this article was written, European researchers reported in Science
evidence had been found linking dyslexia to code confusion. "This
research proves the existence of a universal neurological basis for dyslexia,"
says Uta Frith, a neuroscientist at University College London and one of
the authors of the study. But the frequency of diagnosis of the disorder
in the different countries depended on how easy it was for native speakers
to spell the words in their language. Those with the disorder can usually
cope with simple writing systems but not complex ones.
are spelled the way they are pronounced, unlike many words in English and
French. Since there is no tricky relationship between sound and symbol,
Italian speaking dyslexics can cope better with their reading disability.
It is not the
mother tongue that is tricky, it is the writing code. The following
article defines the problem in terms of code overlap and
factors which prevent some people from mastering reading and writing and
most people from mastering English spelling. Problems that could
be postponed and nearly eliminated through the use of a more phonemic writing
system. No specific notation is recommended: Unifon and two
other phonemic notations are mentioned.
To introduce and provide relevant information related to such questions
as: What is an alphabet? Is the English writing system alphabetic?
What does it mean for a writing system to be phonemic? How phonemic
is the English language? How phonemic is the English writing system?
When the writing system is changed, does it change the language?
Why is the gap between spelling and pronunciation so much greater in English
than in other languages?
English have a dyslexic orthography?
Does the inefficiency
of the English spelling code
result in lower
Could a consistent
spelling system [such
as an i.t.a.
reduce teaching time by 50%?
What were the results
of the experiments with i.t.a.?
How much did i.t.a.
help children with reading?.
Can the English
alphabet [1 symbol per sound]
symbols - 42 sounds] saxon-spanglish.html
Is spelling pronunciation
Is it possible
to pronounce words as they are spelled?
have been hundreds of speeches and articles on our declining literacy rates
and the problems that some children have in learning to read and write.
Some of these articles suggest that the fault is with the learners [some
are dyslexic or have other learning problems] or the teachers [some teachers
are poorly trained or ineffective]. Teaching methods, television, and society
in general have also been faulted. Only recently have some researchers
suggested that part of the blame might be with the needless complexity
of the spelling code used for English. If dyslexia is found only in children
trying to learn English, should the dysfunction term be applied to the
children or to the overly complex code we ask children to learn?
The code is
rarely identified as the culprit because most people assume that the code
is part of the English language. Once the writing system is identified
as a code, its relationship to the language is seen as a historical accident.
Changing the code used to visualize speech would have no effect on the
language or pronunciation.
There is nothing
wrong with the English tongue or the roman
alphabet. It is not the mother tongue that is tricky, it is the writing
code. There are over 40 phonemes to be representation. What the 26
Latin characters lack in number can be made up through the use of markers,
diacritics, and digraphs. This is not an ideal solution but it is
quite workable. Linguists such as Sweet have commented, "There is
nothing wrong with the Latin letters, only our irrational use of them."
Twain said, "Our alphabet does not know how to spell." 1
Traditional spelling matches pronunciation guide spelling less than 40%
of the time. This was not always the case. The 10th century Saxon
alphabet and the Old English writing system had few of the code overlaps
and little of the polyvalence we see in
today's English orthography. (Scragg, 1974)
that the alphabet,
unlike previous writing systems, could be mastered by anyone in a few hours.
By an alphabet, McLuhan meant a consistent set of correspondences between
the simple sounds [or phonemes] of the language and the written symbols
used to represent these sounds [graphemes] (See the Unifon alphabet below).
What could be mastered in a few hours was 20 to 40 sound signs - the exact
number depending on the language being represented. English and most northern
European languages need at least 40 sound signs or phonograms.
The task of associating
40 sound categories with 40 graphic shapes is not that daunting. According
to Flesch, Russian school children are routinely introduced to the Cyrillic
39 character alphabet at the rate of one letter per day. All children
master the task within 4 months and from then on are able to relate the
symbols on the page to sounds they have already mastered as native speakers
of Russian. In 4 months, Russian school children display a level
of proficiency that it takes the average English speaking children nearly
4 years to achieve.
A type of writing system in which a set of symbols represents the
important sounds [phonemes]
of a language.
Crystal, DICTIONARY OF LANGUAGE & LANGUAGES
This is the
penalty for having a confusing and inconsistent orthography. Complicated
tasks take longer to master than uncomplicated ones. The problem
with English orthography is that it is needlessly complicated. Normally
the invention of superior codes replace inefficient codes. For example,
The Hindu-Arabic numbers replaced roman numerals. Language codes
seem to be more tradition bound.
that countries with phonemic alphabets enjoy can be matched simply by adopting
a phonemic alphabet for English. Similar performances were achieved
by children learning a phonemic code for English. The most researched
phonemic code for English was Pitman's augmented roman, popularly known
as the i.t.a. An even more efficient code, one without digraphs or two
letter sound-signs, is shown below:
is true that the average adult can memorize 40 paired associates in a few
hours particularly if a mnemonic is employed. For example, the Phoenician
letter names were typically the names of common objects that started with
the letter's sound. It would be as if our letter names were ox, building,
[cup], door, goad, ...instead of ey, bee, [see], dee,... To make things
simpler, the shapes of the letters resembled their names, the letter Ahks
[alef] looked like an ox head, the letter Building [beyt] looked like a
building or a floor plan for a house, the letter Door [daleth] looked something
like a door... The notion that an alphabet should be pictographic [shape
suggests name] and acrophonic [name suggests sound] was borrowed from the
Egyptians. The Semites added an alphabetic
order because the same collection of shapes were used for their number
system. A=1, B=2, G=3, D=4, etc. Historians have attributed the rapid
spread of the northern semitic alphabet to its simplicity and ease of teaching.
defined ] [history]
task of memorizing 20 to 40 sound-signs to the task of learning what remains
of the English alphabet. There are only about 40 simple sounds in the English
language but the traditional code represents them over 400 different ways
[Dewey 561, Coulmas 1204]. This suggests that English employs a very inefficient
code and that the English writing system might be ten times as difficult
to learn as the writing systems or codes for Spanish, Italian, Hungarian,
Turkish, Finnish, or Russian. According to Dewey
(1971), each simple sound in the English language is associated not with
one but with and average of 14.7 different letters or letter combinations.
[more on polysemy] [letters associated
with the vowel in RULE]
who have compared reading and spelling skills across languages have concluded
that most of the problems identified as dyslexia or associated with low
literacy rates in the U.S. are directly attributable to the needless complexity
of the traditional English spelling system [TES]. This complexity is largely
lacking in the writing systems of most other languages. Cases of dyslexia
and illiteracy after four years of schooling are extremely rare or undetected
in Italy, Spain, Turkey, Finland, and other countries with highly phonemic
or transparent orthographies. [more]
lead to greater mastery of reading and writing, fewer failures, and reduced
learning time. If the English spelling system or code is ten times as complex
as the spelling systems for Spanish and Italian; it is no wonder that school
children in Spain and Italy can achieve in one year what it takes English
speaking children four to six years to achieve.
When words are
spelled the way they sound, it is relatively easy to spell any word you
can pronounce. In an alphabetic or highly phonemic writing system, such
as Italian or Spanish, the way a word is spelled is a reliable guide to
literacy expert, Frank Laubach, claimed that English had the worst spelling
system in the world. It is certainly true that it is ten times more complex
and inconsistent than it needs to be. Dr. A.J. Ellis showed that the 26
letters could have 658 different significations. 40 sounds should be represented
with about 40 symbols not 600*. [The number of different spellings one
can identify depends on the size of the dictionary. In an abridged 70,000
word dictionary, Dewey found 561 different ways to represent 42 sounds.
In 1890, the
philologist, Henry Ellis, suggested a simpler code for English. This was
later promoted as New Spelling and in 1960 became the basis of Pitman's
Initial Teaching Alphabet (.i.t.a.).
was not a methodology but simply a correspondence table where each symbol
was associated with one and only one sound. In English, each of the 42
sounds in the language can be spelled an average of 14.7 different ways.
In i.t.a., each sound was spelled just one way.
consonants-blue, digrafs-dk. blue
A mor fonimic Saxon
The Saxon alfabett: 42 fownimz
- 17 vaulz - 25 connsonants
I IE .Y
Irregular traditionally spelled
words are italicized, eye-ai, out-aut,
*vowels when not followed by
a vowel - wwln=woolen
of the words that rhyme use only 4 different vowel spellings. In other
words, knowing the sound, a student should be able to guess the correct
spelling 75% of the time in four tries. With i.t.a. [Pitman's Initial
Teaching Alphabet], the student should be able to guess the correct spelling
100% of the time after one try. ITA spelling was basically a systematic
alternative to invented spelling. i.t.a. was an alternative to guessing
or inventing the spelling of familiar pronunciations or guessing the pronunciation
of unfamiliar strings of letters.
The Saxon alphabet
above shows one way to consistently spell 42 important English speech sounds.
Any time you hear an "ah" sound as in "ox", it must be spelled aaks
or oxx in this orthography. o is pronounced 'awe'
The double consonants make this sound so short it is virtually indistinguishable
from aa. The single o is not short, but it has so little stress
that it could pass for an unstressed aa or ow. An i.t.a. such as Saxon-Spanglish
diminishes the need to guess which letter goes with a particular sound
from over 4 to 2 or less. The result matches the dictionary pronunciation
guide . It matches traditional historical spelling only 30%
of the time..
Sir James Pitman
believed that a consistent orthography would simplify teaching across any
methodology. There was some basis for this optimism. Phonics is often not
the approach used to teach children in Spain or Italy where reading achievement
is over twice as fast as in English speaking countries. What counts is
the orthographic transparency of the writing system.
In the late
1960's, the British House of Parliament passed a bill funding a bold experiment
with consistent spelling. British schools were given the books and collateral
materials they needed to introduce this new medium of instruction: the
Initial Teaching alphabet or i.t.a.. Teachers were given a crash
course in i.t.a. but were not told specifically how to teach it.
was extensively researched in the early 1970's [see Downing]. Children
could learn i.t.a. almost as easily as children in other countries
could learn their consistent spelling system. The shortfall has been attributed
to the inability of parents to help and the shortage of books written in
Since the goal
of i.t.a. was to find a better way to teach children to read and
write, i.t.a. tried to look like TES [Traditional English Spelling].
Unfortunately, there is no way for a systematic spelling system to look
much like a chaotic one. i.t.a. spelling matched TES or traditional
dictionary spelling only 40% of the time. No phonemic rendering of English
speech will match traditional or historical spellings more than 40% of
the time. To test this claim, count the number of times the dictionary
pronunciation guide matches dictionary spelling. In the chart above, the
phonemic or consistent sound spellings [i.t.a., IPA] match the traditional
spellings for only one group of words. i.t.a. correctly spells *moon
and cartoon but fails to match 17 other [TES] spelling patterns. i.t.a.
matches TES when spelling *guru and flu but fails to match 17 other [TES]
spelling patterns. [See: How many ways can you spell *day?]
student's quickly picked up the idea of how an alphabet is supposed to
work but were left to their own devices when the time came to transition
to TES. No organized attempt was made to help children get from toon as
in *cartoon to *tune. In the 4th grade, children were expected to abandon
for TES. The reading transition went fairly smoothly and children trained
in i.t.a. were able to retain their advantage. Spelling was another
matter. Many children had problems trying to respell
that did not match TES. This is understandable since 60% of the words did
Given the fact
that i.t.a. worked regardless of the teaching methodology and with
serious gaps in the support system [insufficient materials, no assistance
from parents, no consistent teaching metrology, lack of linguistic sophistication
on the part of the teachers...], why was it abandoned? Basically, it was
a fad and all fads soon loose their luster. i.t.a. was not understood
by parents. i.t.a. was not supported by the major educational publishers.
It was more costly than traditional approaches to the teaching of reading
and was deemed administratively inconvenient. Had the i.t.a. been
incorporated in a proven teaching methodology it would have been twice
as effective but this never happened.
phonics has been revived. Is there any chance that i.t.a. could
be revived? It is possible. Except for government support, the conditions
are as favorable as any time in history. In 1970, a school had to buy a
library of i.t.a. books and materials. Today, an individual teacher
with a classroom computer could generate all of the needed materials. There
is a vast library of digitized books on the Internet as well as an on-line
converter that will change the spelling from TES to New Spelling. [New
Spelling and Fonetic are non-ligatured versions of i.t.a.]. Teachers
could easily generate their own materials.
Except for its spelling code, English
would have the simplest grammar of all European languages. Cleaning up
the code would make English easier to learn and the clear choice for an
In the early
1800's, Noah Webster remarked, "Letters, the most useful invention that
ever blessed mankind, lose a part of their value by no longer being representatives
of the sounds originally annexed to them." The effect is, "to destroy the
benefits of the alphabet."
aware that there was a time in English history when the language had a
functional alphabet. Tenth Century clerics devised a Latin based alphabet
for English that made it possible to "spell words as they were pronounced
and pronounce words as they were spelled."
Could the restoration
of the benefits of the alphabet be as simple as restoring the Saxon alphabet?
Could the usefulness of the alphabet be restored by restoring the sounds
originally annexed to the letters?
such as Webster and Franklin desired a closer connection between spelling
and pronunciation. Both desired alphabets that allowed people to pronounce
words as they are spelled. Benjamin Franklin, a printer by trade, even
The link between
spelling and pronunciation was lost in the Great Vowel Shift [ca. 1400
AD]. Prior to that time there had been some quirky spellings introduced
by Norman French scribes but the basic sound system still matched Latin.
Now 60% of the words in the dictionary do not match the pronunciation guide.
To make matters worse, the vowels in some words did not shift. This created
code overlaps where words that are spelled the same have different pronunciations.
This is the theme of the poem below and a more famous one called The Chaos.
It is important
for teachers to be clear about the problem. It is important to be clear
about the complexities of the English writing system and their social impact
even if no solution is at hand. This paper suggest a possible solution:
the restoration of the alphabet. However, the restoration of the last consistent
alphabet used for English is probably more difficult today than it was
300 years ago when Noah Webster
and Benjamin Franklin made their recommendations.
Letters don't agree - ear rhymes do not match eye rhymes.
Rules of Rhyming
In a phonemic
or alphabetic code, words that rhyme or sound alike are spelled the same
between spelling and pronunciation has been lost in the traditional English
Lingo [code overlaps]
When the English
tongue we speak. Why is
not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell
me why it's true
We say sew
but likewise few?
And the maker
of the verse,
his horse with worse?
is not the same as heard
is different from word.
Cow is cow
but low is low
is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose,
think of goose
& yet with choose
Think of comb,
and roll or home and some.
is rhymed with say
Why not paid
with said I pray?
Think of blood,
is not pronounced like could.
but gone and lone-
Is there any
To sum up all,
it seems to me
Sound and letters
of problem words in Spanglish [a=ah, i=ee]
above are spelled phonetically
breik frik [friek]
/ brAk frEk
sow [so'] fyu
[fiu] / sO fY
v'ers / vcrs
[w'rs] / hOrswcrs
|bird h'rd /
cord w'rd /kord
cau low / kx
to the COW POEM]
/ SC fOshu
ho'z do's luz
/ hOz, dOs, lUzhowz,
gus chuz /
co'm tum baam
/ kOm tUm bomcowm
dol ro'l ho'm
s'm / dol rOl hOm sumdoll
rowl howm summ
|peid sed /
fuud gwd [gud] / blud fUd gCd
cwd [c'd] / mOld kCd
d'an gon lown
/ dun gon lOn
Izz therr enny
Tu s'm upp
ol, itt siemz tu mi -
Saund 'n lett'rz
anyone can come up with a more consistent way to spell English words. Two
alternative phonemic codes are shown above [and also below]. The new spellings
are consistent but appear odd. They can be easily sounded out by referring
to a correspondence table. However, they are not what we are used to: Until
the new associates [such as a=ah and i=ee] are fully memorized, they may
cause some readers to stumble.
The sheer number
of alternatives to TES has tended to dilute the support for any one proposal
and prevent any rationalization of the more consistent orthography. With
1000's of simpler more efficient codes, agreement on one is difficult.
reform of English would require respelling 60% of the words in the dictionary.
This is no problem for children or ESL learners, but it is more of an adjustment
than most adult English speakers want to handle. Although IPA is a little
hard to read, there are a number of phonemic proposals that can be easily
deciphered. The objection to them is that they cannot be read as fast as
TES. Speed readers read word patterns. They do not try to sound out words.
Half way reform
proposals which preserve word patterns such as removing all of the silent
letters [for example, the silent e in give and have] have not fared any
better than full reforms. Those who have completed primary school prefer
to keep a familiar code no matter how inefficient and inconsistent to having
to learn a new one. Given the choice, they prefer to spell giv, liv and
hav with a redundant and misleading terminal e.
are unaware of the fact that English lost its alphabet in 1400. An alphabet
is a consistent set of correspondences between sounds and symbols (letters).
Alphabetical writing systems are highly phonemic. Old English (Anglo Saxon)
was over 90% phonemic or consistent with its correspondence table. Modern
English is only 40% phonemic. It is consistent with its pronunciation guide
only 40% of the time.
should be assigned to the letters that they may be most easily learnt,
read, and written?
English spelling system [TES] uses historical spellings but not the historical
long vowel sounds or the consistent historical alphabet. As a result, about
60% of the words are not pronounced as they are spelled.
Most of the
separation between spelling and pronunciation occurred during the 14th
century during what was called the "great vowel shift." The vowel shift
did not affect the short vowels but shifted the long vowels to a more closed
jaw pronunciation: In many words, /a/ [ah] came to be pronounced /ae/ [ash],
/ae/ became /e/ [eh], /e/ became /i:/ [amigo, machine, si], and /i:/ became
changes over time. To preserve a consistent alphabet, when the pronunciation
of a word changes, its spelling also has to change. Countries that set
up academies to revise spelling to keep it aligned with pronunciation have
managed to maintain their alphabets. England never set up an academy and
the 18th century dictionary writers were reluctant to reestablish a connection
between speaking and writing after the great vowel shift of the 14th century.
that has been suggested for the past 300 years is to adopt a phonemic notation
and spell words as they are spelled in the dictionary pronunciation guide.
The chief problem with this solution is that it changes the spelling of
60% of the words in English. Two examples of the phonemic spelling of English
are shown above. Literate readers read logographically or in terms of whole
word patterns - they rarely sound out a word on the basis of individual
letters. Thus changing the look of a word for speed readers will reduce
their reading speed.
It is not that
literate readers cannot read a passage that is spelled phonetically, it
is just that they cannot read it as fast. After a phonemic reform, it may
take as long as a year for whole word English readers to recover their
The ones that
benefit from alphabetical or consistent spelling are the young not the
old. With a better code, the young could acquire a high level of literacy
four to ten times as fast as they do at present.
vaul shiffts and raiting acording tu the
transcripshan beysd on a historic alfabet
transcription based on a historic alphabet
pranunncieyshan gaid daz not produs kaaos. The resullt izz riedabl withaut
largely a decoding and encoding skill. Readers and writers begin by associating
written symbols [graphic shapes] with spoken sounds. Since there are only
about 40 significant sounds in English speech, an efficient code would
associate them with 40 symbols. 40 sounds would be referenced 40 ways.
Each sound [phoneme] would be referenced by one and only one letter or
With the traditional
code, however, the 40 sounds are referenced in 615 different ways [Ellis,
1900]. Each letter is associated with an average of not one but 14 different
sounds [Dewey, 1971]. [Here is a list of 18 of the 29 different symbol
configurations used to represent the /u:/ sound]. Students must associate
26 letters with 40 sounds in over 400 different ways. Instead of learning
40 paired associates students must learn over 400. The complexity of the
orthographic code makes the learning task ten times more difficult. It
is over 10 times easier to associate a shape with one sound than it is
to associate it with 14.
of an alphabetic reform are not quite as great as reformers claim. One
reason is because the base pronunciation is not necessarily the same as
the one the child uses. After the alphabet was restored, the spelling pronunciation
of [tomato] would be taw-mah-tow - not tow-mey-tow. The child might have
to learn two dialects, one for spelling and one for conversing with his
or her peers. A phonemic spelling reform would not have an immediate effect
on the way that people pronounced words.
(mid 18th century) English spelling system [TES] is based on the notion
that the business of spelling is to represent the origin and history of
a word instead of its sound and meaning. The playwright George Bernard
Shaw (1941)] argued that this reduced the alphabet to absurdity. TES can
be called non-alphabetical since the spelling of more than 50% of the words
do not match the dictionary pronunciation guide. The disconnect between
spelling and pronunciation limit the effectiveness of the phonics approach
to the teaching of reading.
Dr. Samuel Johnson,
who wrote the first popular dictionary, felt that it was folly to imagine
that the dictionary could embalm language and preserve its words and phrases
from mutability. He saw no reason to standardize English spelling beyond
the word level because he felt that what changed the most was pronunciation.
As it turns out, English pronunciation is probably more standardized today
than in 1755. Compared to the changes that occurred in the 14th century,
English pronunciation has hardly changed at all from the way it was spoken
in London in 1755. Some words and phrases have dropped out of favor and
new words and phrases have been added. Most of Johnson's spellings, however,
have survived intact.
We have a choice,
either obscure the etymology or historical spelling of the word or obscure
the pronunciation of the word. Traditional English Spelling [TES] obscures
for Spelling Pronunciation - an alternative to a prescribed dialect. There
is an alternative. Instead of using a base pronunciation such as GA [General
American] or RP [educated british], one could use spelling pronunciation
[SP]. Spelling pronunciation would not match up with any particular dialect
of English but it would be intelligible to all. SP would be as pan-dialect
as the traditional English spelling [TES].
English [Saxon] 700-1060 - Middl English1250-1400
letters have 2 sound values that can be distinguished by dbl consonants
amino iel *eel
'e 'a 'u 'i 'o
English yuzd the seim vaul teibl butt the spelling waz cheinjd
To make SP work,
the letters and letter combinations would have to be associated with specific
sounds. Spelling pronunciation requires a real alphabet. To deal with the
shortage of vowel letters relative to the number of vowel sounds in English
speech, vowel letters could have up to two sounds each. To distinguish
which of the two sounds is being referenced, pronunciation guides could
continue to use diacritics. [itch = 'ich, each = ich]. Saxon usually marked
the short or checked vowel with a double consonant [tch, ck] but this practice
was not extended to all the French and Latin loan words.
[grapheme-phoneme] correspondences make the most sense? Many linguists
recommend the historical one: The one used for OE [old English] and ME
[middle English]. This augmented Latin alphabet is basically the same one
used by most countries that adopted the Roman alphabet.
In the 9th Century,
English had an alphabet and a highly consistent orthography known as West
Saxon. The alphabet was augmented by the addition of the wynn, thorn, eth,
and the ash. Wynn was replaced by the W, and the thorn and eth were replaced
by the digraph, TH. The ash [æ] is still needed to distinguish the
sound of [at, ash, parallel] from three other a-sounds [are, want, water],
[ago, sofa], [all, what].
English has several other vowel sounds that are not found in Latin. The
mid vowel in Latin was simply an unstressed A as in [ago and sofa]. In
English the mid vowels have much more importance and IPA distinguishes
three related but slightly different sounds with [3:, the turned v, and
the turned e]. The sound in HER and HURT /h3:/ is different from the sound
in HARE /her/, HEART /ha:rt/ or OTHER /^th'r/.
herder = hrrdr
or hurrder, murder = mrrdr or
murrder, error=error, errar, errer
.w. means a w
between two consonants = /u/ could
= cwd wud
|Saxon Spanglish is a little
more complicated than necessary because it is designed to transition to
parralellis a systematic
spelling, parallel is the traditional spelling. Traditional spelling
often lacks an underlying logic. The second A is a schwa so consonant doubling
should be avoided. The first a is ae, a short vowel marked by doubling
the trailing consonant
Spanglish allows two spellings
per vowel. There is no real need to have two
ways to represent a sound. However, 2 is better than the 20 in the
traditional writing system
During the vowel
shift many i words, but not all, became pronounced [ai]
is /i:s/ came to be pronounced
(ice). Time /ti:m/ (team) became
One can make
these distinctions by using a marked r, e, and a. [h'er, h'ert, her, hart,
'ago, 'ath'r]. The marker changes the letter that follows into a lax central
vowel. Except for tradition, one could use the marker alone: h'r, h'rt,
her hart 'go. The apostrophe could indicate an elision and mean that the
vowel symbol has been left out or alternatively that the apostrophe is
actually a schwa-postrophe: [h'r, h'rt, her hart 'go]. [The symbol font,
available on all modern computers, replaces the apostrophe with a turned
epsilon (') which is quite similar to IPA's turned e.]
a long and short pronunciation of five vowel letters but did not distinguish
them. In other words, five vowel letters were used to represent 10 vowel
sounds. It was possible for some countries, e.g., Spain, to do away with
3 vowels so that a referred solely to [ah] and not ambiguously to
[ah or uh] and i referred solely to [ee] and not [ee and ih]. [o]
can still refer to two sounds [owe] and [awe] and the English long e
is typically represented as a digraph [ei or ey] as in [rey]. There is
no [uh] or [ih] sound in Spanish: [Only gringos say, "hahs-tuh and cah-muh"
(hasta cama)]. The short u [as in the word, hook] is also absent.
[or pronouncing words as they are spelled] can work if an alphabet is restored.
It doesn't work when a letter can refer to a dozen different sounds. The
best alphabet to restore, according to the Oxford linguist, Henry Sweet,
is the historical one. The augmented Latin alphabet is [with a few exceptions
such as y, h, j, w] the same one that is used in every country that adopted
the Roman alphabet.
since it requires that every letter be articulated, still requires a mild
spelling reform. Words that cannot be pronounced as written and understood
by a native speaker need to be respelled. Misleading silent letters probably
need to be removed first. There is no point, other than tradition, to retain
the e in have. This only confuses the use of e as a long
vowel marker in words such as behave. To be consistent, "You have
to behave." should be written "Yu hav tu behave." Spelling pronunciation
would dictate that behave be pronounced beh-haav-uh, the way the
word was pronounced before the 14th century. Today, the word is generally
pronounced [bi-heiv], but behave [beh-haav-uh] can still be understood.
As long as a native speaker can understand the meaning of a spelling pronunciation,
respelling is not required.
is the most popular code for dictionary pronunciation guides.
Normally it looks rather odd
when used for more than a couple of words. Sweet's version
below is quite attractive. The version where he replaces the eth [ð]
with the Greek deltadis
Spanglish, one of several ASCII-IPA
notations compatible with e-mail, is an IPA equivalent that uses
no special characters or diacritics. It is supposed to look less
alien than IPA. Please write and tell me [email@example.com
] if it achieves its aesthetic goal and if you could read it without a
taim ð' bjutif'l
want'd mo:': p':lz
tu: put 'm'h
thru: ð' sent':
ð' mu:n hwen it iz blu:," sed h'r
m'th' in æns':
tu: h': kwestò'n,
"Ju: mait faind j': ha':tz
|Wans apon a taim the [dhe]
biutifal doter av a
greit majishan waanted mor perlz tu pwt amang
her treazherz."Lwk thru the center av the muun hwen itt izz blu," sedd
her mather inn aenser tu her queschan, "Yu mait faind yer haartz dizair."
number of words requiring respellings may be quite low. Certainly nothing
close to the 60% required by a phonemic reform. Once the student knows
that f and v are so closely related that the letter f
was used in Saxon for today's v sound, perhaps there is no need
to change of to 'ov. Most people pronounce what as /hwot/
or /wot/ where o=awe. If A is always pronounced [ah] or [uh] as it is in
the saxon alphabet, the old what spelling can probably be
retained. [Spanglish whaat].
does not have to match a particular dialect such as General American or
educated British. It just has to be close enough to be understood. Students
could be taught the Saxon alphabet and spelling pronunciation and how to
transcribe their own dialect.
worked but not as well as predicted. It should have been nearly ten times
as easy as TES but the research only documented a 200% improvement in the
mastery of reading and writing skills. About half of this gain was lost
when the student started reading and writing in TES. Much of this loss
can be attributed to the fact that no lessons were given on how to move
from i.t.a. spelling to TES spelling. Children whose traditional
spelling is logical and consistent, of course, retain their 200%+ advantage.
Spanish students never have to learn that the traditional way to spell
thru is through.
ITA is one of
hundreds of viable alternative phonemic notations for English. The i.t.a.
code is not quite as elegant as Saxon, the original phonemic notation for
Old English, because it tries to retain the shifted long vowel sounds.
As a result, diphthongs cannot be sounded out but must be memorized as
unique two letter symbols. ai [ah+ee] = ie yu = ue ei/ey [eh+ee] = ae.
The addition of a silent e to mark long vowels works but doesn't make much
phonological sense. For spelling pronunciation to work, every letter needs
to be sounded out or pronounced.
Saxon code seems to be optimal if the goal is to restore the English alphabet
for use in spelling pronunciation. An alphabet is basically a sound - symbol
correspondence table. The Saxon alphabet associated no more than two sounds
with each letter. The compromised alphabet in use since 1875 associates
an average of over 14 sounds with each letter.
pronunciation approach gets around two key objections to a more phonemic
reform such as ITA:  It does not respell nearly as many words and 
it is pan-dialect. The artificial spelling pronunciation dialect can be
understood by all English speakers. Unlike many proposed reforms of English
spelling, the SP proposal does not sever the connection with the past.
Restoring the Saxon alphabet makes Old English and Middle English more
ITA could be
revived today in any classroom with an Internet ready computer. However,
there may be some better options available that are more in line with international
spelling and less visually disruptive. One could, for instance, restore
the Saxon alphabet and use it for spelling pronunciation. Being able to
pronounce words as they are spelled would have definite advantages.
One can memorize
a symbol-sound correspondence chart in about 2 hours and become literate
in an consistent code in 40 hours or less. Learning how to deal with the
code overlaps, irregular spellings and the other inconsistencies of traditional
English orthography takes considerably longer. The goal of an i.t.a.
is to get children up to speed quickly and to postpone frustration. With
an ITA, children can employ their entire vocabulary in their writing since
it allows them to spell as they speak.
In the digital
world, codes are updated every six months or so. It is much more difficult
to update a spelling code due to the weight of habit and tradition and
the fact that there are so many code choices. Any one of the improved codes
would assist those struggling to learn how to read and write in English.
Go back to the top
and see if you can answer the 5 questions.
Does English have
a dyslexic orthography?
a disturbance in the ability to read so the question needs to be rephrased.
Does the lack of consistency in English orthography contribute to or cause
a disturbance in reading ability. The answer to this question is
clearly yes. Can we do anything about it? That question is
beyond the scope of this paper but the evidence suggests that children
learning to read and write transparent orthographies generally do not have
Does the inefficiency
of the English spelling code result in lower literacy rates? Yes,
in the sense that complex skills are more difficult to master. A complex
code raises the bar.
Could a consistent
spelling system [such as i.t.a.] reduce teaching time by 50%?
Students could master i.t.a. in half the time but this only postpones the
transition to the traditional code. It does not make it much easier.
What might help is a structured approach to learning to read and write.
Learn one spelling pattern at a time. When the students have learned
five spelling patterns for each vowel sound, they will be able to spell
75% of the words in English in four tries or less. Spelling is a different
and more difficult task than reading.
What were the results
of the experiment with i.t.a.? How much did i.t.a. help children
with reading? The use of a consistent initial teaching medium created
a much less frustrating early reading environment. Students were able to
achieve quick early success and write using their entire 3,000 word speaking
vocabulary. Because of the lack of reading materials, students had to transition
to the traditional system by the third year of school. Although the
transition was difficult, the i.t.a. group managed to retain a slight
advantage. In other words, as far as reading is concerned, the i.t.a.
approach does not hurt. The promoters
were probably overconfident. They presumed that it would work with
any teacher using any method and that no special efforts were required
at transition time.
Can the English alphabet [1
per sound] be restored?
[currently 561 symbols-42
pronunciation possible. Is it possible to pronounce words as they are spelled?
What is an alphabet?
A grapheme-phoneme correspondence table for all of the important sounds
in a particular language. A
type of writing system in which a set of symbols represents the important
sounds [or phonemes] of a language
Is the English
writing system alphabetic? To a degree. It is about 40% alphabetic
at the word level and about 75% alphabetic at the syllable level.
What does it mean
for a writing system to be phonemic? All languages are 100% phonemic.
Writing systems are pohonemc to the extent that they capture and visualize
the sound code. The sound code continually changes. To keep
up, the written code needs to be revised every 50 years or so.
How phonemic is
the English language? 100%
How phonemic is
the English writing system? 40% A phonemic code for English
woujld respell 60% of the words.
When the writing
system is changed, does it change the language? No. The writing
system simply describes the spoken language.
Why is the gap
between spelling and pronunciation so much greater in English than in other
languages?  no reforms,  more change in the spoken language
since the invention of printing . We generally spell Chaucer's
middle English [1250-1500] but we no longer speak that language.
27-2000/1 Revelations of a Cross-Linguistic Perspective,
& Hatano, Glyoo (1999) Learning to Read and Write: A Cross-Linguistic
Perspective. Cambridge University Press.
Frith, Uta et
of the Dyslexia paper: http://www.unifon.org/dyslexia.html
First draft http://victorian.fortunecity.com/vangogh/555/Spell/MSJ-article.htm
T.  How many ways can you spell DAY? HTML
Bett, S and
Bird, S. On-line orthographic converter http://morph.ldc.upenn.edu/cgi-bin/sb/orthography/convert.cgi
Bohmig, Stephan, Alberto
Fontaneda, and Tom Zurinskas. The foreignword on-line truespel converter
- a phonemic transcription of English http://www.foreignword.com/dictionary/truespel/transpel.htm
The foreignword IPA
Bright, Wm. and Peter Daniels.
1996. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press
Robert (1985) The English Language. Oxford University Press
(1994) A Survey of English Spelling. London:Routledge
(1987) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge
1995. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge
Godfrey. (1971) English Spelling: Roadblock to Reading. New
York: Teachers College Press.
(1970). Relative Frequency of English Spelling. NY: Teachers College Press.
(1967). Evaluating the Initial Teaching Alphabet. London: Cassell.
& Leong, C-K. 1982. The psychology of reading. NY:
Macmillan Publishing Co.
(1995) The Search for the Perfect Language. London, Blackwell
(1750) On Early English Pronunciation. Chaucer Society.
(2001) Dylexia higher in English... Science,
based on research by Paulesu,
Eraldo. Reported by Reuters and ABC News, March 15, 2001
(1980) Why Johnny Still Can't Read.
English Grammar. Oxford University Press
Blackwell's Encyclopedia of the English Language, Blackwell
(1980) An Introduction to the Pronounciation of English.
S. (1956) The Teaching of Reading and Writing: an
international survey. Unesco.
Hodges, R.E. & Rudorf, E.H. (1966). PhonemeGrapheme Correspondences
as Cues to Spelling Improvement, Doc.OE-32008, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept.
of Health, Education, and Welfare.USGPO
(1992) Spelling: Structure and Strategies. University Press of American
(1969). Alphabets for English. Manchester University Press.
Hass, W. (1970).
Translation. Manchester University Press.
(1979). Written Dialects & Spelling Reform. Progresiv Publishers,
(1755) . A Dictionary of the English language: London: Knapton.
(1950). The Pronunciation of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University
C. (1996). Let's Reform Spelling -- Why and How. New Readers Press.
(1969). Spelling Reform: A New Approach. Alpha.
medium is the message.
James. (1965) Communication by Signs,
Scientist. 25 (433) pp 580-1. March, 1965
James & Robert St. John. (1970) Alphabets and Reading. London:
Riemer, John A. 1969. How
they Murder the Second R. New York: Worth. Children
taught i.t.a. become
avid readers and creative writers. In the traditional classroom, the child
learns to spell 168 words in the first year. The dull rote learning drills
tend to discourage if not destroy the child's curiosity and creativity.
and Lais, Edw. (1986) Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling.
American Literacy Council
(1985) Writing Systems. London: Hutchinson.
(1974) A History of English Spelling. Manchester: Manchester University
Henry (1891) A New English Grammar
Henry (1890) Spelling Reform
(1959). Regularized English. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell
R.E. (1913, 1971) Pronunciation of English Vowels 1400-1700. New
York: AMS Press
Engines - q-ref.html [quick reference]
The problems with the English writing system. The trouble with spelling
of the list of the 500 most frequent words
in English. 50 sounds of English
Bett on UNIFON