Two Simplified Spelling Resources–Unifon and Cut Spelling
The Dragons of Grammar are as amenable as anyone to RT’s history essays, but of late they feel a bit slighted in RT’s writing schedule (RT reminds them that, not so long ago, they were sunning themselves lazily on the rocks outside their caves). Still, RT feels obliged to add a post on spelling and alphabet reform, a thread he will admit he has neglected of late. So here are two systems that RT thinks could help us develop a simpler, kinder spelling.
1) Unifon. Designed by Dr. John R. Malone in the 1950s, the original market that the script was designed for disappeared, and gradually the modified alphabet has drifted off the public’s radar.
Here are the pro considerations for Unifon
a) it’s clearly based on the current English alphabet.
b) it visually relates each new letter to the traditional English letter that represents its sound.
c) it’s easy to learn; in 1960, Dr. Margaret S. Ratz used Unifon to teach three children how to read “in 17 hours with cookies and milk.”
Here’s the con:
a) Unifon would require the modification of keyboards and public signage
Here is the Unifon Alphabet, weighing in at 40 letters:
- Letters irrelevant to pronunciation. This rule deletes most silent letters, except when these letters (such as “magic e“) help indicate pronunciation. Omitting or including the wrong silent letters are common errors. Examples: peace → pece, except → exept, plaque → plaq, blood → blod, pitch → pich.
- Cutting unstressed vowels. English unstressed syllables are usually pronounced with the vowel schwa /ə/, which has no standard spelling, but can be represented by any vowel letter. Writing the wrong letter in these syllables is a common error, for example, seperate for separate. Cut Spelling eliminates these vowel letters completely before approximants (/l/ and /r/) and nasals (/m/, /n/, and /ŋ/). In addition, some vowel letters are dropped in suffixes, reducing the confusion between -able and -ible. Examples: symbol → symbl, victim → victm, lemon → lemn, glamour/glamor → glamr, permanent → permnnt, waited → waitd, churches → churchs, warmest → warmst,edible → edbl.
- Simplifying doubled consonants. This rule helps with another of the most common spelling errors: failing to double letters (accommodate and committee are often misspelled) or introducing erroneously doubled letters. Cut Spelling does not eliminate all doubled letters: in some words (especially two-syllable words) the doubled consonant letter is needed to differentiate from another differently pronounced word (e.g., holly and holy). Examples: innate → inate, spell → spel.
Here is a sample sentence written with Cut Spelling:
Th Space Race was th competition between th United States and th Soviet Union, rufly from 1957 to 1975. It involvd th efrts by each of these nations to explor outr space with satlites, to be th 1st to send there a human being and to send mand and unmand missions on th Moon with a safe return of th humans to Erth.
1) Introduces no new letters into the alphabet
2) Requires no modification of current keyboards or pubic signage
3) Reduces the length of words by 8-15%.
1) Doesn’t follow the one-letter, one-sound principle.
If RT had to hazard a guess as to which of these two reforms is likelier to be implemented, he would vote for Cut Spelling. On the other hand, he’s sure that the better long-term reform would be Unifon. The simplest reform might be to gradually introduce Unifon. RT
(and incidentally, the Dragons of Grammar have let RT know they like this post)