English Orthography Reform

English Orthography Reform

Here is an outline for a proposed orthographic reform of English. It consists of three parts. (1) Splitting letters with multiple, distinct sounds. (2) Creating position dependent orthographic alternatives. (3) Suggesting spelling rules for shortening and simplifying longer words or for adopting loan words into English usage.

(1)   Splitting letters with multiple, distinct sounds

This is a rather simple step in orthography reformation, because it creates new letters that are, in appearance, similar enough to their root letters to read as normal. However, these new letters also signify a different sound than the root letter. There will be four split letters.

  • (a)    Çç and Cc

The Çç will carry the soft /s/ sound as well as the /tsh/ sound when followed by an H, while the Cc will carry the hard /k/ sound.

  • (b)    Ee and Ɛɛ

The Ee will continue in most of those cases not taken by Ɛɛ, often as a long /ee/ sound or a silent E. Ɛɛ will carry the short /e/ sound as in the word Bɛd, the long /a/ sound as in the word Grɛy, some short /i/ sounds when preceding an N or M as in the word Fallɛn, and the silent E in “I before E except after C” words as in Fiɛld. As part of a vowel sequence preceding the letter R, Ɛɛ will only be used when a long /a/ sound is used, as in the words Bɛar and Thɛre but not the words Earth or Her.

  • (c)    Gɢ and Jg

The Gɢ will carry the hard /g/ sound as well as the silent G when next to an N while the Jg will carry the soft /dzh/ sound or it will stay when next to an H at the end of a syllable.

  • (d)   Oo and Øø

The Oo will continue on in most cases not taken by Øø. Øø will primarily carry the short /o/ sound as in the word Høt. When followed by a U or W, ø is used for the /ow/ sound as in the words Høur and Cøw. Øø will also be used when an O is used to make any A-related sounds; examples include the words: Børrow, Alcohøl, and Cøyote.

  • (e)    Y

This is not a fifth split letter. However, at a future date the long I sound should be split into its own letter. For now, however, the fact that I and Y already share most of the same sounds would create confusion when trying to read a document with a new, third letter. As an alternative to a long I, a YU vowel or TH consonant might be considered.

To provide an example of how readable the spelling is after step (1), a verse from the Bible will be provided which has examples of each of these four new letters:

“All scripture is Gød-breathed and is useful for teaçhinɢ, rebukinɢ, corrɛctinɢ, and traininɢ in righteousnɛss,”

That was not too terribly difficult to read, now was it? What have we gained though? The most obvious gain is in the realm of reading comprehension for English learners. Those trying to sound out words gain a foot up in pronouncing words with the letters C, E, G, and O. You and I don’t reap this reward, however, because we read by word shapes. That is why the new letter shapes had to be so familiar or similar to their original, to allow the more experienced readers among us to breeze through these initial changes.

(2)    Creating position dependent orthographic alternatives

One of the consequences of splitting four letters is that our alphabet is now four letters longer. And so, that we may reduce the alphabet back to its normal 26-letter length, we will combine some letters.

Now, before you get all worried about words like “circle” now being spelled “sirkle,” these combinations will maintain separate orthographic representations (different-looking versions of each letter) depending on their position in the word. In all cases a single capital form will be used.

  • (a)    Cqc

The hard Cc will merge with the letter Q. The capital Q will disappear, but the lowercase will be used when followed by a U and then a second vowel.

  • (b)   Iiy

The letters I and Y will merge together. The capital Y will disappear, but the lowercase will be used at the end of all words and at the beginning of words when followed by a vowel.

  • (c)    Jjg

The old soft-G sound will merge with the letter J. The lowercase Jj will appear only at the beginning of words, while the lowercase Jg will appear when the letter is elsewhere in the word.

  • (d)   Uuw

The letters U and W will merge. The capital W will disappear, but the lowercase will be used when only adjacent to vowels or when preceding an H.

  • (e)    Xx

Just like the Y in Step (1), this is a special case. The letters X and Z will merge. All cases of the letter Z occurring in the word will be respelled as an S or, in the cases where the Z is at the beginning of a word, an X. The letter X will not be altered in any spellings, but it will replace Z at the end of the alphabet.

For the most part these orthographic alternatives will preserve the look and feel of familiar words. These are rules that a word processor can automatically implement as you type so that you are not stuck searching for alternative forms of what are now the same letter.

For the purpose of working with QWERTY keyboards, should word-processors not do the work for us, the j/g and q/c differences might be dropped and merged into single lower-case symbols while the lower-case y would be kept in its place and the lower-case w would be kept in place of the capital Y. The Yy key as a whole will be kept until a 26th letter is added (perhaps a TH, YU, or long-I letter).

Where these rules break down are in areas where more attention and stronger action (like a re-spelling) might be needed. For example, there is no simple rule to deal with the word Write without ending up with weird looking words like “wrinate” or “reurite.” Should the W be dropped off of words like Write altogether? Another example would be the many words that end with a consonant and a Y; when a suffix is added or the word is joined to another, the results look odd: Anyone and Trying becoming Anione and Triing.

So, what is the point of these orthographic alternatives? The alternative is to keep a 30-letter alphabet. However, merging these letters reduces ambiguity in spelling. There are many, many examples where I or Y, U or W, could be used interchangeably if you don’t know the “correct” spelling. This merger eliminates all that memorization in favor of a higher sound-to-spell ratio. Also, 26 letters maintains congruency with the size of the modern Latin alphabet.

(3)   Suggest spelling rules for shortening, simplifying, and adopting words

This section functions as an addendum. The previous two sections dealt with orthographic reform and, in a sense, no spelling was touched. Here, in this section, we will suggest a few spelling standardizations. On the whole, these will deal with the letters changed above and push a greater sound-to-spell correspondence. These “suggestions” are not integral to the proposal and therefore should not be seen as stumbling blocks to acceptance.

  • (a)    Silent GH

The silent GH is dropped in all words excepting those with a long /I/, as in High and Flight. Where the GH makes the /f/ sound, as in Laugh and Cøugh, the GH is kept, though the G character that is used will be Jg rather than Gɢ.

  • (b)   Silent UE

Some words have a UE letter combination tagged behind a Q or a G. These will be dropped, unless that E is needed to make a preceding vowel long. So Leaɢue would be shortened to Leaɢ, but Plaɢue will not be shortened because the A needs to be long. A word with Q would be spelled with the orthography discussed above, so Bisque would become Bisc. As a note, the word Antique is kept as is because the long /ee/ sound is the old-fashioned long-I sound.

  • (c)    S or SS

In transferring words that once had the letter Z into ones with S, there will be room for respelling to avoid confusion and to institute standardization. An S will make a /ss/ sound only when it is at the beginning of a syllable or next to another unvoiced consonant. So the words Lizard and Blizzard would both have their /z/ sounds standardized by a single S: Lisard and Blisard. Words like Bliss and Lisp keep the /ss/ sound because they are next to unvoiced letters, S and P respectively.

  • (d)   Ç for S

Associated with the last rule, room must be made for when an S is unable to be next to another unvoiced letter, as occurs when the /ss/ sound is between a Magic-E and its lengthened vowel. And so for those long-vowel syllables that conclude with the /ss/ sound, the letter Çç will be used. We already see this in words like Raçe and Niçe, so we will see a standardization of words such as Base, Case, and Concise. British/American confusion concerning the spelling of words like Defɛnse/Defɛnçe will not be addressed, nor will that noun/verb distinction extend to words like House, Use, or Ɛxcuse.

  • (e)    Respelling OU Long-OO sound

While vowel sounds and spellings are most notoriously erratic, we have used a principle of splitting vowels rather than respelling. This is because attempting to standardize vowel spellings will affect the current readability of writing most negatively. However, the OU spelling and the Long-OO sound are especially egregious in this area, especially for a digraph, so a respelling here would help out greatly. We recommend a respelling either to OO or EU within words and U or EW at the end of words. The word You would not be altered because it is very common and similarity with the word Your should be maintained.

These four respelling options, along with U_E, could also be extended to UI words such as Fruit and Cruise (Froot and Cruse) and OE spellings such as Canoe and Shoe (Canoo and Shue). On the whole, determining which respelling if any is given to which word is yet to be determined; this is not a near-term issue.

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