End Illiteracy in English

The problem of English functional illiteracy is a very real nightmare, but the solution is easier than you would ever dare to dream.

Why NuEnglish Is the Optimum Spelling

After studying dozens of spelling reform proposals which have been proposed since the 1800s, no known proposed spelling system has more than three or four of the following ten beneficial characteristics of NuEnglish. Concerning items (1) and (2): having more than one way to spell a phoneme (the smallest sound in a language or dialect used to distinguish between syllables or words) or more than one grapheme representing a phoneme (a grapheme is a letter, a combination of letters, or a symbol used to represent a phoneme or a single-phoneme word) not only requires additional learning but also adds a confusing ambiguity to the spelling. Many proposed systems have several of these two problems. Remarkably few proposed spelling systems, other than NuEnglish, has only one spelling per phoneme and graphemes representing only one phoneme.

No other proposed spelling system has the choice of spellings of the phonemes based upon finding the most-used spelling or the expected spelling based upon a large study of English common usage, as in item (7). This will ease the problem of learning for present readers. Some of the spelling systems are based upon frequency of appearance of a phoneme’s spelling in a dictionary instead of according to frequency of usage in common English prose. For example, the dictionary has far more words with the TH phoneme as in the word thin than in the word then, but because of the common words this, that, these, those, then, and there and a few others, based upon frequency of usage, the TH as in then is more common.

The use of double letters to represent a single phoneme is perhaps the cause of more misspellings than any other in traditional spelling and is a characteristic of some of the proposed spelling systems, as well. Only one spelling of the phonemes in NuEnglish is unlike any traditional spelling, and that is because the two TH phonemes, as in the words thin and then, are spelled the same in traditional spelling. The lesser-used TH phoneme, as in the word thin is spelled TT. The only other double letter in NuEnglish used for a single phoneme is the OO as in the word good. This is the most-used spelling of this phoneme in traditional spelling. If macrons are not used, the EE is used for the phoneme as in the word need.

The use of an indication of the primary accented syllable is very valuable because it will enable easy reading. When learning traditional spelling we must not only memorize the spelling of the word but also memorize which syllable has the primary accent. Very few proposed spelling systems, other than NuEnglish, also indicate the primary accented syllable.

A very large portion of the proposed spelling systems, other than English, were designed to be similar in several respects to traditional spelling in order to increase the acceptance of the system by present readers. NuEnglish was scientifically designed to be as simple as possible for beginning readers, who will be able to learn to read NuEnglish in less than three months—some of them in much less than three months.

This explanation of why NuEnglish is superior to all other proposed spelling systems is longer than the NuEnglish spelling rules themselves , which can be seen in the “NuEnglish Spelling System” page.

(1) No phoneme is ever spelled with more than one grapheme.

(2) No grapheme ever represents more than one phoneme.

(3) There are no silent letters.

(4) There are no double letters which represent only one phoneme except OO and TT—and EE, if macrons are not used.

(5) Every sound in every word is represented (except the NG sound in words such as bank and jinx) and is represented in strict first to last order.

(6) An asterisk (pronounced “star,” when spelling aloud) precedes the vowel in the primary accented syllable unless the accent is on the first syllable, the English syllable which is more likely to be accented than any other.

(7) The maximum number of phonemes possible are spelled as they are most often spelled in traditional spelling (30 of the 38 phonemes, 79% of them, used in NuEnglish), based upon Godfrey Dewey’s landmark 100,000 word study of numerous representative prose samples of English usage. The vowel phoneme, as in the word say, must be spelled AE or A with a macron over it because all other choices conflict with another phoneme spelling. The other seven are spelled as they are expected to be spelled.

  • The letter F is expected to have the sound as in the word fan, but more often it has the sound of the letter V entirely because of the very common word of,
  • OE is expected to have the sound as in the word doe, but it most often has the U sound as in the word nut entirely because of the common word does,
  • the letter S is expected to have the sound as in the word set, but more often it has the sound of the letter Z because of the common words is and was and plurals such as bags.
  • E and O are expected to have the sound as in the words pet and not, but most often have the sound of U in nut because of the illogical use of them in unaccented syllables,
  • IE is expected to have the sound as in the word lie, but most often has the vowel sound as in the word bee because of changing Y to I and adding ES or ED for plurals and past tenses, and
  • Y most often has the sound of the vowel in the word bee because of words ending in Y, but Y must be used for its “consonant” sound as is yet, as it is expected to be pronounced.

(8) There are 14 vowel phonemes, five of which are spelled with a single letter grapheme (a,e,i,o, and u), five are spelled with a digraph (ae, ee, ie, oe, or ue) or with a macron, and four others are spelled only with digraphs (au, oi, oo, and ou). There are 24 consonant phonemes, 18 of which are spelled with a single letter grapheme and six are spelled with a digraph (ch, sh, th, zh, ng, or tt). Traditional spelling has many three or four letter graphemes and even some five letters graphemes (e.g. wEIGHEd, brOUGHAm, and plOUGHEd, a British spelling).

(9) there is a free computer program on our http://nuenglish.org website which will quickly convert up to about 25 pages of traditionally spelled material at a time into NuEnglish. The program has an English word database of more than 506,000 words and provides NuEnglish spelling in either General American or British dialects. It was prepared by my colleague, Gary Sprunk, who has a masters degree in English Linguistics, who formed the NuEnglish, Inc. corporation. He also wrote and published Beginner’s NuEnglish Workbook, based upon his experience as a teacher of English as a Second Language in an elementary school in Korea and a university in Thailand. His websites are http://nuenglish.org, http://nuenglish.com, and http://nuenglish.net. He is presently preparing a NuEnglish dictionary.

(10) Due to the simplicity and logic of NuEnglish spelling, people who already read traditional spelling can learn to read NuEnglish in less than ten minutes and return to previous reading speeds after only two or three months of using NuEnglish, and beginning readers can easily learn to read NuEnglish in less than three months. Some of the better students may be able to read NuEnglish fluently after only a week, as Dr. Frank Laubach believed. Many other beginners can easily learn to read NuEnglish in only four or five weeks.

Beginning readers will be able to read fluently after learning nothing more than the grapheme used for each phoneme (spelling rule 1), learning how to blend the phonemes into words, and the use of the asterisks for showing primary emphasis (spelling rule 7). The other eight rules are for providing the consistency needed when writing and can be taught after the students are reading fluently. Many of the beginning students can learn the grapheme used for each phoneme if they are thoroughly familiar with these two memory aid sentences:

Mae Green lied, “Joe Blue and Kevin (top-gun) Wood haul our oil.” Qit mezhuring fish hwich yuez this ttin box. (quit, measuring, which, use, and thin in traditional spelling.)

The first sentence has the 14 vowel phonemes in the order of five long vowels, five short vowels, (long and short are commonly-used terms not phonetic terms) and the four other vowels. The first sentence also has the GR, BL, and ND consonant blends. The second sentence has the seven consonant digraphs: ZH, NG, SH, HW, CH, TH, and TT representing six consonant phonemes and the HW consonant blend. The two sentences combined contain all 18 of the consonants represented by a single letter. Fourteen vowel phonemes, six consonant phonemes represented by digraphs, and 18 consonant phonemes represented by a single letter totals 38 phonemes to be learned. Although strictly speaking a vowel followed by an R phoneme produces a diphthong (which many phoneticists consider to be a separate phoneme thus claiming the English language has more than 38 phonemes) beginning students can easily learn these additional phonemes by blending the vowel and the R phoneme in the same way as they learn all the other blends.

Learning the grapheme to represent 38 phonemes and learning how to blend them into words is quite obviously much easier than learning every word in a person’s reading vocabulary one-at-a-time by rote memory or by repeated use. Most people have a reading vocabulary of at least 20,000 words. Many people have reading vocabularies of 70,000 words or more. Learning traditional spelling is complicated by the fact that it is so illogical, inconsistent, and chaotic. There is not even one spelling rule that does not have exceptions—and some of the exceptions have exceptions! A computer programmed with all of the spelling rules was able to correctly spell only about half of a list of common English words. Not only are there far more graphemes used in traditional spelling than are needed (26 single letters, 153 digraphs, 98 trigraphs, 14 tetragraphs, and 3 pentagraphs, for a total of 294 graphemes), but there are 1768 or more ways of spelling 40 phonemes in traditional spelling, an average of over 44 each. The very worst is the phoneme U as in the word nut: it is spelled at least 60 different ways, with the letters a, e, i, o, u, m, and y, with 33 digraphs, 19 trigraphs, and one tetragraph (OUGH in the word thoroughly). Four of these 60 graphemes represent another phoneme in addition to the U phoneme.

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