety of users and learners, native speakers and English learners, the bright, the dull, the present literates, Web-users and computers, and fit the nature of the English language. It must be an International English Spelling, since most users of English print today are not native speakers. A neat system of one-sound/one-symbol will not 'fit all'. All spelling assumptions must be tested and choices designed and tested by research, not just by logical arguments.
This Personal View seeks to set out what, on present evidence, some of these choices might be.
Five major features for International English Spelling.
- Omit superfluous letters in words.
- Use consistent spellings for consonants.
- Reduce the 240+ spellings for English vowel sounds to 48, with flexible operation according to reason, not obsolete custom.
- Facilitate faster reading for meaning with sound-symbol relationships modified by grammatical, morphemic and problem-solving principles that children can understand.
- Open the way to future fuller reforms.
1. Rationale.All the usual objections to spelling improvement are answered by Interspel
- Access to our present heritage of print is not lost. Close
visual resemblance is maintained, with up to 95% of letters in text unchanged.
Interspel is backward compatible with TO.
- Retraining for present readers is not needed. Interspel can be
read on first sight. Like Italian or German spelling, its consistent principles are
quickly understood. Familiarity with print then builds up facility.
- Interspel is not 'Spelling as you speak' that would lead to confusion
through idiosyncratic spellings and dialects. Interspel transcends this
threat through standardised broad-band 'diaphonic' representation of speech. This is
because spelling conventions are like conventionalised drawings which are
universally recognised, such as the drawn sign for a man which is unlike a
photograph of a specific man. One broad sound category can 'embrace all those
different phonemes (speech sounds) from which a listener is able to identify and
comprehend a word, in however many regional and individual pronunciations it may be
spoken.' (Pitman & St. John 1969.) For example, anyone, regardless of
dialect, can read or spell BANANA, although one spelling is used for three speech
sounds. Respellings of English words in pidgin languages illustrate how uncluttered,
broad-band spelling can facilitate fast learning and easy communication.
- 'Chomsky principles' are extended, not disregarded. Interspel
facilitates fast reading for meaning and clues to understanding unfamiliar
vocabulary because visual relationships of word families (morphemes) and grammatical
markers are retained.
- The nature of the English language. Interspel is designed to suit
the English language with its variety of linguistic origins, standard inflections,
only 26 roman letters to spell 40+ fonemes, compound word-structure, and many
homophones. Etymology that gives clues to meaning is retained; dictionaries cater
for linguistic interest in word-origins as in other languages.
- 'Isn't our antiquated spelling lovely!' The urgent need for mass
literacy is more important than the private delights of mulling over 'quaint'
spellings like COUGH/ DOUGH/ HOUGH/ LOUGH/ ROUGH/ SLOUGH/ THROUGH/ THOUGHT/
THOROUGH. What becomes familiar is more loved than what is obsolete and unused. We
no longer want our cars to look like horseless carriages, or our stereos to look
like old phonograms, or to read the history of computers every time we turn one
- 'I worked hard to spell so everyone else should.' Difficult
English spelling was once valued as a social screening test, but today the greater
needs are for efficiency, mass literacy and cutting waste. English spelling snobbery
was rightly taken to exemplify 'Conspicuous Consumption' by the Swedish sociologist
- 'Not in my time, O Lord' Surplus-Cut and Interspel can co-exist
and interlace with TO. TO-lovers can continue to read and write TO. They
can read Interspel, but need never write it.
- Trivial teasers of how to re-spell words with strange TO spellings
like WHAT or LAUGH. These do not justify mothballing reform. Some posers can be
solved by Spelling Pronunciation (qv) and a few minor 'exception' spellings can
remain temporarily in TO as concessions for current TO readers until reform is
- The interests of readers, writers and learners are so conflicting, that
any reforms that help one group must hurt another.These arguments are based
on challengeable assumptions and evidence. Interspel can serve the interests of all
groups as a 'best fit' to these various needs and abilities.
- Costs of change.
a) Cost-benefits include shorter learning time for beginners, reduced failure rates, skill-improvement for the already literate, and the advantages of a literate people.
b) Interspel's economy saves materials, effort and time. Text is 10-15% shorter than TO. Even the first step, omitting surplus letters, saves 3-10% of text.
c) Printing costs. Print is now electronically updated at the touch of a button. Almost all that is read today was printed or reprinted within in the past ten years, and so introduction of improved spelling does not require re-publishing except for dictionaries and school materials. TO print would remain easily accessible for many years even after the final steps.
2. A user-frendly spelling to match needs and abilities of readrs, writers and lernrs.2.1. Readrs. Most readrs of TO English today read poorly, read litl and do not enjoy it. This dislike is aquired thru the trublsom business of lerning TO. They gess and misread - hence the popular litracy theory that all readrs reconstruct what they read, rathr than try to undrstand the writer. New vocabulry lernt from reading TO oftn cannot be used in speaking because pronunciation is uncertn. Interspel promotes betr reading strategies and mor enjoyment.
- Visual distinctivness of words in text facilitates fast
recognition. Streamlining spelling makes text more compact, easier to skim acuratly
and to recolect visualy. Interspel's Consonant-Vowel-Consonant sequences are more
visualy distinctiv than strings of vowels or consonants, particularly as morfemes
are clarified by positionl vowel spelling. Shortr sylabls are easier to decode/
encode than long ones, especialy with Interspel's positionl spelling, and simplified
spelling of vowel sequences, eg. HÌWAY is easier than HEIOUAE and PÒET
than POEET. Uniformly short words are not necessarily read fastr, because variety in
the length of words increases visual distinctivness, and promotes imediat automatic
visual recognition of words and the structure of sentences.
- Unobtrusiv diacritics. Frequent interruptions of print by
apostrofes and similar diacritics disrupt reading. The least intrusiv are grav
accents and cedillas. Readers can use them or ignor them according to
need for aid in pronunciation or word recognition.
- Readers of TO benefit. SurplusCut and Interspel are 'TO cleand
up', and require no special lerning or retraining. Anyone alredy literat can read
Interspel texts with litl dificulty, and with growing familiarity, speed and
eficiency are likely to improve, particularly for poor readers, as indicated by Yule
& MacKay's pilot experiment with 20 hours' reading practice.
i. 'Bad spelrs' would benefit by easier spelling, so that they could spel by rationl rules rather than ransak their desperat memories or time-consuming dictionries. 'When in dout leave it out' is a principl to prevent them throwing in extra letrs 'just in case'.
ii. 'Good spelrs' in TO who hav taken great trubl to become so, can continue to use TO. As they aclimatise to more consistent spellings they can switch over gradualy
iii. A 5-15% reduction of letrs in words is a significant saving in efort and time, as wel as in costs and trees. It is an eficient streamlining for writers.
3. Users of Internationl English as a second language now outnumbr nativ speakrs and this majority is increasing. Interspel would benefit them in many ways:
- The spoken language can then be lernt from the ritn language and vice versa,
rather than having to lern almost two languages as now. The ritn language is
consistent, predictable streamlined and its principls require only a dubl page.
Interspel is therefore a practicabl medium for comunication and education in
multilingual areas to make posibl mass litracy for participation in the comercial,
sientific, tecnolojicl, comunications, cultural and educationl world of global
- Interspel contains visual links with the internationl vocabulary that has been
spred globaly by English and incorporated into evry modrn language, eg TAXI/ TACSI/
TAKSI/ TAKOSHI, TELEFON/ TELEFON/ TELEFON, INTERNATIONAL/ INTERNAZIONALE/
INTERNACIONAL/ INTERNASIONL. Many proposed reforms of English spelling would obscure
- A standardised set of spelling conventions is essential to avoid the 'many
Englishes' that are now developing, which are encouraged because written TO is
inadequat to hold the spoken language to a broad global standard.
- TO remains accessibl world-wide for those who stil need it.
English-speakrs lerning a second language transfer easily to consistent difrences in spelling systems in lerning languages with regular spelling like German and Italian, because it is consistency that counts. A consistent English spelling therefor need not change to the Continentl vowel system to be internationly readabl and pronounceable.
2.4. Needs and abilities of lernrs. The '20,000 contradictory facts of English spellings', so labeld by Sir James Murray, the great compiler of the Oxford English Dictionary, have always been dificult for lernrs. One sound/ one symbol is stil an impracticabl ideal but lernrs' literacy problems can be significantly cut without it. A consistent spelling system that introduces consistent rules and has a few sight words is not beyond beginrs' capacity. They can start with the basic sound/spelling correspondences, then progress to full Interspel, which retains access to TO in the world around them. The consistency of Interspel makes it posibl for all lernrs to use the fonic and visual strategies for future good reading at present open only to the verbaly giftd, and to be asistd but not directd by gessing from context. Novel printd words are at first decoded, then, as they become familiar, they are read by fast and automatic visual recognition processes, while fonic decoding strategies remain availabl for furthr new words. The erly use of fonic decoding also sets in place auditory processes in short-term memory which asist in reading long sentences and passages, by helping to prevent forgeting their beginings by the time the end is reachd. The spelling exeptions of Interspel are few enough to remembr, including forin words which are mostly encounterd at a mor advanced level.
Lerning to read can nevr be efortless except for the giftd few. Writing is a cultural lerning, not instinctivly drivn like speech. Most societies never had writing systems. Interspel reduces th efort required. Lernrs apply their minds and reason for a short time to understand the simpl principls of the writing system and its sound-symbol relationships, and then practice to peak eficiency by 'real reading', rathr than first rote-memorising words or spelling drill for three years. Beginrs can work out the spoken version of almost every word in Interspel; morfemic and gramaticl indicators help to work out the meanings of new vocabulary met in context. Fast lerning makes reading enjoyabl.
Interspel used as an initial lerning spelling includes gides to pronunciation and irregular stress that need not be always represented in adult text, since 'one-trial lerning' or lttl mor is sufficient, eg, the initial spellings LONGGR FINGGR can theraftr be representd as LONGR FINGR. In contrast to the Initial Teaching Alphabet, ita, beginrs start to move directly into reading mor stream-lined 'adult' text while stil lerning with the initial aids, and are also facilitated in entry to TO.
Fonic representation for lerners.
a) Consistent sound-spelling relationships make fonic decoding reliable not booby-trapd as with TO. Howevr, unlike most spelling reform proposals, Interspel is not lockd into a rigid aplication of the alfabetic principl alone, but integrates visual, fonemic and cognitiv strategies for word and text reading. Regular spelling does not solv all lerning problems - they stil ocur for social reasons as in Germany, socio-educationl reasons as in Indonesia, and in Finland due to features of the language.
Spelling reformrs often assume that perfect sound/symbol correspondence would make reading and writing very easy, thinking that hearing sounds in words and blending them into words in print would come naturaly, since children must automaticly analyse and synthesise speech when they listn and talk. Howevr, for litracy, this automatic analysis of speech must be made conscius and abstract. The speech sounds identified in a writn languaj are a cultural abstraction, only aproximating the speech sounds that foneticians find we realy make. Failure to be taught or to discovr how to hear fonemes in words and 'Phonic awareness' must and can be taught, as it is not now, and a consistent spelling system solves many of the problems, without claims as a panacea.
b) Beginrs oftn aply letr-name pronunciations in writing and reading, so that concise spellings like LITL, APL and ANSR with sylabic consonants are easier for them than, say, LITTLE or LITUL.
c) Long words and strings of consonants or vowels are not easy for lernrs. Interspel assists segmentation into sylabls by retaining patrns of Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) for significant semi-vowels. Accents for long vowels and distinctiv spellings for vowels in final position help to identify morfemes, which facilitate reading for meaning and identifying unfamiliar vocabulary, as in PARLAMENTRI and HIWAYMAN, rathr than PARLMNTRI or PAARLUMENTARIE or HIWAMN or HIEWAEMAN.
Methods of lerning to read. Poor fonics teaching methods plus the dificulties of teaching English spelling explain why teachrs welcomd the promises of 'Look and Say' (constant visual repetition) and 'Whole Language', (suposed 'natural' absorption of litracy from the environment without specific teaching). A logicl, consistent spelling system makes posibl vastly improved and innovativ teaching methods. It is then esier to show lernrs how to hear sounds in words, how to encode them from speech, and how to decode words in print to achiev reading for meaning. Hence the promotion of a half-hour cartoon take-home video to set out the writing system and demonstrate how to read and spell. This undrstanding of 'how to' is a crucial key to litracy. Teachrs say 'the penny has dropd' and textbooks say 'the child intuitivly..'
Interspel does not require lerning abstract rules. A dubl page chart makes an encourajing and handy summary, showing the limitd size and nature of the task. Each element can be tickd off as it is mastrd thru generalising and undrstanding from exampls - eg. text with contrasting words with stress on the first or second sylabl can generate the rules for pronouncing stress in words.
Lerning to speak English, reading aloud, and relating speech and print. Interspel shows the forml pronunciation of English words, as used in a public speech, as the base for spelling and decoding words. Natural slurring in evryday articulation produces informl speech. Overseas lernrs of course stil require audio lerning for intonation patrns and accents.
Lerning to write. Small children's writing shows natural trends in transcribing the spoken language befor they are afectd by the irregularities of TO. They spel economicly, condensing rather than expanding long vowels, eg. "TH PLAN MAD A FOSD LADIG AT TH EPOT". They prefer singl vowel letrs to digrafs. Children, like adults, have no problems with reading or spelling BANANA, whether they pronounce it as /bannannuh/, /baanaanah/, /bnaner/, or whatevr. The simplest spelling is usualy the easiest. Interspel is close to children's 'natural spelling' and its consistent rules and alternativ acceptabl spellings allow some leeway, while setting limits.
Interspel and individual difrences in lerning
1. Bright lernrs need not be held back by having to sit thru sequential class teaching, and becoming confused, bored or rebellius, as can hapn now. They could 'teach themselvs to read' as soon as they wer redy, with a pre-school video, Interspel's consistent sound-spelling relationships with their few exceptions and rules set out on two pajes, and great books to read.
2. Slow lernrs can lern at their own pace in the classroom, without being irretrievably left behind, because as their abilities/ motivation developd, the 'instructions how to' and the litracy video would always be availabl to them. They do not then hav to rely entirely on rote memory or on auditory distinctions many find dificult, such as -S or -Z for verb endings or two /th/ sounds. They can use the same wider range of strategies of future good readers, without being booby-trapd.
3. Dyslexia and specific lerning dificulties. Gaps and confusions in lerning TO compound any problems of developmental delay or erly deficiencies in verbal or perceptual abilities. These are oftn resolvd too late to prevent the emotionl lerning blocks that are a major cause for continuing dyslexia. This erly demoralisation can be preventd by the clarity of Interspel's spelling system, and the multipl strategies it makes mor accessibl for lernrs.
3. The first step - 'SurplusCut' spellingDrop the surplus letters in words
The most acceptabl introduction to spelling reform, as clearly shown by reserch, is to clear clutr from TO by omitting useless letrs from words (Yule 1991). 'Surplus' letrs are defined as serving no purpose in showing pronunciation or meaning of words. They mislead lernrs and increase spelling mistakes in writing. Modern tecnologicl and business trends towards streamlining are alredy shown in 'advertising spellings' and trends in spelling change such as DEVELOP and PROGRAM replacing DEVELOPE and PROGRAMME.
Surplus letrs that can be cut out include:-
- Dubld consonants that have no useful function in words. For
example surveys show that over 56% of writers omit one or both surplus letrs in
ACCOMMODATE, so that ACOMODATE is what dictionries should accept as how peple spel
the word today.
- Silent letrs can distort pronunciation, as in HEAD, DEBT, VIGOUR,
FOREIGN, PEOPLE, GUARD, QUEUE, DISCIPLINE (HED, DET, VIGR, FORIN, PEPLE, GARD, Q,
Silent final 'e' is common and confusing in TO. In SurplusCut, MINUT is difrent from MINUTE, INFINIT is pronounced difrently from FINITE, and SIV replaces the spelling demon SIEVE.
- Up to 10% of writing in TO wastes time, energy, paper, money and worry.
- Omitting letrs barely disrupts the appearance of text unlike changing words by
substituting or adding more letrs, and so deletion of surplus letrs is a sensibl
place to start reform.
- Letrs are not omitd where that is disturbing and may cause new readrs to reject
the whole idea. Cutting is applied according to what 'the market will bear' in each
situation. Absolute logicl consistency is not required where it might confuse lernrs
and users who are familiar with TO. Unstressd (schwa) vowels are not omitd where
this may confuse readrs, and so, ERROR not ERR, NATURALY not NATRLY, PSALM not SAM,
CALF not CAF, WHO not HO, pending the furthr reforms of Interspel that change the
spelling of words to clarify pronunciation and meaning. In this SC difrs from the
rigorus and logicl development of its principls in Christopher Upward's Cut Spelling
- Empiricl reserch backing. SurplusCut spelling is based on experimentl reserch (
1972, 1980, 1982, 1986, 1989. 1991) that shows that changing letrs in text can slow
down norml reading at first, but omission of surplus letrs may be barely noticed or
not at all. Surplus letrs are least missd when cut from near the end of words and
sentences and from less frequent words, so they are the best sites to initiate cuts
to introduce readrs to spelling reform.
SurplusCut Spelling takes acount of cognitiv and educationl reserch into children's 'natural spelling', how beginrs lern to read and write (which is not necessarily how they are taught), adult reading processes and spelling preferences, and popular trends (1986. 1991).
- SC spelling to introduce spelling reform. The first steps in any reform are the
most dificult. Public awareness of the benefits of spelling change is an essential
step. Once useful changes start rolling, they accelerate and snowball, and
conventionl membrs of the public start conforming to the new fashion. The wedge for
reform is that once change begins in anything formerly monolithic, and is
successful, further changes can be rapid.
Letr-deletions are an easy start that can be followd later by letr-changes. During transition, pragmatism as well as writers' personal imperfections make temporary inconsistencies unavoidable. But once writers discovr the benefits of improved spelling, they will want to go furthr themselvs to reduce TO's inconsistencies. SurplusCut users can apply SurplusCut to the degree they wish according to the situation.
Consonant changes that are alredy becoming popular can be taken up, and brought into mainstream spelling now. F can replace PH to spel /f/ and J replace G and DG to spell /dj/. These changes are also familiar thru intemationl as well as alternativ spellings, as in TELEFON, JAIL, JELL.
Sampl SurplusCut Text to compare with other reform proposals
Sound /f/ speld F and soft g with J. Text is 3.3% shortr than TO. 94% of words
Exampl with moderat cutting of surplus letrs.
It was on the first day of the new year that the anouncement was made, almost simultaneusly from three observatries, that the motion of the planet Neptune, the outrmost of all the planets that wheel about the Sun, had becom very eratic. A retardation in its velocity had been suspectd in Decembr. Then a faint, remote spek of light was discovrd in the rejion of the perturbd planet. At first this did not cause any very great exitement. Sientific peple, howevr, found the intelijence remarkabl enuf, even befor it became known that the new body was rapidly growing larjr and brightr, and that its motion was quite difrent from the ordrly progress of the planets.
Text with mor drastic cutng of surplus letrs.
64% of words unchanged. 6.3% shortr. Market reserch shows that the least popular
letr deletion is to cut THE to TH. THE is the most comn word in text, so cutng it by
a third makes a visual jolr. TH is therefor one of th later 'mor drastic' cut
spelngs to be made.
It ws on th first day of th new year that th anounmnent ws made, almost simultaneusly from three observatries, that th motion of th planet Neptune. th outrmost of all th planets that wheel about th Sun, had becom very eratic. A retardation in its velocity had been suspectd In Decembr. Then a faint, remote spek of light ws discovrd in th rejion of th perturbd planet. At first this did not cause any very great exitement. Sientific peple, howevr, found th intelijence rernarkabl enuf, even befor it became known that th new body ws rapidly growing larjr and brightr, and that its motion ws quite difrent from th ordrly progress of th planets.Back to the top.
Forward to part 2.