[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1988/3 p.2 later designated J9]


Chris Upward.


In 1988 we have given priority to the papers presented at our 1987 conference. This Journal completes the task.

An innovation in this issue is the cumulative index, [1] which now catalogues the authors, articles and other items, many of them highly authoritative, that have appeared in the Society's Journal and its predecessor, the Newsletter, since 1985. In future the third issue each year will carry an index of what has appeared in the previous 12 months.

We begin however with Adam Brown's study of the spelling problems faced by non-English-speaking learners. This is a matter of extreme importance, since the whole function of English has now been extended from its role as the language of English-speaking nations, to that of the prime medium of international communication. So fundamental has this shift been that it is today estimated that most people who learn to read and write English are no longer native speakers of the language. In other words, the purpose of simplifying English spelling is no longer the merely national one of trying to reduce illiteracy in this or that country; the purpose now is to facilitate communication world-wide, whether of market traders in polyglot communities in Africa or Asia, or of diplomats whose interaction may determine the fate of mankind.

The needs of foreign learners differ from those of native speakers in several ways. Most importantly perhaps, foreign learners are especially dependent on predictable sound-symbol correspondence. Whereas the native speaker may be able to read a word because its letters bear some relationship, however erratic, to a known pronunciation, foreign learners are far more likely to have to use the spelling to construct a pronunciation-which all too often is wrong. Because of this extra difficulty, foreign learners may be especially attracted to simplification, and they will rarely suffer from the hang-ups of tradition that so often make the native speaker reject simplification out of hand.

Perhaps the interests of this new majority should be taken up by an international body, such as the United Nations or the European Community, whose burden of paperwork could be significantly lightened by a simplified, more economical, international style for written English, freed from the linguistic dictates of the native speakers.

Julius Nyikos's sumptuous sample of sibilant spellings is a just a small part of a vast catalogue of alternative sound-symbol correspondences he has been compiling for English, very much with the foreign learner's perspective in mind. A striking feature of the rich collection he presents is the extent to which loan-words from other languages constitute exceptions and peculiarities within the varied tapestry that is written English. They constitute a particular obstacle to any blanket reduction of English to a system of one-to-one sound-symbol correspondence if a word like pizza is respelt peetsa, the visual commonality with Italian is lost. But if we exclude 'foreign' words from our reform, we have to be able to define 'foreign'. Is restaurant a 'foreign' word? How would it be best spelt? Readers' views are invited.

Edgar Gregersen's conference paper presents some salutary warnings, based particularly on the unhappy experiences of spelling reform in Norwegian, of the dangers of ill-considered spelling changes. Not only must reformed spellings be mutually compatible, but future developments also have to be taken into account: a first stage reform must not conflict with possible subsequent stages.


These are questions of linguistic strategy, of deciding, in the face of the tangle of inconsistencies that is TO, which inconsistency to tackle first. The editor's conference paper considers how Cut Spelling has to be examined by such criteria, because not all redundant letters are equally redundant, some only becoming fully redundant after other spelling changes have been made. Which letters can be cut out at once, and which only later? To write bitn, cotn for bitten, cotton is fine - but how about natn for nation, which has the same syllabic <n>, but not the same <t>?

Linguistic strategy is however not the only kind of strategy spelling reformers have to think about. No less important is the strategy to be adopted in our attempts to influence the world. Some reformers have concentrated on advocating one single reform, such as SR1 (the vowel in hen always to be written <e>, as in hed, trend, eny), or solving the <gh> problem. Other reformers have gone to the other extreme, and proposed either a total revolution (e.g. New Spelling) or at least a fairly far-reaching one (Axel Wijk's Regularized English or Ed Rondthaler's Simplified American). Good luck to them: they all teach us something about spelling - and about the difficulty of gaining acceptance (so far); and if any of them does gain acceptance, it is a victory for us all.

This is where the second kind of strategy comes in. We have to ask: who could conceivably implement a reform? An education authority? A publisher of books? A publisher of newspapers? A dictionary? A wealthy philanthropist? A government? The United Nations? All of these are conceivable, yet all are equally hard to imagine as a realistic possibility in the present climate of orthographic ignorance

And what if one or more of these parties did become enamoured of a particular reform, but others refused to accept it? The result would at best be stalemate, at worst a state of confusion that would give the cause of reform a bad name for the foreseeable future.

This is not to discourage individuals or groups from developing and promoting particular schemes. Their research and enthusiasm are the prerequisite for progress. But as a movement, as a Society, perhaps we should take a broader view, not at present committing ourselves to any one scheme exclusively, but devoting ourselves to educating the public to a more scientific, better informed, more pragmatic and less dogmatic view of the monster that is TO. We have to convince influential figures of the absurdity of saying that TO "has served us all perfectly well", linguists of the inappropriateness of describing as "optimal", educationists that TO is not in fact and the public in general of the historical and relativity of all writing systems.

'Strategy' is now an item on the Society's agenda.

[1] The index publishd in J9 haz been superseded by web pajes:
Jernel authers, jernel topics, newsletter contributers, newsletter topics.

Publications Available [in 1988].

1. Free publicity leaflets: members are encouraged to distribute copies to interested individuals and organisations.
For orders over 50 copies, please send £1 p&p.
-Introducing the Simplified Spelling Society.
-Introducing the Cut Spelling Streamlined Writing System for English. See update.
-AIROE Pour une simplification de Porthographe (information on the French equivalent of SSS)

2. The CLIE (Committee for Linguistics in Education of LAGB & BAAL) produces a series of working papers, of which Nos. 10 & 11 concern English spelling. SSS members may request a free copy of No. 11, English Spelling and Educational Progress by Christopher Upward (28pp). A catalogue of all CLIE working papers, including No. 10 (Michael Stubbs The Synchronic Organization of English Spelling, reviewed by Edward Rondthaler in JSSS J8 1988/2) may be obtained from series editor Thomas Bloor, Modern Languages Department, Aston University, Birmingham.

3. The text of the Society's classic 1948 spelling reform proposal New Spelling (Ripman & Archer, revised by Daniel Jones and Harold Orton) is now available again to members in photocopied form; send £1 p&p.

4. The Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling (1986) edited by Edward Rondthaler and Edward J Lias. The system is developed from New Spelling and i.t.a., for use in conjunction with J H Martin's Writing to Read scheme. It is highly recommended as a reference work and for its analysis of spelling problems, and for further research into the representation of pronunciation in dictionaries and the possibilities of a radical reformed spelling system. £2 p&p.

5. Newell Tune's Spelling Reform: a Comprehensive Survey, some 140 articles republished from Spelling Progress Bulletin and compiled with the assistance of SSS members Harvie Barnard and Valerie Yule. 298 pp. £2p&p.

6. Arnold Rupert's pamphlet School with less pain, describing an interesting reformed orthography based on an expanded alphabet that exploits the character-definition capabilities of modern word-processors.

7. Nina Catach's standard paperback on French spelling L'Orthographe, 3rd edition 1988. £1 p&p.

8. We hope soon to offer Harry Lindgren's provocative and entertaining Spelling Reform: A New Approach. £1 p&p.


Publications and papers recently received include:

Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit (ALBSU) Newsletter No.29 Spring 88, No.30 Summer 88, No.31 Autumn 88.

-, Information Release Adult Literacy practitioners to visit USA.

English Today Vol.IV No 3 July 1988, Vol.IV No.4 October 1988.

Th R Hofmann 10 Voyages in the Realms of Meaning, Tokyo : Kuroshio Press, 1986.

UK i.t.a. Federation Newsletter, Summer 1988, Autumn 1988

Institut für deutsche Sprache, Mannheim Sprachreport 3/88 Spelling Action Society (Australia) Spelling Action.

United Kingdom Reading Association (UKRA) Journal of Research in Reading, Vol.11 No.2 September 1988.

Denis Vincent & Jenny Claydon Diagnostic Spelling Test, NFER-Nelson, 1982.


International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL)
will be holding its 26th Annual Course and Conference at the University of Warwick from 31 March to 3 April 1989, including papers, demonstrations, workshops, colloquia, poster sessions, publisher's sessions, book exhibition, social programme.

United Kingdom Reading Association
will be holding its 23rd international conference at Edge Hill College, Ormskirk in July 1989.

The UK i.t.a. Federation
held its 1988 Course Conference in Leamington Spa from 28-30 October 1988, and will be holding its 1989 Course Conference in Warwick