How to Implement Easy English


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.


About englisheasylearning

Walter L. Williams, Ph.D., has taught at UCLA and as Professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He taught English Language in Thailand and also as Fulbright Professor at Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia. He has published eleven books, including JAVANESE LIVES: WOMEN AND MEN IN MODERN INDONESIAN SOCIETY (Rutgers University Press).
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