Douglas Crockford




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Correct spelling and pronouncing of English words are very hard because words are not spelled as they sound. This is due in part to the eclectic nature of English and its readiness to accept loan words from other languages. This is also due in part to the age of the language. Over time, the pronunciations of words change, and it is often difficult for a writing system to keep up. But for the most part, English intellectuals intentionally made spelling difficult in order to use language as an instrument of class stratification. The gulf between the educated and uneducated classes was deliberately widened by tying spelling to forms that were historic rather than phonetic.

As an American, I find this intolerable. We want to eliminate the gulf between the educated classes and the undereducated classes by means of universal literacy. The difficulty of spelling lies in direct opposition to our goal.

The problems with spelling are intensified by the new role of English as an International Language. English is the language of commerce, law, science, technology, and entertainment. Much of the world is now learning English, a process made unnecessarily difficult by the unnecessary difficulty of spelling.

I think this is a good time to look again at Spelling Reform. Spelling Reform is a lot of work, but much of the work can be done now by computers. Virtually all textual information is now stored in, is processed by, or is available to computers. Computer software can be developed that will significantly reduce the time and expense of Spelling Reform by providing automatic respelling services.

Spelling Reform is not a new idea. It has been going on for centuries. It is the process by which colour became color and through becomes thru.

I took a look at American English, at the sounds that we use when we speak, and at the letters that we have to spell with. I decided not to increase the basic set of 26 letters, and not to add accents or diacritical marks nor other special punctuation or signs. Those sorts of changes have a larger impact on keyboards, typing skills, sign machines, and sorting systems. The only change I am proposing is that words be spelled as they sound with the letters at hand.

a father fahdxr
c sack sck
e pet pet
i visa visa
o hope hop
q book bqk
u dude dud
x cut kxt
y crystal krystl

The place where old spelling is the most inconsistent is in the vowels. If you are reading an unfamiliar word, it is often impossible to predict how to correctly pronounce its vowels.

In Nuspelyhn, each vowel has one sound. The letters c, q, and x are no longer needed as consonants, so we recycle them into vowels. c has the sound of short a, so it may be helpful to see the c as an a without a stem. q has the sound of short oo, so it might be helpful to see the q as a modified o. x has the sound of short u, so it may be useful to see the top half of the x as a very short u. The vowels a, e, i, o, and u have sounds like in other languages, including Spanish, Hawaiian, and Japanese. The y is a vowel with the sound of short i.

Simple Consonants
b bib byb
d dad dcd
f fife faif
g gig gyg
h high hai
j judge jxj
k kick kyk
l lull lxl
m mom mam
n none nxn
p pop pap
r rare rer
s sis sys
t tot tat
v valve vclv
w woe wo
z zoos zuz

The f sound is produced by the letter f and never by the letter p.

The letter g produces only the g sound, never the j sound.

The k sound is produced only by the letter k, and not by the letters c, q, or x. Instead of qu, use kw. Instead of x, use ks.

The s sound is produced by the letter s and never by the letters c or x.

The z sound is produced by the letter z and never by the letters s or x.

Hefty Consonants
hd this hdys
hj church hjxrhj
hn sing syhn
hs shush hsxhs
ht theory htiri
hv yeah hvec
hz casual kchzuxl

The hefty consonants are written with an h prefix followed by a consonant. This allows us to increase the number of consonant sounds without increasing the number of letters.

ai aisle ail
ei vein vein
oi coin koin
cu out cut

There are several vowel sounds that are produced with two vowels but pronounced as one.

Long i is spelled as ai. Long a is spelled as ei.

R Suffix
air fire fair
ar far far
er fair fer
ir fear fir
oir foyer foir
or for for
our flour flour
ur fewer fyur
xr fur fxr

A letter r suffix modifies the sound of a preceding vowel or diphthong.

In Nuspelyhn, there are no silent letters. A letter is written into a word only if it produces a sound. In contrast, I determined that in the old spelling there are cases where all 26 letters can be silent. Nuspelyhn uses the letters more efficiently, so words tend to be a little shorter. The first impression is a bit startling because the frequency of the letters is so different. Fortunately, you can get used to it very quickly.

Doubled letters occur only when both letters are pronounced, so cattle becomes kctl, but cattail becomes kctteil.

Apostrophes can be used to disambiguate letter pairs. Snowy becomes sno'i. Naïve becomes nai'iv. Hyphens for splitting a word for text layout can be inserted anywhere in a word so long as each fractional piece of the word contains at least 3 letters.

Contractions are spelled without an apostrophe ('), so can't becomes kcnt. Possessives are written without an apostrophe, so the dog's ball becomes hdx dagz bal. You no longer have to distinguish between its and it's. Both are spelled yts.

There are cases where a single old spelling word can become two or more Nuspelyhn words. So record becomes rekxrd (noun) and rikord (verb). Bass becomes beis (music) and bcs (fish). Read becomes red (past) and rid (present). Present becomes pryzent (show) and prezynt (now, gift).

Words that sound the same are now spelled the same. So cue and queue both become khvu. I'll, aisle, and isle all become ail. O, oh, and owe all become o. One and won both become wxn. Two, to, and too all become tu. Four, for, and fore all become for. Eight and ate both become eit. Write, right, rite, and wright all become rait. Plain and plane both become plein. Flower and flour both become flcur.

Insignificant vowel differences are not distinguished. So caught and cot both become kat. Poor, pour, and pore all become por. Their, there, and they're all become ther.

The first person nominative singular pronoun is not normally capitalized, so I becomes ai (as do eye and aye).

Many loan words (words adopted from other languages) are mispronounced in English because of the deficiencies of old spelling and not because they have incompatible spellings or contain sounds that are difficult for English speakers to pronounce. The transition to Nuspelyhn gives us an opportunity to reconsider the pronunciation of such words. So visa could becomes visa, not viza, and potato could become potato instead of pxteito, and banana could become banana, not bencne.

Old Nu
accidentally cksydentxli
advice cdvais
advise cdvaiz
affect cfect
anyone eniwxn
around xrcund
beginning bigynyhn
believe biliv
benefit benefyt
booed bud
business byznys
challenge hjclxnj
choir kwair
city syti
color kxlr
compute kampyhut
criticize krytysiz
cure khvur
damn dcm
debris debri
deceive dysiv
debt det
definite defynyt
describe dyskraib
despise dyspaiz
develop develxp
disappoint dysxpoint
disrespect dysrispekt
duel duxl
ecstasy ekstxsi
effect efekt
error erxr
everyone evriwxn
except eksept
existence eksystens
fairy feri
faux fo
fiery fairi
fife faif
formerly formxrli
gene jin
gin jyn
guess ges
handsome hcnsxm
Old Nu
hajj haj
head hed
humorous hhvumxrxs
hyphen haifen
hypocrisy hypakrysi
immediately ymidiytli
incidentally ynsydentxli
jumped jxmpt
junta hunta
kiwi kiwi
knight nait
lacquer lckxr
latter lctxr
law la
lawyer loir
loose lus
lose luz
man mcn
marriage mcryj
men men
mnemonic nymanyk
mischief myshjyf
money mxni
murmur mxrmxr
necessary nesyseri
occurred okxrd
parallel peralel
pat pct
pate peit
peat pit
pecan pekan
people pipxl
pit pyt
playwright pleirait
preceding prisidyhn
prejudice prejudys
principal prynsxpxl
privilege pryvylyj
psycho saiko
puff pxf
pure phvur
purr pxr
pursue pxrsu
pussy pqsi
Old Nu
put pqt
quiet kwaiyt
raccoon rckun
repetition repetyhsxn
revving revyhn
rhyme raim
rhythm ryhdm
ridiculous rydykyxlxs
sacrilegious sckrylyjys
say sei
says sez
science saixns
seize siz
sense sens
separate sepxreit
sewer suxr
siege sij
similar symylr
simile symyli
size saiz
someone sxmwxn
sometime sxmtaim
splints splynts
sugar hsqgr
talk tak
today tudei
together tugehtxr
tomorrow tumaro
tonight tunait
toy toi
tragedy trcjedi
tries traiz
undoubtedly xndoutydli
union hvunhvyn
until xntyl
use hvuz
walked wakt
whistle wysl
why wai
woman wqmxn
women wymyn
wrong rahn
yelling hvelyhn
yippee hvypi

Spelling reform is difficult business. As you attempt to make spelling conform to common pronounciation, common pronounciation changes. For example, the letter t in words like button and mountain is transitioning from a voiceless alveolar plosive (bxtxn) to a glottal stop (bx'n).