Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What do you need to know...

...to read English? Just this. It fits in your wallet. (Print version available here.)

Once Project Unspell is up and running, all English text will be available in unspelled form, as an accessibility requirement—similar to wheelchair ramps for the handicapped and Braille lettering on elevators for the vision-impaired—except that the constituency it will serve is somewhere between 50 and 100 million in the US alone. (Depending on which English-speaking country you live in, between one-quarter and one-half of the students never conquer English spelling and end up functionally illiterate.) But since Unspell is easy to learn and is designed to relieve both eyestrain and brain fatigue, other people may come to prefer it as well.


Shawn Aune said...


JimK said...

You need a version of this for handwriting. There are certainly folks who could figure out a system.

Sheila chambers said...

Why not just spell english phoneticly in the first place! I am sick and tired of random letters being dumped in the middle of words that are not used is ridiculus!
Lots of us can't remember the thousands of words spelled that irrational way.

Anarcissie said...

You may have to alter this system somewhat to accommodate the differences between major accents or pronunciations of English. For instance, most Americans pronounce the -r in syllables that end with one, but in some of the major American cities and in British-inflected English elsewhere in the world, final -r is generally not pronounced but may alter the sound of the previous vowel.

Dmitry Orlov said...

JimK -

There is no need for a special handwriting version. It's just strokes, which go from left to right and from top to bottom. I like to add the voicing mark last.

Sheila -

Writing English phonetically is not really a good idea because of vowel reduction and etymological ties to other languages. But it is possible to write English so that it is pronounced phonetically, by following a few simple rules, and so that orthographic errors (wrong/missing vowels, etc) are easily caught by a spell-checker (which most people rely on these days in any case).

Anarcissie -

The differences between rhotic and non-rhotic dialects (the ones that don't or do drop the "r") need not be reflected in the orthography. They are more along the lines of affectations than actual differences in language.

Gary Shannon said...

When I learned the Shaw Alphabet back in the 1960's (It was George Bernard Shaw's attempt to do exactly what you are trying to do) I exchanged letters with pen-pals from the U.K. Because I wrote with an midwestern American accent and they wrote with a variety of different British accents (of which there are approximately 376,912) all our spellings were "phonetic" yet totally different from each other. We had an awful time trying to read each others' writing.

English can't be written phonetically without specifying which version of English. Is the writer from Boston, Brisbane, or Bombay? No one can claim to pronounce English "correctly", so there is no "correct" phonetic spelling of English.

Do you spell "about" with "bout" or "boot"? Do you pronounce "cot" with the same vowel as "caught", or with a different vowel? Are "merry", "Mary", and "marry" all pronounced the same, or is each pronounced differently? That will depend on which part of the world you are from, so how can there be one "correct" spelling?

Dmitry Orlov said...


Shavian is a brain-dead idea exactly for the reason you bring up: English cannot be spelled phonetically. That's why Unspell uses a phonological rather than a phonetic orthography that is dialect-neutral.