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PV13. TYPES AND MAGNITUDE OF ENGLISH SPELLING PROBLEMS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE
FOR REFORM by Masha Bell, part 2.
OTHER GOOD CANDIDATES FOR REFORM.Constant doubling cuts across most consonant phonemes. Apart from the doubling problem, consonants are spelt relatively consistently. Vowel patterns have more exceptions, and 5 vowel phonemes have very large numbers of exceptions. They are listed below.
The EE-sound stands out above the rest. "Consistent spelling of the EE-sound with 'ee'" would eliminate the need to memorise how this sound is spelt in one of 426 words; 125 words spell this sound unambiguously with 'ee' already, but learners get no clue as to which words use this spelling.
The sound also occurs in 57 heterographs (e.g. feet - feat, heel - heal, teem - team). This is far more than for any other sound. Heterographs epitomise English spelling unpredictability and are utterly unnecessary, as our ability to cope with over 1000 heteronyms of the 'bank', 'bar' or 'right' variety clearly show. Nobody is clamouring to have at least 5 different spelling for the 5 meanings of 'bar' (e.g. public bar, bar of soap, iron bar, called to the bar, all bar one).
301 words spell the EE-sound with one of the 5 main divergent graphemes. There are also a few utterly unpredictably ones.
The biggest group is the 136 words on the 'ea' pattern. This pattern is particularly ripe for eliminating because it commonly spells other sounds as well (e.g. head, bear, great).
84 words spell the EE-sound on the 'e-consonant- vowel' pattern.
|31 words use 'ie',||23 'i- cons'nt-vowel' pattern,||12 'ei' and||14 have assorted spellings.|
Only 7 words with the EE-sound are less amenable to reform because of pronunciation differences between different countries: chlorine, geyser, iodine, microfiche, glockenspiel, either, neither.
Two other words - 'theology', 'theatre' - are perhaps best left alone too.
As can be seen in the summary, there are another 4 problems with large numbers of exceptions to learn.
The -er and -en endings, the stressed -er- sound and the long A-sound.
The 75 '-or' endings make good candidates for bringing into line with the '-er' pattern.
30 of the 33 '-ar' could also easily be '-er' instead. The last (vulgar) had better not become 'vulger'.
'Sugar' and 'vicar' both have other unpredictable elements in them, apart from their '-ar' endings.
The 18 UK '-our' endings are already spelt '-or' in the US, but should really also have '-er' endings.
7 words with '-re' endings in the UK have already been made more sensible in the US.
3 words have exceptional endings: martyr, jodhpurs, chauffeur.
While the above 134 endings (US 127) which diverge from the more common '-er' pattern could easily be made to conform to it, the 42 '-ure' and 47 '-a' endings seem less amenable to reform.
42 '-ure' endings.
47 words have '-a' endings.
70 words with the stressed '-er' sound of 'her', 'herb', 'herd' have 124 alternative spellings.
The 131 exceptions to the 73 words with '-en' endings (abdomen, open) are also numerous, but somehow less obviously reformable, perhaps because many of the words are not very common.
The exceptional spellings for the long A-sound are slightly less numerous, but perhaps better candidates for reform. After EE, this is the long vowel with most exceptions. It is also less problematic than long I, O OO or U because the sound occurs very infrequently before consonant blends, e.g. 'kind'. Its pronunciation is also fairly uniform throughout the English speaking world.
The most numerous divergent spellings are connected with the letter E, i.e. EE, -er, -en. It might therefore be an idea to have a reform package which includes making the stressed short E-sound consistent as well, although it is irregular in just 62 words.
16 words above (and perhaps 'heaven' and 'heavy' too) should really gain a doubled consonant as well. Introducing this with just those words, in addition to cutting surplus doubled consonants (page 5) might be a gentle way of moving towards thoroughly consistent consonant doubling.
A reform centred on the letter E could include cutting redundant final '-e' as well (give, more, deliberate - as adjective).
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