SS17. On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4 (Supplement).

simpl speling March 2002 part 3.

[Jean Wilkinson: see Newsletters .]

Jean Wilkinson US writes,

D: Icon to a Teutonic god

One of my favorite targets for spelling reform is Wednesday. I always knew it came from Woden's Day, but I didn't know that Woden, the top Teutonic god, may have been compared to Mercury. The Spanish name for Wednesday is miércoles.

Behold below, the English history of Wednesday, preserved in old writings:

Year (AD) spelling
1123 Wodnes dei
1275 wendesdei
14th-15th centuries Wednesday! Also Wodenesday, Wedonesday, Wensdaye [d omitted]
1400 wedenisdai
1425 Wennessday
1450 Wenysday,wedenday, wonysday
1457 Wenstay (pronounced
1470 Wednysday (both ways
1485 weddysday
1490 Wedynnisda (Scots)
1529 wenesday [Three more spellings with d]
1544 Wennysday
1558 Wensdaie [Two more ds]
1574 wensdaie
1579 Wednesday!
1607 (Shakespeare!) Wensday
1808 Wensday, Wednesday!

After 1808 the spellings are consistently Wednesday. Samuel Johnson's monumental dictionary (1755) preferred the oldest spellings, especially Latin spellings. Nowadays dictionaries are not intended to petrify spellings but follow the people. But the people are following the dictionaries. So round and round we go.... Want to do something about it? Try Wensday. Shakespeare did. [Researched from Oxford English Dictionary, 1988 edition.]

[Cornell Kimball: see Journals, Newsletters.]

It ain't necessarily so.

Cornell Kimball. USA

When talking to others about reforming spelling, we often hear a response that 'English spellings can't be changed because they reflect the histories of the words.' There are at least a couple of main points countering that idea.

One is, how does a spelling's reflecting its history really affect or come into play when using a word day-to-day? Even in learned matters, how is a spelling's history really a part of what someone is communicating?

Second, if we do go with the idea that our current spellings reflect the words' histories, we find that it doesn't 'work' all the time - because English spellings don't always show the exact histories.

The Society's leaflet Modernizing English Spelling: Principles & Practicalities shows some examples of spellings with such historical inaccuracies. A couple of the other places in SSS literature with such examples are in the SSS Journal 27-2000/1, one on pages 8-9 (reprint of a pamflet by early SSS member William Archer about etymology), and another on page 19 (information from a web site which counters the usual arguments against English spelling reform).

The s in island was not in the original spelling, but was inserted later - and is etymologically incorrect. The b's in crumb, thumb, and numb were intentionally added a few centuries ago as silent letters. So were the g's in foreign and sovereign (two words unrelated to reign), the c in scythe, and the p in ptarmigan (of Gaelic, not Greek, origin).

The h's in ghost, aghast, and ghastly, the h and the y in rhyme, and the use of ch in ache and anchor are similarly false. The c in anchor has a long history (and one could also make a case for the c in ache), but the use of h is purely after-the-fact.

Iland, crum, thum, num, forein and soverein (or even foran and soveran), sythe, tarmigan, gost, agast, gastly, rime, ake, and ancor are spellings that not only reflect the words' pronunciations more closely, but also reflect their origins more closely.

Looking further, we find the c in cinder was originally an s, and the o's in some and tongue were u's. Sinder, sum, and tunge were spellings usually used in Old English. Then could was often coude in Middle English - until a silent l was inserted.

Does glamour look like a word that came from French right into English? Indirectly it does come from French, but not in that form or with that meaning. The original word from French, from Old French, was gramaire - which is the word grammar, and which came into English as a linguistic term. In a Scottish English dialect, this word was altered so that the r became an 1, and the meaning altered and specialized to become associated with magic. This was extended to an association with charm and enchantment, and then thru another association or two to today's meaning. And this comes from a Scottish English dialect, not the Parisian world of haute couture. The -our is quite spurious.

The gh's in delight, haughty, and sprightly were added a few centuries ago and have no historical basis. These three terms come from French words which never had that letter combination.

Sprightly is directly related to the word sprite, both originally coming from the same word. Both further are related to French (and English) esprit.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives over a dozen ways that through has been spelt in the past. Thurh was common, thruh was one of the forms used, and the spellings for this in Old and Middle English often bear a closer resemblance to thru than they do to through.

And there are the 'half-justified' examples of debt and doubt. It's true that the Latin words that these originally came from had b's. However, these spellings came into English as French words which didn't have the b's, dropped earlier in French. At first, in English they didn't have b's; but the b's were later intentionally added as silent letters.

It's a similar case with receipt. It came from a French word which didn't have a p. But the Latin word from which it's derived did, so a redundant p was later added in English.

And there are other examples.

Yes, there are many words whose spellings do accurately reflect their histories - many more do than don't. But there are also many words where the spelling's origins have been altered, and what we're 'preserving' in the current spelling still isn't a completely true-to-form historical record.

[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, USA.

Augmenting the alfabet.

If you could add one new letter to the alfabet, what would it be?

In an article for JSSS30 Michael Avinor presents a case for replacing digrafs such as ch and sh with unigrafs. Ch is already a compound foneme (tsh) so with a unigraf for sh it could be represented as tS.

There is certainly no logical problem with representing combined fonemes as combined symbols - in fact it is probably more fonemic to do so. The question is rather, which way is more convenient for the reader and writer? I doubt many would want to give up j in favor of dZ. As the next anecdote illustrates, tradition is hard to change.

Fonemic spelling advocates choose tradition.
Those who worked on the Shaw alfabet project in the 1960s were probably nearly finished with their transcription of Androcles and the Lion when someone noticed a typo in the translation key. The decision was made to not correct the transposition error. The cover-up almost worked. It would be 50 years before someone else noticed the error. Those in the Shavian discussion group quickly conceded that an error had been made primarily because Kingsley Read had corrected it about ten years later when he brought out QuickScript.

The Shavian group decided not to fix transposition error reversing @@r and eir at this late date because the fix would be inconsistent with the usage in Androcles and the Lion - the only book set in Shavian. Her would continue to be spelled heir and vice versa.

Isn't it ironic that the promoters of a fonemic script would be willing to let a standard be set by tradition rather than logic? Purists who want to eliminate all digrafs, such as Dr Avinor, have a hard sell ahead of them.

Should TS be classified as logografic?

Traditional written English (TS) is standardized not at the foneme or syllable level but at the whole word level. It has been classified as morfo-fonemic but an equal case could be made for classifying it as a logografic writing system. This would place it the same category as another mixed logografic system - Chinese. A purer logografic system is the Hindu-Arabic number system. This system is totally devoid of fonemic cues altho some people use it for texting: 4-sale, gr8.

If an alfabet is a 'uni-bet'(both unigrafic and unifonic) then the foundation of the traditional writing system is a multi-bet: based on more than one code. The principal codes are Anglo-Saxon, Norman French, and Latin. To this mix one must add shifted long vowel pronunciations and the morfemic principle whereby plurals and past tenses are standardized.

An ITA should be viewed as a uni-bet backbone on which multi-bet orthografic options are added. The pronunciation guide spelling found in an ITA does not have to be transitional. It can remain as the dictionary pronunciation guide.

Relaxed standards and intentional ambiguity.

Pronunciation guide spelling systems will change is to iz and the to dhe.

A good argument can be made for relaxing standardized unfonetic spellings in such cases and allowing fonemically spelled variants.

A good case can also be made for allowing the substitution of an unvoiced for a voiced consonant (the, is, of) since this kind of switch, while not fonemic, is rarely critical. That is, using th instead of dh or s instead of z will not result in a pronunciation that cannot be understood in context.

Well placed ambiguity can make it possible for otherwise fonemic notations to work for both BBC English (RP) and NBC English (GA).

The fonograms o and er can be defined as ambiguous.

o = q or Q q = ah or Q = short awe and er = @r or @ where @ is the rnid lax vowel (schwa).

Bother could now be spelled the same in both dialects but interpreted differently.

BBC English: bQth@; NBC English: bqth@r.

With these localized concessions, one of the alleged advantages of TS and standardized unfonemic spelling would be eliminated. 'The two major dialects of English could be spelled the same.

Franklin Fonetic.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) proposed an augmented alfabet for English. One of the more interesting new fonograms was the rotated h for schwa - represented below as ay. Franklin discarded y so this becomes an easy substitution. Sample: Huer iz iur kyit? Myi kyit iz styk in thy trie.

Schwa is my candidate for the most needed new letter. What is yours?


The early settlers in Ptarmigan, Alaska, could not agree on the spelling of the name of their town, so they settled on Chicken, and Chicken, Alaska, it remains to this day.

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