SS7. On other pages: part 1, part 3, part 4 (Supplement).

simpl speling November 1998 part 2.

What one member has been doing.

Teaching one's ideas, seeking reactions.

Paul Cunningham, Oklahoma, USA.

Since becoming interested in spelling simplification, I have devised Spel Riet, which I have used for both children and adults.

My first classes in Spel Riet were for 4th graders, the first in a neighborhood elementary school, the second in a public library because the school 'shut the door' on me.

The classes began with 34 students. In the first, three students dropped out after the first session. One mother was afraid Spel Riet 'would mess up my child's brain'. In the second class none dropped out.

Some school principals expressed concern to me that Spel Riet would confuse their students. I had no evidence to refute this, so I tested for it in both classes.

After the last session I asked students to complete an evaluation. One question was, 'If a class in Spel Riet were offered to 5th graders next year, would U want to be in the class?' Twenty-four said yes, seven no.

Another question was, 'Of all the Spel Riet rules U studied, which one did U like best?' A majority of both classes said, 'The one that drops silent letters.'

With 64 adults in three seminars my emphasis was on getting reactions to the Spel Riet version of simplified spelling rather than teaching them details of the plan. Using small group meetings I worked thru a list of several hundred adults I have known for many years. I decided these would be the most likely to attend a meeting or fill out a survey. For those who did not come, I mailed an opinion survey. I had to follow up to keep the surveys from getting lost. For later sessions I advertised and had to pay $20 to each volunteer to attract enuf interest. Most are not nearly as interested as I am.

The most often voiced objection was the supposed high cost of reprinting books if Spel Riet were adopted.

In a typical session I found that as the number of suggested spelling changes increased, so did participant resistance.

Some adults find one particular change unacceptable; others another change. Most resistance surfaced when I talked about respelling vowels. They didn't have a problem with a double e to spell the long e sound. It was when I suggested dropping the e at the end of hide and changing the i to ie that it became more than they would accept.

One surprise for me was how age is not a reliable predictor of how an adult will react to change. Of more importance is whether an adult considers himself or herself a good speller. Good spellers, consciously or unconsciously, seem to be proud of the fact they are in a special group, not like the masses who can't spell. For them, adopting easier English spelling would lower the value of their 'private club' membership.

I have found a 25-year-old mother with preschool children can be just as close-minded as a 75-year-old widow. I have also sensed some adults see simplified spelling' as downgrading English. They see it as a form of 'dumbing down' for the mother tongue. Maybe we need to call it something other than 'simplified spelling'. How about 'fonics-based spelling'?

When I began my excursion into spelling reform, I assumed the best approach was a comprehensive plan that would correct all of the problems in today's English. After sampling adult reactions, I am having second thoughts. I am not yet ready to embrace a plan of 'gradualism', but I'm leaning in that direction.

Rating the changes.

Asked to rate some spelling changes, participants responded:
Change ph to f: 82% accept; 18% reject
Reduce unnecessary doubled consonants: 65%; 35%
Spell short e with an e: 76%; 24%
Drop all silent letters: 78%; 22%
Spell s sound with s: 76%; 24%
Spell er/ir/ur sound with er: 73%; 27%
Spell schwa with single u: 70%; 30%
Spell word endings like ile (US) and al as ul: 69%; 31%

What they thought.

At the end of each session, participants were asked to evaluate.
Here are some questions and overall responses:

Where do U think Spel Riet should be introduced?

Adults first 20%
First-graders in all states together 48%
All grades in all states together 5%
No chance under any plan 27%

If Spel Riet were introduced in all schools at some future date (say, 2005), how would U respond?

Actively oppose it 33%
Leave it for schools to decide 20%
Support it 34%
Actively support it 13%

Do U think spelling problems are a contributing factor to illiteracy in America?

No 11%
Yes, but not worth the effort to correct them 25%
Yes, and we should proceed to correct them 64%

What is the biggest hurdle to spelling reform?

Adults unwilling to learn new forms 47%
Resistance from educators 20%
Cost of updating publications 28%
Lack of understanding of problem 5%


Deleting silent letters

Following my letter in SSMarch98, I have started to list words from which letters might be dropped without changing the pronunciation or requiring respelling; eg, dropping an f from affright, but not the gh, which would require respelling to retain the long vowel sound. The results are interesting.

Let[t]ers to be deleted are shown in bra[c]kets. Spel[l]ings with an asterisk are ap[p]roved by Webster's Intercollegiate Dictionary, Random House, 1995.

a[a]rdvark a[a]rdwolf abac(k] abandon[e]d abat[t]oir a[b]breviate aber(r]ant abhor[r]ence ablativ[e] abo[a]rd abortiv[e] abov[e) abrasiv[e] abre[a]st abridg[e] abs[c]es[s] absolv[e] abstemi[o]us abusiv[e] abys[s] a cap[p]el[l]a ac[c]laim ac[c]om[m]odate ac[k]no[w]ledg[e) acquisitiv[e) acrimoni[o]us activ[e] adaptiv[e] ad[d]end adjectiv[e] a[d]j[o]urn administrativ[e] admis(s]ion adventuresom[e] [a]esthete* [a]esthetic* a[f]fair a[f]finity a[f]firm a[f]fix a[f]flict af[f]ford a[f]forest a[f]franchise a[f]fray a[f]fricate a[f]front afor[e] ag[g]lomerate a[g]glutinant a[g]grandize a[g]gres[s]ion a(g]gres[s]iv[e] ahe[a]d (a]i[s]le a[l]lay a[l]lege a[l]lergic a[l]leviate a[l]literate a[l]literaton a[l]lot a[l]low a[l]lude a[l]lure a[l]lusion a[l]lusiv[e] a[l]luvium alternativ[e] aly[s]sum Amari[l]lo amary[l]lis ambidextr[o]us ambiti[o]us a[m]monia amphibi[o]us anac[h]ronism an[a]esthesia* analog[o]us analog[ue]* anc[h]or anhydr[o]us anilin[e]* an[n]a an[n]alist a[n]neal a[n]nounce a[n]noy a[n]nul an[n]unciate anomal[o]us anonym[o]us ans[w]er anthropomorph[o]us antifr[e]eze antihistamin[e] antimaca[s]sar antimis[s]il[e] anxi[o]us aplom[b) apo[ph]the[g]m* a[p]pall a[p]panage* a[p]parel a[p]parent a[p]peal a[p]pear a[p]pease a[p]pe[l]lant a[p]pe[l]lation a[p]pend a[p]plaud a[p]ply a[p]point a[p]portion a[p]pose a[p]praise a[p]preciate a[p]prentice a[p]prise a[p]prize a[p]proach a[p]propriate a[p]prove a[p]proximate a[p]purtenance aque[o]us arch[a]eology* armadi[l]lo Armage[d]don armor(e]d arpe[g]gio a[r]rai[g]n a[r]range a[r]rears a[r]rest a[r]rive as[c]end as[c]ertain as[c]etic as[c]idian as[c]idium a[s]sail a[s]sassin a[s]sa[u]lt a[s]say a[s]semble a[s]sent a[s]sert a[s]sertiv[e] a[s]sess a[s]severate a[s]siduous a[s]sign a[s]similate a[s]sist a[s]size a[s]sociate a[s]soil a[s]sonance a[s]sort a[s]sume a[s]sure asy[m]metry athen[a]eum* atroci[o]us a[t]tach a[t]tac[k] a[t]tain a[t]tempt a[t]tend a[t]tentiv[e] a[t]tenuate a[t]test a[t]tire a[t]torney a[t]tract a[t]trition a[t]tune au[gh]t auspici[o]us aw[e]som[e) axi[l]lary.

I submit this list to continue the discussion. Please send your comments to

George Lahey, California, US. [See Newsletters, Personal View.]

Learning spelling as a series of reflexes.

I have recently taken up primary teaching after a 10-year interval. I find the kids learn more viscerally than I remembered. Perhaps this is why it has been so difficult to introduce any sort of spelling reform.

We learn our spelling as a series of reflexes and any reform has to occur at the bottom. We can only proceed piecemeal and individually and change things slowly, by using more rational spellings ourselves. Total systems will not work, at least not at first.

The other thought I have had is that the kids learn very quickly to spell and read by sight. They do not read fonetically, but hieroglyphically. For this reason I feel the way to go might well be Cut Spelling or something of that sort, aiming at one or two letters being used in place of whole groups, dropping out not just unpronounced letters but also those which add nothing to the visual differentiations of words (cd for could).

One could of course go for a totally ideographic system like Chinese (the phase I was in when I wrote my letter, SSSNJuly97), but with the letter combinations I suggest, a link is kept with the spoken word and this is a help in remembering how to spell.

A final thought. If we are going to reform spelling, why not grammar too? The English verb system is atrociously irregular, for instance. Small children constantly improve it with the virtuous errors, as one calls them, saying 'I seed it' instead of 'I saw it'.

Peter Gilet, Australia. [See Newsletters.]

A tale of 'one international' languages

SSS members are hardly united in their aims, since they seem to support only their own preferences. Let me tell a story.

At one time, people regretted there were all those different languages. Would it not be nice if they could all talk to each other? We knew it couldn't be. Then we were offered a complete new language that was easy to earn, easy to spell, with easy grammar. We had an international language.

In Europe, divided by many languages, it became rather popular, with outstanding results. If the computer had started in Europe, Esperanto might have been its language.

Trouble began when someone brought out another international language, claiming it to be better. Maybe it was. But it split the people: those who learned Esperanto, those who learned Ido. A third language came on the market. Not only was the population divided by different languages; now they were also divided by several 'one international' languages.

Some people were so smart they put a new language together, but not smart enuf to send it to Esperanto's head-quarters, for study on whether their ideas could later be introduced gradually to all Esperantists. First, let's all learn one.

Joe Cober, Canada.

Disaffected at early age

Picture of a cat.
When I was small I learned the sounds associated with the alphabet. I tried to use my new knowledge but was told that 'k-a-t does not spell cat'. I was incensed. Clearly, incontrovertibly, if the alphabet I had been taught has any meaning, k-a-t does spell cat.

The good lady could have said I would not pass my exams if I spelled cat with a k, that I'd never get to university or a job in a bank, or the school would be blacklisted and visited by an educational hit squad. I might have understood and accepted and not spelt cat with a k.

But instead she told me something I was totally unable to accept as true. It is no wonder so many pupils, especially boys, are disaffected from the educational system at an early age and carry that disaffection thru life, passing it on to following generations.

The old argument that we must maintain standards simply is not good enuf. We don't buy cars built to the standards of 60 years ago. We expect our doctor and dentist to work to standards that are constantly improving. If products do not meet our changing standards of economy, usefulness, greenness, style, taste, etc, we do not buy them. To say that i must come before e in some words when for the same sound e comes before i in others is equivalent to saying all controls in a jumbo jet ought to be operated by wires pulled by the pilot because that's how it used to be done, or demanding that doctors should hold a pad soaked in ether over the nose of a patient undergoing surgery because that's how it used to be done, or arguing all Ford cars should be black.

We ought to be teaching children how best to use and develop humanity's greatest technological achievement thus far - the alphabet.

Frank Jones, England. [See Newsletters .]

Improve literacy with fonics teaching.

Simplifying English spelling is one solution to what many people see as the chaos of traditional orthography (TO). However, it still encounters much resistance. Another solution is to improve the teaching of initial literacy.

Many current spelling problems can be traced to poor or nonexistent tonics teaching in primary schools. Antipathy to fonics in English-speaking countries increased in the 1970s and 1980s as educationists developed a well-documented enthusiasm for the ideas of 'whole language' advocates like Frank Smith and Kenneth Goodman. People believed, with Smith, that 'children learn to read by reading', and the explicit teaching of grapheme-phoneme correspondences slipped down the agenda. This adversely affected reading standards and, even more, spelling standards.

The advantages of fonics for regular words are obvious. What seems to happen with irregular words is that children sound them out, in reading, as if they were regular and then learn to adjust their pronunciation. They still mentally retain the original mispronunciation, however, as an aid to spelling. For example, the initial mispronunciation of broad to rime with road in reading becomes a useful aid to spelling. Repeated exposure to such words in print also helps.

Whatever the exact mechanics, early systematic fonics teaching does produce better spellers. In South Africa, cultural isolation during the apartheid years kept the whole-language movement at bay, and fonics teaching remained strong. In 1987, 1 found spelling standards among 16-year-olds there higher than in England. Moreover, the South Africans (about 20% from non-English-speaking homes) made more logical errors: for equipped, for example, the weakest South Africans wrote equiped, equipt, equipte and ecept; the weakest English students wrote expentic, errepet, equit, epitt, accipt and equie.

Resistance to wholesale spelling reform is likely to continue. The SSS's best course might be to press for greater tolerance of genuinely fonetic misspellings while supporting the campaign for good fonics teaching.

Jennifer Chew, England. [See Journal.]

Taking orthographic orthodoxy to court?

What we face, in every English-speaking country, is a conspiracy to enforce a spelling orthodoxy on the population as a whole.

Let me explain by asking what happens to a reporter on a newspaper who starts to use fonetic spelling in his or her articles? What happens to a teacher who allows his or her pupils to use spellings such as kof and flem? What happens to a clerk in a bank who starts using fonetic spelling in letters to clients? I'll tell U what happens: Either they quickly conform or they are out on their ear.

While it may not be the most practical solution, given our circumstances, I think we will ultimately be forced to take action thru the courts to test the right of education authorities and employers to impose an orthodoxy.

Patrick Dunne, Australia.

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On other pages: part 1, part 3, part 4 (Supplement).