Introduction: Why Learning English is Difficult

1. WHY THE WORLD TODAY NEEDS A GLOBAL LANGUAGE

A hundred years ago, there were numerous number systems in use in the world.  But with a vast increase in trade, the twentieth century saw a comprehensive movement of various nations around the world to drop their indigenous numbering system in favor of a set of numbers that originated in the Indus Valley and later was adopted by Arabic traders.  From the Middle East this system spread to Europe during the Middle Ages, as people abandoned the cumbersome Roman Numerals (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, etc.) that Europeans had previously used, in favor of the much more efficient set of number symbols 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc.  What became known as Arabic Numerals, spread around the world.  Today, from China to Chile, and from Iceland to Indonesia, people use Arabic Numerals.

Because of the obvious economic advantages to adopting a standard numbering system, business throughout the whole world is now totally committed to using Arabic numerals.  Imagine the mass confusion that would result if every person doing international trade had to convert to unique symbols for every different language.  Today, in Southeast Asia, Thailand and Cambodia still have their own unique symbols for numbers, but no one in Thailand or Cambodia today—no matter how nationalistic—attempts to do business in those symbols.  Every Thai or Khmer person uses 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10… as their way of representing numbers.  Every Thai or Khmer person uses a 24-hour clock with seven days of the week and twelve months of the year.  It would be archaic and, at this point unthinkable, for each nation to try to have its own separate numbering system.  No one in their right mind would think of trying to conduct international business in any other system.  No matter what language someone speaks, they can look at the written Arabic numbers and know exactly what quantities are being represented.

This drastic change in the spread of an international symbol for numbers occurred quite rapidly, within only one century.  With mathematics leading the way, humanity is moving toward a more comprehensive means of communication.  Globalization has now proceeded to the point that similar ways of thinking need to be applied to language in the 21st century as happened with numbers in the 20th century.

However, the need to make a sensible international language has met much resistance.  The way that communication in written and spoken form is conducted in the world today presents many problems of communication.  Many nations, chief among them China and Japan, have writing systems based on characters of meaning rather than an alphabet.  Southeast Asian peoples like Cambodians, Lao, Thai, Burmese, and the Dai of Yunnan in southern China fiercely retain their ancient alphabets, even though none of those forms of writing are indigenous to Southeast Asia.  They were adaptations of writing systems adopted from India. South Asians have adopted the Roman alphabet for writings in English, but still retain indigenous writing systems in Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, and other native languages. Arabic speakers, Armenians, Central Asians, Koreans, Ethiopians, Hebrews and other peoples each continue to use their own unique writing systems.

In contrast, when Indonesia became independent in 1947, its leader Sukarno wisely gathered a group of linguists together to come up with a national language.  The linguists decided to abandon the dominant Javanese language (which had its own difficult South Asian alphabet) and to write the language they invented (Bahasa Indonesia, which is based on Malay) by using the Roman alphabet.  This was one of the most significant long term results of the Indonesian Revolution.  Generations of Indonesians since then have benefited from the wisdom of President Sukarno and the team of linguists.  Those who argue for the preservation of languages have a point, and the teaching of multiple languages should continue, but the world today desperately needs a global language.

2. THE ADVANTAGES OF ENGLISH AS A MEANS OF GLOBAL COMMUNICATION

In the mid-20th century Russians hoped that their language would become dominant. During the Cold War era, the Soviet Union attempted to expand its own Cyrillic alphabet, but fortunately for the linguistic happiness of future generations that cumbersome writing system and grammatically complex language was abandoned with the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union.  Since the end of the Cold War English has definitely become the world’s most widely spoken language. In recent decades English has continued to expand in use among people all around the world.  Because of the economic and political dominance of the United States and Great Britain, English is by far the world’s most important language in terms of international business and trade, intellectual activity, technological and scientific advances, social trends, and popular culture. The combined resources of the descendents of the English, and the English-speaking former British colonies (most notably the United States, India, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria, and many other countries in Africa, as well as many islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific) are tremendous. In addition, the European Union has virtually adopted English as its major means of communication, to the point that every educated European speaks English.

International public discourse is increasingly in English. Like it or not, English is the power language of our times.  English is the closest thing the world has ever had to a global lingua franca. It is the language with the most potential for global communication.

In some respects this development is a positive step for humanity, because English language offers significant advantages over other languages. English has an especially wide and precise vocabulary, and a fairly straightforward way of speaking.  It is part of the huge Indo-European language family that stretches from Iceland to India, with about half of its vocabulary being derived from Germanic languages and about half from Romance languages.  This history of shared vocabulary with the two main branches of European languages makes English easier to learn by speakers of both of those large language branches.

Throughout its history English has adapted new words freely from other languages, and it continues this openness toward adoption of new vocabulary today. Scientists today continually make up new terms using Greek and Latin prefixes like “macro-, micro-, poly-, para-, maxi-, mini-.”

Besides its adaptibility and flexibility, English is not plagued by wide use of tones, which make learning more difficult. For example, a tonal language like mandarin Chinese uses the word “mai” to mean either “mother” or “horse” depending on the tone in which “mai” is said. In Thai, which has five tones (high, low, rising, falling, middle) the word “mai” means “mother” and the word for horse is “ma.” But besides meaning “horse,” the word “ma” can also mean “dog,” or “come,” depending on the tone.  Though context can help discern the meaning of those words, in Thai the word “gai” can confusingly mean either “nearby” or “far away” depending on the tone with which the word is spoken!  Tonal languages are much more difficult for outsiders to learn.

English also has the advantage of being a basically egalitarian language. English does not require different language use according to a person’s gender and socio-economic class. Unlike Javanese and other status-conscious languages, an English learner does not have to memorize several different forms of the pronoun “you” when addressing a person depending on their gender or their class relation. In Thai, the word for “you” is “khun,” except when people address a close relative or intimate friend they say “Theu.” And in addition, when addressing members of the royal family or government officials one must remember to use “Thanh” which is another word for “you. ” Multiple pronouns make language learning more difficult.

English is easier to learn because it lacks much gender terminology. English has one word that can be learned by all persons, as opposed to a gendered language like Thai, where men and women use different words.  For example, a Thai man refers to himself as “Phom” (masculine I) while a Thai woman refers to herself as “Chan” (feminine I). A Thai man says “Sawadee kop” in greeting but a Thai woman says “Sawadee ka”.  The idea of gendering words is obsolete and obstructionist in the modern world, and makes a language more difficult to learn.  Hopefully in the future Spanish, Deutsch and Thai will abandon these archaic holdovers from the past.

English is the only European language that does not have different adjectives depending on gender. For example, English learners have to remember only one word for “tall” whether applied to a man or a woman, whereas Spanish learners have to remember “alto” for all masculine-identified words and “alta” for all feminine-identified words that relate to tallness. Every learner of Espanol has to learn not only the name of all nouns, but must try to remember which nouns are preceded by “La” (feminine article) or “El” (masculine article), just as every learner of Deutsch needs to remember “die” (feminine article) or “das” (masculine article). Learners of English only have to remember one article “the” which can be used for all nouns.

English also has the advantage of being fairly clear in its verb conjugation for regular verbs. English has regularized endings like “ed” to indicate past tense.  Imagine how difficult it is to learn a language where every verb tense has a different word, similar to the English verb “to be” where the learner has to remember “I am, you are, he is, she is, it is, we are, you are, they are, I was, you were, he was, she was, it was, we were, you were, they were, I will be… I will have been…”  It is bad enough that English has five forms of a verb like the infinitive “to ride” (ride, rides, rode, riding, ridden), but in Deutsch the verb “reiten” has sixteen forms!

Despite the advantages of the English language, however, there is a huge problem with English as an international means of communication. English spelling, grammar, and word forms are extremely inconsistent. The reason for this inconsistency is due to the history of the language itself, and the fact that it was written down so long ago. Beginning with Briton and Celtic influences, Old English is most closely related to Icelandic, Frisian (spoken by the inhabitants of the Dutch province of Friesland), Dutch, Flemish, and German. Old English shares with German and Scandinavian languages basic root words like many numbers, kinship terms (“father, mother, brother, wife, husband”), environmental terms and colors (“land, tree, summer, winter, year, house, white, gray, green”), verbs (“come, bring, get, meet, hear, see, sit, stand, think, welcome”) and prepositions (“over, under”).

Many words are spelled exactly the same way in German and English, such as:

adapter, advent, agent, alarm, alphabet, altar, analog, angst, arm, artist, aspirin, automat, baby, badminton, ball, band, bank, bitter, blitzkrieg, blind, blizzard, block,  boxer, bratwurst, bus, butter, dachshund, deli, diesel, ersatz, explosion, Fahrenheit, fair, fallen, familiar, fan, farm, fest, film, filter, final, finger, fit, flak, flirt, frankfurter, front, gang, gas, glitz, glitzy, hamburger, hammer, hamster, hand, horn, hunger, idiot, information, intelligent, job, joker, jury, kaput, ketchup, kindergarten, kidnapper, killer,  kitsch, kitschy, knockwurst, leitmotiv, link, live, liverwurst, masochism, mild, mineral, minus, mission, motor, Neandertal, nest, nickel, organization, out, pager, puzzle, report, room, rucksack, sand, sauerkraut, sex, sheriff, show, song, strudel, student, vegetation, verb, volt, vulgar, waltz, wanderlust, wienerschnitzel, zeitgeist, zinc.

These are only a few of the long list of identical words shared by these two close languages. Many other words would be spelled exactly the same, except that German does not have so many needless silent letters as English. So, for example, figure is spelled “figur,” favorite is spelled “favorit” and exclusive is spelled “exklusiv.” German uses a “k” consistently, while English sometimes uses a “k” and sometimes a “c” as in words like: “accord (akkord), act (akt) alcohol (alkohol), calendar (kalender), candidate (kandidat), card (karte), compass (compass), complex (komplex), credit (kredit), doctor (doktor), local (lokal), objective (objektiv), obscure (obskur).” And German consistently uses a “d” for similar words while English inconsistently uses either “th” or “t” as in “feather (feder), leather (leder), thank (danke), north (nord).”

There are even more words in English that came from German, but are spelled slightly differently, such as: “address (addresse), all (alle), apple (apfel), blue (blau), boat (boot), book (buch), drink (trinken), dumb (dumm), effective (efectiv), eight (acht), end (ende), English (Englisch), father (Vater), flesh (fleisch), folk (volk), friend (freund), good (gut), house (haus), ice (eis), ideology (ideologie), mother (mutter), new (neu), nine (neun), sit (sitzen), son (sohn), word (wort).”

When the Romans expanded their empire to England two thousand years ago they brought in many Latin words (like “genius, gratis, bona fide, terror, camera, ad nauseam”) that were absorbed into English. Latin words form the basis of many English words such as: hour (hora), action (actio), discipline (disciplina), directly (directus), advocate (advocatus), examine (examina), grade (gradus), grammar (gramaracticus), plant (plantare), primary (primus), quarter (quarta), sixth (sexta), republica (republic), study (studere), university (universitas), wine (vinum).

Not only traditional Latin appeared, but after the later Roman emperors embraced Christianity Catholic missionaries brought more Latin words as well as Hebrew religious words like “amen, sabbath, jubilee, hallelujah, manna, messiah.”

Centuries after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the language spoken in England was influenced by Scandinavian languages due to Viking incursions. Scandinavian words include nouns like “law, band, birth, bloom, crook, dirt, egg, knife, loan, race, score, seat, skill, sky, thrift, window.” Scandinavian verbs include “call, clip, die, droop, drown, gasp, rid, scare, snub, thrive, thrust, want,” and adjectives include “awkward, flat, happy, ill, loose, rotten, rugged, tight, ugly, weak, wrong.”

In every century of its history English has absorbed words from those nationalities with which it had most contact. Dutch seafaring traders in the Renaissance era contributed words like “deck, dock, buoy, leak, pump, skipper, yacht, boss, cookie, snoop, waffle.” From Italians, English adopted musical terms, literary terms, and architectural terms, including words like “crescendo, stanza, canto, extravaganza, cupola, grotto, pedestal, piazza, corridor,” terms like “molasses, veranda, marmalade” from the Portuguese, and from Spaniards words like “galleon, guerrilla, mosquito, cannibal, cigar, canyon, lasso, pueblo, rodeo, bonanza.”

And then, with the Norman Conquest, French made a “coup” and entered the English language in a “grand style.”  Modern English is heavily influenced by French vocabulary, especially with political terms like “president, representative, legislature, congress, parliament, constitution,” and concepts like “liberty, amity, enmity, affection.”  French cooking is duly recognized by the adoption of words like “boil, broil, cuisine, fry, grill, roast, toast, dinner, supper, scent,” and French fashion is noted by words like “tailor, fabric, draper, haberdasher, painter, mode, elegant, salon, wine, drama, ballet.”  English travelers in France brought back such words as “souvenir, tour, hotel.” The French, unfortunately, brought with them their writing style that includes many silent letters, for “example” in everything from “omelette”  and “cigarette” to “milieau,” in their “entourage” of spellings.

English did not just limit its incorporation of foreign words to other Indo-European languages. From Arab traders in the Mediterranean, Englishmen absorbed words like “zero, algebra, almanac, arsenal, assassin, zenith, syrup, sugar,” and from Turks they adopted “turban, coffee, caviar.”  From Persia, words like “paradise, bazaar, caravan, chess, shawl” came into English usage, and as British ships sailed to the corners of the globe Englishmen also brought back new words like “taboo, tattoo, ukulele, hula” from the Pacific Islanders, “kangaroo, boomerang” from aboriginal Australians, “chimpanzee, voodoo, gumbo” from Africans, “kayak, igloo, totem” from Native Canadians, “hurricane, hammock, tobacco, maize, tomato, iguana” from Native Caribbeans, “bamboo, ketchup, amuck, orangutan, compound” from Malaysians, and “tycoon, samurai, tsunami” from Japanese.

By the modern era the end result for the English language was not so much a “bonanza” (Spanish) of “multi-lingualism” (Latin), but instead a “de facto”[Latin] “bizarre impasse” [French], a “nuanced debacle” [French] of confusion “en masse” [French], with a “catalogue” (French) of “words” (German) that have a “penchant” [French] for many inconsistencies and silent letters that are “impediments” [Latin] to youth (German) and adults alike.  The “status quo” [Latin] in English is hardly a “mardi gras” [French] celebration, but an “absurd” [Latin] and “awkward” (Scandinavian) “crescendo” (Italian) of conflicting sounds, a “marriage” [French] of “convenience” [French] that is a “modus operandi” [Latin] that does not work.  My “critique” [French] is that English is the “persona non grata” [Latin] of languages. It is time for a “change, a rapprochement vis-a-vis reality” [French].

In calling for changing the language I am not suggesting anything new here.  English has been changing drastically for the past two thousand years.  For example, the medieval epic poem “Beowulf”  is almost impossible to read by modern people.  When English people first came to North America, the English language that they spoke is considerably different from the way we spell words today.

English is not static, but is constantly evolving.  Living languages are constantly changing, with new terminology arising from technological invention and from slang.  A number of Pidgin English forms, which draw on other languages as diverse as Polynesian languages and African languages, have emerged in various parts of the world.  More research needs to be done on Pidgin grammatical form, but to the extent that I am familiar with Black English, Caribbean Creole, and Polynesian Pidgin, I have drawn on some of their innovations as the basis for my suggestions in making English grammar more efficient.  As literacy became more common, and more important in business, shortened forms of words became acceptable.  Today, short words like “ad, exam, lab, gym, tech, vet” are listed in dictionaries alongside their longer and more easily misspelled previous forms “advertisement, examination, laboratory, gymnasium, technical, veterinarian.”

The most recent change in English is due to the internet and telephone instant messaging.  When impatient teenagers text message each other on their cell phones, having to punch in letters individually on the keypad is time consuming.  Text messengers have come up with convenient abbreviations to get across their message just as clearly with fewer keystrokes.

“Are” becomes “R” “why” becomes “Y” and “you” becomes “U”.  Apostrophes are dropped, so that “don’t” becomes “dont”  and “can’t” becomes “cant”.  After grading college student papers for over thirty years I have concluded that so many people cannot tell whether to put an apostrophe in “it’s” or “its” that it is a hopeless task to try to educate people about this spelling.

Though spelling teachers bemoan this “deterioration of spelling” in text messaging I think all of this is a good trend.  English spellings have so many useless letters that the language is badly overdue for an overhaul.

4. MY INSPIRATION TO MAKE A SIMPLIFIED FORM OF ENGLISH

I did not recognize the international importance of this need, however, until beginning a research project in Thailand.  In 2006-2007 I took a year sabbatical leave from my university to live in Thailand.  I chose Thailand because of my interest in doing research on Thai Buddhism. I made an arrangement to live at a Buddhist temple in a town in north Thailand.  Whenever I do ethnographic fieldwork, I always try to do something to contribute to the needs of the people I am studying.  Soon after my arrival I realized that, what the Buddhist monks most wanted from me was a chance to improve their English.

I had taught English language before, in 1987 and 1988 while living in Indonesia. The Indonesian language is easy to learn, because it is logical, consistent, and efficient.  In studying Bahasa Indonesia I gained new awareness about how chaotic English is as a language. But when I arrived in Thailand I was presented with a setting in which Thai uses a complex alphabet of Indian origin that has no relationship in the least to the Roman alphabet. Plus, Thai is a tonal language.  My ear has not been trained to recognize the various different tones that Thai people use, and it has been very difficult for me to learn this language.

Not only is it difficult for Westerners to learn Thai, but because of the extreme differences between Thai and European languages, it is equally difficult for Thai people to learn English. The novice monks at the school that is located on the grounds of the temple had been taking English classes every year they had been at that school. But, I was shocked to observe, even those students who were in the upper grades could hardly carry on a basic conversation. And their pronunciation was horrible. They consistently said “yet” when they tried to answer yes to a question, they said “tree” for the number three, and mangled 4 as “fo”, 5 as “fi”, 6 as “sick”, 8 as “H”, and 9 as “ni.” Saying the number twelve was just impossible for them. I would say “good” and they would repeat “goose.” It usually took about forty or fifty repetitions just to get them to hear the difference between those two words. And anytime an “s” sound was at the end of a word it was left off. They would say “I see you in two day” and “I want study English becaw I want a goose job.” The word “house” became pronounced “how” and “rice” became “ri.” I made them say the sentence “His house is nice with ice” which often came to be pronounced “He how e nye wi I.”

I thought these were the dumbest students I had ever seen, but when I later taught at other schools I found the exact same patterns of mistakes. Since then I have taught English in Cambodia, and find many of the same mistakes there. What I later learned is that the places where the Thai and Cambodian students were having most difficulty were precisely the points at which those languages and English were most different. What I learned from this experience is that hearing is cultural.  When they said their words in different tones, I could not tell the difference because as a baby my ear had never been trained by cultural experience to listen for different tones. And, conversely, their ears had never been trained by experience to listen for the sound at the end of a word. When I said “nice” those students actually heard “ni” because their languages do not have the “s” sound at the end. But, for the life of me, I still do not understand why they say “goose” after I have said “good” with heavy emphasis on the “DDDDD” at the end. This happens with a few other words, like when I say I want to drink tea, they repeat “tis.” It is words like that, when I have not made an “s” sound, are the only times I can get them to actually make that sound. Strange but true.

What I have learned in my experiences teaching in many classrooms across Southeast Asia, is that English is extremely difficult for many people around the world to learn. Because of its confusing and inconsistent grammar and spelling, I have come to the conclusion that if English is going to have this predominant role as the prime medium of global communication, it is a necessity for English to change. English must become easier for people to learn to pronounce and to write. My crusade is to begin, with this book, a new stage in the spelling and grammar reform movement for the English language.

Some might say it is more of a revolution that I am mounting rather than a reform, but I will let the reader decide when you see what I am proposing. If we native English speakers are going to expect the rest of the world to adopt our language, the least we can do is to make the language as consistent and easy to learn as possible. The ideas contained in this book are all directed toward that goal.

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WILLIAMS EASY GRAMMAR

5a. THE NEED TO REFORM ENGLISH GRAMMAR
Compared to many other languages, English grammar is fairly easy to learn. For example, English has only two inflected forms of each verb tense, compared to four to six forms in French and Spanish, and even more in Russian. The big problem with English is not the grammar rules per se, though some of them could be easily simplified, but the fact that there are so many exceptions to the rules. The main areas where words are not consistent, and there are irregular forms, is in verb conjugation, plural forms of nouns, possessive forms, comparison, and in prefixes and suffixes. Suggestions will be made in this chapter showing how a few changes to make grammar consistent will result in English becoming much less difficult to learn.

As with spelling, the biggest problem with grammar is lack of consistency. English grammar is so inconsistent that sometimes even grammar books make mistakes!  Many native-speaking Americans make grammar mistakes. The goal of grammar rules should be to facilitate clear and effective communication.  A simplified grammar system is needed to get rid of grammatical inconsistencies (for example, this word, which pluralizes by changing the ending “y” to “ies”).  Today, the world is left with English, this mess of a language, as its main means of international communication. It is time for the language to respond to these realities and change the grammar rules that are inconsistent, and inconsistently applied, rather than just to keep replicating one generation after another of people who have to struggle with grammar problems.

When languages are taught, teachers typically expect the students to adapt to the language. Grammar rules are taught, even when those rules do not make any sense. They are presented in terms that every student must adapt to the existing language. The different approach of this book is that an international language should adapt to the needs of those people who are trying to learn it, by a campaign to simplify the language.

Around the world schoolchildren and adults are struggling to learn English as never before. Because English grammar is so inconsistent, and because there are so many exceptions to grammar rules, both children and adults are tormented in English classes as they struggle to make sense of a senseless amalgam. The difficulty in learning English is compounded by an ineffective means of teaching languages in many countries’ educational systems. In Southeast Asia, government schools continue to emphasize English grammar, despite numerous studies which show that teaching grammar is not an effective strategy to learning a language. Developing skills to build vocabulary and improve pronunciation are much more important for students than learning grammar rules.

The simplifications suggested here are intended not only to benefit non-native speakers of English, but also to benefit future generations of children who now have to struggle for years—as I did—to become proficient in spelling and writing.  English need not be this difficult.  There is a good basis for reform of grammar, by looking at the grammar of other languages and drawing inspiration from those languages to decide methods by which English can be made less complex. I will suggest some examples by drawing on the languages with which I am most familiar (especially Indonesian, Thai, Spanish, and German).

A spelling reform movement exists, but it does not require native speakers to change anything about the way they speak, only the way they write.  Grammar reform, however, asks native speakers to change the words they use and the construction of sentences. These differences make grammar reform less likely to occur. Grammar reform is just as needed as spelling reform, but because grammar reform will likely be more controversial, the two topics are being presented separately. Spelling reform can still take place without grammar reform, even though both together would make English literacy much easier both for the next generation of native English speakers learning to read, as well as for speakers of other languages who want to learn English. This chapter contains suggestions for grammar reform, presented from the most simple and easily accomplished word changes, to more drastic grammatical changes that alter the way sentences are constructed.

HOW CAN GRAMMAR SIMPLIFICATION BE ENACTED?

One option in allowing a gradual implementation of these changes is for spoken English to continue as it is, but native-English-speaking children just learning to read, and learners of English as a second language, could be taught with the new simplified grammar rules. That would allow them more quickly to learn enough English to communicate, and then they could be taught later to recognize verb conjugation and other aspects of the traditional grammar. If print materials in English could be published with the new simplified grammar, so that people can gradually get used to reading in this new way, then even those wedded to the traditional ways would still be able to read the new grammar forms. They would be free to continue writing and speaking in the old ways. Gradually over time, as the new generation matures, people will start speaking more like the words they are reading, and the old grammar inconsistencies can be allowed to fade away. Still, I recognize that gaining acceptance of even the most simple grammatical changes suggested here will be an uphill battle. The most important need will be for the writers of grammar books and dictionaries to accept that these changes are alternatives that are acceptable. That is, people can continue speaking and writing with the old grammar rules, but it will also be acceptable to write and spell in the new reformed way of simplified grammar as well.

Though in my opinion all of these spelling and grammar changes should occur, objections lodged against one particular grammar change should not prevent the other suggested changes from being considered independently and adopted widely.  For a future edition of this work, I will greatly appreciate readers sending me additional ideas for grammar changes, or persuasive arguments critiquing these suggested changes below.  I would especially like to hear from speakers of other languages that I am not familiar with, and from language teachers and linguists, who have other ideas of changes that should be added to this list.

IRREGULAR WORDS

The first principle of grammar reform is to get rid of irregular words.  Consistency should be the goal. Because English has so many irregular words, learners have to waste huge amounts of time just memorizing the exceptions to a rule.  If irregular words were made regular, then learners could learn good English much more quickly and with much more ease. As much as possible, words should conform to the general pattern.

A second level of grammar reform is to go beyond making irregular words regular. The other option is to change the grammar rules themselves so that words are no longer irregular. This chapter offers examples of both kinds of reforms. Rather than just learning a set of grammar rules that can be applied consistently to all words, I also try to simplify the rules so that “regular” or “irregular” categories become meaningless. This is the approach that I take for verbs. Here are the suggestions for grammar reform, in following posts after this one.

 

5b. NEED TO ELIMINATE VERB CONJUGATION

Irregular verbs are the worst offenders in English grammar irregularities, but also the easiest to improve.  In general, past tense is denoted by adding “ed” to the end of the verb.  But there are so many irregular verbs that it is very difficult for learners of English to know when to follow this rule and when a special word is needed.  Imagine that you are a non-native speaker of English, and you are trying to learn which verbs make the past tense by adding “ed” or which verbs have a separate word to mark the past. Or, imagine that you are an English teacher trying to explain to non-native speakers why the verb infinitive form of “be” is divided into several different words: “I am, you are, he/she/it is.  I was, you were, he/she/it was.”  To remind yourself how difficult irregular verbs are for learners of English, take a moment to construct some sentences using irregular verbs in these phrases:

I want to _________  but yesterday I __________
begin – began                         break – broke                          bring – brought
build – built                            buy – bought                           come – came
do – did                                   drink – drank                           eat – ate
find – found                             fly – flew                                 get – got
give – gave                              go – went                                 have – had

keep – kept                              know – knew                           leave – left
make – made                           meet – met                              pay – paid
say – said                                 see – saw                                 sell – sold
send – sent                               speak – spoke                          spend – spent
take – took                               teach – taught                          tell – told
think – thought

One approach to grammar reform would be to make all irregular verbs regular. This would be the result for the most commonly used verbs:

begin – begined                      break – breaked                     bring – bringed
build – builded                       buy – buyed                            come – comed
do – doed                                 drink – drinked                                    eat – eated
find – finded                            fly – flyed                               get – geted
give – gived                             go – goed                                 have – haved

keep – keeped                          know – knowed                       leave – leaved
make – maked                        meet – meeted                                     pay – payed
say – sayed                              see – seed                                sell – selled
send – sended                          speak – speaked                      spend – spended
take – taked                             teach – teached                                    tell – telled
think – thinked

If the writers of dictionaries and grammar books would simply accept these spellings as one of the correct ways to make these common verbs past tense, then many problems of verb conjugation would be solved. In fact, many forms of pidgin language do exactly these forms. That is, pidgin is more consistent and logical than standard English! But when students in school are taught that these logical and consistent words are not “correct,” anyone who uses such words is stigmatized as uneducated and uncouth. A character in a novel might be characterized as a country bumpkin by having them say “I seed with my own eyes what I knowed to be true, and no matter what they teached in the school I thinked this is a good way to talk. I be going to ask dictionary writers to make these word choices acceptable.”

Making all irregular verbs regular, as is done in pidgin, would be an improvement of English, and would make it less difficult to learn. There is, however, an easier approach. This easy way is represented by some verbs that do not change at all between tenses: put, cost, cut, hurt, quit.  Why can’t we do with all verbs what we do with these verbs?

“Put paper here, because last week I put paper here as well.”

“I want to cut some paper, but yesterday I cut my finger.”

“Five packs of paper cost ten dollars, but a year ago they cost only eight dollars.”

“We hurt ourselves when we criticize others, but in past generations people hurt themselves even more. They finally quit criticizing others, and we should quit as well.”

Following this form, the same verb form can be used as the present tense instead of having to remember to say “I want to buy some paper, but yesterday I bought paper.”

ELIMINATE VERB CONJUGATION

Verb conjugation is needlessly complex and difficult to learn, even for regular verbs. Rather than just getting rid of irregular verbs, I propose a more drastic change that is an extremely simple solution to all these problems with verbs. This change is inspired by Bahasa Indonesia. When I first started learning this language, I did not see how Indonesians could communicate without doing verb conjugation. But actually, to my surprise, I found out that it is very easy. For example, the verb “go” in Bahasa Indonesia is “per-gi.” To say “I go” in the present tense, add the word “Saya” for I, it is “Saya pergi.” To say “I went” instead of having to learn a different word “went” for the past tense, Indonesians simply add the word “sudah” which means “in the past,” saying “Saya pergi sudah.” Any verb can be denoted as the past by adding the word “sudah” and any verb can be denoted in the future by adding another word that means “in the future.” Thus, there is no need to conjugate verbs in Bahasa Indonesia. That language is very easy to learn because only one verb name needs to be memorized.

How can this idea be adapted into English? Actually, English already uses the word “will” to indicate future tense. Once someone memorizes the verb “go” it is easy to remember that the future tense is always indicated by saying “I will go.” There is no need to memorize a separate verb form for the future of “go,” since it is the same verb form as the present tense of “go.” That logical pattern, though, does not apply to the past tense. A student must memorize a separate word “went” to use as the past tense of “go.” In English, past tense is the difficult part for students to remember.

What I propose is that English should use a word to indicate the past, in the exact same way that it uses “will” to indicate the future. After thinking about many different alternatives, I decided that the best word to use for the past is “did.”  While it may be a bit awkward for native English speakers to adjust to this slight change of meaning, the answer to the question “Did you go to Toronto?” could be answered “Yes, I did go to Toronto” instead of saying “Yes, I went to Toronto.” By using “did” with all verbs, the use of a separate word for the past can be avoided as easily as the future by saying “I will go to Toronto.”

By this means, verb conjugation becomes unnecessary. Even remembering to add the ending “ed” to a regular verb is not easy for students of English. “I want to go” for the past tense must add “I wanted to go” which is different. But for irregular verbs, the memorization required is much more difficult.  Whether a verb is regular or irregular, the most commonly used verbs adapt well to this plan. Instead of trying to remember all the following different words [inserted in brackets below] that mark the past tense of every one of these verbs, using the word “did” for the following actions makes English much more easy to learn:

PRESENT                           PAST TENSE                                FUTURE TENSE

I do                                      I did                                                 I will do.

I say                                     I did say  [said]                                I will say

I see                                     I did see  [saw]                                 I will see

I get                                      I did get  [got]                                 I will get

I think                                   I did think  [thought]                      I will think

I have                                   I did have  [had]                              I will have

I give                                    I did give  [gave]                            I will give

I look                                    I did look   [looked]                       I will look

I call                                     I did call  [called]                         I will call

I move                                  I did move  [moved]                    I will move

I find                                     I did find   [found]                       I will find

I change                                I did change [changed]                I will change

I know                                  I did know  [knew]                      I will know

I tell                                      I did tell  [told]                            I will tell

I run                                      I did run  [ran]                             I will run

I learn                                    I did learn  [learned]                   I will learn

I study                                   I did study [studied]                   I will study

I go                                       I did go  [went]                           I will go

I come                                   I did come  [came]                     I will come

By using these simple two words “did” and “will” verb conjugation can be completely eliminated. Then, it does not matter whether a verb is regular or irregular, because the verb itself never changes! And, as an added advantage, every one of these verbs’ actions can be negated by simply inserting the word “not” before the verb.

There are only two verbs where this solution sounds awkward. With the verb “can” it does not sound right to say, “I can. I did can, I will can.” The solution for this verb is simply to say, “I can, I did, I will,” and there is no need to say a past or future form of the word “can.” The other verb that does not work well with this plan is the verb “be.” It is awkward to say “I be, I did be, I will be.” The main way the verb “be” is used is in the present continuous tense, as in “I am going, you are learning, he is following, she is coming, we are saying, they are thinking.” None of these words are necessary, and these useless words should be dropped as archaic. For example, “I am going now” or “I will be going now” should be simply “I go.” “I am going soon” should be “I go soon” or “I will go soon”. “I will be going” should be “I will go.” For ongoing past to present actions (present continuous tense), as in “By May I will have been here for one year” should be “By May I will be here for one year”  And “They were going to go but did not go yet” should be “They did intend to go but did not go yet.”

When I first started learning Bahasa Indonesia, I was amazed to learn that in that language there is no verb “to be.” “How can a language operate without such a basic verb?” I thought to myself at first. But I was soon to understand that it is extremely easy for a language to exist without “am, is, are, was, were, be.” For example, instead of saying “Is he there?” an Indonesian speaker would simply say “He there?”

It is bad enough that English has so many verb tenses, but present styles of speaking make them much more complicated than they need to be. If just a few words (“did, will, now, until now, to the present”) are accepted as grammatically correct and become the standard way of speaking, then English verb use can be vastly simplified. Below are all the different verb tenses that are used in English, and the simple ways that they can be changed to avoid verb conjugation.

1.  Present Simple Tense requires no changes,

as in:  I go to work at 8:30am.

Where do you prefer to do your reading?

They don’t take the Metro at night, but I think it is very safe.

I often arrive late at meetings.

2.  Present Continuous Tense (happening at this time)

Use the word “now”

I am working on my homework now.

Should be           I work on my homework now.

I am not using that equipment.

Should be          I do not use that equipment now.

What are you doing?

Should be   What do you do now?

3.  Present Perfect Tense (happening up to the present)

Use the words “yet” or “until now” or “to the present.”

I haven’t taken a shower.

Should be       I do not take a shower yet.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam?

Should be        Did you go to Amsterdam yet?     Yes I did./  No I did not.

They have worked for their uncle for ten years.

Should be       They work for their uncle for ten years, until now.

I have never been late once on this payment.

Should be    I not late once on this payment, to the present.

4.  Present Perfect Continuous Tense (happening up to the present, same as present perfect)

Use the words “until now”

How long have you been waiting here?

Should be    How long do you wait here, until now?

We have been riding on the bus for four hours.

Should be   We ride on the bus for four hours, until now.

5.  Past Simple Tense (happened at a specific time in the past)

Use “did” as in : “Where did you go on vacation?”  [No change]

I relocated to Los Angeles in 1974.

Should be    I did relocate to Los Angeles in 1974.

We didn’t want to go to the concert, but felt pressured by his boss.

Should be    We didn’t want to go to the concert, but did feel pressure by his boss.

6.  Past Continuous Tense (is happening at a precise moment in the past)

Use “did” and “before” or “when”

What were you doing when they knocked on the door?

Should be   What did you do before they knock on the door?  [OR they did knock]

I was working on my homework when you called.

Should be     I did work on my homework when you call.  [OR you did call]

7.  Past Perfect Tense (an action that finishes before another action in the past)

Use “did” though the second “did” is optional, depending on the specific sentence.

Had you invested your money wisely before you bought the car?

Should be     Did you invest your money wisely before you did buy the car?

She hadn’t spoken two sentences before he rudely interrupted her.

Should be   She did not speak two sentences before he did rudely interrupt her.

8.  Past Perfect Continuous Tense (about the duration of an activity that happened in the past)

Use “did” though the second “did” is optional, depending on the specific sentence.

I had not been sleeping long when you called.

Should be  I did not sleep long when you did call. [OR  before your call]

They had been waiting for over an hour before Susan finally arrived.

Should be   They did wait for over an hour before Susan finally did arrive.

9.  Future Tense

Use “will” plus infinitive verb, instead of “going to” plus gerund [verb—ing ]

I will go get some soup for lunch.  I think it will rain tomorrow.   (no change)

They are going to waste their time in looking for me.

Should be   They will waste their time to look for me.

Who are you going to consult while studying?

Should be   Who will you go to consult when you study?

10.  Future Continuous Tense

Use “will” or “do”

I will be playing my guitar at 8pm at the coffeehouse.

Should be    I will play my guitar at 8pm at the coffeehouse.

What will you be doing when I come?

Should be   What do you do when I come?   OR   What will you do before I come?

11.  Future Perfect Tense (happening that will have been done in the future)

Use “will” or “hope to” or “be able to”

What will you have accomplished by the time you have completed your degree?

Should be    What will you accomplish by the time you will complete your degree?

OR     What do you hope to accomplish by the time you complete your degree?

I’m afraid I won’t have finished studying by the time of the test.

Should be       I am afraid I wont finish my study by the time of the test.

OR      Im afraid I wont be able to finish my study by the time of the test.

ELIMINATE USE OF VERBS WITH  GERUNDS

When two verbs are used together, the second verb is in the infinitive form, as in:

“She promised to help me.  We need to leave right away.  He decided to bet all his cash.”

But sometimes, with some verbs, the gerund form (–ing) is used instead of the infinitive, as in: “We go jogging every morning. I can’t stand driving in heavy traffic. I don’t mind calling to wake you. I suggest you should be enjoying your free time. He quit smoking last year. We discussed ending our relationship. I enjoy dancing every weekend.”

There is no grammar rule which governs which words use the infinitive and which use the gerund, and so this is another case of English being more difficult than it needs to be. The only way a learner of English can know the correct word to use is by rote memorization. As with other grammar inconsistencies, I suggest eliminating the use of gerunds, so that all verbs should use the infinitive as most verbs already do. Eliminating all the irregular words and the exceptions to the rules will make English much more easy to master. Therefore, the above sentences should be revised to read: : “We go to jog every morning. I can’t stand to drive in heavy traffic. I don’t mind to call to wake you. I suggest you should enjoy your free time. He quit to smoke last year. We did discuss to end our relationship. I enjoy to dance every weekend  OR  I like to dance every weekend.”

In short, there is absolutely no reason to add a gerund to the end of a verb. Get rid of it, stop it. Start teaching that this is an archaic form of speaking that is no longer grammatically correct [which should be: Start to teach that this is an archaic form to speak that is no longer grammatically correct]. It is as simple as that.

If just these two grammatical changes are made, to use “did” and “will” instead of conjugating verbs, and to eliminate gerunds, English will become immeasurably easier for both native speakers and for students of English as a second language. If teachers of English will teach these forms of verb use, their students will be able to express themselves clearly much more quickly than if they get bogged down in verb conjugation and gerunds.

5c. NEED TO MAKE WORDS CONSISTENT

CONSISTENT USE OF “UN” TO DENOTE OPPOSITES

English can also be made much easier to learn by simply changing all words to the most common form used for that kind of word. For example, to make an opposite meaning, English usually adds the two letters “un” to the beginning of a word, as in “true / untrue,  friendly / unfriendly, desirable / undesirable, comfortable / uncomfortable, educated / uneducated, intelligent / unintelligent.”  That is a very efficient means of communicating opposites, and if all English words followed that pattern it would be extremely easy. But in current English usage some words denote opposites by adding the prefix “im” or “in.” Why is an unequal status called inequality?  Why is the opposite of “proper” spelled as “improper,” or the opposite of “consistent” spelled as “inconsistent”? There are many “unconsistencies” in English!

It is ridiculously difficult for English learners to figure out when to use “un,” “im,” or “in.”  This grammar problem is easily solved by changing all “in” and “im” opposite words so that all opposites are denoted by the standard “un” prefix.  Thus, new words to use include: “unconsistent, unconvenient, unaccurate, uncomplete, uncorrect, uneffective, unmature, unmoral, unpartial, unpatient, unperfect, unpermanent, unpenetrable, unpolite, unpossible, unpersonal.”

All kinds of prefixes and suffixes should be spelled consistently so that learners of English do not have to waste time trying to remember which way to spell a prefix or suffix of similar words.

CONSISTENT USE OF “AT” TO DENOTE LOCATION IN TIME AND SPACE

When noting time, English usage usually uses “at” to precede the stated time, as with “at nine o’clock, at 11:45a.m. at night”  but the inconsistent word “in” is used for “in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, in January, in 2008, in a couple of weeks, in a few days,” and still another word “on” is used for days: “on Monday, on Wednesdays, on June 27th.” To be consistent, all references to time should be said with “at” or the universally recognized symbol @ that is used for email. So we should say “the lights turn on @ night and turn off @ morning, beginning @7:30p.m., but only @ Monday to Friday.”

Likewise, “at” is used with spaces (at work, at home, at the bus stop, at the theater, at the crosswalk)  but “in” or “on” are sometimes used (in the garden, in a river, on an island, on the table, on the ceiling, on the floor, on the sidewalk, on the left side).  Again, to be consistent, “at” should be used for all locations of time and space, unless a very specific meaning is meant by “in” (inside or in the middle), “on” (on top of), “beside”(next to) or “under” (underneath). Correct use should be “I will stand @ the sidewalk as I wait @ the bus stop. While I stay @ the island, I jog @ morning. The children sit in the car, but the keys sit on the roof.  I did leave the book on the table. It is @ the left side.”

Conventional grammar uses “to” to denote movement from one place to another, as in “I went to school, she went to the office, and he went to the shopping mall.”  But an exception is to delete “to” when saying “I went home.”  These inconsistencies and exceptions are confusing to learners of English, so it is better to use “at” for all cases: “I want to go @ school, after that I will go @ work @ my office, and then I will go @ the shopping mall. At the evening I will go @ home.”

There is no logical reason why “at” cannot be used consistently for all time and space references, and it will only take some time for older speakers of English to get used to these changes.  Again, the savings for future generations will outweigh the minor inconvenience for people who have been taught the old inefficient grammar forms.

CONSISTENT USE OF “SOME”

Another difficulty for people learning English is trying to tell whether to use “some” or “any.” In general, “some” is used. But for negative sentences or questions, “any” is sometimes used, as in “I have some friends in Chicago, but I do not have any friends in Seattle. Do you have any water? Could I have some water?  Do you know anything about her? She doesn’t have anywhere to live now.” Because trying to understand when to use “some” or “any” is so difficult for learners of English, it is best to follow the general suggestion to make the dominant word apply to all cases. Accordingly, the word “any” should be deleted, and “some” used in all cases. The above sentences should read: “I have some friends in Chicago, but I do not have some friends in Seattle. Do you have some water? Could I have some water?  Do you know something about her? She doesn’t have somewhere to live now.” Though this substitution makes for a slightly awkward feeling or slight change of meaning for native speakers, it will make the learning of English much less difficult for non-native speakers.

CONSISTENT COMPARATIVE AND SUPERLATIVE WORDS

To note comparisons, English has very efficient words “more” or “less” as comparative and “most” or “least” as superlative. For example, “Beijing is more expensive than Bangkok, but Stockholm is most expensive. Beijing is less expensive than Stockholm, but Bangkok is least expensive.” But, as in many areas of grammar, there are inconsistent exceptions to these forms. English grammar recognizes additional comparative and superlative forms that use “er” or “ier”  and “est” or “iest” as in “She is hot now, but she is hotter when she goes into the kitchen, and she is hottest when she goes outside into the sun.”  But if the word ends in “y” then it is changed to “i” as in: “He is happy now, but he is happier when he is listening to music, and he is happiest when he is dancing.” But some words change entirely, such as “good, better, best” and “bad, worse, worst.” In addition, the word “the” is sometimes placed before the superlative form.

All these rules and exceptions are confusing, and easily mistaken for another kind of word ending.  Except for one and two syllable words, present English grammar does not use these additions. To simplify the language, these “er, ier, est, iest” endings should be discontinued for all words, so that “more” or “less” and “most” or  “least” are used consistently.  Correct use should be:

She is hot now, but she is more hot in the kitchen, and most hot when she goes into the sun.”  “He is happy now, but less happy when worrying about finances, and least happy when contemplating death.” “We feel good, but we feel more good when we are singing, and most good when meditating.”  “They are never very kind, but they are even less kind when harassing others, and least kind when engaging in violence.”  Consistency is the goal, making English more easy to learn. It will be the most good language for world communication if these changes are made and most bad if not made.

5d. NEED TO ELIMINATE PLURALS AND APOSTROPHES

ELIMINATE PLURAL FORMS OF NOUNS

English generally denotes more than one thing by adding an “s” to the end.  But sometimes “es” or “ies” is used instead. And sometimes “s” is added to the end of the third person pronoun (for example, “he cuts, she jogs, it forces”).  This is a major problem for learners of English. There is so much use of the letter “s” at the end of English words that it is difficult to know which use of this letter is being used, and when to use which form (ie: toward or towards; beside or besides).  The simplified English grammar rule is that “s” should not be used at the end of a word unless the root word itself ends with a “s” sound like “hiss”.

Because it is difficult for many people to remember when to use “s, es, ies, z,” or other irregular plurals, the easiest solution is not make any change in a word because there is more than one.  There are many words that grammar theorists call “uncountable nouns,” in which there is no change from single to plural.  We do not add an “s” to multiples of words like information, wood, water, cheese, sheep, deer, understanding, equipment.  It is very difficult for learners of English to try to understand why different kinds of informations, woods, equipments, etc., is not considered correct speech.  If it is correct to say, “I want to retrieve my suitcases, so I can eat the sardines inside” or ask “Do you want some apples,” why don’t we also say “I want to retrieve my luggages, so I can drink the waters inside” or ask “Do you want some advices?”

These exceptions prompt a thinking person to ask why it is necessary to change plurals in any words.  Furthermore, sometimes an “s” is added, sometimes an “es,” and sometimes the word is changed altogether.  Why is it necessary for clear communication in measurement to say one meter but two meters, one inch but two inches, one foot but two feet?  How can an English learner know when to add an “s,” when to add an “es,” or when to change the word altogether?  To simplify this problem, any number more than one should be denoted by the context (“Do you want one book, two book or three book?,  I have many shirt and pant in my closet.  There are twelve inch in foot, and one hundred centimeter in meter, but only three foot in yard.  Each person has on average four person as grandparent.”).  If this rule makes a number unclear, then for clarification words like “all, many, group, some, few” should be added before or after the noun (ie: “Among Americans, children have the least amount of liberty” should be  “Among all American, child group have the least amount of liberty”).

ELIMINATE APOSTROPHES

The possessive form is confusing to English learners because sometimes an apostrophe is used and sometimes it is not, sometimes the apostrophe is before the “s” and other times after the “s,” and “s, es, ies” are inconsistently used.  People get very confused about where to place the apostrophe in words like aviary’s / aviaries’  children’s / childrens’  people’s / peoples’ Many words end in the letter “s” or even “ss,” making possession even more confusing. Do you say “Ms. Ross’ car” or “ “Ms. Ross’s car?”  In addition, simplified grammar does not even need to use  apostrophes in commonly accepted word contractions like “don’t, can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, isn’t,” which should be spelled simply as “dont, kant, wont, shouldnt, isnt” These words are already being written like this, without apostrophe, in text messaging. There is no need for an apostrophe, since these words are recognized as their own meaning. Those grammar purists who insist that use of apostrophe is required in order to defend “correct” English are making an argument based on a notion that languages do not change, which is just not true.

Apostrophes are confusing and unnecessary.  A better way to show possession, in a more simplified way and without having to use an apostrophe, is by using the capitalized letter “Z”  at the end of a word, without an apostrophe.  “This is JeanZ book, and PatZ ruler, that I found at the teacherZ meeting.  Characteristic of many personZ speech is grammar inconsistency.”  In the new spellings to be proposed in the next chapter, only a few nouns end in the letter z, and no common words end in a double z, so it is not confusing to add a second z to these words to show possession.  Similarly, for proper names that end in the letter z an additional capital Z can be added to show possession: “Mr. MarkowitzZ hat” means the hat belonging to Mr. Markowitz.

5e. NEED TO SIMPLIFY PRONOUNS

ELIMINATE GENDERED PRONOUNS       HE    SHE    IT

Thus far, the grammar changes that have been proposed are rather moderate. Even if it might sound a little strange to a native speaker for someone to say “unconsistent” rather than “inconsistent,” or “I did buy this yesterday” rather than “I bought this yesterday,” or to indicate possessive by a capital “Z” rather than an apostrophe, these changes are still recognizable and understandable to anyone who knows English. Beyond these kinds of moderate changes, there are other grammar reforms which involve more drastic difference in the way English is spoken. Some people may agree to the moderate changes but not the more drastic ones, and any change by itself can be made without making all of the changes. It is my considered opinion that all of the grammar changes should be made, but grammar reform can go forward without complete agreement on all of the suggested changes in this chapter.

If people will be a little more flexible, and have a little more tolerance for change, English can be even more simplified by making a few drastic changes. One of the biggest problems that students encounter in learning English is to know which pronoun to use. By cutting down on pronoun choice, a great improvement can be made. English pronoun use is not as difficult to learn as many other languages; some languages make distinct words according to the speaker’s class or gender, or according to the class or gender of the subject being discussed. In general, English and many other languages get along fine without making these distinctions.  English has a class-neutral and a gender-neutral vocabulary, with one major exception. First person pronouns (I, we), second person pronoun (you), and third person plural pronoun (they) are all used without regard to gender.  But there is a major inconsistency in third person singular pronouns (he, she, it) which are gendered.  Forcing every person to be referred to as either “he” or “she” is discriminatory to androgynous or transgendered people who do not wish to conform to either masculine or feminine standards.  And denoting non-human species by a separate “it” category promotes a disrespectful attitude toward animals.  For these reasons, as well as for simplicity in language use, the most simple solution for English is to eliminate the words “he, she, it.” In place of those words, it is very easy to substitute the word “they” for a singular as well as a plural third person. This change is consistent with the use of the word “you,” which can refer either to a single person or more than one person.  We do not need to expect learners of English to have to remember “he/him/his, she/her/hers, it, its/its”  What a mess!  When referring to a third person or persons, or animals, “they” is quite sufficient.

Enacting this reform will have the added advantage of eliminating the different verb form for third person singular.  For example, in current grammar it is difficult for English learners to remember to say “I have, you have, he has, she has, it has, we have, you have, they have,”  “I go, you go, he goes, she goes, it goes, we go, you go, they go” or “I expect, you expect, she expects, it expects, he expects, we expect, you expect, they expect.”  With this reform, everyone can use the same verb form “I have, you have, they have, we have,”  “I go, you go, they go, we go” or “I expect, you expect, they expect, we expect.”

ELIMINATE OBJECT FORM OF PRONOUNS

Beside the above, pronouns that are not necessary and are complex to remember should also be eliminated.  In my teaching I have found that English learners find it very difficult to remember when to use subject or object forms of pronouns.  The easiest solution is that the complex number of pronouns and possessives “I/me/my, you/your, he/him/his, she/her/hers, it/its, we/us/our, you/your/yours, they/them/their” should be reduced to simply “I, you, they, we.” All pronouns should be consistent, in the way “you” can be both subject and object. “You want to go with me / us / them” and “I  / we / they want to go with you” the word “you” is consistent but “I / me, we / us, and they / them” are not. Why should “I” change to “me” and “we” change to “us” and “they” change to “them” when “you” works just fine without changing?  Context can denote subject or object., as in “Do you want to go with I by car?  They go with we to see movie. You go with they to meet father.” This is, of course, a more drastic change in the way of speaking than many people would feel comfortable with, but if these changes can be implemented future generations of English speakers will be very grateful to inherit a simpler language to learn.

ELIMINATE POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS

It is also simple to eliminate the possessive pronouns “my/mine, your/yours, his, her/hers, its, our, their”  by using capital Z at the end of subject-object pronouns, consistent with all other possession of words.  The most simple and consistent way to denote pronoun possession is by using the new words “IZ, youZ, theyZ, weZ”.  For example, “Do you want to go with I to IZ house in youZ car?  They go with we to see theyZ and  weZ favorite movie.  You go with they to meet IZ father. Dont judge a book by theyZ cover.” This more drastic change will be more disturbing to some people, but once they learn it, future generations will benefit from the simplicity. For third person plural, used in sentences like “Is JohnZ football helmet really theyZ?” to distinguish if this is the helmet of John or of other people referenced by “theyz” it would be easy to clarify the exact meaning by writing: “Is JohnZ football helmet really Johnz?”

STOP USING ITS / IT’S

Especially troublesome for learners of English is the pronoun “its,” because it is so often confused with “it’s,” the contraction for “it is.” Again, rather than continue to torment generations of learners, it is better to eliminate this troublesome word altogether. This is easily done by the use of “they” to cover any animate or inanimate object (including animals as well as both masculine or feminine human beings).  For example, for either one dog or several dogs, instead of saying “Is this its dogfood?” or “Is this their dogfood?” it is better to say “Is this theyZ dogfood?” Eliminating the possessive pronoun “its” has this added advantage of ending the confusion that so many people, including native speakers, have concerning when to use “its” and “it’s”.  Henceforth, “its” should be used only as the shortened form of “it is” but without any apostrophe. But if the verb “to be” is eliminated, then even that use of its will be gone.

5f. NEED TO CHANGE ARTICLES / READING EXERCISES

ELIMINATE ARTICLES  A / AN / THE

When talking about a specific object in English, an article precedes the name.  Whether to use “a” or “an,” and when to use “the” is a source of major confusion for learners of English. Though some linguists will object, the easiest solution is simply to eliminate these articles.  Many languages, like Japanese or Indonesian, get along just fine without such articles.  So, for example, “The book is on the shelf and a piece of paper is beside an elegant bed next to the window” would be literally translated in Japanese or Indonesian as: “Book on shelf and piece of paper beside elegant bed next to window.”  The reformed way of communication is just as clear without the articles.  If a word is not necessary for clear communication, why is it used? If necessary for clarification, other articles may be used like “this, that, all, some, many, few, every” so that “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” should be “Apple every day keep doctor away.”  If I want to distinguish a movie that I saw with which the listener is not familiar, from the specific movie the listener and I have been discussing previously, I would say: “Movie I see last week very good, but this movie excellent.”  or  “… but movie you and I discuss excellent.”

If English would make these changes, by eliminating verb conjugation, and strive for consistency in all prefixes and suffixes, and all other grammar forms, get rid of gendered pronouns and apostrophes, stop adding “s” for plural noun, and stop using “a, an, the, be, am, is, are,” just these changes alone would make English a much easier language to learn than at present. Those who are inclined to resist changes should think about two things: (1) The greater ease by which their future descendants can learn English when they go to school, and (2) by making English easier for foreigners to learn, that will promote more people around the world learning English, and will make it easier for all of us to communicate. If we want the world to learn our language, then it is up to us to make some compromises so that our language is easier for others to learn.   In my view, all of these changes should be made, but each one could be made independently if resistance or inertia to the more drastic changes prevent their implementation. Some improvement is better than no changes at all.

READING EXERCISES

To give a concrete example of these changes in grammar rules in action, the following paragraphs are presented, first with traditional grammar and second with the changes in grammar suggested in this chapter. In order to clarify the differences, only grammar changes are made here, and spelling changes are not made except for deleting plural “s” and adding a capital Z to replace apostrophe “s” for possession. Notice how easy it is to cover all the complex verb conjugation tenses with only a few words like “did,” “will,” and “until now.” Notice also how awkward the traditional pronoun use is, especially with the name of a person like “Pat,” who could be either male or female. Begin with the old grammar forms in this paragraph:

Pat has always traveled [present perfect] a lot. He or she was born [ simple past (passive] in Canada, but his or her parents had met [ past perfect] in Bangkok after his or her father had been living [ past perfect continuous] there for two years. They met [ simple past] one day while both of them were reading [ past continuous] their email at an internet shop in the evening.

NEW GRAMMAR:

Pat did alway travel much. They born at Canada, but they parent did meet at Bangkok after they father did live there for two year. PatZ mother and father did meet one day while both of they go to read theyZ email at internet shop at evening.

Now, try to read a longer paragraph, which is deliberately written with many confusing references to pronoun use, that is presented here in the old forms of grammar:

Pat’s father, who is Canadian, fell in love with the beautiful Thai woman on the day he met her. Pat’s mother and her family liked the handsome Canadian better than the other three men she had dated before. They soon became best friends, and without any regrets still today feel closest to each other. After they impatiently waited a year apart, Pat’s mother came to Canada and they got married. After another two years her family lost their house and they didn’t have anywhere to live, so they all came to Canada and started working in Pat’s father’s grocery store. Over the years they all became very close, and Pat grew up in the kindest family. For Pat, the worst part of his or her job is that it is impossible for him or her to be with them often.

NEW GRAMMAR:

PatZ father, who Canadian, did fall in love with beautiful Thai woman at day they did meet. PatZ mother and theyZ family did like handsome Canadian more good than other three man they did date before. They soon did become most good friend, and with no regret still today feel most close to each other. After they unpatiently wait a year apart, PatZ mother did come to Canada and they did get marry. After another two year PatZ motherZ family did lose theyZ house and they didnt have somewhere to live, so they all did come to Canada and did start to work in PatZ fatherZ grocery store. Over many year they all did become very close, and Pat did grow up in most kind family. For Pat, most bad part of PatZ job is that it unpossible for Pat to visit with they often.

Notice that this paragraph, with its many confusing pronoun references to “they” (which could mean to Pat, to either of his or her parents, or to his or her mother’s family), may require sometimes referring to a name in order to distinguish which “they” (being used here for both singular and plural third person) is meant. Notice most of all that this paragraph was written without any verb conjugation, or without using any forms of the verb “be, am, is, are, was, were, been.” If you can understand this paragraph you will have quickly adjusted to the changes in grammar called for in this chapter. Before reading the traditional version of the next paragraphs, try seeing if you can understand the new version of the paragraphs by remembering the changes suggested in this chapter. Here is the sample:

Pat live at Los Angeles now, but visit theyZ two parent and four grandparent at Canada for past few week, until now. Pat really enjoy to live at Los Angeles, but they most happy when they can come to visit they parent at least three time during year. Even though sometime unconvenient, Pat do not want something to interfere with theyZ visit to theyZ family, so Pat still like to see they often. Someone can tell they alway most close family.

Did you understand it? If you did, congratulations; you are now a communicator in simplified English.  If not, here is the same paragraph written in the old grammar:

Pat lives [simple present] in Los Angeles now, but has been visiting [present perfect continuous] his parents and four grandparents in Canada for the past few weeks. He really enjoys [simple present] living in Los Angeles, but he is happiest [simple present ] coming to visit his parents at least three times a year. Even though it is sometimes inconvenient, Pat doesn’t want anything to interfere with his visits to his family, so he still likes to see them often. Anyone can tell they have always been the closest family.

5g. NEED TO MAKE NUMBERS CONSISTENT

CONSISTENCY IN NUMBERS

The above changes are designed to make English as consistent as possible. This reform is especially needed for the words used for numbers, which are some of the most important words to learn in a language. Changes in the names of numbers will probably generate more resistance than respelling and grammar changes, yet these changes would make daily living so much easier for people all around the world.

I have learned so much about the problems of the English language by trying to teach Thai students how to speak.  In Thai, the numbers for one to ten (“sip”) are unique, just as in English.  But in Thai, the word for eleven is “sip et” (ten one) for twelve is “sip song” (ten two), and so on consistently to “sip gau” (ten nine).  When I have tried teaching Thai students the numbers in English, the use of the first number 1 to 9 plus “teen” represents the next sequence and multiples of ten become “ty.”  Thus, six becomes sixteen and sixty, and so on though nineteen and ninety.  But, Thai kids cannot figure out why three does not become “threeteen” and “threety,’ and why five does not become “fiveteen” and “fivety”.

Having grown up as an English speaker, such a logical consistency would never have occurred to me before coming to Thailand.  The Thai words for numbers are much more consistent, efficient, and easy to learn than English. Learners of English have to remember the first ten numbers, as do learners of Thai, but in addition English speakers have to remember the irregular words eleven, twelve, thirteen, and fifteen.  Another problem with numbers is that it is difficult to say and hear the slight difference between “teen” and “ty.”  Since the teens are only used once, and the numbers eleven to fifteen are so inconsistent, I suggest changing the numbers after ten so that they will be treated the same way that numbers after twenty are presently treated in English.

I suggest changing the number 2 to “twen,” which is already associated with two siblings.  Using twen makes number 2 consistent with twenty and also removes confusion with the other words “to” (direction) and “too” (also, excess) that are pronounced the same way as two.  The number 3 three is a difficult word that is often incorrectly pronounced as “tree,” so I suggest changing it to “thr” to be consistent with third and thirty. Number five should be changed to “fif”[rhymes with “if”] to be consistent with fifteen and fifty.

Another problem with numbers is the totally different ordinal words “first, second, third.” From the number four onward, the ordinal name is similar to the cardinal number: fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, etc.  To be consistent, the words “first, second, third” should be eliminated.  In their place, to be consistent with number one, first should be replaced with “oneth.” [rhymes with month]. For number 2 “twen” the ordinal number should be “twenth” instead of “second.” Eliminating the word “second” will have the added advantage of ending confusion about second as a mark of time, as in “sixty seconds in a minute.”

To make English numbers consistent, then, a reformed number system should be changed to become the following [note that additional spelling changes will be made for all words, including these numbers, but at this point I am merely introducing the concept of making English ordinal numbers consistently spelled with “th” at the end. If ordinal numbers one, two, three are changed, then ordinal numbers forth through tenth remain the same.]

1  one            1st should be changed to 1th “oneth”

2  twen    2nd should be changed to 2th “twenth” while 20 should be changed to  “twenty”

3  thir             3rd should be changed to 3th “thirth” while 30 is “thirty”

4  for              4th remains  “forth”  and 40 is “forty”

5  fif               5th remains “fifth” and 50 is “fifty”

6  six            6th remains “sixth” and 60 is “sixty”

7  seven         7th remains  “seventh” and 70 is “seventy”

8  eight             8th remains  “eighth” and 80 is “eighty”

9  nine           9th remains  “ninth” and 90 is “ninety”

10  ten          10th remains  “tenth”

[to be consistent with all numbers above 20, numbers in the teens should be changed. Because “tenty” is so close in spelling and sound to “twenty” the second “t” is deleted so that numbers 11-19 are pronounced “te-nee”]

11  teny one      11th should be  “teny oneth”

12  teny twen     12th should be  “teny twenth”

13 teny thir          13th should be  “teny thirth”

14 teny for            14th should be “teny forth”

15 teny fif             15th should be “teny fifth”

16 teny six            16th should be “teny sixth”

17 teny seven        17th should be “teny seventh”

18 teny eight          18th should be “teny eighth”

19 teny nine           19th should be “teny ninth”

Such changes in wording will admittedly take some getting used to, for present speakers of English, but this reform will make it so much easier for future generations to learn numbers in English.  This kind of consistency should be applied across the board to related groups of words.

Suggestions and contributions of others to additional types of word groups will be appreciated.

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Why English Spelling is Difficult

6. WHY ENGLISH SPELLING IS SO DIFFICULT

Even more than the inconsistencies of English grammar, the characteristic of English that most holds it back from being an effective means of global communication is its chaotic spelling. English has more spelling inconsistencies than practically any written language in the world today. This chapter is meant to illustrate these problems, and to show why the solution to these problems is the respelling system that I came up with. If you accept that English has bad spelling and simply want to try the Williams respellings, then you may skip this chapter and go to the end where the Williams respelling pronunciation guide is held.

If you are reading this book in English you obviously know enough of the language to be familiar with the way words are spelled, but forget for a moment that you have memorized the way to pronounce the words below. Imagine that you only know the general way that particular letters are pronounced. Now try to figure out how to pronounce these words by the regular pronunciations of those letters strung together in this order:

Circle  [“kirk” + “le” =  kirk’ le ]

Laugh  [“la” + “uh” + “ga” + “ha” =  la uh’ga ha ]

Quotient  [ “quo” + “ti” + “unt” = quo’ ti unt ]

Disguise  [ “dis” + “gah” + “uh” + “is” + “e” =  dis’ gah uh is e  ]

Choir  [ “see” + “ha” + “o” + “ear” = see’ha o ear ]

Weight  [ “wa” + “ei” + “ga” + “ha” + “te” = wa ei ga ha’ te]

Conscience [ “con” + “sci” + “uns” = con’ science ]

Century [ “ken” + “tu” + “ry” = ken tu’ ry ]

Phase  [“pa” + “ha” +”se” = pa ha’ se ]

Neighbor  [“nei” + “ga” + “ha” + “b” + “or” = nei ga’ ha bor ]

dictionary.  [ “dic” + “ti” + “o” + “na” + “ry” = dic ti o’ na ry ]

Imagine a person first trying to learn this language, and trying to figure out a logical pattern to pronunciation.  How do they know that the “w” is silent in “who, whose” but the “h” is silent in “hour”?  Most words with “–tion” at the end, like “nation, condition” are pronounced as “shn” which is crazy enough by itself, but that is very different from the pronunciation of “question” which ends in a “chn” sound.  English has complex spelling rules that will let someone know when adding a single letter to “us” makes “use,” when “are” makes “bare,” when “tub” makes “tube.” And then teachers have to explain which words do not follow the rules. The only way people can learn these exceptions is to memorize them. Who can figure out by logic how a slight difference in spelling makes a very different sound, as with these words:

this / thin     though / through       sugar / suggest

lone / long / lose / loud       study / student      is / island

There are so many inconsistencies that English almost defies logic.  Why does the same sound get spelled so many different ways?  Why is the winner said to have “won” but the first number is spelled “one,” and the nearest star is the “sun” but a male child is a “son”?  Why is “defense” spelled with an “se” ending but “instance” with “ce,” and “heresy” with an “sy” ending but “agency” with “cy?”  How is an English learner expected to know that the exact same sound in the words “fade, grade, invade, jade, made, trade, wade” is spelled differently in the words “aid, laid, paid” but the similar spelling of “said” is not pronounced the same way?  Try to find a pattern in the spelling of the following words that all end with the same sound but have different spellings:

shoe, blue, Jew

me, key, agree, flea, debris

concur, defer, were, stir, purr

assure, detour, amateur, your, you’re

calendar, customer, janitor, massacre

rain, reign, cane, chowmein, campaign, cocaine

pupil, able, several

rule, school, beautiful

week, speak, unique, batik, chic, eke, sheik, shriek

The ultimate inconsistency consists of many words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same, as in:

ate / eight      bear / bare       gray / grey          hay / hey         I / eye

maid / made       their / there / they’re        weigh / way            your/ you’re

Beyond this problem of multiple spellings for similar sounds, there is also the opposite problem that some words that are spelled the same way are pronounced differently.  For example, three words with only one letter difference are pronounced very differently:  comb, tomb, bomb. The word for the hearing organ “ear” is pronounced as “ir”, but by adding the two letters “ly” at the end the pronunciation is changed to “ur” in the word “early.” Consider how difficult it is for people trying to learn how to spell and pronounce words in English when they see sentences like these confusing examples:

1. It is hard for farmers to produce enough produce, but it is equally hard for them to refuse to see much of it as refuse.

2. We must take the lead in reducing the content of lead in paint, or the claims of the invalid will be invalid.

3. The Polish subject had to subject herself to the strong smell of shoe polish before deciding to desert in the desert.

4.  I could not close the door because my clothes were too close to it.

5.  Since you are my intimate friend I will intimate to you that I will not object because the object I wanted to present is not present.

6.  He shed a tear because the bandage had a big tear and was not wound well around the wound.

7.  She wanted to record a record, but because a dove dove into the wind tunnel, they had to wind up their session without recording anything.

Some related words are spelled alike but pronounced differently, as with music (pronounced  myu-zk) / musician (which if English were consistent would be pronounced as myu-zk-e-un, but is actually pronounced myu-zi-shn).  If English were consistent, one who performs music would not be called a musician at all, but should be called a musicter, just as one who sings is a singer, one who acts is an actor, one who directs is a director, and one who writes is a writer.  If these words were spelled the way they sound, and for the sake of consistency, they should all have “r” at the end and be spelled as myuzktr, singr, aktr, direktr, ritr.

In terms of spelling, whether of different sounds spelled the same way or similar sounds spelled differently, English is truly awful!  American and British schoolchildren have to spend years doing rote memorization of all the myriad ways that similar words are spelled.  Spelling tests and spelling bees are major subjects in schools. It takes students many years of study to achieve good spelling. And many people do not succeed at spelling. This lack of success has a terrible impact on literacy levels. A 1998 study sponsored by the National Institute for Literacy, titled “The State of Literacy in America” [at http://nifl.gov online, and reported at http://www.americanliteracy.com online] found that twenty percent of Americans cannot read adequately. That is, one in five adult Americans cannot perform even simple reading-writing tasks, such as reading a children’s book to their child, filling out a job interview form, finding locations on a map, understanding written directions to get to a specific location, or being able to use written instructions to assemble material items.

Dyslexia is diagnosed as a major mental health problem in America and Britain, with many people not being able to read well.

In contrast, in nations like Italy and Spain that have phonetic alphabets, literacy rates are higher and dyslexia is much lower. Yet, schools in these nations spend much less effort to teach reading. Spelling is not even taught as a subject in schools, and the idea of spelling bees is absurd because basically everyone is a good speller. Once people learn the basic rules of pronunciation (for example that the letter “j” is always pronounced as an English “h” sound, and “i” is always pronounced as an English “ee” sound), it is very easy to know how to pronounce a word.

Since I remember quite clearly how difficult spelling was for me to learn in my childhood, I can only begin to imagine how much more difficult it must be for a non-native speaker to learn English. As an anthropologist, I never became much interested in linguistics. All those jargon-filled linguistic terms, like glottal stops and fixated aspirations, rather reminded me of those stressful spelling tests from my youth. Yet, the more I have learned about other languages, and can see how much more simple and consistent they are than English, I am more and more driven by the need to reform English.

Why is English spelling so inconsistent, and so divergent from the regular sound of the alphabet? Part of the reason is due to this language’s history of multiple influences from other languages, on spelling as well as on other aspects of English. But the English language was made even worse in its spelling due to the influence of early publishers of books and pamphlets. Printers in England were paid by the page, and so from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth century it was common for printers to insert extra letters into words for no other purpose than to make words longer and thus to reap more profit. For example, a body pain that had previously been spelled as “ak” became “ache.” The sound of the letter “f” started being spelled as “ph” in some words, even though a word like “philosophy” is still pronounced like the “f” in “fill.” Extra silent letters were added into words like the “s” in island, “b” in crumb and thumb, “g” in foreign and sovereign, “h” in ghost, and “a” in team, head, road, beauty, yearn, roar. These letters did not alter the way the words continued to be spoken, but with other changes in pronunciation over time, the way a word was spelled diverged ever more widely from the way it was spoken.

It is impossible to estimate how much money has been wasted over the centuries, in terms of extra printing costs for all these needlessly added silent letters, and how many trees lost their lives for printing the extra pages. As English spreads around the world, it is an ever expanding tragedy as these same wasteful practices of needless letters are extended globally.

In Italy, in contrast, printers were paid by the amount of time they worked rather than by the page, so there was no financial incentive for Italian printers to add useless letters into words. The Italian language, having evolved mostly from the single source of Latin, is also much more consistent in its spelling than English. When a person who knows Italian looks at a word, it is very easy to know how it is pronounced because each sound is always spelled the same way.  English, in contrast, has an average of fourteen different acceptable ways to spell a particular sound! This means that a simple word, for example “scissors,” might be spelled over a hundred different ways. The only way to learn which of these possible spellings is correct is to memorize the spelling for every single word. So, as a result, English learners have to remember that, for example, the word “beautiful” is spelled this way, as opposed to “buetifl, biutiful, butifel” or any number of  other possibilities.  English learners have to remember that the “oo” sound in the words “too zoo” is spelled differently in the words “you, to, two, view, cue, due, few, jew” even though it is the exact same sound.

This process unnecessarily taxes the brain. The memorization process takes a lot more time than simply learning one spelling for one sound. As a result, children in Italy can learn to read and write much quicker than children in English-speaking nations. Despite the popularity of “Spelling Bee” contests in Britain and America, which do not even exist in Italy because spelling is so easy, both children and adults make many more mistakes in English spelling.

Most alarmingly, English-speaking nations have much higher rates of functional illiteracy and of dyslexia. Economic studies have shown that this impairment in literacy costs the British and American economy many millions of pounds/dollars in lost income due to spelling mistakes. It is not that English-speaking people are less intelligent than Italians. The problem is with the language itself. Studies show that only about forty percent of English words are spelled consistently. Spelling reformers are asking only that English reduce the number of acceptable orthographic options, so that there is always one acceptable way to write one sound, and that each sound should be consistently spelled the same way in all words. This is not a difficult thing to accomplish, as Italian and other alphabetic languages show.

G. Dewey,English Spelling: Roadblock to Reading. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971. Ken Ives, Written Dialects and Spelling Reform New York: American Literacy Council, 1979. James Pitman and John St. John, Alphabets and Reading. London: Pitman Publishing, 1968.  The scholar’s edition of the American Literacy Council, Dictionary of American Spellings. New York: American Literacy Council  provides an excellent analysis of the problems of English spelling.  Good internet sources include Steve Bett’s “English Spelling Reform”  http://victorian.fortunecity.com/vangogh/555/Spell/spel-links.html

Given these multiple problems with spelling in English, there is a strong need to reform English spelling. The Williams Respelling System to be proposed here rests on seven principles:

A. SPELLING SHOULD REFLECT THE SPOKEN FORM RATHER THAN SPEAKING REFLECTING THE WRITTEN FORM

A guiding principle of the Williams respellings is that the spoken form of a language is more important than the written form, and words should be spelled the way they are pronounced. This principle privileges spoken English over written English. There are two reasons why I make this choice.

First, human beings have been speaking much longer than they have been writing. From an anthropological perspective, the time from the origin of modern homo sapiens over 200,000 years ago, to the origins of writing a mere 3,000 years ago, gives the vast majority of time to spoken communication. When writing systems first emerged, only a few professional scribes knew how to write. That remained true through the time of the Roman Empire, the Medieval era, and the Early Modern Period. Only in the nineteenth century did public education systems reach large numbers of people in society, with a goal of teaching the masses to read and write.  Yet this trend occurred in only a few countries. It was only in the late twentieth century that the majority of human beings in the world became literate.

Many people alive in the world today cannot read, and they go through their entire lifetime without ever writing a single word. Even many who were trained to read in school do not like to do so. In both Britain and America, the majority of people find the process of deciphering spelling to be so mentally taxing that in their free time they much prefer to receive information in spoken form rather than by reading. On any given evening, the number of people who are watching television and listening to radio dwarf the number of people who are reading. The contrast between reading / writing and listening / speaking is overwhelming. Humans are the speaking animal!

The recent emergence of reading and writing within such a short time period of human existence means that spoken communication remains the prime means by which human beings communicate.

A second reason for privileging speaking over writing is the theoretical position that writing is a tool which should be an efficient facilitator of spoken communication. The  emphasis of my teaching in Indonesia and Thailand has been to teach people to speak correct and clear pronunciation of English. I realize this is one among several ways to teach a language. In my view writing should reflect speaking rather than the reverse.  With this position, then, the written form should reflect the way people actually speak a language. Spelling is a technological means of accomplishing the purpose of effective communication. Just as with any other technology, spelling needs to be adjusted and improved to accomplish its purpose more effectively. Every technology being used by humanity today changes rapidly, except spelling. If a mechanic tried to repair a car by using only tools that existed a century ago, most people would think them foolish. Yet, people rigidly hold to the tools of written communication—the way words are spelled—that have changed little in the last three centuries! No technology is effective for that long a time. It is time for a change.

B. PRONUNCIATION SHOULD BE BASED ON MIDWESTERN AMERICAN ENGLISH

Following phonetic form, words should be spelled in the way that they are most commonly spoken by contemporary native English speakers. Because accents differ among English speakers worldwide, and thus English pronunciation varies from region to region, it is necessary to choose one pronunciation over others as the basis for spelling. On what basis should such a choice be made?

Some would say that the choice should be the accent of the people living in England itself. England is, after all, the historic home of the language. But the accents of England vary greatly by area and by class, so it becomes a problem to try to choose one of these accents over others. Even British Received Pronunciation, the style of speaking that is common among well educated people in the area around London in southern England, and that is the choice for broadcasters on the BBC television network, has been criticized as elitist and prejudiced against the rural people of England and those who come from working class families. British Received Pronunciation has itself changed from the way English was spoken in past centuries. So the “historic” argument does not hold much weight in terms of a choice for a standard way to spell English for worldwide communication in the 21st century.

Some linguists say that even trying to make a single choice among English accents is prejudicial, and that this is an insurmountable problem facing spelling reformers who want to change the current way of spelling. “If spelling is to reflect pronunciation, whose pronunciation will be privileged over others?” they ask as a rhetorical question to undercut any move toward spelling reform.

I reject that argument. People make choices all the time, and they have to choose one alternative over another. In doing so, there may be things that are lost, but it has to be done if anything is going to be accomplished. If I am starting a construction business, I have to decide which kind of tools I am going to use in my factory: traditional measurements or metric. No matter which choice I make, there will be losses. Each kind of tool has advantages as well as disadvantages. But do I decide on those grounds that this is “an insurmountable problem” and therefore I should not open my factory? No, I make a choice and then proceed. It is no more insurmountable a problem to make a choice for which spelling “tools” to use, than for making a choice of what kind of mechanical tools to use.

On what basis are choices to be made? The 19th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who made many wise statements that were far ahead of his time, suggested that the best basis for making a moral choice is to choose that which will be of greatest benefit to the greatest number.

With a nod to Bentham, I decided to base my respellings on mainstream American English, as represented by an inland northern and Midwestern United States accent. This is not my own accent (which is Southern U.S.), and I chose this accent mainly because it represents the style of English that is actually spoken in everyday conversation by the largest number of speakers who use English as their native language.

I made this choice on the same basis that I would choose metric tools if I were starting a construction business, because metric is the most common type of tool being used in the world today, and any products made with metric tools would have the advantage of being more easily repaired anywhere in the world.

In addition, though, there are advantages to using mainstream American English as the basis for spelling, beyond the fact that it represents the largest number of English speakers of the largest English-speaking nation. Because mainstream American English is less singsong than British English, with a narrower range of pitch, it is more readily intelligible to others and thus easier to learn. For both of these reasons, a choice of general American English seems to be the easiest for the most people to speak and understand this style of pronunciation. It is the greatest good for the greatest number, not only for the specific individuals who want to learn English, but also for humanity in general. Improved spelling will bring about greater global communication, which is vital to human progress in the 21st century. I want the Williams respelling system to become for communication what the invention of metrics has done for measurement. Both metric tools and spelling tools are tools in the literal sense, which with careful design can bring about great advances and progress in human affairs.

C.  SPELLING SHOULD BE CONSISTENT

Words should be spelled consistently.  Thus, all words that sound alike (for example, “ to, two, too; cent, sent, scent; know, no; seen, scene; bury, berrie; be, bee” ) should be spelled alike, and their various meanings can be discerned from the context of the sentence. Conversely, if words are pronounced differently, they should be spelled differently.  For example, both the present and past tenses of the verb “read” are spelled the same way in traditional spelling, even though the past tense is pronounced “red.”  Since the Williams respelling system is based on pronunciation, when using the past tense of this verb it should be spelled just like the color “red.”

No other factor than pronunciation should be used to determine the correct spelling of a word. The Williams respelling system rejects the idea that the history of a word should determine its spelling. If the pronunciation of the word has changed over the last several centuries, it should be spelled in the way that the word is actually pronounced today. I also reject the idea that “related” words (for example, “music” [myu-zk] and “musician” [myu-zi-shun]) should be spelled similarly even though they are pronounced differently. The goal of the Williams respelling system is consistency and ease of learning.

To be consistent, all endings of words like “uncle, apple, animal, conventional” should end in –l  while all endings of words like “leader, author, pleasure” should end in –r and all endings of words like “instance, sentence, appearance and experience” should end in –uns.

D.  EACH LETTER SHOULD HAVE ONLY ONE PRONUNCIATION

To make spelling consistent, each letter should ideally have one and only one pronunciation. This pronunciation should be used in every occasion when that letter appears, and the pronunciation should not change depending on its place in a word or in relation to other letters. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to follow this principle with letters like “a o t” simply because those letters have so many different sounds. But for all the other letters, that have only one or two sounds, having consistent pronunciation for that letter will make the learning process much less difficult. Once people have memorized how a particular letter is pronounced they will be able to look at a word and tell its pronunciation easily. Reading will become much less onerous, and more people will become literate in English.

E.  LETTERS THAT ARE NOT SOUNDED IN A SPOKEN WORD SHOULD BE DELETED

Silent letters that are not needed to communicate the pronunciation of a word should be dropped. This includes unnecessary vowels. The Williams system rejects the spelling rule that a vowel must be contained within every syllable. The minimum number of spelling rules, and the minimum number of letters, should be used to communicate sounds. Whenever there is more than one way to spell a word, the version with the least number of letters will be used. For example, the words “peace” and “piece” can be spelled either “pEs” or “Ps.” The word “Little” can be spelled either “Littul” or “Litl.” In cases like this, the shorter spelling will be used.  This is the reason why the Williams system retains the use of the letters Q and X, which most spelling reformers discard. It is true that the sound of Q can be spelled “kw” and the sound of X can be spelled “eks” but since the Williams system favors fewer letters in a word these letters are retained. While there is no reason for the superfluous “e” in the first syllable of the word “expert”, the letter x is especially useful for this common sound. Thus, “expert” is written “xprt” and “sucks” is written “sux” to be consistent with the other vowel sounds in the similar words “sax, sex, six, sox.”

F.  APOSTROPHES SHOULD BE DELETED

Likewise, besides silent letters, the use of apostrophes in word contractions should also be dropped. Apostrophes are confusing and difficult for learners of English to know when to use an apostrophe or not. Even native speakers find it difficult to distinguish its from it’s, their from there and they’re, and your from you’re. Under the Williams respelling system, because all words that sound alike are spelled alike, these problems and difficulties are eliminated. The various different meanings can be discerned from the context. For common words like “don’t, can’t, we’re, I’m, I’ll, it’s, wouldn’t, shouldn’t,” there is no reason for English learners to have to use an apostrophe. After all these hundreds of years of use, they should be accepted as words in and of themselves.

In addition, to eliminate the need for an apostrophe to show possession (confusingly written as ‘s ‘es s’ with the apostrophe placed sometimes before the letter and sometimes after the letter) the use of a capital “Z” at the end of a word can be used to indicate possession, without having to add an apostrophe. See the discussion in the chapter on simplified grammar for examples like the words JohnZ and teacherZ. The “Z” is pronounced in these nouns because their root ends in what linguists call a “voiced” sound. In contrast, for words that end in a “voiceless” sound, an “S” sound is triggered, as in “the bookS cover is the same color as PatS book, and the topS binding of both books is the same as well.” A linguist would argue that representing possession with a Z for all words is confusing, but for most people—many of whom would not even notice the slight difference in pronunciation between a “Z” sound in JohnZ and an “S” sound in PatS—the consistent use of one letter Z for all possession references would be easier to learn and remember. Since the overriding purpose of the Williams respelling system is to make English easier to learn, the advantage of using one consistent letter to indicate possession outweighs the slight disadvantage.

G. ONLY STANDARD LETTERS OF THE ROMAN ALPHABET SHOULD BE USED IN SPELLING

If apostrophes are confusing to many people, the introduction of unfamiliar new letters and diacritical marks by linguists and spelling reformers becomes even more confusing. The most accurate pronunciation system becomes useless if it is not adopted. In acknowledging this reality, the Williams system rejects the invention of new letters and the kind of strange unfamiliar marks used by linguists and most spelling reformers. The Williams system uses the standard familiar letters of the Roman alphabet, but of necessity due to the lack of enough letters has to use one number (3 which is the IPA symbol for “zh”) and two symbols ( <>  []  ) that are easily made on a keyboard.

This restriction has the major advantage that Williams respellings can be typed easily on any standard typewriter or computer keyboard. The main problem that spelling reformers have faced is that English has more sounds than there are letters in the Roman alphabet. As a consequence, the only way that all these different sounds can be expressed is by putting together the letters in different ways. Because traditional spelling of English does this in so many inconsistent ways, spelling is extremely difficult to master. Spelling reformers have called for letters to be put together in consistent ways so that each syllable is always spelled the same way. But there are still problems with the existing respelling proposals that have been offered. These problems are the basic reason why spelling reform has not been successful in persuading most people to change the way they read and write the English language.

 

8. WHY SPELLING REFORM HAS NOT BEEN SUCCESSFUL

THE HISTORY OF SPELLING REFORM AND THE REASONS FOR ITS FAILURE

In order to understand why the Williams system uses the principles above, and the pronunciation guide suggested below, it is necessary to analyze why spelling reform has not been successful in becoming the standard way of spelling for speakers of English. Other languages have undergone successful spelling reform in recent decades, and have been modernized in their spelling. For example, both Sweden and Germany deleted inconsistent spelling and grammar within their languages, making it much easier for students of those languages to become literate. Studies have shown that, once spelling reform is introduced into the schools and print materials, most people adjust fairly quickly to the improved way of spelling.

CHINA

The world’s most significant spelling reform in the twentieth century was not, literally, spelling reform but character reform. Nevertheless, what occurred in China in the 1950s is a testament to the socio-economic importance of spelling reform. The communist government under Mao Ze dong did some horrible things, but it also made some very good and overdue changes to improve Chinese society. One of Maoism’s most important positive legacies was to reform the complex Chinese traditional way of writing. Maoists’ Marxist perspective, which emphasized class conflict, saw literacy as a tool used by China’s traditional upper class to retain its power. Maoists believed that the Chinese upper class had intentionally kept writing complex so that only the elite would be able to become literate.

Wanting to empower the masses of people, Mao’s government decreed that the intricate strokes needed to write Chinese language characters should be simplified. In 1956, after a group of Chinese linguists had studied the best way to accomplish this goal, the government of China enacted the simplified Chinese literacy program. Instructions were given for the new way to write each common character, and schools began to teach this new simplified version of Chinese. All government documents, including all newspapers in the state-owned press, began to be printed with the new simplified characters. Before long, China successfully changed its way of reading and writing.

As a result of this reform, within the next decade literacy levels jumped tremendously in China. With a more simple and consistent way of writing, many more people were able quickly to learn to read and write. China’s upward trajectory in the world in recent decades is due in no small measure to this writing reform movement. For those naysayers who claim that spelling reform cannot work, China is the preeminent example of the success of spelling reform as the most effective way to promote literacy.

Why hasn’t a similar reform occurred in English-speaking countries? Again, it is a product of the unique history of writing in English.

The way that words in English are spelled today is based mostly on the way words were pronounced in the 15th century. But even then, an early printer named William Caxton, who established a printing press in 1476 in Westminister, advocated spelling reform. Significant changes in pronunciation occurred over the next two centuries, leading to much disagreement in the way literate Englishmen (and they were mostly men, since women in England were denied an education until the 19th century) spelled their language.  This untidiness led Samuel Johnson to compile his Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1755.  Unfortunately, Johnson did not care much about consistency, and he mostly continued to use the old spellings in his massive work. With the publication of an authoritative dictionary the English language lost a major opportunity to modernize spelling.  As printers in England consulted Johnson’s Dictionary for the standard spelling, reform came to a standstill.

The standardization of English spelling prompted calls for spelling reform. For over two hundred and fifty years Johnson’s critics have called for the elimination of silent letters and consistent spelling. Some of the more prominent thinkers who advocated spelling reform included Benjamin Franklin, co-author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and one of the most prominent founders of the United States of America. Franklin was also one of the most prominent intellectuals of the eighteenth century, with interests ranging from the study of electricity to the study of language.

Prompted by the ideas of Franklin, the movement to reform spelling began in North America. In 1783, the very year that the independence of the United States was recognized by the British government, American patriot Noah Webster declared the need for Americans to decide their own standards for the English language. In the euphoria resulting from the improbable victory of the American rebels in establishing their independence, Webster wanted Americans to be culturally independent as well as politically independent.  In 1783 Webster published his first American Spellling Book, which went through many editions and became famous for its blue cover as Webster’s Blue Backed Speller. In 1828 Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language.  He made several changes in the way words were spelled, dropping silent letters so that words like “musick” became “music,” “judgement” became “judgment,” and “traveller” became “traveler.”  He was consistent in removing the superfluous “u” in words like “labour, colour, honour, behaviour.” He criticized the British spelling of words like “theatre centre” and changed them to “theater center” which more closely reflect the actual pronunciations of those words. Other letters were reformed to accord with pronunciation, so that “cheque” became “check,” and “realise” became “realize.”

The changes first suggested in Webster’s Dictionary have been incorporated into American English, and remain today the major difference between American and British spellings.  Noah Webster was the first successful champion of spelling reform in modern English. Unfortunately, by 1828 Webster had become more conservative, and though he kept his reformed spelling of words like “labor, color, honor, behavior,” Webster’s Dictionary did not incorporate some of his more radical early ideas for spelling reform. If he had retained his earlier spellings, Americans today would spell words like “definit, examin, fether” without their silent letters, as the standard way of spelling.

After Webster, though, the same pattern occurred in America that happened in England following the publication of Johnson’s Dictionary.  Printers and literate people in general used Webster as the authoritative source for correct spelling. New ideas for spelling reform were dismissed and soon disappeared from public discourse.

During the times of immense American growth through the tumultuous years of the Civil War, there was little organized interest in spelling reform. In 1876, however, at the end of Reconstruction, a group of reformers founded the Simplified Spelling Board. It eventually evolved into the American Literacy Council (ALC), which remains quite active up to the present. The ALC suggests that a major reason for low literacy rates among Americans is due to inconsistent and complex spelling. They lobby the publishers of dictionaries to include as alternative acceptable spellings simplified words like “nite, thru, donut.” They have staged mock protests of the National Spelling Bee while dressed in honeybee costumes. Though done in lighthearted fun, the ALC sees spelling bees as the glorification of a bad system, with contestants being rewarded for memorizing the most arcane and inconsistently spelled words. “Enuf is enuf” read the protest signs of the ALC protestors.

It was the popular writer Mark Twain who next brought spelling reform to the public eye. In a number of essays and speeches, Twain made fun of the ridiculous inconsistencies in English spelling. Though his writing was humorous, Twain had a most serious purpose in mind. He wanted to extend the approach of Webster to many additional words.

THE INTERNATIONAL PHONETIC ALPHABET  (IPA)

The next impetus for change came not from America but from Europe. Spelling reform began to be discussed in great detail in the 1890s, when an international body of linguists came up with a consistent system to transcribe and describe languages. This alphabet was intended to help linguists learn and record the pronunciation of languages accurately.  They isolated phonemes, or sounds, that exist in numerous languages, and made a graphic symbol for each of these sounds. They applied these symbols consistently to various languages, and came up with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). By using standard symbols the IPA avoids the confusion of a multitude of human writing systems and inconsistent spellings. IPA uses Roman, Greek, and borrows characters from other scripts, along with diacritical marks to show minor distinctions in sounds, and to show nasalization of vowels, stress, tones, and lengths of sounds.

As the foundation for linguistics as a field of study, the IPA was a resounding success. Linguists within the past hundred years have used the IPA to transcribe languages that have never been written down before, and the IPA is used by linguists to compare and analyze languages. Every linguist in the world today is trained in the IPA as the most effective way to communicate in written form.

Linguists have come to a consensus that English has about forty-three sounds. There is slight disagreement about the exact number, depending on whether certain minor sounds are considered as their own unique sound or whether they are so close to another sound as to be undistinguishable.

While the IPA has become an important basis for the emergence of linguistics as an academic discipline, it did not accomplish its founders’ major objective. Those linguists who developed the original version of the IPA hoped that their way of writing would become the new basis for international communication. They wanted every literate person to learn the new symbols, so that people would be reading books and newspapers, writing letters and reports, and doing everyday written communication with the IPA letters. However, its multiple special symbols have proved to be too complex and detailed for the average person to understand. IPA uses a series of diacritical marks, like accent marks, dots above and beside a letter, as well as the invention of new letters, like a backwards “c” and an upside down “e,” to represent a sound. IPA has the significant advantage that each one of these symbols represents a unique sound, and that symbol always sounds the same way. Its disadvantage is that these marks are hard for many people to remember, difficult to read and reproduce in writing, and they are not keys on the standard computer keyboard.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT

Nevertheless, the IPA did have a significant impact on the thinking of Theodore Roosevelt, who became the most powerful advocate of spelling reform in the early 20th century. He was the author of several books, and saw himself as an intellectual as well as political pioneer. When he was President of the United States, from 1901 to 1909, Roosevelt promoted many ideas of reforms that were intended to improve America. Among his concerns, Roosevelt wanted to improve the literacy rates of Americans. He became convinced that the reform of the English language—like other reforms he championed—would help to build a more powerful and influential America.

In 1903 Roosevelt tried to kickstart a spelling reform movement by ordering government printers to start using more rational and consistent spellings when printing official U.S. government documents. Roosevelt specified changes in spelling for 304 words that he considered most badly spelled. For example, his list included “aline” to replace “align.”

If Congress had acted on Roosevelt’s suggestions, and ordered these new spellings to be the legal basis for all public documents, those more rational spellings would have become the standard, and generations of Americans (and now, people throughout the world) would have greatly benefited.  In 1906 Roosevelt’s supporters founded the Simplified Spelling Board, which got off to a great start. They won a major grant from the Carnegie Foundation, and official endorsement by the National Education Association. The board later changed its name to the American Literacy Council. The ALC has done great work over the last century, publishing a dictionary with fonetic spellings and an excellent analysis of the problems of traditional English spelling. [ibid] Despite this good work, though, the United States Congress has never taken any action. Many Congressmen did not see the value of simplifying English spelling, and they did not pass Roosevelt’s spelling reform law. No other American president since Roosevelt has taken an interest in spelling reform.

Why, it must be asked, did the movement for spelling reform have so little success? Why did the International Phonetic Alphabet become only a tool for specialized academic linguists, rather than a new way for everyone to read and write? My analysis is that IPA failed to gain popular support because most people were confused by the multiple marks and strange shapes of the enlarged IPA alphabet. Most people had no idea what a “schwa,” an upside-down “turned e,” or a letter with two dots above it or after it, sounded like. Most people could not even spell IPA words like “diphthong,” much less know what they mean. Rather than try to learn all those strange symbols contained in the IPA code, the mass of the public chose simply to ignore the IPA.

Where the IPA has had the most influence is due to their influence with publishers. IPA marks are used in all standard pronunciation guides in dictionaries and encyclopedias. After the entry of a word in its conventional spelling, a version of the IPA is inserted within parentheses. These respellings provide a good basis for reform of spelling and are a good guide to the way a word is actually said.

The problem with this approach is that the editor of each dictionary has come up with their own variation on the IPA. The currently existing dictionary which is closest to the goal of avoiding unusual symbols is the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. It also has the advantage of being freely available throughout the world on the internet.  See Merriam-Webster Online http://www.m-w.com/ But, unfortunately, even this excellent respelling system uses a double-dot German-like umlaut over the letters  A  and  U  that most English speakers do not understand.

Presented with this confusion of symbols, in which even the experts who write dictionaries cannot agree on the exact symbol to be used for a number of sounds, the public at large has simply chosen to ignore these new spellings.

THE SPELLING SOCIETY, NEW SPELLING:  THE INITIAL TEACHING ALPHABET

With the failure of spelling reform in America, the central locale for spelling reform in the 20th century has been in England. In 1908, a number of spelling reformers in Great Britain founded The Simplified Spelling Society. Though the organization later simplified its own name to The Spelling Society, it has continued to be the leading champion of spelling reform to the present. Its website is http://spellingsociety.org

An early influence on the Spelling Society was a Swede named R. E. Zachrisson who invented a new spelling system in 1930 that he named “Anglic.” In contrast to the IPA emphasis on creating a unique symbol with diacritical marks to represent each sound, Anglic depended on different combinations of letters to make each sound. .” Zachrisson’s respellings got rid of silent letters, and focused on combinations like “ae” as in “maet” (mate), “ee” as in “yeer” (year), “ie” as in “liev” (live), and “oe” as in “boet” (boat), to show long vowels. The basic vowel sounds of the letter “a” for example included:  ae as in mate,  aa  as in father,  au  as in all. He used K for many words spelled with C, th for words like thank, and dh  as in  whether. The problem with Zachrisson’s new spellings is that he was not consistent. He allowed some common words like “is, the, that, this” to continue to be spelled in the conventional way, thus undercutting the effectiveness of his system for new learners. Nevertheless, his focus on combinations of different letters to make standard sounds became the major approach of the “New Spelling” movement.

The most prominent president of The Spelling Society in the 20th century was Sir James Pitman. With the help and input of other members Pitman came up with an alternative to the complex IPA. Eventually Pittman’s “New Spelling” approach resulted in the creation of the Initial Teaching Alphabet (ITA) which was designed to introduce reading and writing to young children. Pitman isolated 44 sounds which he said are the basic phonemes of English.  With less precision than the IPA,  ITA contains 44 letters, using the Roman alphabet (except for the letters Q and X, which have no sound of their own) plus fourteen other letters.  Some of these new letters are combinations of Roman letters that are run together:  ae  au  ie  oe oi  ou  ue  wh .  In addition, ITA includes other letters that are redesigns of a double letter e, an r with a diagonal mark, a backwards Z, a letter that is similar to the number 3, four original designs based loosely on a combination of the letters ch, th, sh, ng, plus two other original designs that have no counterpart in the Roman alphabet.

The ITA is the most successful of any of the spelling reforms since the invention of the original IPA. The ITA has been used successfully as a teaching technique to introduce writing to many children. Several school systems in England and in the United States adopted it in the 1960s. In contrast to the IPA, though, the ITA tries to simplify spelling without using the confusing diacritical marks contained in the IPA.

ITA ELIMINATED CAPITAL LETTERS

The ITA also introduced a new way to simplify English spelling by eliminating the use of capital letters. The inventors of ITA pointed out that learners of English have to memorize four sets of letters: capital upper case letters in both printed and handwritten forms (which are significantly different in the case of the capital letters A, F, G, I, J, and L), as well as lower case letters in both printed and handwritten forms.  To decrease the number of letters that students need to learn, the ITA uses only lower case letters. The only lower case letter that differs significantly between the printed form and the handwritten form is the letter “a”, and ITA uses both of those forms to represent different sounds.  Using only lower case letters makes it much easier for learners of English to remember the letters.

A number of studies have proved that children learn to read and write much faster using the ITA than the traditional alphabet. One of the most important contributions of the ITA is that it shows the lack of necessity for capital letters.

Though the Initial Teaching Alphabet is the most effective system currently existing, it creates its own problems in trying to come up with a way to represent all the sounds of English. ITA presents 44 sounds, and besides using the 26 letters of the lower-case Roman alphabet, it is forced to combine existing letters into one sound, and to invent new letters. A number of prominent respelling systems take this approach, to avoid the difficulties of IPA.

The ITA and its offshoots invent a number of letters, but these have several disadvantages. First, two of the new letters are very similar to two letters “u” written together, as “uu” which in handwritten form can be confused easily with the letter “w”. Second, one of the new letters looks like the Arabic numeral 3. This use of 3 is confusing to young people who are also learning to read numbers at the same time.

The third disadvantage of the new letters is that they are not included on a standard typewriter or computer keyboard. That fault alone makes the ITA, and many other similar respelling systems, practically useless in the computer age. It is true that computers can be recoded to produce such letters, but in the meantime until such use becomes prominent this fault prevents most people from going ahead and starting to use the new spellings right now. This fault, by itself, prevents the easy spread of ITA and other respellings, just as much as the upside-down “turned e” and backwards “c” of the IPA limit its practical usefulness for the majority of people. Most people are not going to request a retooling of their computer keyboard as professional linguists do. For spelling reform to become a reality, reformers must recognize and accommodate this reality.

Besides inventing new letters, ITA also deals with the issue of more sounds in English than there are letters in the Roman alphabet, by combining certain letters. To represent different and unique sounds, ITA places an “e” after all vowels, a “u” after the letters “a” and “o,” an “i” after “o”, and an “h” after the letters “c s t.” Though ITA is better and more consistent than many other respelling systems, its use of these combined letters make for other disadvantages.

First, as with the ITA invented letters, the two combined letters cannot be connected when typing on the standard keyboard. Second, it is complex for learners to have to remember that “e” combines with “a e i o u” while “u” is only combined with “a” and “o,” “i” only with “o,” and “h” with “c s t.”

Third, the combined letters have a different pronunciation than the same two letters pronounced separately. Thus, according to the ITA pronunciation guide:

ae   is pronounced as in the name of the letter A, and not as  “a” plus “e” are pronounced.

ee   is pronounced as in the name of the letter E, and not as  “e” plus “e”  are pronounced.

ie   is pronounced as in the name of the letter I (eye) and not as “I” plus “e” are pronounced.

oe  is pronounced as in the name of the letter o (owe) and not as “o” plus “e” are pronounced.

ue  is pronounced as in the name of the letter u (unit use) and not as “u” plus “e” are pronounced.

ch  is pronounced as in “chair, chicken” is not as “c” plus “h” are pronounced.

sh  is pronounced as in  “she, should,”  is not as  “s” plus “h” are pronounced.

th (with a backwards t) is pronounced as in  “the, this”  is not as “t” plus “h” are pronounced.

th  is pronounced as in  “three, thank, thin” is not as “t” plus “h” are pronounced.

With this ITA system, a reader typing on a standard keyboard cannot be sure if they are supposed to pronounce the word spelled “foe” as “fa” plus “ah” and “eh” = “fa-ah-eh” or as “f” plus “owe” = “foe.” A reader cannot be certain that the word “lie” is not pronounced “la” plus “i” [as in the word “ill”] and “eh” = “la-i-eh” or as “l” plus “eye” = “lie.” The first two letters of the word “chair” might be pronounced “ch” or separately as “kah” plus “ha.” These are only a few examples of the confusion that results from trying to use combined letters for different sounds.

Several other writing systems have been designed by linguists over the years, probably the best of which are Axel Wijk “Regularized English” (1959).  The most famous advocate of spelling reform was the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, who when he died in 1950 left a bequest in his will to promote spelling reform.  The Shaw alphabet that resulted from this collaborative effort has 48 letters. All these other respelling systems present different problems than ITA. For example, the system “e-speec” at its website http://e-speec.com perceptively criticizes those respelling systems that invent new letters and use complex and confusing diacritical marks. But e-speec runs up against the same reality as the IPA, ITA, and other spelling systems: there are more sounds in English than there are letters in the Roman alphabet. While e-speec has a laudable goal in wanting to use only standard letters of the Roman alphabet, the way in which e-speec deals with this conundrum is flawed.

The solution that e-speec proposes requires many instructions. Its website contains a complex set of spelling rules. The following quote gives an idea of what e-speec demands of its practicioners:

“Long vowels a, i, o and u are indicated by an ‘e’ on the end of the word. But long ‘e’ is spelt ‘ee.’ At the end of a word, long accented ‘e’ is spelt ‘ee’; long ‘a’ is spelt ‘ay’. Short unaccented ‘i’ at the end of a word is spelt ‘y’…. A consonant is doubled when the preceding vowel is short, and when the syllable is stressed…. In cases where the preceding vowel is long (except for ‘ee’), this fact is indicated by adding ‘e’ before a final ‘i.”

In its long and confusing list of rules, e-speec has a discussion of the difference between long vowels and short vowels. E-speec changes the pronunciation of a vowel by adding an “e” to the end of the word. For example, “mat” is pronounced “ma” plus “t”, but “mate” is pronounced “may” plus “t.” This can be very confusing for a non-native speaker, who in looking at an unfamiliar word spelled m-a-t-e cannot be sure if it is  pronounced in one syllable or in two syllables as “ma” plus “te” = “ma-te.” With these rules, e-speec violates the principle of the IPA that a symbol should be pronounced the same all the time, irrespective of its location within a word.

Given all these problems inherent in the respelling systems that have been offered, many linguists have reacted against even the attempt to reform spelling. The consensus among linguists today is that drastic reform is impracticable, undesirable, and unlikely.  There are three main objections to spelling reform:

  1. There is not one criterion for correct pronunciation because several standards exist in the English-speaking world.
  2. Pronunciation is not static, but continues to change with each new generation.
  3. If spelling were changed drastically, all the books in English in the world’s public and private libraries would become inaccessible to readers without special study.
  4. People do not like to use the new alphabets that have been offered.

In the following posts I will introduce the Williams Respelling System, which is designed in light of these critiques. In my opinion, the main reason spelling reform has not caught on with the general public is because people do not like to use the new alphabets that have been presented.  The major objection is that the average person does not have a clue how to pronounce an upside down letter “e” or any of the other strange symbols that have been presented.  Linguists, who are familiar with the IPA and other systems of notation of phonemes, seem to forget that all the world does not share their specialized knowledge.

Spelling reform has been stymied because each existing respelling system has weaknesses as well as strengths. IPA has the advantage of offering a system by which every sound has its own unique symbol, but the disadvantage of requiring people to learn many unfamiliar symbols. I am convinced that the main reason spelling reform efforts in the past have not been accepted is because linguists tried to introduce these strange symbols that are familiar to them. But most native English speakers have no frame of reference to identify these markings.  Presented with various squiggles and diacritical marks that they cannot read, people simply ignore the spelling reformers and continue on with the old antiquated traditional spellings despite their disadvantages.

In addition, IPA symbols—as well as the new and combined letters introduced by ITA—are not contained on standard typewriter or computer keyboards and thus are not easily utilized. The ITA and similar systems have the advantage of not using confusing diacritical marks, but the disadvantage of introducing strange letters that are themselves confusing.

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WILLIAMS EASY SPELLING

WILLIAMS RESPELLING SYSTEM                          UPDATED     January 18, 2011

This respelling system is based on the 55 basic sounds of English. One letter consistently symbolizes one–and only one–sound. The lower case letter is used for the most common sound of that letter. The capitalized form of a letter is pronounced like the name of the letter is pronounced. However, some capital letters have a name that is not often used  in English (ex.  F, H, Q , W) and in these cases that capital form of the letter is used for another sound that is more common. Since the letters A, O, T , U  have more than two sounds, other unused letters and symbols must be used to denote these multiple sounds, like H for “ah,” o for “oo,”  and Q for “uuh.” Pay particular attention to memorizing these, and also the number 3 for “zh” and symbols & for “an,”   ^ for “au,” and  [] for “ow.” These symbols are used because of their ease of use on keyboards. If you can memorize the symbol for these 55 sounds (16 vowels and 39 consonants), you can read and write anything in English.

LETTER   WHAT SOUND     EXAMPLES   (new spelling])     SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS

16  VOWEL SOUNDS

A   (cap)   the letter “A”      able (Abl), ate/eight (At  8 ), pain (pAn), aim (Am )

a   “a”     apple ( apl ), at ( at ), add ( ad ) , air ( ar ), lack ( Lak )

&  “an”   and/an ( an  & ),  band ( b& ), can ( c& ), fan ( f& ), hand ( h& ), land ( l&),                                  man ( m& ), pan ( p& ), ran ( r& ), sand ( s& ), tan ( t& ), van ( v& )

H   “ah”   ha ( hH ), ah-ha ( HhH ), follow ( fHLo ), not ( nHt ), of ( Hv ),  ox ( Hx)

^ (cap above #6)   “au”        law (  L^  ), awful ( ^fl  ),  ought ( ^t), fought ( f^t )

U (cap)  the letter U         you (U), union (Unyn), united (UnItd), view ( vU )

u     the schwa sound of “uh”     up, ago (ugo), sofa (sofu), America (umerika ), above (ubv),                       again (ugn), buck ( buk ), luck ( Luk ), flood ( flud ), unwise ( unYz )

Q (cap)  “uuh”  book ( bQk ), look ( LQk ), foot (fQt), could (kQd), would (wQd)

O  (cap) the letter “O”     open ( OpN ), owe ( O ), sew ( sO ), note ( nOt )                                          Note:   OE       oil ( OEl ), boy ( bOE ), loyal ( LOEyl )

o  (lower case) “o, oo, ew, u”  to/too/two ( to  2 ), who ( ho ), zoo ( zo ), blue (blo ), jew (jo)

[]  (type two bracket marks to make a rectangle)  “au”  “ow”                                                                      out ( []t ), house ( h[]s ), hour ( []er ), allow ( uL[] ) ouch ( []c)

E  (cap)   the letter “E”     me ( mE ), key ( kE ), feet ( fEt ), here ( hEr )

e            “eh”                ever ( evr ), said ( sed ), bed, met, elevator ( elevAter)

I   (cap)  the letter “I”       I / eye ( I ), ice ( Is ), rye ( rI ), by ( bI ), like ( LIk )

i          “ih”          is ( iz ), ill ( il ),  lick (Lik )                                                                                          Note:  “ing”     laughing ( Lafing ), running ( runing ), English ( inggLiS )

39  CONSONANT  SOUNDS

B   (cap) the letter “B”     begin [BgN], bead [Bd]. baby [bAB], beer [Br]

b    “buh”             bed, by (bI) , best

C   (cap) the letter “C”    see/sea ( C ),  season ( CzN ),  precede ( prECd )

c  “ch” or “tch”   chin ( cN ), chair ( car ), chicken ( ckN ), catch ( kac ), which (Wc).                         [NOTE:  all other words with “c”  are now  with   “k”  or “ s” ]

D   (cap) the letter “D”     deform ( DfOrm ), deal ( Dl ), dear ( Dr ), deed (Dd )

d       “duh”                      did ( did ), dawn ( d^N ), do ( do )

f        “f” and “ph”          fun (fun), philosophy ( fiLsufE ) and “gh” in laugh ( laf )

G (cap)  the letter “G”       geewhiz ( GWiz ),  Jesus ( Gzs )

g     “guh”                go, ghost (gos), give (giv), grant (grnt)

h         “h”                 hat (hat), heaven (hvN), who (ho)

J  (cap) the letter “J”      jaybird  ( Jburd ), Jason ( Jsn )

j    “j” and “ge”     jam ( jam ), gem (jem), juice ( jos ), soldier ( sOljr ), edge ( ej)

K  (cap)  the letter “K”    Kay ( K ), OK ( OK )

k    “k” and “c”  keep (kEp), chorus (kOrus), conquer (kHnkur ), pack (pak )

L  (cap)  “lah”      line ( LIn ), early ( erLE ), follow ( fHLo ), elephant ( eLefnt )

l   “ul”   able (Abl), girl (gerl), circle (serkl), little (Litl), handful (hanfl), full ( fl )

M (cap)  the letter “M”       imitate ( MatAt ), impossible (MpHsibl )

m    “maeh”            man,   men ( mN ), move ( muv ), must

N (cap)  the letter “N”    in ( N ), pen / pin  ( pN), invite ( NvIt ), again ( ugN )

n      “nuh”         never,  null ( nul ), naughty ( n^tE )

P (cap)  the letter “P”     peace (Ps), peanut ( Pnut ), peak ( Pk ), piano (PanO )

p (lower case)   “puh”          papa, pride ( prId ), pure ( pUr )

q     “qu”   quite ( qIt  ), quit ( qit ), quiet  ( qIet)

R  (cap)  the letter “R”   are ( R ), bar ( bR ), car ( kR ), far ( fR ), garden ( gRdN )

r    “ruh”       rug (rug), red (red), regular (regULer)

NOTE: at the end of a sound, “r” combined with a vowel produces these:

“ar”     air ( ar ), bear/bare ( bar ), care ( kar ), fair ( far ), wear (war )

“er”      were ( wer ), turn ( tern ), girl ( gerl ), worm ( werm ), actor ( akter )

“Er”      ear ( Er ), beer ( bEr ), clear ( kLEr ), fear ( fEr ), here ( hEr )

“Ir”       ire ( Ir ), attire ( atIr ), fire ( fIr), liar ( LIr ), wire ( wIr)

“Or”     for ( fOr 4), order ( Order ), core ( kOr ), door ( dOr ), pour/poor ( pOr )

“[]r”  as in “our / hour ( []r ), cower ( k[]r ), flower (fL[]r), power ( p[]r)

“Ur”  as in “your ( Ur ), cure ( kUr ), fewer ( fUr ), sure ( SUr )

S  (cap)  “sh”  show ( SO ), she ( SE ), shoe ( So ), sure ( SUr ), ocean ( OSN ), action ( akSN )

s      “s”  so (sO ), scene ( sEn ), hiss ( his ), circle ( serkl ), city ( sitE ),  rice ( rIs )                                    [Note: form plural at the end of a word by “s” as in “pictures” ( pkcurs ).               But if the word ends in “s” sound then “iz” is added at the end, as in “pieces” ( Psiz ).

t   “tuh”        tea ( tE ), take ( tAk ), told ( tOld ), turn ( tern )

T (cap)   “th”     the ( T )(TE), then ( TN ), this (Tis) , thus ( Ts ), that ( Tat ),                                          though ( TO ), other ( uTr )

TT (two capital T) “th”      thank ( TTank ), thin ( TTN ), three ( TTrE ),                                                                 through ( TTro ),  both ( bOTT )

V (cap)   ‘vee’     veer ( VR ),  envy ( NV )

v (lowercase)   “vuh”      view (vU),  very (verE)

W   (cap)    “wh”         what ( Wt ), where ( Wer ), when ( WN )

w      “w”   one/won ( wuN 1 ),  winter ( wNter ), weather ( weTr ), went (wNt)

x     the letter “x” and “ks”     sucks ( sux), six ( six ), experience ( xprEuns )

Y   (cap)  the letter “Y”        wide ( Yd ), wife ( Yf ), why ( WY ), white ( WYt )

y    “yuh”                   yes, yet, yellow ( yeLo ), yonder ( yunder )

z     “z”    zoo ( zo ), zone ( zOn ), zero ( zErO ), his (hiz),  Chinese ( cInEz ), clothes  ( kLOz ), whose ( hoz ), these ( TEz ), those ( TOz ), excuse ( xkUz )

3   (number 3)   “zh”        pleasure ( pLe3r ), measure ( me3r ), vision ( vi3N)

Z  (capitalized)  Possessive is noted by a capitalized Z at the end, without an apostrophe.  “This is JohnZ book, and PatZ ruler, that I found at the teacherZ meeting.”  Though there are slight differences in sounds of possessives, for the sake of consistency all possessives should be noted by a capitalized Z at the end of the word.

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How to Implement Easy English

HOW TO IMPLEMENT EASY ENGLISH IN THE 21st CENTURY

When mechanical typewriters were first invented in the 188Os, the keys of vowels were arranged on the center row.  As typists gained skill, their rapid finger movements caused the center keys to jam.  Typewriter manufacturers rearranged the keyboard, spreading the most commonly used letters more widely apart, so that the keys would be less likely to run into each other.  In other words, for practical mechanical reasons the keyboard was arranged to slow down typing.  The center row of letters contains less commonly used letters like F G J K as well as less used punctuation marks like the colon and apostrophe.  The typist has to reach to another row for more heavily used keys like E T N and the period, comma, and question mark.

This rearrangement made perfect practical sense when typewriters were first invented.  However, once computers were invented, there was no longer any logical reason to try to slow down typists’ rapid finger movements.  An inventor named Dvorak tabulated the most commonly used letters and arranged them on the center row.  Because English words often alternate vowels and consonants, the Dvorak Keyboard Layout places the vowels A O E  U I on the left side of the center row, and the most commonly used consonants  D H T N S on the right side of the center row.  With the Dvorak arrangement most people can type faster and more easily.

Dvorak Societies have been organized to promote the use of this more efficient system, and many studies have been done to demonstrate the newer layout’s superiority. Yet despite the fact that the Dvorak Keyboard Layout has proved to be much more efficient, decades after the invention of computers most keyboards are still being manufactured with the same old layout that was designed for manual typewriters.  Both Windows and Macintosh computer programs allow users to reprogram the keyboard arrangements of their personal computers to rearrange the keys in accord with the Dvorak layout, but only a tiny number of computer users actually make this change.

Why hasn’t this superior keyboard layout been implemented?  The answer is inertia.  Because most people who type were taught on old manual typewriters, even when computers no longer required the old slower arrangement of keys it was difficult to get people to change. New generations of typists learned on the old inefficient keyboards because that was the pattern used by existing keyboards.

This same pattern of inertia is the biggest roadblock to spelling reform and grammar reform.  Even people who acknowledge that a more rational and consistent spelling would be easier for both learners of English and for the next generation of native speaking children, might be reluctant to enact this change because of fear that others will not go along with the changes.  Learners of English will be reluctant to invest time and money on an experimental spelling system that they may never be able to use in a practical sense, and opposed to learning grammar that does not follow the standard current practice.  Parents may be reluctant to teach their children this new spelling knowing that most of what their children need to read is written in the old spellings and the old grammatical forms.

Any kind of change prompts many short-sighted people to resist, even when it is in their long-range interest to make the change.  There may be legitimate objections to any set of suggested changes, but rather than use these objections to prompt revisions and improvements, many criticizers will latch upon a few problems to kill all possibility of any change.  It is much easier to be a critic than to come up with constructive alternatives.  Lack of change becomes a self fulfilling prophesy, and inertia reigns victorious.

The resistance of Americans to adoption of the metric system is a case in point.  With every level of measurement based consistently on multiples of ten, the metric system is clearly superior.  Metrics are much easier to learn and to remember than English traditional irregular measurements like twelve inches to a foot, three feet to a yard, 1,760 yards to a mile, sixteen ounces to a pound, 2,240 pounds to a ton, two pints to a quart, four quarts to a gallon, etc.  Yet despite the fact that today most of the world measures in metrics, Americans and the British stubbornly hold onto their archaic ways of measurement.  Attempts to simplify grammar will likely meet similar resistance.

Perhaps the quickest way to order spelling reform and/or grammar reform would be through some kind of authoritarian ruling.  The best example of this process occurred in the early years of the communist revolution in China.  Mao Ze dong and other Chinese communist leaders were determined to improve literacy rates among the masses of Chinese people, and they realized that the complex Chinese characters were difficult for the average person to learn.  After all, those characters had been invented by professional scribes who worked in service to the elite leadership and upper class of society.  There was no incentive for these scribes to make a writing system that would be easier for the mass of people to learn.  On the contrary, literacy was a prized possession of the small upper class, and a marketable skill that was best reserved to oneself.  The Maoists did some pretty horrible things to their own people, but one of the major benefits they bequeathed to future generations of Chinese was to order a simplification of writing characters.  In 1954 the Chinese government published the report of the Committee for Reforming the Chinese Language, which simplified the 2,2OO most commonly used Chinese characters.  A symbol that previously took ten strokes of a pen now might be done in only three or four strokes.  Once people were taught the new simplified characters, literacy levels jumped exponentially.  Many more people became literate than was ever possible under the old writing system.

The kind of respelling system that I am proposing here is much less drastic a change than what the Chinese accomplished in the mid twentieth century. But there is no mechanism for ordering this change in the same way that the Maoist authoritarian dictatorship was able to accomplish.  Even if the governments of all the English-speaking countries of the world somehow were able to agree on support of this spelling reform, there is no ability to order society-wide compliance.  In the United States of America, the concept of freedom of the press prevents the government from ordering all newspaper, magazine, and book publishers to adopt the new spelling and grammar rules. English language teaching schools exist in every country of the world, and no one authority has control over the type of spelling and grammar that they teach.

About the most extreme kind of authoritarian ruling that would be possible in the United States would be for the federal government to start printing all government publications, websites and signs in the new spellings and with the new grammar rules, and to link adoption of the new spelling and grammar rules to a local school system’s ability to qualify for federal aid to education.  If local school systems would adopt the new spellings and grammar rules, these steps would help in the long run to prepare the next generation of students for a more efficient and easy kind of English.  But in addition to these governmental mandates, voluntary adoption would have to be depended upon for an immediate basis.  People need to be persuaded that these reforms are in their interest to learn.  How to most effectively make this persuasive argument is a question that needs to be investigated.

The big publishing houses are the most influential voice in implementation of this plan. Printing houses, which wield concentrated power through their style directives, will find it in their interests to agree on uniformity of spelling. If they would start printing books, newspapers, and magazines in the new respellings and following the new grammar rules, readers would get used to these changes quickly. It is not difficult to read the Williams respellings once the person has memorized the single pronunciation for each lower case and capital letter. Lobbying the Association of Publishers to endorse and adopt this respelling system is crucial to implementation [need to get name and website of publisher associations]

The second necessary step is to convince teachers to support this plan.  If the National Education Association and associations of teachers of English [get exact titles] would endorse this plan, that would go a long way toward accomplishing the goal.

Third, is to convince schools to start teaching the Williams system. Lobbying to convince every State Board of Education to put the Williams system into their curriculum is crucial.

Because of the inertia factor and the lack of authoritarian rulings, there is a great possibility that each of the suggestions for spelling reform and grammar reform contained in this book will not be enacted.  Nevertheless, I think that spelling reform and grammar reform have more potential for enactment now than at any time in previous history.  There are three reasons for my optimism.  First, people already see the success of the spread of Arabic numerals throughout the world.  The worldwide voluntary adoption of consistent and efficient mathematical symbols can provide a blueprint and an inspiration for adoption of consistent spelling and grammar rules.

The second reason I am optimistic is because the current generation of Americans and Brits have a much greater awareness that if they do not maximize their efficiency, then other nations are in prime position to take over more of the economic dominance now held by the English-speaking nations.  At this point in time, use of English is a major advantage to American and British international trade.  Whatever makes English easier to learn makes English spread to more people in the world, thus benefiting English-speaking nations economically.

Third, the most important reason for my optimism is because of the development of digital scanning.  In the past, a major inhibition to spelling reform was the existence of all publications in the prior spelling.  How could spelling change occur when vast libraries of books on printed paper were already set in print with the old spellings?  To reset the type and reprint all books on new paper would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming.  Innovation could not occur because of the practicalities of the difficulty of conversion.

As the 21st century has dawned, however, we are in a whole new world as far as spelling reform is concerned.  The new technology of digital scanning allows for existing publications to be scanned into a computer, after which it is quick and easy to change spelling.  A simple spellcheck program can be devised to substitute the new spelling of a word whenever the old spelling appears.  This type of program can also be used for typists to learn the new spelling of a word as they type along in the old spelling.  After seeing the new spelling numerous times, typists will be able to remember the new spellings and incorporate these new spellings into their memory.

These types of spellcheck programs did not exist two decades ago, yet today every personal computer has them.  Hundreds of thousands of books have been digitally scanned.  Legal aspects of intellectual property are undergoing massive changes, and as soon as the dust settles on a new method of paying writers for their written work, an explosion of publishing will occur.  Within the next decade, try to imagine how much easier and more rapid digital scanning will become, both legally and technologically.  Whole libraries could be converted to the new spellings in a matter of minutes.  Never before in the history of humanity has this kind of massive change been possible.

For all three of these reasons, I am more optimistic about the current possibility of substantive spelling reform and grammar reform than at any time in the past.  If the problems of inertia and negative thinking can be overcome, there is great potential for constructing an improved version of English that will be significantly easier for people to learn.  With consistent spelling pronunciation rules and simplified grammar rules, English can spread even more rapidly around the world.  Hopefully, native English speakers will be able to recognize that it will be in their long term economic interests to make changes in their spelling and grammar, and learners of English will understand that with spelling and grammar inconsistencies being minimized their efforts to learn English will be much easier.

No system devised by a single person is going to be perfect, and no doubt others will come up with alternative spellings, pronunciation guides, and other grammar reforms that will be superior to my ideas suggested in this book.  I do not see others’ alternatives as a threat, but I welcome the opportunity to consider others’ ideas.  Even if they might lead to modifying these suggestions contained herein, it is an advance.  The purpose of this endeavor is to make English easier to learn, in order to promote worldwide communication.  Whatever will contribute to that purpose is all to the good.  I invite each reader to consider yourself as a potential co-author of a future edition of this work, and look forward to your contributions to this collaborative effort.  Together, we can improve global communications for the benefit of all of humanity in the 21st century.

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7. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO IMPROVE SPELLING

Given these multiple problems with spelling in English, there is a strong need to reform English spelling. The Williams Respelling System to be proposed here rests on seven principles:

1. SPELLING SHOULD REFLECT THE SPOKEN FORM RATHER THAN SPEAKING REFLECTING THE WRITTEN FORM

A guiding principle of the Williams respellings is that the spoken form of a language is more important than the written form, and words should be spelled the way they are pronounced. This principle privileges spoken English over written English. There are two reasons why I make this choice.

First, human beings have been speaking much longer than they have been writing. From an anthropological perspective, the time from the origin of modern homo sapiens over 200,000 years ago, to the origins of writing a mere 3,000 years ago, gives the vast majority of time to spoken communication. When writing systems first emerged, only a few professional scribes knew how to write. That remained true through the time of the Roman Empire, the Medieval era, and the Early Modern Period. Only in the nineteenth century did public education systems reach large numbers of people in society, with a goal of teaching the masses to read and write.  Yet this trend occurred in only a few countries. It was only in the late twentieth century that the majority of human beings in the world became literate.

Many people alive in the world today cannot read, and they go through their entire lifetime without ever writing a single word. Even many who were trained to read in school do not like to do so. In both Britain and America, the majority of people find the process of deciphering spelling to be so mentally taxing that in their free time they much prefer to receive information in spoken form rather than by reading. On any given evening, the number of people who are watching television and listening to radio dwarf the number of people who are reading. The contrast between reading / writing and listening / speaking is overwhelming. Humans are the speaking animal!

The recent emergence of reading and writing within such a short time period of human existence means that spoken communication remains the prime means by which human beings communicate.

A second reason for privileging speaking over writing is the theoretical position that writing is a tool which should be an efficient facilitator of spoken communication. The  emphasis of my teaching in Indonesia and Thailand has been to teach people to speak correct and clear pronunciation of English. I realize this is one among several ways to teach a language. In my view writing should reflect speaking rather than the reverse.  With this position, then, the written form should reflect the way people actually speak a language. Spelling is a technological means of accomplishing the purpose of effective communication. Just as with any other technology, spelling needs to be adjusted and improved to accomplish its purpose more effectively. Every technology being used by humanity today changes rapidly, except spelling. If a mechanic tried to repair a car by using only tools that existed a century ago, most people would think them foolish. Yet, people rigidly hold to the tools of written communication—the way words are spelled—that have changed little in the last three centuries! No technology is effective for that long a time. It is time for a change.

 

2. PRONUNCIATION SHOULD BE BASED ON MIDWESTERN AMERICAN ENGLISH

Following phonetic form, words should be spelled in the way that they are most commonly spoken by contemporary native English speakers. Because accents differ among English speakers worldwide, and thus English pronunciation varies from region to region, it is necessary to choose one pronunciation over others as the basis for spelling. On what basis should such a choice be made?

Some would say that the choice should be the accent of the people living in England itself. England is, after all, the historic home of the language. But the accents of England vary greatly by area and by class, so it becomes a problem to try to choose one of these accents over others. Even British Received Pronunciation, the style of speaking that is common among well educated people in the area around London in southern England, and that is the choice for broadcasters on the BBC television network, has been criticized as elitist and prejudiced against the rural people of England and those who come from working class families. British Received Pronunciation has itself changed from the way English was spoken in past centuries. So the “historic” argument does not hold much weight in terms of a choice for a standard way to spell English for worldwide communication in the 21st century.

Some linguists say that even trying to make a single choice among English accents is prejudicial, and that this is an insurmountable problem facing spelling reformers who want to change the current way of spelling. “If spelling is to reflect pronunciation, whose pronunciation will be privileged over others?” they ask as a rhetorical question to undercut any move toward spelling reform.

I reject that argument. People make choices all the time, and they have to choose one alternative over another. In doing so, there may be things that are lost, but it has to be done if anything is going to be accomplished. If I am starting a construction business, I have to decide which kind of tools I am going to use in my factory: traditional measurements or metric. No matter which choice I make, there will be losses. Each kind of tool has advantages as well as disadvantages. But do I decide on those grounds that this is “an insurmountable problem” and therefore I should not open my factory? No, I make a choice and then proceed. It is no more insurmountable a problem to make a choice for which spelling “tools” to use, than for making a choice of what kind of mechanical tools to use.

On what basis are choices to be made? The 19th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who made many wise statements that were far ahead of his time, suggested that the best basis for making a moral choice is to choose that which will be of greatest benefit to the greatest number.

With a nod to Bentham, I decided to base my respellings on mainstream American English, as represented by an inland northern and Midwestern United States accent. This is not my own accent (which is Southern U.S.), and I chose this accent mainly because it represents the style of English that is actually spoken in everyday conversation by the largest number of speakers who use English as their native language.

I made this choice on the same basis that I would choose metric tools if I were starting a construction business, because metric is the most common type of tool being used in the world today, and any products made with metric tools would have the advantage of being more easily repaired anywhere in the world.

In addition, though, there are advantages to using mainstream American English as the basis for spelling, beyond the fact that it represents the largest number of English speakers of the largest English-speaking nation. Because mainstream American English is less singsong than British English, with a narrower range of pitch, it is more readily intelligible to others and thus easier to learn. For both of these reasons, a choice of general American English seems to be the easiest for the most people to speak and understand this style of pronunciation. It is the greatest good for the greatest number, not only for the specific individuals who want to learn English, but also for humanity in general. Improved spelling will bring about greater global communication, which is vital to human progress in the 21st century. I want the Williams respelling system to become for communication what the invention of metrics has done for measurement. Both metric tools and spelling tools are tools in the literal sense, which with careful design can bring about great advances and progress in human affairs.

 

 

3.  SPELLING SHOULD BE CONSISTENT

Words should be spelled consistently.  Thus, all words that sound alike (for example, “ to, two, too; cent, sent, scent; know, no; seen, scene; bury, berrie; be, bee” ) should be spelled alike, and their various meanings can be discerned from the context of the sentence. Conversely, if words are pronounced differently, they should be spelled differently.  For example, both the present and past tenses of the verb “read” are spelled the same way in traditional spelling, even though the past tense is pronounced “red.”  Since the Williams respelling system is based on pronunciation, when using the past tense of this verb it should be spelled just like the color “red.”

No other factor than pronunciation should be used to determine the correct spelling of a word. The Williams respelling system rejects the idea that the history of a word should determine its spelling. If the pronunciation of the word has changed over the last several centuries, it should be spelled in the way that the word is actually pronounced today. I also reject the idea that “related” words (for example, “music” [myu-zk] and “musician” [myu-zi-shun]) should be spelled similarly even though they are pronounced differently. The goal of the Williams respelling system is consistency and ease of learning.

To be consistent, all endings of words like “uncle, apple, animal, conventional” should end in –l  while all endings of words like “leader, author, pleasure” should end in –r and all endings of words like “instance, sentence, appearance and experience” should end in –uns.

 

 

4.  EACH LETTER SHOULD HAVE ONLY ONE PRONUNCIATION

To make spelling consistent, each letter should ideally have one and only one pronunciation. This pronunciation should be used in every occasion when that letter appears, and the pronunciation should not change depending on its place in a word or in relation to other letters. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to follow this principle with letters like “a o t” simply because those letters have so many different sounds. But for all the other letters, that have only one or two sounds, having consistent pronunciation for that letter will make the learning process much less difficult. Once people have memorized how a particular letter is pronounced they will be able to look at a word and tell its pronunciation easily. Reading will become much less onerous, and more people will become literate in English.

 

5.  LETTERS THAT ARE NOT SOUNDED IN A SPOKEN WORD SHOULD BE DELETED

Silent letters that are not needed to communicate the pronunciation of a word should be dropped. This includes unnecessary vowels. The Williams system rejects the spelling rule that a vowel must be contained within every syllable. The minimum number of spelling rules, and the minimum number of letters, should be used to communicate sounds. Whenever there is more than one way to spell a word, the version with the least number of letters will be used. For example, the words “peace” and “piece” can be spelled either “pEs” or “Ps.” The word “Little” can be spelled either “Littul” or “Litl.” In cases like this, the shorter spelling will be used.  This is the reason why the Williams system retains the use of the letters Q and X, which most spelling reformers discard. It is true that the sound of Q can be spelled “kw” and the sound of X can be spelled “eks” but since the Williams system favors fewer letters in a word these letters are retained. While there is no reason for the superfluous “e” in the first syllable of the word “expert”, the letter x is especially useful for this common sound. Thus, “expert” is written “xprt” and “sucks” is written “sux” to be consistent with the other vowel sounds in the similar words “sax, sex, six, sox.”

 

6.  APOSTROPHES SHOULD BE DELETED

Likewise, besides silent letters, the use of apostrophes in word contractions should also be dropped. Apostrophes are confusing and difficult for learners of English to know when to use an apostrophe or not. Even native speakers find it difficult to distinguish its from it’s, their from there and they’re, and your from you’re. Under the Williams respelling system, because all words that sound alike are spelled alike, these problems and difficulties are eliminated. The various different meanings can be discerned from the context. For common words like “don’t, can’t, we’re, I’m, I’ll, it’s, wouldn’t, shouldn’t,” there is no reason for English learners to have to use an apostrophe. After all these hundreds of years of use, they should be accepted as words in and of themselves.

In addition, to eliminate the need for an apostrophe to show possession (confusingly written as ‘s ‘es s’ with the apostrophe placed sometimes before the letter and sometimes after the letter) the use of a capital “Z” at the end of a word can be used to indicate possession, without having to add an apostrophe. See the discussion in the chapter on simplified grammar for examples like the words JohnZ and teacherZ. The “Z” is pronounced in these nouns because their root ends in what linguists call a “voiced” sound. In contrast, for words that end in a “voiceless” sound, an “S” sound is triggered, as in “the bookS cover is the same color as PatS book, and the topS binding of both books is the same as well.” A linguist would argue that representing possession with a Z for all words is confusing, but for most people—many of whom would not even notice the slight difference in pronunciation between a “Z” sound in JohnZ and an “S” sound in PatS—the consistent use of one letter Z for all possession references would be easier to learn and remember. Since the overriding purpose of the Williams respelling system is to make English easier to learn, the advantage of using one consistent letter to indicate possession outweighs the slight disadvantage.

 

7. ONLY STANDARD LETTERS OF THE ROMAN ALPHABET SHOULD BE USED IN SPELLING

If apostrophes are confusing to many people, the introduction of unfamiliar new letters and diacritical marks by linguists and spelling reformers becomes even more confusing. The most accurate pronunciation system becomes useless if it is not adopted. In acknowledging this reality, the Williams system rejects the invention of new letters and the kind of strange unfamiliar marks used by linguists and most spelling reformers. The Williams system uses only the standard familiar letters of the Roman alphabet.

This restriction has the major advantage that Williams respellings can be typed easily on any standard typewriter or computer keyboard. The main problem that spelling reformers have faced is that English has more sounds than there are letters in the Roman alphabet. As a consequence, the only way that all these different sounds can be expressed is by putting together the letters in different ways. Because traditional spelling of English does this in so many inconsistent ways, spelling is extremely difficult to master. Spelling reformers have called for letters to be put together in consistent ways so that each syllable is always spelled the same way. But there are still problems with the existing respelling proposals that have been offered. These problems are the basic reason why spelling reform has not been successful in persuading most people to change the way they read and write the English language.

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6. WHY ENGLISH SPELLING IS SO DIFFICULT

Even more than the inconsistencies of English grammar, the characteristic of English that most holds it back from being an effective means of global communication is its chaotic spelling. English has more spelling inconsistencies than practically any written language in the world today. This chapter is meant to illustrate these problems, and to show why the solution to these problems is the respelling system that I came up with. If you accept that English has bad spelling and simply want to try the Williams respellings, then you may skip this chapter and go to the end where the Williams respelling pronunciation guide is held.

If you are reading this book in English you obviously know enough of the language to be familiar with the way words are spelled, but forget for a moment that you have memorized the way to pronounce the words below. Imagine that you only know the general way that particular letters are pronounced. Now try to figure out how to pronounce these words by the regular pronunciations of those letters strung together in this order:

Circle  [“kirk” + “le” =  kirk’ le ]

Laugh  [“la” + “uh” + “ga” + “ha” =  la uh’ga ha ]

Quotient  [ “quo” + “ti” + “unt” = quo’ ti unt ]

Disguise  [ “dis” + “gah” + “uh” + “is” + “e” =  dis’ gah uh is e  ]

Choir  [ “see” + “ha” + “o” + “ear” = see’ha o ear ]

Weight  [ “wa” + “ei” + “ga” + “ha” + “te” = wa ei ga ha’ te]

Conscience [ “con” + “sci” + “uns” = con’ science ]

Century [ “ken” + “tu” + “ry” = ken tu’ ry ]

Phase  [“pa” + “ha” +”se” = pa ha’ se ]

Neighbor  [“nei” + “ga” + “ha” + “b” + “or” = nei ga’ ha bor ]

dictionary.  [ “dic” + “ti” + “o” + “na” + “ry” = dic ti o’ na ry ]

Imagine a person first trying to learn this language, and trying to figure out a logical pattern to pronunciation.  How do they know that the “w” is silent in “who, whose” but the “h” is silent in “hour”?  Most words with “–tion” at the end, like “nation, condition” are pronounced as “shn” which is crazy enough by itself, but that is very different from the pronunciation of “question” which ends in a “chn” sound.  English has complex spelling rules that will let someone know when adding a single letter to “us” makes “use,” when “are” makes “bare,” when “tub” makes “tube.” And then teachers have to explain which words do not follow the rules. The only way people can learn these exceptions is to memorize them. Who can figure out by logic how a slight difference in spelling makes a very different sound, as with these words:

this / thin     though / through       sugar / suggest

lone / long / lose / loud       study / student      is / island

There are so many inconsistencies that English almost defies logic.  Why does the same sound get spelled so many different ways?  Why is the winner said to have “won” but the first number is spelled “one,” and the nearest star is the “sun” but a male child is a “son”?  Why is “defense” spelled with an “se” ending but “instance” with “ce,” and “heresy” with an “sy” ending but “agency” with “cy?”  How is an English learner expected to know that the exact same sound in the words “fade, grade, invade, jade, made, trade, wade” is spelled differently in the words “aid, laid, paid” but the similar spelling of “said” is not pronounced the same way?  Try to find a pattern in the spelling of the following words that all end with the same sound but have different spellings:

shoe, blue, Jew

me, key, agree, flea, debris

concur, defer, were, stir, purr

assure, detour, amateur, your, you’re

calendar, customer, janitor, massacre

rain, reign, cane, chowmein, campaign, cocaine

pupil, able, several

rule, school, beautiful

week, speak, unique, batik, chic, eke, sheik, shriek

 

The ultimate inconsistency consists of many words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same, as in:

ate / eight      bear / bare       gray / grey          hay / hey         I / eye

maid / made       their / there / they’re        weigh / way            your/ you’re

 

Beyond this problem of multiple spellings for similar sounds, there is also the opposite problem that some words that are spelled the same way are pronounced differently.  For example, three words with only one letter difference are pronounced very differently:  comb, tomb, bomb. The word for the hearing organ “ear” is pronounced as “ir”, but by adding the two letters “ly” at the end the pronunciation is changed to “ur” in the word “early.” Consider how difficult it is for people trying to learn how to spell and pronounce words in English when they see sentences like these confusing examples:

1. It is hard for farmers to produce enough produce, but it is equally hard for them to refuse to see much of it as refuse.

2. We must take the lead in reducing the content of lead in paint, or the claims of the invalid will be invalid.

3. The Polish subject had to subject herself to the strong smell of shoe polish before deciding to desert in the desert.

4.  I could not close the door because my clothes were too close to it.

5.  Since you are my intimate friend I will intimate to you that I will not object because the object I wanted to present is not present.

6.  He shed a tear because the bandage had a big tear and was not wound well around the wound.

7.  She wanted to record a record, but because a dove dove into the wind tunnel, they had to wind up their session without recording anything.

 

Some related words are spelled alike but pronounced differently, as with music (pronounced  myu-zk) / musician (which if English were consistent would be pronounced as myu-zk-e-un, but is actually pronounced myu-zi-shn).  If English were consistent, one who performs music would not be called a musician at all, but should be called a musicter, just as one who sings is a singer, one who acts is an actor, one who directs is a director, and one who writes is a writer.  If these words were spelled the way they sound, and for the sake of consistency, they should all have “r” at the end and be spelled as myuzktr, singr, aktr, direktr, ritr.

In terms of spelling, whether of different sounds spelled the same way or similar sounds spelled differently, English is truly awful!  American and British schoolchildren have to spend years doing rote memorization of all the myriad ways that similar words are spelled.  Spelling tests and spelling bees are major subjects in schools. It takes students many years of study to achieve good spelling. And many people do not succeed at spelling. This lack of success has a terrible impact on literacy levels. A 1998 study sponsored by the National Institute for Literacy, titled “The State of Literacy in America” [at http://nifl.gov online, and reported at http://www.americanliteracy.com online] found that twenty percent of Americans cannot read adequately. That is, one in five adult Americans cannot perform even simple reading-writing tasks, such as reading a children’s book to their child, filling out a job interview form, finding locations on a map, understanding written directions to get to a specific location, or being able to use written instructions to assemble material items.

Dyslexia is diagnosed as a major mental health problem in America and Britain, with many people not being able to read well.

In contrast, in nations like Italy and Spain that have phonetic alphabets, literacy rates are higher and dyslexia is much lower. Yet, schools in these nations spend much less effort to teach reading. Spelling is not even taught as a subject in schools, and the idea of spelling bees is absurd because basically everyone is a good speller. Once people learn the basic rules of pronunciation (for example that the letter “j” is always pronounced as an English “h” sound, and “i” is always pronounced as an English “ee” sound), it is very easy to know how to pronounce a word.

Since I remember quite clearly how difficult spelling was for me to learn in my childhood, I can only begin to imagine how much more difficult it must be for a non-native speaker to learn English. As an anthropologist, I never became much interested in linguistics. All those jargon-filled linguistic terms, like glottal stops and fixated aspirations, rather reminded me of those stressful spelling tests from my youth. Yet, the more I have learned about other languages, and can see how much more simple and consistent they are than English, I am more and more driven by the need to reform English.

Why is English spelling so inconsistent, and so divergent from the regular sound of the alphabet? Part of the reason is due to this language’s history of multiple influences from other languages, on spelling as well as on other aspects of English. But the English language was made even worse in its spelling due to the influence of early publishers of books and pamphlets. Printers in England were paid by the page, and so from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth century it was common for printers to insert extra letters into words for no other purpose than to make words longer and thus to reap more profit. For example, a body pain that had previously been spelled as “ak” became “ache.” The sound of the letter “f” started being spelled as “ph” in some words, even though a word like “philosophy” is still pronounced like the “f” in “fill.” Extra silent letters were added into words like the “s” in island, “b” in crumb and thumb, “g” in foreign and sovereign, “h” in ghost, and “a” in team, head, road, beauty, yearn, roar. These letters did not alter the way the words continued to be spoken, but with other changes in pronunciation over time, the way a word was spelled diverged ever more widely from the way it was spoken.

It is impossible to estimate how much money has been wasted over the centuries, in terms of extra printing costs for all these needlessly added silent letters, and how many trees lost their lives for printing the extra pages. As English spreads around the world, it is an ever expanding tragedy as these same wasteful practices of needless letters are extended globally.

In Italy, in contrast, printers were paid by the amount of time they worked rather than by the page, so there was no financial incentive for Italian printers to add useless letters into words. The Italian language, having evolved mostly from the single source of Latin, is also much more consistent in its spelling than English. When a person who knows Italian looks at a word, it is very easy to know how it is pronounced because each sound is always spelled the same way.  English, in contrast, has an average of fourteen different acceptable ways to spell a particular sound! This means that a simple word, for example “scissors,” might be spelled over a hundred different ways. The only way to learn which of these possible spellings is correct is to memorize the spelling for every single word. So, as a result, English learners have to remember that, for example, the word “beautiful” is spelled this way, as opposed to “buetifl, biutiful, butifel” or any number of  other possibilities.  English learners have to remember that the “oo” sound in the words “too zoo” is spelled differently in the words “you, to, two, view, cue, due, few, jew” even though it is the exact same sound.

This process unnecessarily taxes the brain. The memorization process takes a lot more time than simply learning one spelling for one sound. As a result, children in Italy can learn to read and write much quicker than children in English-speaking nations. Despite the popularity of “Spelling Bee” contests in Britain and America, which do not even exist in Italy because spelling is so easy, both children and adults make many more mistakes in English spelling.

Most alarmingly, English-speaking nations have much higher rates of functional illiteracy and of dyslexia. Economic studies have shown that this impairment in literacy costs the British and American economy many millions of pounds/dollars in lost income due to spelling mistakes. It is not that English-speaking people are less intelligent than Italians. The problem is with the language itself. Studies show that only about forty percent of English words are spelled consistently. Spelling reformers are asking only that English reduce the number of acceptable orthographic options, so that there is always one acceptable way to write one sound, and that each sound should be consistently spelled the same way in all words. This is not a difficult thing to accomplish, as Italian and other alphabetic languages show.

G. Dewey,English Spelling: Roadblock to Reading. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971. Ken Ives, Written Dialects and Spelling Reform New York: American Literacy Council, 1979. James Pitman and John St. John, Alphabets and Reading. London: Pitman Publishing, 1968.  The scholar’s edition of the American Literacy Council, Dictionary of American Spellings. New York: American Literacy Council  provides an excellent analysis of the problems of English spelling.  Good internet sources include Steve Bett’s “English Spelling Reform”  http://victorian.fortunecity.com/vangogh/555/Spell/spel-links.html

 

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