Compromis Speling and the humbl Apostrofe as savior of English Literasy.

How to solve the problem of illiteracy in English.

How to solve the problem of illiteracy in English. You give the fonetic values of the alfabet free rein by getting rid of the use of letters as accents. Such letters can be called silent letters, because they themselves are not pronounced but appear in a word to tell you that a preceding vowel must be pronounced as a certain dipthong. Thus, the letter, e, often at the end of a word. Also, the digraf, gh, in a small group of words, like right, instead of write or rite; might, instead of mite, etc.

Sometimes, the silent letters no longer fulfil any distinct function: word, give, is just as clear spelt: giv. Word, thought, might be spelt: thout, or, in Glawegian pronunciation: thot.

Letters as accents have no "literary" value, whatever apologists for the status quo mean by that. They are purely the product of a technical hitch from Caxton's first printing press. The letter, e, was the surplus type he happened to have to distinguish vowels from dipthongs. It's no more "literary" a device than the qwerty keyboard, that obsolete technology has stranded us with.

A contemporary Caxton would probably be among the first to say goodbye to the Caxton e-accent, given our options on the computer key-board.

Similarly, medieval copyists were paid by the letter and so made words longer than necessary. Redundant letters are not "literary," but mercenary!
Repeated letters (I should say: leters) have been identified as one of the main obstacles to so-called correct spelling. We are thoughtless copyists of copyists' sharp practise, in not dropping them.
As you see, I am haphazard in cutting repeated letters. I have found that consistency doesnt improve with age (at least not such petty consistency).

Consistent consonants.

To top

There are also a few redundant letters in the English alfabet, itself. And while these may act as stumbling blocks to learners, they could be fairly easily removed.
The reform rules would be:

Replace q with c: question spelt cuestion.
Replace x with cs: ex spelt ecs; excel spelt ecsel.

Let c = k, so that either letter is allowed without prejudice, as is sometimes the case in practise: Celtic or Keltic. Notice that the confusion of sometimes pronouncing c as k and sometimes as s, has resulted in Celtic being pronounced Seltic.

So, another rule is to always spell s-pronounced letter, c, with an s. Thus, word, literacy, spelt: literasy.

Why do we not get rid of letter, k, as well? Because letter, c, may be needed for the foneme, spelt as digraf, sh, in word, she. That is to keep our options open when a World Roman Alfabet comes to be considered. [See foot-note 1.]

Other redundancies to remove. Always spell ph as f: physics as fysics or fisics; phoneme = foneme; graph = graf; apostrophe = apostrofe. This would be consistent with some continental practise.

Likewise, gh is sometimes pronounced f, and could easily be spelt so, without much disturbing the look of English, while removing traps for the unwary learner.

A third -h digraf, wh, would not be much missed, in truth. Let: which = wich. This has the same pronunciation as: witch, where there is no letter, h, after the double-u.

For the time being, it would be convenient to keep unchanged digraf, ch, which is equivalent to: tsh. This is especially so, should a World Roman Alfabet adopt: sh = c. Then the group of ch/tch fonemic spelings would become: tc. For example: fetch = fetc; witch/which = witc.

Another easy consistency would be always to spell j instead of dg and sometimes instead of g. For example: judge becomes juj; and gauge reforms to: gauj.

It doesnt matter if you arent completely consistent in speling. No-one is very consistent in life. It matters that all people should have a chance of making themselves reasonably understood. And it is common courtesy that deviations from spelling orthodoxy be tolerated for that purpose.
And if you dont like my spelings, you dont have to read them.

Easy speling of the English consonants is summed-up in table 1.

Table 1: Strait-forward speling of English consonants.
English consonant: is for: How to replace redundant consonant letters:
b body, back, brow.
c calf q = c (quest = cuest); x = cs (ex = ecs; excel = ecsel.)
d down
f face, foot, finger. ph = f (physique = fisi'c); gh[when not silent] = f (cough = cof; laugh = laf).
g gum, gut.
h head, hand.
j jaw g[sometimes] = j (gauge = gauj); dg = j (judge = juj).
k knee*, kidneys. k = c but k may be needed to free c for foneme, sh. Either k or c acceptable, e.g.: Keltic/Celtic.
l leg
m mouth
n neck
p palm
r rib
s skin c[sometimes] = s (central = sentral; conscious = consious).
t toe, tongue, tooth.
v vein

(Omit digraf, wh.)


which = wich (sounds same as: witch).

Optional: Semi-vowel, w = oo = ue, double-u may replace long-u dipthong spelings: who = hw; too/two = tw; woo = ww; Or: rue = ru' = rw [see table 2 of vowels].
y you Optional: Semi-vowel, y = ee, double-i may replace long-i spelings: see = sy (not sigh); yield = yi'ld = yyld [see table 2].
z zoo
th thumb, thigh. {Number three, 3, might replace th, in a one-letter one sound alfabet: th = 3 [short for: the].}
sh shoulder {In a World Roman Alfabet, maybe: sh = c [short for: she]; (ocean = ocan; social = socal).}
ch cheek, chin, chest, crotch. ch/tch = tsh. (In a World Roman Alfabet, if sh = c, then: crotch = crotc.)

*German, tho not English, pronounces the k in knee.

Vowels and dipthongs: the humbl Apostrofe as savior of English Literasy

To top

Getting English consonants spelt consistently is not an over-whelming problem. Most of my life, I have assumed, as a speling reformer, that the over-whelming problem was with the vowels and dipthongs.

Now I look at these dipthongs, as King Knut (Canute, as they spelt his name when I was a child) looked at the tides. Of course, they got the story wrong at school. He was regarded as an old fool who thought he could order back the tides. The true story is that he showed his credulous subjects that was what he could not do.

Likewise, speling can never fix the vowel shifts of speech over the generations. It is as pointless to reform the speling of dipthongs as it is to try to hold back the tides. Hence the Knut principle of conservative vowel and dipthong speling. Those spelings will slowly change, too, almost unconsciously in the course of common practise, as always. Some disregarded fogy (not me) may complain about them but they will only high-light accepted changes.

We may unconsciously pronounce dipthongs the way they are spelt, in order to remember them, even if that is not the fashionable prounciation. And if some learner pronounces words as they sound, rather than according to fashion, the literate still know what the uninitiated person means. And that is enuf! Language is for communication, even if it is also used to exclude some from an inner circle of initiates. As a democrat, I would like to see English available to all who want to learn it.

The biggest ambiguity in English spelling and therefore the greatest confusion is the legacy of limitations to the first English printing press. William Caxton added his most common letter, e, to distinguish dipthongs from vowels. We can use the apostrofe instead.

Sometimes, the extra letter, e, is spelt when the word is no longer (or never was) pronounced as a dipthong. In that case, the extra, e, can be cut without putting an apostrofe in its place. For example: more = mor.

The reason why even reformers dont spel much more simply is that they dont want to put people off from reading them, defeating the object of writing at all, which is to communicate. Some people scarcely tolerate any deviation from their idea of an orthography, as if it were a degradation of standards. This appears to be nothing more than the thoughtless force of inertia.

Still, human inertia, like physical inertia, is a powerful force and must be treated with respect or at least prudence. In speling reform, the dilemma has always been how to make English reasonable enuf for the great majority to understand, without revolting the traditionalists.

Another trouble is that, as with most proposals, most speling reforms are naive. The world is full of half-baked solutions. I have been disagreeing with myself for forty years of changing ideas about speling - not to mention other reforms and research.

I think there has to be some trade-off or compromise between tradition and reform. Some petty correctors are never going to be pleased or appeased. But the hope is that most people will tolerate speling changes that are eventually realised to be well-considered.

This, then, is the goal of my apostrofe reform. Why do I think it may prevail? Because it's a big enuf simplification to improve literacy levels, without losing touch altogether with traditional forms of spelling.
This is what would be involved:

All Caxton's uses of letter-e would be replaced with an apostrofe, which would mean that the vowel letter in the word is a dipthong, ending in i-pronunciation for the front vowels, i, e, a; and ending in -u for the back vowels, u, o.

The front vowels are those pronounced by the tongue, nearest to the dental ridge. Vowel, i, is the closest; vowel, a, most open. Vowels are distinguished from consonants by the fact that consonants are made by touching distinct positions inside the mouth, the oral cavity, whereas vowels are made by the tongue in a more or less clear passage (under the roof of the palate).

It is this lack of precise positioning in vowel pronunciation, which allows for shifts in the pronunciation of vowels, and especially dipthongs, much more than in consonants. Languages originally didnt even write down the vowels. Speling reformers need to allow for the fact that vowel spelings cannot keep chasing the shifts in the speling of dipthongs in words. Least confusing to keep to conventional dipthong spelings, so far as practical.

The vowel, a, has a variant pronunciation that is more a back vowel. In fact, there is a dipthong, au, pronounced as in: aural, but usually spelt as in: how, now, round. This neednt be of concern because dipthong, au (spelt ou/ow) is not subject to the Caxton e-accent.

Going thru the dipthongs distinguished by the use of letter, e, added as an accent, and replaced with an apostrofe:

Thus: ga'v for gave. The fonetik speling is : geiv, in received pronunciation. The southern English or Australian pronunciation, gaiv, is right by fonetic standards.

Whereas, word, give, could be spelt: giv, because it is not pronounced as a dipthong.

Thus: e'l for eel. If e'l stood for eil, it would sound, in northern or received pronunciation, like words, ale or ail. We dont worry about this, if only because word, e'l, is distinct from: ale = ail = a'l, when it spels as it sounds, or is fonetic, by southern pronunciation.

An option would be to spel the dipthong, that approximately sounds like ii, as in eel, with letter, y: yl for eel. That is to say, y becomes the letter, double-i, just as w is double-u. Then: sy = see. As in the words to the Elgar march, glory rhymes with free.
For single syllable words like: my, by, why etc, only some northern dialect preserves this rhyme, whereby word, by, sounds the same as word, be.

Thus: 'i = aisle/isle/I'll. And: r'it = rite/write/right/wright. It would be alright to leave in the unsounded letters, w-, just to distinguish meanings.
Note, in this case, of dipthong, ai, that it is the first vowel, a, of the dipthong that is missing and so the apostrofe is put before the second vowel, i, to show this.

Also, note that the digraf, gh, when silent, sometimes serves to mark a dipthong.
And an apostrofe may be used to show the omission of digraf, gh, even when a dipthong is already in the word. For example: thought = thou't = tho't = thot.

Thus: o' = oh/owe. And: so'l = soul; o'n = own.
Vowel, o, is a back vowel, followed by back vowel, u. So, the apostrofe stands for vowel, u.

Thus, tru' = true.
An option would be to let letter, w, actually serve as a double-u. That is let: w = uu. Thus: two = tw; who = hw; rue = ru' = ruu = rw.
It would be desirable to replace digraf, oo, with w. Thus: too = tw; moon = mwn. But that is perhaps taking too much on, at least in one stage of speling reform.

Finally, there is the possibility of some minor confusion with the use of the apostrofe for the possessive cases of singular and plural spellings. For example: His one brother's friend; his many brothers' friend.
Bernard Shaw confided that he had got away without using the possessive apostrofes for many years in his published writings without anyone ever noticing.

The speling reform of the accent-apostrofe for dipthongs, with the options of double-u and double-i for long-u and long-i, are summed-up in table 2.

Table 2: The apostrofe dipthongs, with double-u & double-i options.
Vowels: The vowels plus e-accent (or gh-accent) signifying dipthongs: Replacing the accent letters with apostrofes: Approximate fonetic spelings (*n = north; s = south pronunciation):
a is for arm, ankle a is for able. able = a'bl;
vane = va'n; (vein = vein).
[a&e nearly always separated by consonant] a..e = a' = ai
vane = va'n (s) = vein (n). [Word, vein, is fonetic in standard speech. Word, vain, is fonetic in s. pron.]
e is for elbow e is for see see = se' (or: = sy); machine = machi'n; field = fi'ld. ie = i' = ii = y
(field = fi'ld = fiild; yield = yyld.)
i is for in-step i is for I/eye; as in: high, line. high = h'i [or just: hi]; lie = l'i. ie = 'i = ai
(lie = l'i = lai)
o is for orb o is for: open mouth; as in: hope hope = ho'p. oe = o' = ou
(hope = ho'p = houp)
u is for upper lip u is for: true; new true = tru' [or: = trw]; new = nw; noon = nwn. ue = u' = uu = w
(true = tru' = truu = trw)
(noon = nuun = nwn).


* Southern pronunciation refers to south of England, especially Cockney and the southern continent (Australia), whose fonetic pronouncing of word, same, is: saim = sa'm. The apostrofe here stands for vowel, i. I dont put in the vowel, because the apostrofe shows that a soundless letter, e (sometimes a soundless digraf, gh) has been omited from the spelling of the word.

The received or traditional or northern pronunciation of word, same is: seim (like: they or vein). But where possible I defer to conventional spellings, if only so as not to add to the burden of changes needed to make English spelling understandable to a person's free intelligence, not having to depend on arbitrary authority.

Naming alfabet letters as short-hand for common words.

To top

Tables 1 & 2 found names, for parts of the human body, with a first letter for each letter of the alfabet. (Or nearly so.) That is because it is easier to remember each letter in terms of the first letter of words that mean something you can touch.

Actually the most common English words are mainly grammar words needed for every sentence we make. A quarter of English speech is made up of just ten words, included in table 3 (taken from previous web pages). At a guess, table 3 covers something like a third of English speech, especially if the irregular forms of the verb like, to be, are abolished (at least in one's personal short-hand writing) for regular present and past tenses.

Table 3: Names of the Alfabet letters by most common English words.
Personal Words verbs logic words & other words
possessive subject object
m: my I/eye: I (or 'I); aisle/isle = 'il. (m: me) b: be a: a/an t: to (2 = to)
h: he (h: him) v: have/'ve th: the (3 = th[re]e) p: up
r: her sh: she (r: her) c: can; (k or c: Celtic/Keltic); (ex = ecs); (c = q: quest = cuest) n: and/'n' j: just
i: it (i: it) g: go o: on o'/0: of (o'clock/of clock. Zero = of); o' = O/Oh/owe.
au: our w: we u: us l: 'll/will/shall f: if u': who = hw[option].
y: you (y: you) d: 'd (would/ should/did) s: so i': see = se'
e: their (there) ei/ey: they (e: them) z: as ch: which

Sample of Compromis Speling and Conclusion.

To top

It is customary among speling reformers to try their system on Lincoln's famous address. Compromis Speling renders it as follows:

The Gettysburg Adres.

Four-scor and seven years ago our fathers bro't forth upon this continent a new nation conseived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that al men ar created ecual. Now we ar engajed in a great sivil war, testing wether that nation can long endur. We ar met on a great batlfi'ld of that war. We hav com to dedica't a portion of that fi'ld as a final resting pla's for thos who he'r ga'v their l'ivs that that nation m'it liv. It is altogether fiting and proper that we shud do this. But in a larjer sens we cannot dedica't, we cannot consecra't, we cannot halow this ground. The bra'v men, living and ded, who strugled he'r, hav consecrated it, far abov our poor power to ad or detract. The world wil litl know nor long remember, wat we say he'r, but it can never forget wat they did he'r. It is for us the living, rather, to be he'r dedicated to the great task remaining befor us - that from the's honored ded we ta'k increased devotion to the caus for wich they ga'v the last ful mesur of devotion that we he'r h'ily resolv that the's ded shal not hav d'id in vain; that this nation, under God, shal hav a new birth of fre'dom; and that government of the peopl, by the peopl, for the peopl shal not perish from the earth.

This sample is just the basic form of Compromis speling. It doesnt use double-u as long-u nor a double-i as long-i, nor c for sh, nor 3 for the.

Note that I dont much interfere with digrafs, like: ea, as in real, which are spelt as they sound in Spanish. Think: Real Madrid. Likewise, I dont disturb the -tion form, which is pronounced more like it sounds in German.

Having seen this sample for myself, I dont think it is too way out to perhaps try on some of my future web pages, if I get round to them. That is the test really. And yet I think it is rational enuf to improve the literacy rate, if it were generally adopted.

I think this reform more suited to compromise than my previous attempt called Kompromis Speling, which I have relegated to My Archive, along with an Index of many pages in its speling system. I think these pages may still be useful to people wanting to learn the relation of English speech to spelling. But for English speling reform, I put greater trust in my new reform of Compromis Speling, on this page.

I would have to preface a web page in Compromis Speling with a brief explanation, say:

This page is in Compromis Speling (see web page for details):

1) Consistent consonants (except c, which allows option, k; "soft" c always spelt s; ph & sounded gh spelt f; wh spelt w; dg, & sometimes g, spelt j.)
2) Most doubled letters and silent letters left out. In some few cases, an apostrofe may show the cut: e.g. thought = tho't.
3) An apostrofe (mainly replacing e, in some cases gh) shows a dipthong, which after i, e, a, stands for i; after u, o, stands for u; before i, stands for a. (Examples: field = fi'ld; see = se'; ate = a't; due = du'; toe = to'; site/sight = s'it.)


Foot-note 1.

Another option, that might be possible, at least in English, is not to use foneme, sh. Instead of speling: social = soshal = socal, a good approximation would be sh = si. Consonants, s and sh, belong to the so-called fricative (or frictional) group of sounds that hiss or shush!

Thus: social = sosial. This is because the foneme, sh, is pronounced by the tongue at a mid-point between consonant, s, and vowel, i. That is why you hear a word, like appreciate, sometimes pronounced like: appreshiate, or sometimes: appresiate.

However, I dont think this quite comes off. How would one spel word, she? Possibly, she = sie, might do. But what of: show = siow? etc.

Richard Lung
15 january 2011.

To top

To home page