Spelling Reform

Yesterday I was sent another alternative orthography for English. I receive them quite often, usually for English, but sometimes for other languages. Some involve only minor changes to the current system, while others involve significant changes, and often lots of diacritics and/or extra letters.

Spelling bee

I’m also sent adaptations of other alphabets for English (and other languages), and original constructed scripts, some of which use the standard spelling system, and others use reformed/improved versions. I’m more inclinded to add the constructed and adapated scripts rather then the alternative spelling systems, if I think they are sufficiently interesting, original and elegant.

Here’s is an example of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in several alternative orthographies for English, which appear on Omniglot.

This is the original text:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

New English (Nū Iŋglıx)
This is a more logical and consistent spelling for English invented by Richard Parry.

Ōl hyūmən bī’ıŋz ā bōn frī and īkwəl ın dıgnıtī and ruıts. Ðeı ā ındaod wıđ rīzən and konxəns and xưd akt təwōdz wun ənuđə ın ə spırıt ov bruđəhưd.

Tower Orthography (Tawyr Oorthaagryfii)
This is was invented by Timothy Patrick Snyder and Rebecca Spatz with the aim of making a simple and phonetic system of writing.

Ol hjuumanz ar boorn frij and ikwol in dignitij and raits. Dhej ar indawd with riizon and kancints and cud akt twardz wyn ynydhyr in y spirit yv brydhyrhud.

Expressive English Alphabet (IKSPꞋΣSIϽ IИGLIƧ ΛLҒⱭBΣꞆ.)
This is was created by Marcel Burrows. It is designed to have one letter for each sound, and to allow people from any part of the world to write in their own accent.


Here are some others that I decided not to add to Omniglot:

The Script (no other name supplied)
This was devised by Max Khovanski and seeks to make spelling completely unambiguous, and cuts out as many unnecessary letters as possible to improve typing and writing efficiency.

Āāl hūman bēings ar born frē and ēkwal in digniti and rīghts. They ar endawd widh rēson and kons’enc and shúd act tuuwāārds oun anudher in ā spirit of brudherhúd.

Reformed English (Reformd İnglɪʃ)
This was devised by Andy B. to explore the idea of a neatly and consistently formulated English spelling reform.

Ɔl hyuman biyiŋs ɔr born fri and ikwal ɪn dɪgnɪti and rɔits. Ðei ɔr endawd wɪþ rizon and kɔnʃens and ʃʊd akt towards wʌn anʌðr ɪn a spɪrɪt ʌv brʌðrhʊd.

New English (Nū Iŋglıx)
A more logical and consistent spelling for English invented by Richard Parry. There are two versions: the full orthography (shown first), and the new orthography (shown second).

Ool hyuumeun bii’ingz aa boon frii and iikweul in dignitii and ruits. Nhei aa indaod winh riizeun and konxeuns and xu’d akt teuwoodz wun eununheu in eu spirit ov brunheuhu’d.

Ōl hyūmən bī’ıŋz ā bōn frī and īkwəl ın dıgnıtī and ruıts. Ðeı ā ındaod wıđ rīzən and konxəns and xưd akt təwōdz wun ənuđə ın ə spırıt ov bruđəhưd.

To be practical, and easy to type, I think English spelling reforms should stick to the existing letters, rather than adding accented letters, and/or borrowing letters from the IPA or other alphabets. Using the regular aspects of the current orthography might be a good idea as well, rather than coming up with new spellings.

There are alternative ways to write some words in informal contexts, especially online, such as thru for through, that could be used.

What are your views on spelling reform for English, or other languages?

What do you think of the alternative spelling systems I’ve shared here?

11 thoughts on “Spelling Reform

  1. I am afraid all major spelling reforms like this are doomed. The question is not whether a spelling system could be devised, but who would want to use it.

    All of these examples have the same flaws. They turn English into a foreign language, with words no one has ever seen before (at least, spelled in a way no one has seen before). They are hard to type, especially when they depend on accents, because all the words involve letters and typing sequences that English speakers have never used before, and because the accented forms won’t exist on any keyboard they are familiar with.

    Worse, the reforms sever the association between the (newly-spelled) word and its etymology and historical context; the words might as well have come from men from Mars. As a result, any spelling reforms like the ones you cites will inevitably be labeled as “complicated” and “artificial”. There isn’t a chance in the world that anyone would adopt any of them.

    I believe a better way to help learners of English would be to make an understand of the IPA phonetic alphabet more widespread.

  2. The problem with most spelling reforms in English is that they’re often designed to be phonetic, and designed with a specific dialect in mind. English has so many dialects, and the vowel system is very complex, so complex that native speakers may have difficulty identifying the vowels in words, and speakers who speak a mix of dialects may randomly switch between possible vowels from their various dialects and this would make it even more difficult for them to identify the vowels they use.

    I guess it’s possible to reform the English spelling system a little, but a good system in my opinion would have to work with every dialect, therefore it can’t really be as phonetic as spelling reformers often hope it to be.

    Also, the current English orthography distinguishes a lot of homophones in the spelling by preserving historic or etymological spellings. Sometimes this is useful. In actual speech, there are so much more intonational cues that homophones are less of a problem.

    English also has a lot of vowel alternations, often due to stress. Spelling these out phonetically would be insane in my opinion, and there is value in keeping the etymological spelling which clearly shows the relationship between words. A lot of vowel reductions are also optional. Then what do you do?

  3. David, that J.B. Rye article about English spelling reform was great. (I also liked his article that takes down Esperanto, which he links to.)

    I find it interesting that in spite of both the good reasons and the flimsy excuses to oppose English spelling reform, even he admits, in his Afterword, that none of the proposed reforms had any chance of success. He can criticize reform opponents all he wants, but the truth is, reforms have one overwhelming problem they will never overcome: Nobody wants to do it. English is spoken by hundreds of millions of people, and is being learned by more every day. Out of that vast number, how many actually want to change its spelling? Statistically speaking, it’s zero.

    English spelling reform is a fun idea to kick around. But it’s an idea that will never be implemented.

  4. I have devised another orthography for English which is characterized to be phonemic and etymological. Here is the example text in this orthography:
    Awl hiwman béings ar born fré and éqol in digniti and ríts. Ðey ar endúd wiþ rézon and konssiens and shůd akt tówords wun anoðer in á spirit of bruðerhůd.

  5. Michael, I think your orthography would be helpful in perhaps replacing IPA notation to describe English pronunciation, since IPA can be very cryptic for non-experts to decipher. I personally have difficulty with it, even though I’ve seen it a lot. I find your example above easy to understand.

  6. Michael, I had a thought: If you could devise a good enough orthography for describing English phonetically to replace IPA, you could call it EPA, for English Phonetic Alphabet.

  7. I’ve made many alternative spelling systems for English, though all of them just for fun, as there’s no need to change what we have.

    The only alt orthography that I’ve ever seriously worked on is for Plautdietsch, which I’ve worked on for over half a decade and is still being worked on, as it has no standard orthography.

    You can find an older version of it here on Omniglot (https://www.omniglot.com/conscripts/niesreft.htm)

    Here’s a comparison of the UDHR from the Omniglot page to what it is now

    Ole meanse zent gebúre frie n gliq in ier n rectichyt. De zent grunt n geveßnhyt gegäft n zaele in n gyßt fôn brödahyt te zic gieda döne.

    Aule menshe sent gebüre frie n glik in ier n reghtighhyt. De sent grunt n gevesnhyt gegäft n sele in n gyst fon brödahyt te sigh gieda döne.

  8. Your second version is an improvement from the sample on Omniglot. To me, the most important factors in designing an alphabet are simplicity and consistency. Make it as simple as you possibly can, with the fewest rules, the fewest number of accents and accent types, and use only commonly-seen diacritics. Always keep in mind what an actual speaker of the language would want. Sometimes academics and scholars focus on technicalities, but the number one requirement for a user is for it to be easy.

  9. One major issue with so many of them are that they appear to be non-rhotic. One thing I like about the old system is it preserves those ‘r’s. Maybe the new system shifts the burden from non-rhotic speakers to rhotic speakers, and I’m only opposed to it because I’m a rhotic speaker. But I don’t like it.

  10. I try to contribute to a natural process of simplifying spelling by using either already established or barely noticeable simplifications, for example I _always_ use US spelling and not UK spelling online. I also always spell for example _mosquitos_ or _volcanos_ without the E’s. It may not technically be considered right, but it’s subtle and not glaring. I think this is the best way to go about it if you seriously want to normalize spelling reform

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