Skip to main content

While there are some languages, such as Spanish and Italian, whose spelling usually reflect the ways the words are spoken, this is not true in English. There are lots of ways people describe the spelling of written English, including: weird, strange, quirky, chaotic, torturous, and much more. While we may have trouble with spelling, there are some linguists who have pointed out that 80-90 percent of English spellings are predictable. It’s usually just 10-20 percent of the words that give us trouble.  

With regard to the American dialect of English, the calls for spelling reform can be traced to Benjamin Franklin’s 1768 paper entitled A Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling. His plan didn’t work and English spelling continued to be difficult for students and others. Franklin, however, had been in correspondence with Noah Webster who picked up the torch for spelling reform.

Noah Webster championed the idea of a distinct American language: a language which would be distinct in spelling, pronunciation, and grammar. In 1806, Webster brought out his first dictionary in which he suggested a number of spelling changes. While some of his suggestions were adopted, many were ignored.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, there were a couple more notable attempts to change English spelling. The American Philological Reform Association focused its efforts on getting people to adopt a handful of new spellings:

In 1876, the American Philological Reform Association adopted 11 new spellings, and began promoting their use:

ar instead of are

catalog instead of catalogue

definit instead of definite

gard instead of guard

giv instead of give

hav instead of have

infinit instead of infinite

liv instead of live

tho instead of though

thru instead of through

wisht instead of wished

In 1898, the (American) National Education Association began promoting a list of 12 spellings. In addition to tho, thru, and catalog, the Association recommended:
altho instead of although

thruout instead of throughout

thoro instead of thorough

thoroly instead of thoroughly

thorofare instead of thoroughfare

 program instead of programme

prolog instead of prologue

pedagog instead of pedagogue

decalog instead of decalogue

The movement for spelling reform in the United States continued in the twentieth century with the Simplified Spelling Board, created by the National Education Association in 1906. With a donation of more than $250,000 from Andrew Carnegie, this organization put forth a list of more than 300 words for spelling reform.

Another promoter of simplified spelling was President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1906, while Congress was in recess, Roosevelt ordered the Government Printing Office to use the spelling suggested by the Simplified Spelling Board. There was, however, some resistance to the President’s order and when Congress re-adjourned in the Fall, they set about to revoke this order by voting 142 to 24 that:

"no money appropriated in this act shall be used (for) printing documents ... unless same shall conform to the orthography ... in ... generally accepted dictionaries."
The only simplified spellings which were actually used were in written items from the White House and even among these items, only twelve simplified spellings were actually used.

The Simplified Spelling Board continued to actively promote spelling change until about 1920. With the death of Carnegie, however, there was no more money for the effort. The National Education Association continued promoting the list of revised and simplified spellings until 1921.

Originally posted to Cranky Grammarians on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 07:44 AM PST.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Spelling English is easy (18+ / 0-)

    You jist rite it the way you pronownce it.

    My favorite impossible-to-pronounce word in the English language isn't English at all, it's a native American place name:  Tshletshy Creek.  I grew up in this area and I still have to Google the thing every time I need to write it.  Pronunciation is something like "tuhleetchee".  The creek itself is as hard to reach and navigate as the word is to pronounce.

    I'd love to know the exact meaning of the word, but it's such a little-known stream that finding information is sketchy.

    "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win". Mohandas K. Gandhi

    by DaveinBremerton on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 08:04:53 AM PST

  •  From what I can tell.... only two of those words (11+ / 0-)

    caught on and are in common use today - catalog and program.  A third one, thru, is used in programming, but not in general use.

  •  This is one of my favorite topics! (21+ / 0-)

    In no small part because of the humiliation I suffered as a child for my reliance on phonetics. I'm sorry but why in the world is "does" spelled the way it is? Makes no sense.

    My favorite example of screwed up English spelling/pronunciation:

    How do we pronounce the made-up word "ghoti"?

        the gh = f as in rouGH
        the o = i as in wOmen
        the ti = sh as in naTIon

    So "ghoti" can be pronounced "fish".
  •  live to liv (9+ / 0-)

    I am curious if they kept live for the adjective form since that seems to have the more correct pronunciation based on the spelling.  The silent e is supposed to make the preceding syllable long though as I write this I wondered why they didn't pick on adjective as well, or all the tive words for that matter.  Maybe that rule I'm thinking of doesn't even exist.

    •  Liv is "life, or lively"... (7+ / 0-)

      ... in my Norwegian-English Dictionary by Einar Haugen.  Liv is also used as a feminine name in the Scandinavian countries so I run across it not only as a name for living people, but in old records.  It's pronounced 'leev' - long e sound for us, short e sound for them.

      I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

      by NonnyO on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 09:29:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Problem is the silent E is a pronunciation marker (9+ / 0-)

      Consider hat/hate, fat/fate, mat/mate, etc.  A word such as like could not be spelled lik without confusion with lick.  And English has a hard time with words ending in V, as it raises a confusion with the sound represented by F.

      You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

      by Cartoon Peril on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 09:47:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's also the interchangeable V/W (5+ / 0-)

        I run into that in Scandinavian records all the time.  Both are pronounced with our V sound.  Since it's prominent in my maternal lineage in Norway, I run across it all the time.  If I do a blind search and don't get a hit, I try the other one.

        I/J, sometimes Y are used interchangeably.




        After a while it becomes a game to see which way various words are spelled thorough the centuries, and one can guess the educational background of the writer by the spelling.  Erich = or any words with an ik sound, like Frederich = German is somewhere in the educational background of the writer.

        Suffixes with ius [Martinus for my gr-grandfather's brother] = there's a prominent Latin class in the background of the writer.

        What becomes really fun is finding records written in old Dano-Norsk..., and running across various bumerke [bumerker = plural] when someone is a witness to an event (very often in betrothal records) or legal proceeding, like probate records.  The writer fills in the name and the person who was illiterate otherwise inscribed his bumerke.  Bumerker were registered and when a person died no one could adopt the same bumerke.  Signet rings with a man's bumerke were supposed to be destroyed when he died.  People would inscribe their tools or property with their bumerke.  I was quite pleased to realize that I'd designed my own personal logo [aka bumerke] years before.  Since I inscribed my own logo on the bottom of the ceramics I made, my logo will last as long as my pottery.

        I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

        by NonnyO on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 11:03:57 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Often, they didn't used to be silent (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ojibwa, Cartoon Peril

        Old English tended to pronounce those final vowels.

        Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

        by mbayrob on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 05:47:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Don't forget (12+ / 0-)

    Boehner. Beener? Bainer? Boner?

    I'm sticking with Boner.

  •  I've often thought about spellings reforms (10+ / 0-)

    And it'd have to go a lot farther than the ones proposed by the various societies in the 19th century. Given that many English words are of French origin and are therefore based on French spelling, it seems to me that adopting an orthography based on French phonetics would be helpful.

    The main problem is the dipthongs: for instance, the second vowel in "about" is a dipthong. There are many dipthongs in the English language, and in order to account for them all, it requires a lot of digraphs that can quickly become cumbersome.

    But I wouldn't count on it happening any time soon. The more people who use a language, and the less localized it is, the more resistant it is to artificial change. English is a widespread first and second language, and it's used in dozens and dozens of countries as a lingua franca. Forcing all those countries to adopt the spelling reform would be next to impossible, leading to lingual inconsistency. That's generally a Bad Thing.

    TX-17 (Bill Flores-R), TX Sen-14 (Kirk Watson-D), TX HD-50 (Celia Israel-D)

    by Le Champignon on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 08:35:14 AM PST

    •  Most of the other countries it is used in (9+ / 0-)

      use the Queen's English. The joke in one foreign office I worked in was "which spelling, UK or Microsoft?"

      •  When I used Office in Australia (5+ / 0-)

        I couldn't get it to reject American spelling.  I could get it to accept Australian spellings, but couldn't figure out how to get it to mark as wrong words with different spellings. This was an issue, since I didn't  know all the words where it would be different.

        "If you defeat a thousand opponents, you still have a thousand opponents. If you change a thousand minds, you have a thousand allies"

        by Donkey Hotey on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 10:38:28 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  An old Pogo cartoon (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ojibwa, ExpatGirl

        There was an old Pogo comic strip in which one character corrected another's grammar, saying, "Don't you know the King's English?"

        The other replied, "So's the Queen!"      

        Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

        by quarkstomper on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 05:06:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  spelling reform in English (5+ / 0-)

      Be careful what you wish for.  
      If we were to reform English spelling based on American (which American, by the way?) pronunciation, it would cause immediate problems for speakers of other varieties of English (and there are many).
      Moreover, there is in existence an ENORMOUS corpus of printed material in the present standard spelling, much of it used daily by readers of English all over the world.  It would be impossibly expensive to reprint all of that in the new orthography.  The result of that is that people, or at least most people, would have to become literate in TWO systems (or maybe more, if the rest of the English-speaking world followed the dumb American action). Dissatisfaction with that would dwarf dissatisfaction with the shortcomings of the present orthography.  An instructive example is that of Turkey, which turned after World War I from the Arabic to the Latin alphabet for writing Turkish.  The reform was a good one, even excellent, easier to learn and use than the old Arabic spellings, but the reform had precisely the disadvantage which I noted above: ALL of the old literature (in the broadest sense of that word) became inaccessible to people not trained to read it.  The result is that the average Turk is as isolated from the historical publications in his language (several centuries' worth) as an illiterate person is to the writings of his own native community.
      And God save us from changing an item here and there, with no consistency in which items were chosen, and the rule applied only to some of the eligible items.
      Moreover, the present standard spelling system is not THAT bad, because it does broadly reflect current pronunciations along with structural realities.  True, it is difficult for some people to learn, and those who don't are persecuted for their failure to learn, but that is still better than bringing out a new system which would have all of the problems indicated above.
      The only language communities which can afford the luxury of periodic updating are small ones, where little commercial and educational disruption is caused by orthographic reform.  
      And really, with spell-check (TM), spelling is no longer the bane it once was.  So simmer down, all of you Mrs. Grundies!  Find a REAL issue to complain about!

      •  Spelling reform would be as easy as our adoption (8+ / 0-)

        of the metric system.

      •  What is print? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mettle fatigue

        You worry about stuff printed that used the old spellings. Like Chaucer? Or even Shakespeare?

        Most 'printed' material today is written in pixels. In the future all but the most specialized libraries will consist of e-books, e-magazines, e-newspapers, and various e-documents. The oldest books, after all, are often printed on paper that is by now brittle and fraying. But it would seem relatively easy for 'translating' software to render classic English writing stored on computers in either old-style or simplified spelling. Indeed, readers should be able to toggle between one style and the other.

        In any case, a modest and careful partial simplification of spellings need not make old documents unreadable. Phonetic skills and a bit of practice should make most printed material accessible.

        And then you say

        True, it is difficult for some people to learn, and those who don't are persecuted for their failure to learn, but that is still better than . . .
        I strongly disagree. It isn't better.

        Children who fail to learn to read and write, and to spell well enuff to read and write, pay an enormous and painful cost for their entire lives. Our economy and our society shares in those high costs, and we share in that failure and shame.

        •  I would differ with this assumption (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          In the future all but the most specialized libraries will consist of e-books, e-magazines, e-newspapers, and various e-documents.
          because the economy we're currently in is not likely to improve for the majority of Americans ---it's becoming more normal relative to the rest of the world--- and the electronic industry's built-in profit-generating planned obsolescence is likely to put electronic devices out of financial reach of that majority.

          By comparison, books are far less expensive to make, use and maintain; they involve far less hazardous and noxious waste; and existing libraries and used-book sources comprise more of a resource about what the human species has done, and done to itself and to the planet, than will ever be profitably or politically expedient to convert to pixels.

          Books are the most democratic form of information exchange and vicarious experience that we have, they embody embrace of diversity through their variegated orthography and languages and ideas, and they can't be electronically re-edited to suit any contemporary regime's agenda once they're printed.

          I'm just sayin'

  •  I've gone on before about "lose". (10+ / 0-)

    Could we change that to "luse", "lues" or "looze"? Just to stop people from spelling it "loose". But you can't really blame them. Lose, dose, rose, hose, pose, nose. Which one really doesn't belong?

    We could change "laughter" to "lafter". Or change "daughter" to "dawter". One of them has got to go.

    We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.

    by PowWowPollock on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 08:45:53 AM PST

  •  It's time to get rid of the letter C (8+ / 0-)

    It either sounds like a K or an S. It has no sound of its own, so what's the point?

    I think (hope) texting and advertising will help change spelling for the better. Products are "lite" or used at "nite". My daughter will C U l8r. (Okay, that last word won't ever make it into standard English...)

    I've read that the US has eight times the number of dyslexics over Italy due to the complexity of our spelling... I don't know about the truth of that -- but my dyslexic daughter struggles with ie's and ei's and ou's etc. It's incredibly frustrating for her and so pointless when there is an easier way to spell words...

    First the thing is impossible, then improbable, then unsatisfactorily achieved, then quietly improved, until one day it is actual and uncontroversial. ... It starts off impossible and it ends up done. - Adam Gopnik

    by theKgirls on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 08:46:03 AM PST

  •  Texting and the new generation of communication (11+ / 0-)

    will do more to shove this down the road than anything up till now.  

    (Notice I am avoiding the idea of whether of not "down the road" is "progress."  Heh.)  

    Some of those recommended changes are happening as we live, thanks to the need for speed and the use of only thumbs to exchange information.  Correct spelling and clear communication doesn't matter as much as FAST communication to the newest generation of English users.

    I find these spelling inconsistencies in English fascinating.  They really are like Hansel and Gretel's trail of breadcrumbs leading us back into the history of our language.  

    Thanks for the diary and the topic, Ojibwa.  Very interesting, as usual!  

    Somebody told me that you had a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend that I had in February of last year.

    by koosah on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 08:52:40 AM PST

  •  I'm aware of two major reforms to languages (7+ / 0-)

    Both when the Communists took over and universal literacy was promoted.

    The first was China and though I'm not very fluent the Chinese taught in China is much more simplified than the old style of Taiwan.

    The other in Laos I'm much more familiar with and it's a  phonetic alphabet. They ditched unused letters entirely, began using spaces between words, and spelled things the way they were said. It's much more sensible than written Thai it's closest resembling language. They also got rid of non PC words that denoted class standing, unfortunately those are making a comeback of late.

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 08:54:03 AM PST

    •  Soon after the Bolshevik Revolution (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa, ban nock, mettle fatigue

      came a major orthographic reform of Russian, in use to this day.

      One aspect was the elimination of letters with identical sound.

    •  Also, Turkish and Vietnamese (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I'm not sure how well suited the current orthography of Vietnamese is, but certainly, the Turks had no business using a script w/o built-in vowels like the Arabic script.

      Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

      by mbayrob on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 05:50:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Also, once upon a time, Chinese was phonetic (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      or at least, you could make a good guess as to how a lot of characters were pronounced by looking at the "non-radical" (the "radical" is like the "determinatives" of Sumerian or Hieroglyphic Egyptian -- it give you an idea what the character means, rather than how it is pronounced).

      Three thousand years and repeated invasions by Turkic speakers kind of screwed that up.  Sort of the way getting invaded by French speakers screwed up English.

      Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

      by mbayrob on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 05:54:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Mark Twain's Legendary Plan (15+ / 0-)
    For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.
    Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" -- bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez -- tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli.
    Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 09:01:06 AM PST

  •  Dutch has undergone many spelling reforms. (11+ / 0-)

    An important part of Dutch standardizers' work nowadays is deciding on correct forms for words imported from English. For example, "geupload" as the past participle of "uploaden."

    The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war. ♥ ♥ ♥ Forget Neo — The One is Minori Urakawa

    by lotlizard on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 09:08:39 AM PST

  •  Very interesting... thanks for the post. n.t (7+ / 0-)

    I will not vote for Hillary. What we need is a Democrat in the White House.

    by dkmich on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 09:10:13 AM PST

  •  I use to have an alternative of the (9+ / 0-)

    alpha, bravo, charlie telephony.

    I can't remember all of them now, but it included things like:

    A as in 'are'
    C as in 'cay'
    D as in 'Djakarta'
    E as in 'eye'
    G as in 'gnome'
    I as in 'in'
    K as in 'know'
    M as in 'mnemonic'
    O as in 'opossum'
    T as in tsunami'
    Y as in 'you'

    So if you were trying to spell out the word 'eye' you would simply say "eye, you, eye." 'Act' would be "are, cay, tsunami." 'Dog would be 'Diakarta, opossum, gnome.'

    I was sure it would reduce confusion as to what letter was being said over the phone. :)

    “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

    by se portland on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 09:15:01 AM PST

  •  Weather ore knot wee awl use (8+ / 0-)

    thee write weigh two spell, this homonym plague on the internet has to end.

    Actual Democrats: the surest, quickest, route to More Democrats. And actually addressing our various emergencies.

    by Jim P on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 09:31:39 AM PST

  •  Anyone remember "The Decibet"? (6+ / 0-)

    It was an SNL sketch from the seventies, with Dan Ackroyd explaining the new decimal alphabet which only used ten letters.  Can't find a clip of it anywhere, but it was pretty good. I do remember that the letters L, M, N and O were combined to make the letter "LMNO" (pronounced "LMNO") because we've always said them as one letter anyway.

  •  Sorry to see (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, mettle fatigue

    Sorry to see how silly and nearly useless were previous efforts to reform spelling.

    The aim of simpler spelling should be for children, immigrants, and others who are not "native spellers" to learn to read and write English.

    We don't need to change the spelling of every damn word. But you can easily find purists who want to change 'ph' to 'f' every time it occurs. Nonsense. Any kid can learn that 'ph' is pronounced 'f'. Other purists want to get rid of double letters. Nonsense. Any kid can learn to pronounce and spell 'little' and we don't need to change to litle.

    I'd concentrate on as few words as possible.

    Enuff ruff stuff sluff are my top targets.

    And I got 'em outnumbered:
    buff, bluff, cuff, duff, duffel, duffer,enuff, fluff, gruff, guff, huff, muff, muffle, puff, ruff, scruff, shuffle, sluff, snuff, stuff, tuff.

    Next up: Getting rid of 'ough' (and then 'ought', and 'aught') wherever possible.
    Not so simple, but like this:
    tho, thru, boro, bow (as in a tree limb), coff or cawf ?, dow or dowe ? (some changes would need debate and careful consideration of other spelling patterns), owt, trawf ?, sawt ?, etc.

    How to render 'ought' or 'aught' anyway?
    baut, caut, dauter?
    or bawt, cawt, dawter?
    fawt, frawt, nawt, tawt, thawt

    Better to start with enuff ruff stuff sluff and then take a study break. LOL.

  •  A major problem with English spelling is that (8+ / 0-)

    there are more possible sounds than in most other widespread languages. I have studied Spanish and Mandarin Chinese and the number of possible syllables is very limited in each compared to English. After a week of class someone should know the basic pronunciation rules and be able to read out any Spanish or Chinese text (assuming they can make the appropriate sounds).

    On the other hand, there are 24 consonants and about the same number of vowels/diphthongs (depending on the dialect). You can pile up at least three consonants at the start and end of each syllable separated by a the vowel in the middle. Combining those sounds can then modify them, and adding syllables before and after can also modify them. Someone using a different dialect will have different sound processing rules.

    Some dialects of Spanish aren't phonetic. My wife had a very hard time in Chile because they elide the ends of many of their words. It isn't the Castillan we learned.

    Chinese dialects are even worse. There was a native Cantonese speaker in my Mandarin class and he could read the texts with no problem (like me reading Dick and Jane). But he couldn't pronounce them at all. He would see the word for a canine animal and say "dog" but the instructor would say "hound".

    •  When the Spaniards come to Mexico (3+ / 0-)

      They ran into all sorts of sounds that they did not have in their language. For instance, Spanish did not have an 'sh' sound, so they just used the letter 'x.' The Mayan ruins of Yaxchilan  should be pronounced something closer to ya-she-lon.

      Being the kiss ass that I am, I decided to make a Mayan glyph of my boss' name 'Tracey' only to discover that the Mayan language does not have an 'r' sound. So, I did the best I could and came up with a glyph that said 'the woman who is call ta-la ce.' The book I derived it from assured me I shouldn't worry about it, since the Mayans would most likely  pronounced her name that way anyway.

      “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Winston Chuchill

      by se portland on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 11:28:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I've explained that using... (3+ / 0-)

      Venn diagrams, with English being a large circle, and the other language being a smaller circle mostly covered by English.

      The United States for All Americans

      by TakeSake on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 03:49:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You'd be surprised (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        There was a possibility a few years back I'd get to go to Korea on business.  I'm not too bad with languages, but trying to distinguish some of their vowel sounds just about made me crazy.

        It's not that English has all those sounds.  It's that it almost has all those sounds.

        Quote of the week: "They call themselves bipartisan because they're able to buy members of both parties," (R. Eskow, Campaign for America's Future.)

        by mbayrob on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 06:00:48 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The Chicago Tribune used a reformed spelling (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, Woody, mettle fatigue

    as its owner, Robert "Colonel" McCormick decreed. I grew up reading the Tribune every morning and the Chicago Daily News (home of Mike Royko) every night. Those were the days! (Hmmm, a look back at the days of newspapers might be worth a diary.)
    The Tribune's list of reformed words changed over the years and some never caught on nationally, such as, "frate train". But some spellings I, and others, find preferable such as dialog, tonite, and program.

    •  Height, weight, freight, straight (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ojibwa, mettle fatigue, miscanthus

      These words are prime candidates for simplification.

      But change them all at once,
      blite, brite, flite, frite, hite, lite, knite and Knite, mite, nite, rite, site, slite, tite, etc
      join with indite, quite, trite.

      And frate, strate, and wate
      belong with bate, crate, date, equate, fate, gate, grate (in a sidewalk, saving 'great' for consideration and possibly another step), hate, late, mate, rate, sate, slate, spate, etc.

      Trying to get rid of all or most 'gh', 'ogh', 'ough', 'ought', 'aight' 'eight' 'ight' and the like.

  •  Excellent post, Ojibwa! (7+ / 0-)

    Love this subject!  As an amateur etymologist - a necessary skill when dealing with genealogy records - this is right up my alley.

    For half a century or more in informal correspondence I've used thru, tho, altho, and in private notes to myself, I use enuf for enough.

    I would disagree with this 1876 suggestion:

    gard instead of guard
    One of the first things one learns in Scandinavian genealogy research is that a gård is a farm (changed to the spelling gard in farm names that became American surnames when people didn't opt for a misspelled patronymic name as their American surname).  The alternate spelling of gård is gaard since aa = å.

    I think I'd disagree with this, too:

    ar instead of are
    År - Aar = year in Norwegian (and Danish and Swedish).  Many who know something of English language origins and all three modern Scandinavian languages could easily become confused without any context.

    The English Spelling Society has an excellent article about Norwegian Spelling Reform because any changes in the Norwegian language are tied up with the history.

    The short version (as explained by my Norwegian teacher in the early '80s):  When the plagues swept Europe ca 1347/49, Norway lost most of its royal or noble families.  Norway ceded itself to Denmark, although they functioned as an independent country.  Scholars and clergy were educated in Denmark, so very often they wrote their records and official correspondence in Danish (I also see Germanic and Latin spellings in records every once in a while).  When Denmark was losing land in the Napoleonic wars, Norway ceded itself to Sweden and their constitution was signed on the seventeenth of May 1814 - hence the Syttende Mai celebrations all over Norway which are equal to the 4th of July parades we have (mostly it involves a lot of adults and mostly children in regional costumes taking part in the parades nowadays - bunads are everywhere in the photos - bunader = plural).  By the late 19th century the intelligentsia of Norway was worried about the corrupting influence of the Swedish language and began writing their own dictionary and pushing for Norwegian independence.  Because the language and customs of Norway were more closely related to Danish by then, Norway selected the second son of the Danish royal family as their king..., and his descendants are on the throne of Norway today.  All three Scandinavian countries did away with males inheriting the throne (long before Great Britain), so now the eldest child becomes king or queen (that will happen with King Harald's granddaughter, HRH Princess Ingrid, daughter of HRH Prince Haakon in Norway, and in Sweden HRH Princess Victoria will inherit her father's crown and her daughter - and so far, only child - HRH Princess Estelle will become queen after her, and in Denmark Queen Margrethe's crown goes to her son, HRH Prince Frederik, and then his eldest child, HRH Prince Christian).

    The first all-Norwegian dictionary was published ca 1917..., and school children are taught two different versions of Norwegian: Bokmål and Nynorsk.  I can't tell them apart unless I run into a recognized spelling anomaly in various records..., but most of the records I have to deal with are pre-1900 when Dano-Norsk was used, so now I'm much more familiar with those spellings and transitions.  It doesn't help newbies to Norwegian genealogy research (and to a lesser extent, Danish and Swedish) that there are multiple alternate spellings because of interchangeable letters.  Once one gets used to them, it gets much easier.  When all else fails and I haven't been able to find what is a new word to me in the records and I can't find it online or in my paper dictionaries, I have people to turn to who know what they're talking about.

    When I research records in England, I can now spot the ones with the Norse roots left over from Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlers.  Vikings didn't just invade and plunder.  There is very limited arable land in Norway (only some 10% or so) since most of it is mountains, and over-population drove them to seek settlement elsewhere so they could have farm land of their own.  The pattern repeated itself in the mid-late 19th century, so by 1880-1885 there was a peak in Norwegian emigration to America, altho it had started much earlier and continued later.

    I could easily dispense with the Latin C pronounced with a hard K sound and just use the Greek K instead.  No more Celts pronounced as Selts, but the proper original Keltoi/Kelts/Keltic people, language, song lyrics, art, etc.  It would lessen confusion for names like Karl, Karin/Karen, Kristoffer, and the like.

    There are many spelling changes I could easily go along with.  A few others... not so much.

    I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

    by NonnyO on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 10:42:32 AM PST

      •  :-) Velbekomme! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mettle fatigue, Ojibwa

        Thank you for reading!

        Fifty-five or more years of insomnia - and reading while having insomnia - plus genealogy research (I have ancestors from seven different countries that I've documented), and being fascinated with ancient history up through 24 March 1603 will fill your head with amazing amounts of trivia!

        There are multiple topics I find interesting, some still fascinate me after years of reading, and more I want to explore when I find time.

        If history, forensic anthropology, archaeology, etc., topics as I cited above interest you and you don't have a lot of time, I suggest searching for Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings (or any other topic!) on YouTube.  There are any number of TV shows produced in Great Britain that can leapfrog one back in time while showing bones, listing causes of death (in wars, sometimes otherwise), showing artifacts and where they were found, etc., that are quite interesting to watch.  Several mention the names scattered throughout England particularly from York (ancient Jorvik) westward and southward, especially towns ending in 'by' [one of the few words that retains its original spelling and meaning: town] that are obvious Viking names, plus some that go back to Anglo-Saxon times, and then there are the Roman and Celtic names before that.  Perhaps the most famous Anglo-Saxon ship burial in England is at Sutton Hoo..., yes, of Sutton Hoo helmet fame, as well as a few other artifacts that were found.

        Pre-computer days I used to check bibliographies at the back of books and get those books to read and add to my private library.  On a few really good Wiki pages there are references and links throughout, as well as at the bottom of the page.  Naturally, you can't trust everything on the interwebs, but there's enough correct info to whet one's appetites to explore further.

        Enjoy!  :-)

        I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

        by NonnyO on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 06:12:04 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  speaking of insomnia (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NonnyO, Ojibwa

          i wrote this diary because in all my own years of sleep disorders no doctor and no other similarly deprived person but one had ever heard of this method for dealing with insomnia, and that one is who told me about it.  for something so simple, it's really pretty effective A Trees/Flowers Anti-Insomnia List

          thanks for that terrific reply. sadly, i am somewhat drastically time-limited due to disabilities, and have lost capacity to read longform, so i have archaeology & history books piled everywhere that i keep buying from the betterworldbooks usedbook site, imagining, for some reason, that i will magically regain ability to read booklength.  the better programs on History Channel & NatGeo channel kind of literally give me a reason and a way to wake up in the morning despite the sleep deprivation.  youtube may work too, if my old computer doesn't drag its butt with that buffering thing it does. i am somewhat addicted to wikipedia as well, for so many  topics, and that isn't good for insomnia either ... something about the light spectrum from the monitor screen... argh.

          so glad at your mentioning of finding books to read by using bibliographies in books.  a person who searches! wonderful! i feel so much better! :)

          •  :-) Great suggestions in your diary! (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mettle fatigue, Ojibwa

            I am insufferably, hopelessly addicted to doing research.  Since I got my first PC in '01 and discovered new info and got the documents about some family members..., I've been "addicted" to online research.  I got interested in genealogy when I was in high school, and for 40 years I did research off and on.  The internet opened up whole new worlds of acquiring documents, including documents in foreign countries.  It keeps my mind focused and in the present while solving various puzzles that keep cropping up.  If it is true that keeping one's brain occupied staves off Alzheimer's, I should be in great shape!  ;-)

            Best wishes for a good night's sleep for you!


            I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

            by NonnyO on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 08:03:25 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Read Knucklehead's comment about phonetics (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, Woody, mettle fatigue

    About two weeks ago HoundDOG wrote a comment

    We need to overhaul the English language so it works phonetically.
    and Knucklehead wrote a great comment.
    Be very careful what you wish for.


    The European Union commissioners have announced that agreement has been reached to adopt English as the preferred language for European communications, rather than German, [snip]

    In the first year, "s" will be used instead of the soft "c." Sertainly, sivil servants will resieve this news with joy. Also, the hard "c" will be replaced with "k". Not only will this klear up konfusion, [snip]

    There will be growing publik emthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced by "f".[snip]

    Ref link:
    •  Cute but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mettle fatigue

      If the purpose of simplification is to help kids read and reduce illiteracy, there's no real need to change 'ph' to 'f'. And proposing to do so provokes ridicule.

      We should aim at spellings that are confusing and out of line with a dozen or so words pronounced and spelled in one dominant way.

      I'm not sure how many kids have trouble with the two sounds for 'c'. This is far down my list of spelling complaints.

      Of course, if ve don't change de 'c' vords to de 'k' spelling, ve don't get de Germanik look nesessari for de joke.

  •  GHOTI nt (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, N in Seattle, mettle fatigue


    by otto on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 12:26:02 PM PST

  •  First an apology (3+ / 0-)

    because this comment is something of a hijacking of the thread. I have put it toward the back to minimize this effect but I have an English language question that has been bothering me for a good while and haven't had much luck finding an answer. Since there seems to be so much linguistic talent here at the moment perhaps someone will b able to offer help.

    The question has to do with the use of "between" and "in between" and how the distinction is formalized. What bothers me is that in recent years the distinction seems to be disappearing and it bothers me that I do not know how to express a rule that would clarify the difference.

    For me it is comfortable to say, for instance, "between the Atlantic and the Pacific", but it is jarring when, as is happening with increasing frequency, one hears, "in between the Atlantic and the Pacific", although one might have no problem with, "The atlantic and Pacific and everything in between".

    Does anyone know of a standard of usage that would cover this distinction? Any help would be appreciated.

    The world is a den of thieves and night is falling. -Ingmar Bergman

    by Pirogue on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 02:26:59 PM PST

  •  Ewe halve two bee kitten mee! (3+ / 0-)

    sum eoff thoz spell-eanes ar krazee! ;-)

    As someone who has written modifications for the metaphone function to improve predictive spelling for databases searches, I can tell you English has some very odd pronunciation rules in many cases and some of those cases then have exceptions for themselves!

    "Lesbian and gay people are a permanent part of the American workforce, who currently have no protection from the arbitrary abuse of their rights on the job." --Coretta Scott King

    by craigkg on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 02:33:29 PM PST

  •  the Great Vowel Shift and Anglo-Saxon letters (3+ / 0-)

    A lot of the weird spellings can be traced back to these two sources.

    The Great Vowel Shift was a titanic but imperceptible shift over generations in how English vowels were pronounced.  Without standardization, the spellings of words did not keep pace because there was no 'right' spelling in the first place that became wrong as people came to speak differently.

    Another issues is that when the printing press was imported into England, printers had to deal with the fact that English at that time used a number of letters that were not present in the Latin alphabet, which the typesets from the Continent used.  Since there was no spelling standardization, printers could and did invent their own substitutes. 'Th' substitutes for þ thorn, while 'y' as a consonant substitutes for wynn.  Each of the modern Scandinavian alphabets includes different sets of Latin-derived letters to express additional vowel sounds that in English have been subsumed into the standard Latin vowels, accounting for some of their inconsistent usage.

    Educated Englishmen since the 19th Century have had an interesting tendency to look to Latin and Greek for how English "ought" to be written and spoke.  'Ph' comes from Greek (which it why it occurs in Greek-descended words, but not in Latinate or Germanic words), as does 'y' as a vowel (the letter's name in Spanish or French basically means "Greek 'i'").

    The French language also has a lot of silent letters, including letters that modify the sounds of other letters (especially vowels), and since England was conquered by a French-assimilated Norse aristocrats in 1066, the French language - not English - was the working language of the ruling class for hundreds of years.  English courts used a truly bizarre French pidgin into the 18th Century.

    Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

    by Visceral on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 03:57:25 PM PST

    •  Amazing side effect of printing press! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Visceral, Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest

      Much as I sometimes wish for simplified spelling, and have seen some surprising studies about its effectivity as a transitional quasi-language for students first learning to read English (mostly little kids for whom English is already their first language), I think I would really enjoy and make ood use of a return/addition to the English alphabet of letters representing sounds extensively lost in speaking except in areas where ancient traditonal pronunciation has persisted and reflects Gaelic and other influences.

      And because words derived from greek and latin reflect roots of meaning that are sort of unifying when seen visually, I suspect that simplified spelling may be counterproductive to deeper understanding of meanings, and may accelerate drift of meaning of individual words to the point that meanings become as regionalized as accents and dialects. That would work the opposite of encouraging a language the entire world can share in the moments when translation doesn't serve the world's need for peace and constructive interaction quite as well.

      Still, in grad school, we printed t-shirts that said:
                 Free Melvil Dui!
      (The inventor of the Dewey Decimal Classification was something of a simplified spelling advocate at times.)

      •  adding long/short vowel and accent marks (3+ / 0-)

        Would probably clear up 90% of the problem with English spelling no longer matching pronunciation, making it possible to visually indicate vowel sounds without having to change the spelling of the words.  Alternately, greater use of ligatures (ae, oe, etc.) and/or the schwa (ә) and Scandinavian å and ø to accommodate our additional mushy vowels would help.

        I'd like to see the Anglo-Saxon letters come back too, and I like your take on the potential pitfalls of spelling reform/simplification: that they might ironically eliminate a lot of information from the language.  Simplified spellings certainly look less intelligent to me.

        Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

        by Visceral on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 05:22:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I recently read a book on the history of spelling. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest

    It was fascinating, but unfortunately I don't remember the exact title.

  •  Two entirely new alphabets were proposed (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, RiveroftheWest

    The Deseret alphabet was proposed by guess which church.  It has forty letters and distinct upper and lower case forms.  The uppercase letters are just larger versions of the lowercase letters.

    The Shavian alphabet was developed per instructions in the will of George Bernard Shaw.  It has 48 letters and does not distinguish case.  It has some logical structure, in that an unvoiced consonant can be turned upside down to make the voiced consonant:  the Shavian "V", for example, is an upside down Shavian "F".

    Both are present in Unicode and some fonts are available.  Deseret is U+10400 through U+1044F and Shavian is U+10450 through U+1047F.

    Bello ne credite, Americani; quidquid id est, timeo Republicanos et securitatem ferentes.

    by Sura 109 on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 07:32:48 PM PST

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site