Re: English Spelling

From: John Cowan (
Date: Fri Dec 10 1999 - 12:00:36 EST

"Reynolds, Gregg" wrote:

> Rather than ask if the orthography allows non-speakers to
> puzzle out the sound, I would ask if native speakers of normal intelligence
> can learn to read with reasonable effort.

I agree with this criterion, and I believe that English fails it: it
takes twice as long to learn English spelling as it should, more or less.

But a modest Wijk-style reform would eliminate most of that. We would know
(using Wijk's rules) that "ough" is to be pronounced as in "though" only,
and that "ar" has precisely three pronunciations: "bar" (final or
before a consonant), "care" (before a vowel or final silent e), and
"charity" (before a vowel, or when r is doubled). Words violating this
norm would be respelled: "scarce" uses the "ar" of "care", not of "bar",
and so the spelling "scairce" would represent it better. (I do not give
IPA renderings, since they depend on dialect.)

> Philosophical question: if somebody with absolutely no knowledge of English
> managed to produce sounds approximating an English utterance - say, "I've
> fallen in the woods and I can't get up" - would they be, ontologically,
> English sounds?

This reminds me of the philosopher's parrot (mentioned by Ray Smullyan)
who was trained to say "I don't understand a word I say." The philosopher
commented: "When *I* say that, it's viciously self-referential...but in
*his* case?"


Schlingt dreifach einen Kreis vom dies! || John Cowan <> Schliesst euer Aug vor heiliger Schau, || Denn er genoss vom Honig-Tau, || Und trank die Milch vom Paradies. -- Coleridge (tr. Politzer)

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