Reply to “@jayeless I found your post very interesting. I'm not sure a spelling change will get anywhere if the spelling adds new characters that aren't currently used in English…” by JayT

Original post found at: https://fosstodon.org/@JayT/107222598217754874
Discussion started at: https://www.jayeless.net/2021/11/spelling-english-phonetically.html

@jayeless I found your post very interesting. I’m not sure a spelling change will get anywhere if the spelling adds new characters that aren’t currently used in English. I’d lean more towards using letter combo’s and doubling to make consistent sounds. Maybe something like:
cute -> kyoot
cot -> kot
cat -> kat
cart -> kaart

Does that make any sense? 😛

Thanks! I did consider that approach too, and I don’t think a bad one or anything 😛 The reason I went with what I did is that it made the vowels more consistent with their IPA values and what they mean in other languages. For example:

  • cute – [kjuːt] – better to spell that sound with a variant of U
  • free – [friː] – better to spell it with a variant of I

You could use double U or double I, if you preferred! The only “long vowel” I’d be hesitant to do that with is the “long O” [ɔː] in “thought” or “law”, because I do think it’d be confusing to have a letter combination mean something different from real/modern English.

A different approach I considered was using a double consonant to indicate the previous vowel was short (because short ones can’t go at the ends of words anyway). So like:

  • sleep – [sliːp] – slip
  • slip – [slɪp] – slipp

I ended up not doing that because English turns out to have so many short vowels, and it was resulting in a really high number of double consonants 😛 Also as you can see from the slip/sleep example, it sometimes involves “swapping” things from the current spellings. But it could still work, if we decided it was better than using accents, and at least it’d give double consonants a reason to exist.

Another really difficult problem was schwa. It’s OK when it appears as a reduced form of a stronger vowel (like in appear it’s a reduced [æ], in reflect it’s a reduced [ɛ]) because you can spell it with that letter. But when it’s really always a schwa it’s hard to know what to do 🤔 I’d definitely have liked to eliminate that extra letter but having it seemed like the least-worst option at the time.

Of course, all these problems are much more solvable if you decide you just want to regularise English spelling (making it consistent, at least) and aren’t so worried about conveying the exact pronunciation 😊 It’d be a huge improvement on our current system for sure, anyway, it’s just I was trying to go a little further. You’re right that a system like you started outlining is probably more likely to get public acceptance.

a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a socialist and a feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.