English spelling reform: proof of concept, first draft

What follows is a proof of concept draft of the reformed spelling for English I am working on.


When in the kors ov huumn events, it bekums nesesery for wun peepl too dizolv the politikl bands which hav konekted them with anuther, and too asoom amung the powers ov the urth, the seperet and eekwl staashn too which the laws of nacher and ov nachers god entiitl them, a deesnt respekt too the opinnyans ov mankiind rekwiirs that they shud deklear the kawzes which impel them too the seperaashn.

We hoeld theez trooths too be self-evidnt, that ol men ar kreeated eekwl, that they ar endowd bi thear kreeater with sertn unalyanabl riits, that amung theez ar liif, liberty and the persoot ov happynes. –That too sekuur theez riits, guvermnts ar institooted amung men, deriving thear just powers from the konsent ov the guvvernd, –That whenevver enny form ov guvermnt bekums destruktiv ov theez ends, it iz the riit ov the peepl too olter or too abollish it, and too institoot nu guvermnt, leying its fowndaashn on such prinsipls and organizing its powers in such form, az too them shal seem moest liikly too efekt thear saafty and happynes. Proodens, indeed, wil diktaat that guvermnts lawng establishd shud not be chaanjd for liit and tranzyant kawzes; and akordingly ol experyans hath shoen, that mankiind ar mor dispoezd too suffer, whiil eevls ar sufferabl, than too riit themselvs bi abollishing the forms too which they ar akustmd. But when a lawng traan ov abuses and userpaashns, persooing invaryably the saam objekt evinses a deziin too redoos them under absoloot despotizm, it iz thear riit, it iz thear dooty, too thro awf such guvermnt, and too proviid nu gards for thear fucher sekurity.


You might well be familiar with this text. I thought it was pretty apropos.

I have learned a lot from this draft. I had four native speakers read previous versions of it aloud, and this gave me a better idea of what works well and what doesn’t work all that well.

The first problem that came up was some cases of collision, specifically with new -> noo which was sometimes read as no, off -> of read as traditional of (-> ov) and all -> ol read by one speaker as traditional ol’. Because of this, I respelled new as nu and off as awf. To -> too was also often read stressed, like traditional too.

Decent -> deesnt was spelled desent in previous drafts, but that was universally read as descent – dissent. Hence its reworking.

Another thing thrown up by this reading-aloud test was the shakiness of the EAR spelling of the SQUARE vowel in declare -> deklear. I am debating whether to perhaps change this to AIR or AR / AAR (long A plus R), which would result in this word being spelled deklair or deklaar. Choosing the second option would require amending my AR spelling of START to AR / ARR (short A plus R).

Generally, the test served to remind me of the great power of familiar word shapes and visual memory, at least for natives who are literate adults. One of the readers read nature -> nacher without a hitch and then was momentarily stumped by nature’s -> nachers just three words later. This is how much the lack of an apostrophe affects the recognition of a word when there are also other yet unfamiliar factors. I am still strongly for doing away with the apostrophe, but that was a very interesting piece of information.

Ultimately, testing this draft told me two things: first, that reform is difficult because any significantly meaningful reform will be radical to a certain extent, and affect the familiar shape of many words, and any feasible reform has to be able to produce texts that already literate speakers can read without much difficulty without having to be formally taught the new system. In other words, a reformed orthography has to be, to a certain extent, self-explanatory to already literate adults as far as reading is concerned. I believe this is achievable if it pays a certain amount of homage to familiar phonemic spellings, and has enough internal consistency, and its rules are regular (predictable) and not extremely complicated.

To make a long story short, my work here is far from done.


One thought on “English spelling reform: proof of concept, first draft

  1. Great ! It is very interesting what you propose. Also it is a very good idea to have your proof, read aloud by native, to see the difficulties…
    Keep on !


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