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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Do you wish English spelling would be simplified?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (32870points) August 1st, 2010

Take the letters /ough/ for example:
That’s at least 5 different pronunciations, and it’s very complicated to learn. For example, when is the /gh/ silent? Why does /gh/ sometimes sound like /f/?

How would you “fix” English spelling? Would you change anything or leave it the way it is? Should we adopt the international phonetic alphabet?

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35 Answers

Nullo's avatar

Nope. I love it just the way it is. It’s a naturally-formed language, an open-source language restricted only by our need to use it now and then. Its delicate intricacies add flavor to whatever you might be writing. The histories of the words are fascinating.
All of that would be lost if we, like the Germans, the Italians, the Dutch, were to artificially create a lab-sterile English and impose its use.

It is delightfully baroque.

Buttonstc's avatar

There have been various alternatives proposed but nothing has ever caught on so I think we are pretty much stuck with what we’ve got.

Heck, if we can’t even get measurement switched over to metric, which makes a WHOLE LOT more sense than the current goofy nonsense, I don’t think reforming English has a chance.

However, overall it’s not as bad as it sounds. If one studies the operative rules of Phonics and learns how to divide words into their syllables rather than guessing willy-nilly at a word in its entirety, something interesting happens.

Many people may be surprised by the fact that the English language is 87% phonetically consistent in pronounciation.

So that leaves a mere 13% as an anomaly. Therefore if one is using phonetic rules to remember how the MAJORITY of words are spelled, then one only has to focus memory upon the remaining small percent of weird ones.

That’s a whole lot more efficient than the “look-say” method which treats each word as it’s own separate entity the way it’s done in Chinese where that is a necessity.

Commonly spelled words are related in patterns. Learning those patterns them frees up the mind and memory to concentrate upon the small anomalies.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

I think English is a beautiful language, and I am already disgusted by Webster’s attempts to simplify it. He destroyed so much of the raw beauty and subtleties of tone, and I wish people would leave the language as it is. Of course it will evolve over time, but new words can be introduced without corrupting the spelling of the old.

Fyrius's avatar

I would entirely agree with you, were it not for the fact that this is about spelling, and not about language proper.
The grammar of a language, the meanings of its words, the pronunciations, those are things that are naturally formed and ought to be left alone. Spelling on the other hand is already an artificial addition, invented so as to translate spoken language into a permanent medium. You can tell because anyone can learn language with no instructions from anyone, but writing needs to be taught.

I would have no objections to the invention of a secondary, simplified English spelling, for use by foreigners and in international documents (manuals, signs). It shouldn’t have to replace the old spelling, but it might help to add the option.

To my knowledge, it’s also only spelling that the Dutch ever tried to artificially modify.
As opposed to the French, though, who have institutions that deliberately invent French alternatives to loanwords that don’t sound French enough, such as ordinateur for computer and telecharger for to download.

Austinlad's avatar

“Thanks” to e-mail, tweeting, texting, etc., spelling HAS become simplified – and appallingly inconsistent. I’m not a fan of inconsistent spelling and grammar, but I do believe both must evolve and change in order to facilitate communication. The goal of language is communication, and I approve of whatever it takes to do that, even if it means breaking rules. Still, rules and standards are important for keeping on the same, uh, page, communicate-wise – and I bemoan the increasing abandonment of so many of them that I learned and still try to follow.

jesienne's avatar

My professor told us about the famous “ghoti” in my linguistics class. It’s from a sentence sorry I forgot who said it ,“There is enouGH wOmen in this naTIon.”
” * gh, pronounced /f/ as in tough /tʌf/;
* o, pronounced /ɪ/ as in women /ˈwɪmɪn/; and
* ti, pronounced /ʃ/ as in nation /ˈne͡ɪʃən/.”
This created word illustrates the complexities of the English spelling.

Hope it can help you


UScitizen's avatar

No. I wish that more would simply choose to study English.

MrItty's avatar

No. I wish more people would bother learning to spell correctly. It’s really not that difficult.

Blackberry's avatar

Nope, if you were raised in a place where it is your primary language, you shouldn’t want to simplify it because you should know it already.

downtide's avatar

Having dabbled a little in trying to learn Irish Gaelic, has given me a whole new appreciation for the comparative simplicity of English. The motto of Gaelic seems to be “why use only six letters when thirteen will do?” My name, spelled in Gaelic is “Leodhais” but is still pronounced the same.

I find languages, and the differences between them, to be fascinating.

ragingloli's avatar

English is already simplistic enough, no need to dumb it down further.

Nullo's avatar

@ragingloli What say we revive the 100,000 or so dead English words? That ought to spice it up some.

Fyrius's avatar

That sounds like a great idea! :D
I would totally support re-introducing archaic words.

Jeruba's avatar

English spelling IS being simplified, mostly through ignorance and laziness but also through stylistic decisions that have wide influence; for instance, dialogue, catalogue, analogue, and their siblings have mostly lost their endings in my lifetime.

Phonetic spelling would be a disastrous idea because we rely on spelling not only to make essential distinctions but to communicate across nations and ethnicities. The English we know is as much a written as a spoken language. There is wide variation in the pronunciation of English words, from Maine to Louisiana, from London to Edinburgh, from New Zealand to New Delhi. As long as we have the written language in common, regionalisms aside, we can communicate.

@Nullo, GA for “an open-source language.”

Fyrius's avatar

(Open-source my foot. The linguists have been trying to reverse-engineer the source code since De Saussure, working downwards from how the front-end behaves.)

Nullo's avatar

@Fyrius Okay, so maybe “open-source” isn’t the best choice of words. :D

Jeruba's avatar

It was still a clever metaphor that conveyed an idea about English, even if it doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.

mattbrowne's avatar

I hope AE and BE come up with a common spelling standard. It’s overdue.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@mattbrowne I hope AE gets canned.

misstrikcy's avatar

No, English is a beautiful language and the spelling should not be simplified.
It might be difficult to learn for some, but if you stick with it you will have no need or desire to simplify it.

Fyrius's avatar

Fair enough. :)

Nullo's avatar

@mattbrowne The AE<>BE spelling differences are generally well-enough known that the users in question can simply convert between them, and many dictionaries list both as acceptable.
The real problem are all those exclusively British terms and phrases, like “the loo.”

Fyrius's avatar

As well as all those exclusively American terms and phrases.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

And exclusively American words, like “faucet”.

Jeruba's avatar

I like all of them.

misstrikcy's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh So sorry but I think that Faucet is not originally an American word. It’s English. Faucet was used in Late Middle England (around 1340–1485). I can only imagine it got to America maybe when the first settlers went.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Nullo, @Fyrius – Exclusively British, American, Australian and so forth, terms and phrases will always be a reality. Even terms that only exist in the north or the south of Britain, America etc. The same applies to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Or the Netherlands and the Flemish part of Belgium. However, all these got a spelling standard. Same for Spain and Latin America. Same spelling. Different terms because of regional differences. And different accents.

Fyrius's avatar

I think you’re right.
For that matter, it’s not even really a problem anyway. American and British English have more than enough in common to make it possible to talk about any subject using only the overlap.
And if you’re American and you’re having trouble reading British literature written for Brits, you’ll just have to take up the minimal effort of familiarising yourself with British English. You wouldn’t complain about French books being written in French either, you’d learn French or get a translation.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@misstrikcy Thanks for pointing that out. I just looked it up on the Oxford database, and the first use was in 1430 in the context of a faucet and spigot, which is a particular type of tap for liquor barrels. It has only ever been used as a general term in the US though.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – Most of the time I can easily switch between the two, the hassle is in the details. At our company we sometimes need to compile longer documents for example in Word and input comes from various sources. While our folks in London have no trouble dealing with American English, whenever they write something of their own they always use British spelling almost as if it were treason to do otherwise. Our people in New York think American spelling is the standard anyway because England is such a small country. So how do our integrated documents look like? In Word you’ve got to make a decision when switching on the spell checker.

misstrikcy's avatar

New Yorkers think American spelling is the std because England is a small country..!!

I am lost for words… sigh….

ragingloli's avatar

American spelling is the sexually transmitted disease? Sounds about right.

mattbrowne's avatar

I meant some of our New Yorkers.

Buttonstc's avatar


Nice interprentation on the abbreviation there :)

STD indeed.


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