Reflections, etc-- English spelling

timo.honkela at timo.honkela at
Tue Mar 21 16:51:44 UTC 2006

On Mon, 20 Mar 2006 Salinas17 at wrote:

> In a message dated 3/20/06 5:32:31 PM, language at writes:
> << Linguistics has become a talking shop for talking about language and not 
> learning foreign ones! >>
> I have picked up a few useful phrases at the Armenian market.  But there we 
> mainly "talk about language," e.g., my new friends there ask me why English 
> doesn't look anything like it sounds?  

Below is an attempt to renew English spelling towards the situation in 
which the spelling would be much closer to the spoken form than 
nowadays. The paragraph below rephrases the paragraph above. 

Here I have used Finnish as the starting point as we have the 
fortunate situation that children have the chance to learn to spell 
very easily. The example makes easily sense to those who speak Latin, 
Italian, German, etc. with some details to explained. For example, the 
notations "a and "o refer to a-umlaut and o-umlaut that in Finnish are 
separate phonemes of their own.

  Ai h"av pikd ap "o fjuu juusful freisis "at th"o aarmeini"on maakit. 
  Bat the"o wii meinli 'took "abaut l"angwitsh,' ii zii, mai njuu 
  frends the"o aask mii whai Inglish dasnt luk enithing laik it saunds?

There are still many details to be considered. For instance, the 
combination of letters 'th' (in 'there', 'this', etc.) could be 
replaced by a single letter. One might also wish to use some more 
commonly spoken language as starting point. It would be useful that 
the language would be rich in vowels and consonants that are 
explicitly and systematically distinguished in their written form.
On the other hand, speakers of English and French might be less 
annoyed if the basis was Finnish rather than, e.g., German or Italian.

For those of you who only speak one language it may be difficult to 
see any sense in this. However, in this way it would be much easier: 
for those future generations who still need to learn to write in 
English it would be useful to renew the system to save resources to 
some other tasks than learning to find with a lot of effort the 
complex mapping between spoken and written forms of language. This 
might feel quite outrageous from the point of view of those who have 
already learned this system. For many it may be difficult even to 
recognize the high complexity (cf. the famous "ghoti" = "fish" 
example). Moreover, some people might have some concerns about the 
preservation of cultural values...

If you are aware of any such radical attempts, please send me 
information on them, especially if there are web-based resources 
available such as online lexica. I am not completely serious with this 
theme but I find it intriguing to point out this kind of opportunity 
as potentially many future generations will use English as their 
common ground for communication. As said, a more useful focus might be 
something else than learning to spell. For example, one might be able 
to familiarize oneself with some thousands of poems with the effort 
that is required for this basic task.

Best regards,

P.S. There is also some new interest in the Finnish educational system 
that in practice also benefits from the simplicity of spelling 
(please, see the quote below). On the other hand, learning Finnish 
cannot be recommended before we are able to replace our case endings 
and other means for inflectional word formation with prepositions, 

"In fact, the Finns, who have long felt neglected by the rest of the 
world, are delighted to show off their schools. But they do have a 
logistical problem. Foreign educators in droves want to visit Finnish 
schools for the simple reason that they are so good -- ..."

Timo Honkela, Chief Research Scientist, PhD, Docent
Adaptive Informatics Research Center
Laboratory of Computer and Information Science
Helsinki University of Technology
P.O.Box 5400, FI-02015 TKK

timo.honkela at,

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