SS15. On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4 (Supplement).

simpl speling June 2001 part 3.

Jean Wilkinson USA writes:

Dear President Bush ...

This is an edited version of a letter Jean sent to President George W Bush and his secretary of education, Dr Roderick Paige.
I saw Charlotte's Web on the Disney Channel last night. I was heartsick. I had thought that children could at least watch the Disney Channel safely. Not so. No adult in the story was loving.

Moral: Don't look for love in adults. Lots of children watched that show.

Therefore: Raising your standards in education requires not only tightening up on discipline and demanding more of students (the cold adults of Charlotte's Web) but pressing your teachers to truly care about and encourage their struggling kids. Kids do look for love in adults.

Therefore: Along with your wonderful return to fonics (please - a good basis in fonics, not just a side dish), please recommend that praise be given for words a student writes with accurate fonics, even tho the traditional spelling is different. This spelling is always readable. [1]

Because it will make sense. Traditional spelling often does not. Of all current languages, English spelling is the most inconsistent. [2]

Case in point: How do u pronounce ea? Eat, great, bread, heart, earth, and hear - six different pronunciations - are all familiar words to first-graders. Plus beautiful, realize, and create, which they can expect to run into in the whole-language method of teaching reading. Not long after, they'll meet sergeant, beau, and meander - 12 pronunciations of ea! We don't have to make it that hard for them! No other language does!' [3]

The greatest contribution your administration can make to the long-term survival of the United States as a nation (beyond the economy and defense) is to put us on the road to an up-to-date English orthografy. So more of our kids can become literate before they give up. Efforts are also being made in England, Australia, and New Zealand to make this world-wide. We need to get together and choose a single orthografy.

English is also receiving criticism as the international trade language because it is too difficult to learn. But Chinese can now be written in the Roman alfabet, specifically to make it easier for foreigners to learn. And Germany, the financial center for the euro, is pushing German.

There are currently four new English orthografies in limited use: Cut Spelling (England), International English Spelling (Australia), RITE (international), and SoundSpel (ALC New York). Cut Spelling fixes our main spelling problems in clever, creative way, but doesn't touch the rarer problems. International Spelling fixes everything, using some of the same ideas as Cut Spelling. The creators of the first two orthografies say not all of their suggestions need be employed; we can adopt part or all. So if we start with the parts where the two overlap we should be on solid ground.

The international Simplified Spelling Society advises that an on-going committee be appointed to oversee the appropriate evolution of future English spelling. They are needed yesterday (!), now that US tv personnel are required to say goverment and perscription and Febuary. David Gergen went out of his way one night to say comf-ter-ble. I wrote and asked him how these words were to be spelled now. I received no answer. If we don't adapt the spellings to match at the same time, we'll just be driving our kids crazy that much faster. Please give us a committee to up-date spelling quickly!

Theodore Roosevelt gave a shove to updating our spelling by encouraging a change from colour, labour, etc; centre, theatre, etc; hiccough, plough, and a few other words. Also on the list were through/thru, and though/tho. All, these two need is a little push. We still need to push tongue/tung and many more.

There are rules for the spelling of English. I've forgotten how many hundred. If the rules of basketball changed very few seconds, would u play?


[1] I once taught an eighth-grade student, of normal intelligence, who had to look in the dictionary to find how to spell as. As an adult he dropped in to see me. He said he could read okay, but he never wrote except to sign his name. But he could write fonetically and be understood. This should become socially acceptable. Our spelling traditions are not cast in stone.

[2] 'About half of all English words can be spelled correctly on fonologically bases alone'. Hanna, Paul, et al, Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences as Clues to Spelling Improvement, US Dept of Education and Welfare, 1966, p 122. So what are we going to do about the other hall This is a fenomenal proportion!

[3] 'At least the following languages have, for educational reasons, modernized their writing systems during [the 20th] century (some more than once): Chinese, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Irish, Japanese, Malay/Indonesian, Malayalam, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish. English neglects this essential task to the inevitable detriment of its educational standards.' Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J27 1997/1, p 28.

[Nelson Helm: see Newsletters .]

Of authorities:

Who will care about our 'optimum solution'?

Nelson Helm, USA.

Changing how civilians dress does not much resemble changing how soldiers dress.

In the military, a centralized command orders a change; eg, a decade ago in the US, when US Marine Corps officers carried 'swagger sticks,' the commandant said that any officer who 'needed' one was free to carry one. 'That was the last anyone saw a swagger stick.

Civilians, not subject to a centralized authority or discipline, pay much to dress as they please, fight dress codes vigorously, as those of u with children can attest.

Only in countries like China under Mao and Iran, where morals police can fine and jail offenders, do we see broad conformity.

I judge that authority over English spelling is distributed over 450,000,000 or more persons, very decentralized. It's more like changing how civilians dress than like changing military uniforms.

If we arrive at what we consider an optimum solution, who will care? Who, outside our group of 20 or 200 will have any sense of ownership of it Or loyalty to it?

No publisher, politician, or university can long survive bucking public opinion. Publishers, democratic governments, universities must cater to the public.

Should publishers, politicians or academics lead, I doubt they'll influence many. Have u noticed how much persons respect the political opinions of Oxbridge and Ivy League political scientists? the religious teachings of church hierarchies? Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain (pretty big names)? and The Chicago Tribune (used some fonetic spelling for years).

I have. Not much.

Most everyone considers themself competent in English, and has strong opinions.

I predict that like a legislative bill drafted by a select committee when it reaches the floor of Parliament or Congress, our optimum solution will be torn to shreds by newly threatened groups that proponents didn't know existed.

I reflected on these words:
'Some want absolute correspondence between spelling and talking. Some want one foneme for each grafeme. Some want one grafeme for each foneme. Some want the grafemes to match those in other languages. Some want the new spellings to look like the old. Some want to change minimally, to make changing easier. Some want all QWERTY characters. Some want all QWERTY characters on the bottom three rows, and no characters requiring the shift key where we do not already use a shift key. Some want a comprehensive, internally consistent system. Some want to grope along, one step at a time.'

To me, they mean that however persons spell, some will work less, others more. Will present readers who have already worked to team traditional spelling work little, and new learners work more?

Who gets to vote? Not non-extant posterity! Not primary school students! I cannot imagine that those most likely to learn and benefit will have much influence on how and what they get taught.

I take judicial notice, ie, I assert without evidence, that most writers of English, ie, substantially all who get to vote, are too old to learn new languages easily. The window closes around age 12, does it not?

I have trouble imagining that the older, influential persons will spend years learning new ways to do what they believe they already do fluently.

I invite examples of similar revolutions that 'worked,' similar to the example of Dvorak key-boards, a revolution which did not work.

What do voters want? How much do they want it?

We might poll, asking many writers of English many detailed questions about what they like and dislike. Better yet, experiment with them, to learn how and what they choose.

Then, we would know better not only what persons generally want, but how to group persons into interest groups or constituencies, and what different groups like and dislike.

If I despaired, I'd find another project.

yet ...

[Steve Bett: see Journals, Newsletters, Personal View, Web links.]
[Web addresses have not been linked as they are unlikely to be valid now. Search engines may find the people or topics.]

Spelling on the net with Steve Bett.

US-UK differences in audio files.

Audio files show the difference between British and American accents at

Building on the ascii-ipa notation of Evan Kishenbaum, Markus Laker built an introduction to the sounds of English and notations for fonemic transcription. Laker lists both IPA and ASCII-IPA notation and provides clickable audio files so the reader can hear sample words spoken by American and British speakers. This was a major accomplishment in 1998 when the page was created. Today we have easy ways to create MP3 audio files using free voice-mail utilities such as TalkSender.

The 50 sound signs of Englik X include both dominant accents

David Kelley's Englik X, a new ascii-ipa notation, is one of the few that can distinguish between the American and English pronunciation of the word, HERDER. hxxrdxr / hxxdx [where x = schwa and double letters indicate extended vowels]. Spanglish, for instance, merges /ʒ:/ and /ʌ/ when spelling hurrder. The double consonant indicates stress in Spanglish and RITE. upper/uppa, butter/butta.

New Truespel fonetic converter.

The BTRSPL on-line converters have been around for a couple of years. The first, developed by Alan Mole, had to be downloaded. Then Steven Bird, with some help from me, built an on-line converter using Mole's dictionaries for Cut Spelling, ALC Fonetic, and Truespel. Tom Zurinskas recently increased the size of the Truespel dictionary from 7000 words to 70,000 words. Stephan Böhmig and Alberto Fontaneda at then updated the conversion engine. Now up to 500 words at a time may be cut and pasted into the converter window. Almost immediately, the converted text appears in a second window. Most reform notations can be read with little difficulty.

Writing in a reform notation is another matter. The converter is both a quick solution to the problem of writing and a tool to learn how to write in the reform notation. Teachers wishing to use a reform notation as an ita can use the converter to convert any of the more than 10,000 stories that are available on-line.

At present on-line transcribers or converters are available for only three reform notations: Truespel, ALC Fonetic, and Cut Spelling. Others can be added to the list as soon as someone builds the dictionary for them. It takes about a week to create the 60,000-word comma delimited database. Tom built his dictionary in Excel. An .xls file can be saved in several different formats including a comma delimited text file. [See links to conversion software.]

The orthografic challenge.

I have proposed a series of studies that would vividly contrast reform notations and traditional orthografy. One study is designed to highlight the speed with which a fonemic notation can be acquired by a non-English speaker. Few believe that someone can learn to read English in less than two hours. Many assume it takes four years. What can be learned in less than two hours is a symbol/sound correspondence table.

The task would be to read aloud a passage written in English in one or more fonemic scripts. The foreigner could create a sound file using TalkSender, which adds a sound file to email. A native speaker would attempt to transcribe the sound file back into a traditional written form.

The original message would then be compared with the transcribed message and errors tallied. The hypothesis is that attempts to read traditional English will fail while the attempt to read a fonemic script will be successful with over 90% of the meaning being conveyed compared to 50% when the notation is the traditional writing system (TS).

Are 70% solutions really easier to sell?

Fonemic solutions to the alfabet problem will respell 60% of the words in English. A 70% solution such as RITE and Fastrspel will respell 30%. Saxon Alphabet Spelling Pronunciation respells 15%.

It is clear that the general public will resist any attempt to respell 60% of the words in the dictionary. It is likely that they will resist a proposal to respell 30% or even 15%. The logic of a 70% solution is that resistance to it will be half that of a 100% solution. This is a hypothesis that needs to be tested.

More complete versions of these stories can be found at


Over coffee we were discussing spelling. One said she was a 'creative speller.' They decided to classify me as a speller. 'Political,' suggested one. 'Efficient', said another. 'A thinker'. 'So,' came a response, 'a political, efficient, spelling thinker - PEST!'

- Allan Campbell

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On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4 (Supplement).