Document 910

Spelling reform essay

Author(s): Rosie Bell

Copyright holder(s): Rosie Bell


March 82
English Language Class Essay

In these days of supersonic travel, when we are only a matter of hours from our major trading partners, some kind of spelling reform is not only desirable but indispensible. More and more countries, for trade reasons, or reasons of tourism, are utilising English as a second language, so it remains with us to do everything in our power to facilitate this. Any language is inefficient if it has too many words which look and sound alike. English is one such language. Take the sound ō. This can be spelled in many different ways: "go", "row", "roe", "throw", "though", "sew" for example. This can be understood when we consider that English is a mélange of many languages: Greek, Latin, Scandinavian, French, German. Much of this results from our being conquered and re-conquered at various times in our history. This accounts for many inconsistencies in the way we write down the spoken word.

We can see from the various Old English writings that have been preserved that phonemes and graphemes used to be much more closely related. It is probably as a result of the Norman Conquest, when most of the writing and recording was done by French scribes, that we have so many words spelled in the French way. When the first spelling books were introduced in the 16th century, an opportunity of making the spelling of words more phonemic was obviously missed and the methods used by an educated minority were carried on.

If some method of spelling reform was implemented in our time, it would undoubtedly cause much upheaval. There is bound to be a great resistance to any change. Many hard-core traditionalists would no doubt throw up their hands in horror at the suggestion. However, we have already been through a similar upheaval in this country. Loud was the weeping, the wailing and the gnashing of teeth when the system of decimal coinage was adopted. Although a short period of adjustment was necessary, we worked things out sensibly by showing prices in both pounds, shillings and pence as well as the new pounds and new pence. It would be difficult, now, to find anyone who could mentally calculate in the old money as quickly as in the new. We have also accepted the idea of metrication for use in the field of weights and measures and although not yet in general use it is certain that in the future it will be the universal system.

Perhaps, as with the gradual easing into the money supply of the new decimal coinage, we would be able to operate a similar kind of integration of a reformed spelling system into the present orthography. For example, books could be made available in either traditional or reformed style. People would be able to exercise their personal choice when going to buy. Books printed in a simpler way would be of great advantage to children learning to read. Much wasted time would be saved here. Youngsters, freed from the encumbrance of a language which seems to follow no particular guide-lines, would know the joy of the written word without the initial slog of learning out-dated spelling methods. Another classic example of the confusion which can arise from our present orthography is the varying pronounciations of the letters "ough". It is very difficult and time-consuming to work through words like: "rough", "enough", "tough", "through", "trough". We all remember the party-trick using the letters GHOTI. If we take the "gh" as it is pronounced in "rough", the "o" as in "women" and the "ti" as in "intuition", we discover that the above-mentioned word can be made to spell "FISH". It is easy to see how confusing our out-dated methods of spelling are to children. It is the same in the case of the foreigner coming to the study of the English language for the first time. He would also benefit greatly from a simplified spelling system.

Which system to adopt? Over the years, many visionaries have put forward their own ideas. One famous man, George Bernard Shaw, was so obsessed by our language that he wrote a play called "Pygmalion" in which the central character, who is a professor of the English language, takes a low-class flower-seller and turns her into a lady by teaching her to speak "proper". He conceived his own novel alphabet using a series of symbols not unlike Pitman's shorthand. (which he himself used for all his writing). This system, unfortunately, is neither practical nor easy to use, so "Shavian" will not provide an alternative system.

Sir James Pitman put forward the "Initial Teaching Alphabet" which although it has many good points to recommend it, the sounds required being more visibly recognisable for instance, it would be highly impractical as a whole new set of characters would have to be incorporated into our alphabet and type-faces would require to be changed for the printing of the new spelling.

The system of "Regularized English" proposed by Dr A Wijk of the University of Stockholm seems to offer an interesting solution. He proposes replacing irregular spellings with regular rather than operating a more or less phonetic system. This system presently operates with some success in America. Words like "color", "honor" and "center" being in daily use. Another advantage of this system is that it would regularise pronounciation as there would be no ambiguity. This system would effectively remove the main obstacles in the way of English becoming a truly international language.

Dr Follick's "Automatic Spelling" system is similar in essence to that of Professor Wijk, in so far as they both use the characters of the Roman alphabet. However, Follick's has a major drawback. It is more of a replacement alphabet as many vowels are doubled or incorporate another vowel to give a longer sound.

Mr P A D MacCarthy of the Department of Phonetics in the University of Leeds has put forward yet another system on behalf of the Simplified Spelling Society. It is called "New Spelling" and, like the two previous examples, does not involve the utilization of any additional characters. It even advocates the dropping of any unnecessary letters.

It would seem that, if the need for a reformed spelling system is recognised, one of the last three (or the best points from all three) could be used effectively. Perhaps we could put this to a referendum and let the people decide. It would be one more step forward for Britain into the European Community as countries like Italy and Germany already follow strict rules of pronounciation and spelling.

Thanks to "Alphabets for English" edited by W. Haas.

This work is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

The SCOTS Project and the University of Glasgow do not necessarily endorse, support or recommend the views expressed in this document.


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APA Style:

Spelling reform essay. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 17 June 2024, from

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Information about Document 910

Spelling reform essay


Text audience

Adults (18+)
Audience size 1
Writer knew intended audience

Text details

Method of composition Handwritten
Year of composition 1982
Word count 1118
General description University assignment

Text medium

Other N/A

Text setting


Text type



Author details

Author id 866
Forenames Rosie
Surname Bell
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 15
Upbringing/religious beliefs Catholicism/Atheism
Occupation Travel agent
Place of birth Glasgow
Region of birth Glasgow
Birthplace CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Glasgow
Region of residence Glasgow
Residence CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Bus Driver
Father's place of birth Glasgow
Father's region of birth Glasgow
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Gsw
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Cleaner
Mother's place of birth Glasgow
Mother's region of birth Glasgow
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Gsw
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes All circumstances
Italian Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes