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In defense of arbitrary spelling

From:Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...>
Date:Sunday, April 18, 2004, 18:39
Here's an idea for spelling reform which might even
be considered to be a written conlang whose spoken
form is ordinary English.  The guiding principle of
the rules of spelling would be to make each word
have as distinctive a shape as possible to make it
quicker and easier to recognize the word in context.

First, it should be admitted that this idea would
make learning to spell correctly more difficult and
time consuming because the spelling rules would
tend to be even more arbitrary, phonetically, than
the standard rules of English spelling.  However it
would make actual reading by an experienced reader
much faster becuase the eye could identify each
distinctive word shape more quickly.

First change: A special font would be designed
which has no upper/lower case distinction.  In the
place of capital letters would be alternate lower
case letter forms which would be distinctly
different from the traditional lower case letter
forms.  In addition, the lower case letters would
be modified to make them more visually distinctive
from each other.

Second change: A systematic set of alternate
spellings would be defined for each sound.  For
example, it could be declared that the letters
"j" and "z" when they immediately follow "t",
"c", "s" or 'P' have the same effect as the
letter "h".  Thus the "sh" sound could be written
"sh", "sj", or "sz".  Also, given that there are
two alternate lower case letter forms for each
letter which replace the upper case letter forms,
that sound could also be written "Sh", "sH",
"SH", "Sj", "sJ", "SJ", "Sz", "sZ", "SZ" for a
total of 12 different ways to write "sh".
Similar rules would be introduced for vowel
sounds like "ate", "ait", "ayt", "ajt", etc.

Third change: The "correct" or canonical spelling
of a word would be choosen based on making that
word as visually distinct from similar words as
possible.  Thus "fish" and "dish" might be spelled
"fiSz" and "dIsj" (remembering that what appears
here as Roman upper case letters are actually
alternate lower case forms in the new font.)  The
general rule would be that two words must differ
from each other by two letter forms at the very
least.  "them", "then", "they" might become "tHem",
"TjEn", "tzeY", for example.

Spellings would not be canonized in isolation, but
as part of a set of similar words with due regard
to how each word in the set is to be spelled. Thus,
in deciding on the canonical spellings for the
4-letter set { bail fail hail jail mail nail rail
sail tail wail veil gale male pale tale } it would
have to be insured that each word had the minimum
of two shape distinctions from every other word
in the set.  for example:

bail fAil haIl jAIle mayL nAjL RAeLE... etc.

Thus no two written word shapes could be easily
confused even when their sounds are very similar:
"far", "fur", "fear", "fair", "fire" ->
"far", "phuR", "FeJr", "Pjair", "pziRE"