The recent history
of spelling reform
The Simplified Spelling Society (SSS) of England was founded
in 1908 to reform the chronic irregularities of English spelling.
Many illustrious figures have been associated with the campaign including George Bernard Shaw and Isaac Pitman.

Cut spelling (CS), promoted by Chris Upward and Valerie Yule of the SSS, advocated the dropping of letters in words which hardly if at all were pronounced. The CS system much simplified spelling while also shortening text. It nevertheless still left behind a large number of different spellings for the same sound and different sounds for the same spelling.

In America, over a century earlier, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Morse (Morse Code) and later, Mark Twain were among others who proposed steps towards rationalising the spelling of English. In particular, American William Thornton, born 1759 in the West Indies, was preoccupied for many years from 1785 onward, with the simplifying of English spelling, inspired by the philanthropic cause of bettering the lives of illiterate African slaves. If his altogether plausible reform of the 1790’s had been adopted, English would have become the world’s common language long ago much to the advantage of all peoples.
Unfortunately, the same disinterest in change exists today, notably among politicians who choose to avoid the issue, and people of influence who are oblivious of its significance.

Of the world’s many languages which follow the alphabetical principle, English has easily the most complicated, and the least phonetic spelling. It takes years longer to learn to read and write English than it does that of updated European languages such as Italian, Spanish, German and Finish. Worldwide, hundreds of millions of English speaking people do not master its spelling.

English still retains spelling irregularities developed in the Middle Ages, and has been further outdated by failure to acknowledge sound changes over the centuries.

Due to the steady increase in international correspondence, there has been added emphasis on teaching pupils to spell ‘accurately’ the irregularities, as per English dictionary! Vast resources of (mainly public) money go into promoting a complicated outdated system. Revised spelling would greatly shorten the learning process and consequently reduce its cost. This is imperative since English has become the world language.

The arguments against change, all of them refutable, include that it would obscure the roots of the language, spoil its appearance or somehow alter the language out of all recognition. When we learn a foreign language we expect a close and regular resemblance between sound and symbol. And whenever, as occasionally happens still, an unknown language is discovered, we take it for granted that it should be transcribed as phonetically as possible. Sheer inertia, tradition and prejudice deny a rational transformation of English spelling.

The proponents of reform divide into, those who believe that public opinion will accept only gradual spelling reform, spread over years which this author feels would frustrate efforts for meaningful reform, and those who aim to mobilize public opinion to bring about wholesale reform quickly. Wholesale reform implies one which has been thought through to completion, with as few inconsistencies as possible.

Main text by Paul Fletcher SSS.