Spelling Reform Now!

For most of my life, language has fascinated me. Although I learned to read at the age of 2 (thanks to such television programs as Sesame Street and Concentration), I later became aware of literacy problems, even among people born in English-speaking nations. The Internet has enabled me to research the issue of reforming the way the English language is written; Nicholas Fabian has created a site on this subject. For six years I worked for a daily newspaper, the type of publication that stands to benefit most from reformed English spelling. Also, my mother once taught English to Spanish-speaking immigrants from Latin America.

The Latin alphabet was introduced to Britain when the Romans took over the island (more on the history of English); ever since then, we have used the Latin alphabet for writing English without a major orthographic change in a thousand years. Printers in England could not use letters such as edh and thorn when types were imported from the Netherlands, because those letters were not in the Dutch alphabet. Until I upgraded to Mac OS X, I could not view Icelandic characters properly in my browsers. Read what Michael Everson has to say about where thorn belongs in the English alphabet.

Pronunciation has changed, but spelling has not kept up since the time of Samuel Johnson (circa 1755). The earliest reform attempt I have found dates from 1580, in William Bullokar’s The Amendment of Orthographie for English Speech. Although Noah Webster achieved some success with his simplifications of some British spelling patterns (partial rectification: e.g., color instead of colour and dropping the last two letters from words like programme), the increasing international use of English makes spelling reform all the more sensible.

One thing I hope to see is an English edition of the Bible using a reformed orthography such as NuSpel, Michael Avinor’s Latin-Hebrew alphabet or the Simpler Spelling Association phonemic alphabet, refined by type designer Frederick W. Goudy. Any reform should be used first as a pronunciation guide for foreign words and names; the current orthography should not be replaced in everyday writing until the public is ready. At present I favor NuSpel, although the letters a, e, i, o, u should ideally be limited to their sounds in pat, pet, pit, pot, putt. I have created two tables for my preferred additions to the Latin alphabet. I have also transliterated a comic strip from traditional English spelling to NuSpel.

Which Orthography Is Best?

There are essentially three approaches to regularizing English spelling: In my opinion, English spelling should be regularized within the confines of the present 26 Latin letters (probably with World English Spelling) until writers and editors can agree on a long-term solution and a definitive phoneme inventory for English (particularly with respect to vowel differences across dialects), and font creation software for Mac OS becomes more affordable. FontStruct is a start, but it does not yet support Shavian, IPA or other phonetic extensions. Omniglot has many constructed scripts for English, some of which may also be used for other languages.

Creating a Font

NuSpel creator Wendell Hall has made NuSpel fonts based on Apple Chancery, Geneva and New Century Schoolbook. His literature is available only as Adobe Acrobat documents, and the fonts are available only by email. I know of only one digital font of the Goudy/SSA alphabet, which Tyler Dykstra based on Antique Olive and contributed to the saundspel Yahoo! Group.

I once made a NuSpel font, using Ares FontMonger, based on the Futurex typeface by Fred Nader (a/k/a Apostrophe) and Graham Meade. I would also like to make NuSpel or Goudy/SSA versions of the Chalkboard, Chicago and Sand fonts.

I should like to see NuSpel supported by Unicode, but I recognize some significant issues:

My conclusion is that spelling reform for the English language is best achieved in the long term with an augmented Latin alphabet. My recommendations for regularizing English spelling:


James H. Vipond, 2012 February 20
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