English Speling Alfabet and World Roman Alfabet.

English Spelling Alfabet.

This page is an up-date on my spelling pages, such as the English Spelling Priorities (ESP) alfabet. Here, Ive just called it simply the English Speling Alfabet (ESA) but they are essentially the same thing.
(I prefer "speling" and nearly all words without repeated consonants.)

The purpose of an English Speling Alfabet or Fonemik English Alfabet is to give a standard list of the essential fonemes or basic sounds of English speech to aid literacy (or literasy, as I'd prefer it spelt).
In my other web pages on speling, variations in dialect are only considered where they may help, rather than impede, learning to make oneself understood in English.

The conventional English alfabet doesnt distinguish all the main fonemes of English. The main problem is that the five vowels have to do double service as dipthongs or vowel combinations.

In revealing what the conventional English alfabet hides, we still have to remember some basic principles of learning a language. Namely, people dont like learning long alfabets, so we keep this extended English alfabet as simple as possible, consistent with enlightening learners as to fonemes missing from the English alfabet.

The next principle is that a more consistent English Alfabet has to be transcribed to a standard computer key-board. This requires careful thought as to which symbols can best be used besides the twenty-six letters of the conventional English alfabet.

As explained on my other spelling pages, the way that children learn their alfabet, or ABC, by reciting A, B, C, etc misses an important learning trick. The English language consists of about seventy to a hundred words, or more, that are repeated in about half of ordinary English speech or conversation. If you know those precious few words, you are literally half way to learning the content of average English speech.

Using thirty, or so, of the most common English words as names for the letters of the English alfabet, makes up perhaps thirty per cent or more of ordinary English usage. Just the ten most common words make up a quarter of English speech.

So, let's recite the letters of the English alfabet, plus the most essential extra fonemes, drawing from the most common words in English speech. The conventional English alfabet sometimes uses more than one letter for the same basic sound or foneme. Consistency, the basis of science and principle, is an under-rated virtue. A fonemik English alfabet sticks to one sound one letter:

a = a/an, b = be, c = she, d = 'd (past tense auxiliary verb, short for "would")/ did, e = eh/any, f = if, g = go, h = he, i = in, j = just, k = can, l = 'l (future tense auxiliary verb, short for "will"), m = me/more, n = 'n'/and, o = on, p = up/put, q = how (optional re-use of letter q for the dipthong that is fonetikly spelt in the first two letters of the word "aural" = qral), r = her/or, s = so, t = it, u = us/we, v = 've/have, w = who/ooh, [Not needed as an English foneme, let x = Greek or Russian x, the sound found in German Bach or Scottish loch], y = you/eat, z = as.

Notice, I have (sparingly) used the old shorthand trick of sometimes giving a letter two meanings, such as m = me/more. In that case, "me" is just the objective pronoun version of the subjective pronoun, I. And shorthand could just use "I" for "me" without losing the sense, tho conventional grammar makes such usage sound unfamiliar.

The ten numbers are not strictly needed for learning English speling but might be useful as shorthand speling of fonemes that dont have their own single letter:

Four extra fonemes using a number:

3 (three) = the, 8 (eight) = they, 9 (nine) = I/eye, 0 (zero) = o' (short for: "of" as in: o' clock = of the clock)/oh!/owe.

Extra foneme: 6 (six) = oi/oy.

Dipthong, oi/oy, as in "oil" and "boy", is the best spelt dipthong in English. There is no number when spoken that contains this vowel combination but it has been assigned number six, 6, which, seen sideways, looks like: oi.

An extra foneme is the consonant combination, usuaally spelt: ch or tch, as in: which/witch (pronounced the same way).
If c = sh, as in "she", then these two words would spell fonetikly as "witc".
The common word, which, could be the name, and therefore, the shorthand, given to the foneme, ch = tc.

This list can derive an English fonemik alfabet, separating the essential fonemes from less important fonemes.

I have discussed the dipthongs on other web pages. Suffice to say here, the fonemes given letters are the twenty-six letters of the conventional alfabet, subject to the following changes.
The five letters for vowels do not double for dipthongs. The letters w and y take-over two of these sounds (from "e" and "u" when pronounced as dipthongs).

Capital-i, "I" or "9" serves for dipthong version of "i", and number 8 serves for dipthong version of "a". The number zero, 0, distinguishes the dipthong, ou, pronounced as in "mould" or as in o' clock, as distinct from vowel, o, for "on".

(I should, however, point out that my page, on Compromis Speling: the humbl apostrofe as as savior of English literasy, has worked out a cunning way of clearing away much of the inconsistent way English vowels are combined to spel dipthongs.)

Thus, the 26 letter alfabet has an extra four or five numbers for dipthongs. Letter, c, is given for the foneme in "she" and is a consistent feature of European national alfabet versions of the Roman alfabet, and thus letter, c, is the natural candidate for this foneme in a World Roman alfabet.

It would also be logical to use x in a World Roman Alfabet for Greek or Russian x. This foneme is also found in Spanish and Arabic. It is rendered: ch, as in German: Bach; or in Scots: loch. But as far as an English Speling Alfabet is concerned, x is not needed.

Conversely, most languages dont need the foneme, th, found in English, which might be given number three, 3, as its letter. This would be no more than an auxiliary letter in a World Roman Alfabet, as most languages dont use it. Many foreigners (not to mention English dialects) speak intelligible English without our much noticing they are saying: d, z, or t, instead of "th".

Even in English, three-quarters of foneme, th, is the definite article, the. And many languages, like Russian, dont have a definite article.

Hence, a basic ESA is 28 to 31 letters. See table 1.

Table 1: English Speling Alfabet plus dipthong numbers etc.
a = a/an m = me/more y = you/eat
b = be n = 'n'/and z = as
c = she [See table 2] o = on 3 = the
d = 'd/would/did p = up/put ei/ey/8 = they
e = eh/any q = how/owh [optional re-use of letter q] I/9 = I/eye
f = if r = her/or 0 = o'/oh/owe
g = go s = so oi/oy/6 (e.g. oil/boy)
h = he t = it ch = which/witch [If c=sh, ch=tc]
i = in u = us/we/uh
j = just [See table 2] v = 've/have
k = can w = who/ooh
l = 'l/will x [See table 2]


Optional shorthand uses of remaining numbers not used for English fonemes:

1 = one, 2 = two/to, 4 = four/for, 5 = that (This is an arbitrary assignment for the word, "that," being one of ten most common words in English).

Note also that table 1 makes use of primitive one-syllable exclamations or interrogations, conventionly, but unfonetikly, followed by letter, h, like: eh, uh, oh, ooh, owh.

World Roman Alfabet. (WRA).

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An English Spelling Alfabet is not much different from a basic World Roman Alfabet. See table 2.

Table 2: A basic World Roman Alfabet (WRA).
a = a/an m = me/more y = you/eat
b = be n = 'n'/and z = as
c = she [e.g. French chef, Italian Puccini, German schnapps.] o = on 3 = the [auxiliary foneme].
d = 'd/would/did p = up/put ei/ey/8 = they
e = eh/any q = how/'ow [optional re-use of letter q] I/9 = I/eye
f = if r = her/or 0 = o'/oh/owe
g = go s = so oi/oy/6 (e.g. oil/boy)
h = he t = it 7 = ng [Auxiliary foneme].
i = in u = us/we
j = [French j, as in juje.] v = 've/have
k = can w = who/ooh
l = 'l/will x = [Greek/Russian x, German/Scots ch, in Bach, loch]

Note: Remaining numbers, 1, 2, 4, 5 might be assigned to the WRA as the remaining most useful international fonemes in world language or the most useful shorthands.

Notice that Ive suggested that a World Roman Alfabet would have French j rather than English j. This is because English j is really pronounced like French j preceded by foneme d. You get a sense of this from English speling, comparing, for example, French: juje, to English equivalent word: judge. In fonetik terms, English sounds like: djudj, compared to French juj.

The fact that the English and French pronounce their letter j differently doesnt cause much, if any, confusion of meaning. The similarity of pronunciation is perhaps great enough to be just a pleasing difference of accent in the two nations. There is no more need for English j and French j to be spelt differently than there is for them to be pronounced identicly.

The foneme, ng, one sound that doesnt have its own letter in English but is spelt with two letters, which, however, approximate that sound fairly well. e.g.: word, finger, said: "fingger."
There is a tendency for ng to fall out of use in English, as in the phrase (frase): huntin' shootin' 'n' fishin'. (Note: 'n' = and).

To keep as simple as possible, I go along with conventional usage in basicly ignoring what is a foneme of very marginal use in English. Victorian pedantry is said to have insisted on the redundant and fading "ng" distinction in English speech.

I have put this foneme in a projected World Roman Alfabet because it may be of more importance in other languages. But a UN committee might decide this extra foneme isnt worth the lengthening of a WRA by one more letter.

People prefer to learn short alfabets and that remains true of a world alfabet designed to engage all humanity.

It is also possible that an existing letter, like h, which has fallen out of use in some languages, may be demoted to auxiliary status in a WRA. French still spels letter, h, but doesnt pronounce the h sound.

It may be that the main consonants will be confined to the sounds made to the fore of the mouth, not those consonants far back from the central speech-making position of the dental ridge, just behind the teeth. (Tho theta, or th, is likely to be side-lined because foreigners find it difficult and it is not a wide-spread consonant in world language.)

Perhaps, the border-line consonant, in a WRA, will be c = sh and its voiced version, French j. All the consonants further back in the oral cavity, like h, ng, x = Greek chi, may be relegated to auxiliary status. These consonants require tongue positions away from the main traffic of the tongue in the closely packed positions to the fore of the mouth. Therefore, they may cumulatively slow down speech, in a busier world, and possibly be less efficient , less used.

The least likely far-back consonant to be relegated to auxiliary status is foneme g. In English, g is a voiced consonant, and has no breathed version of the same tongue position, in its alfabet or in use in actual speech.

Consonant g belongs to that group of consonants called plosives. As the term suggests, it is an emfatic sound. And therefore has the advantage of being easily heard, so that people are more likely to catch this foneme, and correctly identify the word it is in. So, this far-back consonant, g, nevertheless has a time-saving value, because of the strong nature of the sound, if not its position in the oral cavity.

This is less true of other far-back consonants, which belong to less strong sound classifications: ng belongs to the so-called nasal sounds (where the passage of air thru the nose affects the pronunciation); and the two sounds: x = ch (German), also h, both belong to the fricative group of sounds. The term, fricative comes from the tongue approaching the palate to allow thru a hiss of air friction.

These are the kind of options a commission on a WRA would have to consider for a stream-lined universal medium of communication. I hope they do the job well. If they do or they dont, the general public will not necessarily follow suit, at least without qualification. But a good job has a better chance of gaining eventual acceptance.
(There is always my own efforts to fall back on!)

I did actually look at a phrase book of world languages, not just Lyall's Languages of Europe. It's a long time ago but I didnt find any other very wide-spread consonant to add to the basic European complement to a possible World Roman Alfabet.

That doesnt mean to say that an international committee might not make an addition or so. But I hope there are no academic or political additions for reasons of pedantry or local prestige.

There might well be more auxiliary letters supplementing a basic World Roman Alfabet that are of some regional standing, like "th" in English or its breathed version, Greek theta. Not all English dialects distinguish between the breathed and voiced versions of "th" that exist in English speech and it doesnt hinder communication not to make the distinction that some English speakers do.

As for the vowels and their combinations, these more or less open speech sounds, which dont touch any exact position in the oral cavity, are prone to historic shifts in pronunciation. The shift from Northern to Southern English pronunciation is from close to more open vowels.

Languages didnt originally have letters for vowels. The five English vowels crudely map a triangle of tongue positions in the oral cavity. The letter, a, is perhaps the vaguest of the five, making do for two fairly distinct sounds, that an English speaker such as myself doesnt really notice, because they serve no meaningful differences.

There is a mid-point between the five vowels, known as the central vowel or neutral vowel or unstressed vowel. It is the sound in the indefinite article, a, only when unstressed, or exclamation, uh! or uh? (only when unstressed) an exclamation or interrogation, meaning we dont understand what someone has said. Unstressed vowels occur in much natural or relaxed speech, with the tongue drifting to the central vowel position, instead of bothering to always find the five close or open positions at back and front of the oral cavity.

However, from the point of view of writing, we dont need an extra vowel to make ourselves understood. Indeed, it suppresses a written clue to the word used, when it replaces any one of the stressed vowels.

Note on a World Pictografic Alfabet.

It may not be appreciated, at least in the West, that world language cannot be just a fonografic language.

Reading Oliver Sacks on deafness made me realise that deaf people were given a hard time, by having to learn sign language based on fonetik signs rather than picture signs.

Picture language is much more assimilable, potentially allowing communication in a very short time, days, over-night almost. That might apply not only between foreigners but even between aliens from different planets.

Anne Glyn-Jones gives us an insight into the power of mime, in her history of the theater, Holding Up A Mirror. She quotes an ancient Roman astonished at a performer who effectively talked with his hands.

When I was young, the time when you think you have forever to look into everything, I might have tried think of a pictografic alfabet translatable into hand signs. Nevertheless, I recognise that a pictografic language is an essential feature of world language.

Perhaps there will be some United Nations commission into a World Pictografic Language. It might conceivably be chaired by a deaf Chinese pictografic sign linguist.

Passage from Miltons Areopagitica, and speling reform transcript.

What would ye do then? Should ye suppress all this flowery crop of knowledge and new light sprung up and yet springing daily in this city? Should ye set an oligarchy of twenty engrossers over it, to bring a famine upon our minds again, when we shall know nothing but what is measured to us by their bushel? Believe it, Lords and Commons, they who counsel ye to such a suppressing do as good as bid ye suppress yourselves; and I will soon show how. If it be desired to know the immediate cause of all this free writing and free speaking, there cannot be assigned a truer than your own mild and free and humane government. It is the liberty, Lords and Commons, which your own valorous and happy counsels have purchased us, liberty which is the nurse of all great wits; this is that which hath rarefied and enlightened our spirits like the influence of heaven; this is that which hath enfranchised, enlarged and lifted up our apprehensions degrees above themselves.

Ye cannot make is now less capable, less knowing, less eagerly pursuing the truth, unless ye first make yourselves, that made us so, less the lovers, less the founders of our true liberty. We can grow ignorant again, brutish, formal and slavish, as ye found us; but you then must first become that which ye cannot be, oppressive, arbitrary and tyrannous, as they were from whom ye have freed us. That our hearts are now more capacious, our thoughts more erected to the search and expectation of greatest and exactest things, is the issue of your own virtue propagated in us; ye cannot suppress that, unless ye reinforce an abrogated and merciless law, that fathers may despatch at will their own children. And who shall then stick closest to you, and excite others? Not he who takes up arms for coat and conduct, and his four nobles of Danegelt. Although I dispraise not the defence of just immunities, yet love my peace better, if that were all. Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.

John Milton: Areopagitica (1644).

Possible transcript of previous passage, preceded by a caution.

Milton was himself a speling innovator. The following transcript is not meant to be the only way. I am not setting up a new orthography or dogmatic right way to spel. Indeed it is not possible to be perfectly consistent, nor desirable to be pedanticly consistent, but only where important issues of principle are at stake.
English needs to be fairly consistent, much more consistent than it is, because the principle of a democracy of letters is at stake, where there is universal suffrage of literasy, where almost everyone can read and write.

Some of the spelings follow my page on how to use the apostrofe, instead of adding letter, e, like an accent, to each of the 5 vowels to denote 5 dipthongs.
Otherwise, I mostly let alone dipthong spelings. They may not be reliable guides to pronunciation. But pronouncing the conventional speling may be enuf to make oneself understood by the sympathetic English speaking listener!
I have cut some repeated letters and some silent letters that merely clutter words.

I have used, for dipthong in personal pronoun, I, or words, aisle/isle, number nine, 9, because Arial font (used on this page) doesnt distinguish capital-i, I, from letter l, whose capital is L.
But even using a different font, number 9 doesnt require a key-board press of the capitals key, like capital-i.
Number 9 also looks like the hand-written capital-i. And number nine contains the appropriate dipthong in its pronunciation. between two n-sounds.

The reformers aim is a balance or compromise of convention with consistency. My speling pages show how I have wavered, over the years, in trying to strike the right balance, to achieve a more widespread literasy.

Short-hand, or less letters to write, is also a consideration. And the two aims may help each other, to some extent.

From: Areopagitica.

Wat wud ye do 3en? Cud ye supres al 3is flowery krop of nolej and nw l9t sprung up and yet springing daily in 3is sity? Cud ye set an oligarky of twenty engrosers over it, to bring a famin upon our minds again, wen we cal n0 no3ing but wat is mesured to us by 3er bucel? Believ it, Lords and Komons, 3ey hw kounsel ye to sutc a supresing do as gud as bid ye supres yorselvs; and I wil swn c0 hq. If it be desired to n0 3e imediat kaus of al 3is fry r9ting and fry speaking, 3er kannot be as9ned a truer 3an yor 0n mild and fry and huma'n government. It is 3e liberty, Lords and Komons, witc yor 0n valorus and hapy kounsels hav purtcased us, liberty witc is 3e nurs of al great wits; 3is is 3at witc ha3 rarefied and enl9tened our spirits l9k 3e influens of heven; 3is is 3at witc ha3 enfrancised, enlarjed and lifted up our aprehensions degrys abov 3emselvs.

Ye kannot ma'k us nq les kapabl, les n0ing, les eagerly pursuing 3e tru3, unles ye first ma'k yorselvs, 3at ma'd us s0, les 3e lovers, les 3e founders of our tru liberty. We kan gr0 ignorant again, brutic, formal and slavic, as ye found us; but yu 3en must first bekom 3at witc ye kannot be, opresiv, arbitrary and tyranus, as 3ey wer from hwm ye hav fryd us. 3at our harts ar nq mor kapacus, our 3outs mor erekted to 3e seartc and ekspektation of greatest and eksactest 3ings, is 3e isu of yor 0n virtu propagated in us; ye kannot supres 3at, unles ye reinfors an abrogated and mersiles law, 3at fa3ers may despatc at wil ther 0n tcildren. And hw cal 3en stik klosest to yu, and eks9t o3ers? Not he hw ta'ks up arms for k0t and kondukt, and his four n0bls of Danegelt. Al30 I disprais not the defens of just imunitis, yet lov my pys beter, if 3at wer al. Giv me 3e liberty to n0, to uter, and to argu fryly akording to koncens, abov al libertis.

John Milton: Areopagitica (1644).

Richard Lung.
8 October 2012.
Minor additions 3-01-2013.

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