After living with this system for a year or so (it was my pandemic project), I came up with a few tweaks.

First, there are too many ‘z’s. To ameliorate this, we can observe that the letter ‘s’ can never appear before ‘e’ or ‘i’ or final ‘y’: in those contexts, the /s/ sound is written ‘c’.

So, why not make an edict that ‘s’ before ‘e,’ ‘i’ or final ‘y’ is pronounced /z/? This makes words like ‘these,’ ‘those,’ ‘amuse’ and ‘music’ look much nicer. It’s not strictly based on any historical precedent, but clearly at some point in the past there has been a consonant shift from ‘s’ to ‘z,’ so it’s at least not wholly disturbing.


We could make a similar observation for ‘j’ before ‘e,’ ‘i’ or final ‘y.’ As described so far, this sequence cannot occur: /dʒ/ is spelled ‘g’ in that context. A new edict: ‘j’ followed by ‘e,’ ‘i’ or final ‘y’ is actually pronounced /ʒ/. This doesn’t affect many words: ‘seige,’ ‘régime’ and ‘largesse’ are among them. But why not.


Finally, there are too many ‘dh’s. To fix this with a similar rule would say that ‘th’ before ‘e,’ ‘i’ or final ‘y’ is pronounced /ð/, which would give us back words like ‘the,’ ‘these’ and ‘thither,’ but means we’d need a way to spell /θ/ in that context—which does happen, though not super often. Let’s invent ‘thh’ for that purpose. This gives ‘dh’—‘th’—‘thh’ the same relationship as ‘s’—‘c’—‘k.’


‘x’ is strange in that it counts for 2 consonants in its effect on the length of the previous vowel. Should it count for just 1? If it did, we’d have spellings like “foxxy” and “foxe” instead of ‘foxy’ and ‘foax’. Verdict: ❎.

If ‘x’ is ‘cs,’ then shouldn’t ‘xh’ be ‘csh’? That would mean ‘anxiyety’ giving rise to ‘anxhous,’ which is nice, but that is a really common combination, and we’d also see ‘axhon,’ ‘afexhon’ and ‘aflixhon’ for example. Verdict: ❎.


The Corpus

These are all the books I’ve transcribed into the social spelling system. After a while reading it, I find it strangely likable despite its various alien features.

Here are 2 more, for salutary purposes. This is what happens if you abandon the principal that the new spelling must be guided by the old. The result is no longer stable against rhotic/non-rhotic accents or the various merges discussed above. There are a lot of schwa characters, which don’t occur in the social spelling.

The first uses the British English pronunciation of English (RP), so is non-rhotic. This must be pretty strange to anyone with a rhotic accent.

The second uses the Carnegie-Mellon pronouncing dictionary. This uses ʌ where RP uses ə (as well as where RP uses ʌ), so it also looks very odd when rendered into the social orthography. It also uses ɚ for a rhotacised schwa, which I render as ər, but no other rhotacised vowels. Despite being a schwa, this can be the stressed syllable in a word. This dictionary also can end a word with a short vowel (usually ʌ or ɪ), so we need to introduce “magic h,” which is silent after a final vowel, but shortens it.

The diphthongs, as we know, are /eɪ/ as in face, /æɪ/ as in price, /ʌʊ/ as in goat, /ɪʊ/ as in cute, /ɒɪ/ as in choice and /æʊ/ as in mouth. If we pretend that the /ɪ/ is really a semivowel /j/ and the /ʊ/ a /w/, and then also pretend that the long vowels /ɑː/ /ɛː/ /iː/ /ɔː/ /ɜː/ /uː/ are just the short vowels /æ/ /e/ /ɪ/ /ɒ/ /ʌ/ /ʊ/ extended by a semivowel /h/, we get an orthography that obeys all the rules we’ve described, but doesn’t look anything like the usual way of spelling English. Here’s a sample.

Finally, perfect spelling! Exactly 1 symbol for each sound, no funny extra rules. The consonants are b c tʃ d ð f g h dʒ k l m n ŋ p r s ʃ t þ v w ƕ y z ʒ, the vowels are ă ā ȃ, ĕ ē ȇ, ĭ ī, ŏ ō ȏ, ŭ ū ȗ, ʊ ꝏ, ƣ, ȣ, œ and diacritical marks are omitted in accordance with convention.


Another 3 words on stress

We decided to make sure that the social spelling of a word, generally speaking, takes the lengths of the vowels from the lexical context of the English spelling. So in ‘horrid,’ the ‘o’ and ‘i’ are both lax. But we also decided to respell the word if its stressed vowel reaches the wrong conclusion. So we have ‘vollume’ and ‘goast’.

But these leaves us in an ugly situation, where the listener might not be able to tell the length of an unstressed syllable, and so might end up spelling the word incorrectly. For example, in ‘effect,’ the stressed vowel (the second ‘e’) is already lax, so spelling it as ‘effect’ seems to be good—but, as the first ‘e’ is unstressed, it’s hard to tell if it’s lax or tense, so maybe it should be spelled ‘efect’? Another example is ‘battalion,’ where the stressed vowel is pronounced lax, so should we spell it ‘battallion’? No—to make sure the first syllable is easy to spell from the pronounciation, we can always remove repeated letters in unstressed syllables, giving us ‘batallion.’ This rule (remove repeated letters in unstressed syllables), is called dedoubling.

It gives us spellings like ‘comunicative’, ‘apere,’ ‘anouns’ and many others. Dedoubling also applies to combinations that arise because of the transfigurative properties of ‘c’ and ‘g’: the following combinations can be double letters, and are also subject to dedoubling: ‘sc’ (before ‘e,’ ‘i,’ ‘y’), ‘ck,’ ‘dj,’ ‘dg’ (but not ‘dgh’). So ‘nacent,’ ‘finniky,’ ‘ajust,’ ‘agern.’

This is good, but it still leaves 1 more problem. In a word like ‘situation,’ the ‘i’ looks tense, which would lead us to spell it as ‘situwaishon,’ except that the first ‘t’ is pronounced ‘ch,’ also because of yod-coalescence, giving ‘saichoowaishon,’ when it should obviously actually be ‘sichoowaishon’ after all. This is a work in progress.


4 complete books

4 complete books rendered into social spelling. No doubt there are typoes, though some words that seem to be errors might not be. It’s so hard to be sure!

News From Nowhere by William Morris (1890), or An Epoch of Rest, being some chapters from a utopian romance.

The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892). The first collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories, which were preceded by the 2 novels A Study In Scarlet and The Sign Of the Four, which may appear here soon.

The Worm Ouroborous by E R Eddison (1922), an epic of the highest fantasy, praised by Ursula K Le Guin, who wrote “The archaic manner is indeed a perfect distancer, but you have to do it perfectly.  It is a high wire: one slip spoils all. The man who did it perfectly of course was Eddison … If you love language for its own sake he is irresistible. … The prose, in spite of or because of its anachronism, is good prose: exact, clear, powerful. Visually it is precise and vivid; musically—that is, in the sound of the words, the movement of the syntax, the rhythm of the sentences—it is subtle and very strong.”

Peter and Wendy by J M Barrie (1911), or Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. The children’s story, but with a surprisingly unromantic view of childhood.


I’ll note here some mistakes I have observed. No doubt they will be corrected soon enough.


More complexity

Here’s a more complicated exercise. (Hopefully I haven’t missed anything too obvious.) This is a poem that’s used to show off the irregularity of English spelling, so with luck, it should fall completely flat when spelled socially. I’ll start with the ordinary spelling to act as a touchstone.

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word. Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say — said, pay — paid, laid but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak,
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.
From “desire”: desirable —
admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,

Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,
Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Is your R correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.
Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?
Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.
Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.
Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,
Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit

Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
But it is not hard to tell
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the A of drachm and hammer.
Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.
“Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker”,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor”,
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.
Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.
Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.
And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.
Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,
Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.
Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.
Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the Z! (A gentle hint.)
Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;
Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.
No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.
But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.
Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet. Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!
Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.
Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.
Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.
The Th will surely trouble you
More than R, Ch or W.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.
Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em —
Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.
The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight — you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.
Shoes, goes, does*. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,
Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.
Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?
Though the difference seems little, We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate. Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian, Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess — it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf. Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass. Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.
Mind the O of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.
Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament. Seven is right, but so is even,

Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.
A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,
Differ like diverse and divers, Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.
Pronunciation — think of Psyche! —
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying ‘grits’?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??
Hiccough has the sound of sup…
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

*No, you’re wrong. This is the plural of doe.

—The Chaos
Gerard Nolst Trenité (1922)

And here it is with all the nonsense ironed out and smoothed away. Some aspects of pronunciation have clearly changed: ‘parquet’ does not rhyme with ‘khaki,’ ‘higher’ does not rhyme with ‘Thalia,’ and I’m not convinced that ‘ribald’ rhymes with ‘nibbled,’ though it’s preetty close. And the author tells us that “often may be pronounced as orphan,” which is the lot–cloth split, which we are ignoring. This is obviously a salutary tale for anyone interested in spelling. But is it better now? Of course!

Derest creechoor in creyaishon
Studdeying In‘glish pronunceyaishon,
I wil teech u in mi vers
Soundz like corps, cor, hors and wers.
I wil kepe u, Suzy, bizzy,
Make yor hed widh hete gro dizzy;
Tere in i, yor dres ule tare;
Qwere, fare cere, here mi prare.
Pra, console yor luvving powet,
Make mi cote looc nu, dere, so it!
Just compare hart, here and herd,
Dize and diyet, lord and werd. Sord and sword, retane and Brittane
(Miand dhe latter hou its ritten).
Made haz not dhe sound ov bad,
Sa — ced, pa — pade, lade but plad.
Nou I shoorly wil not plaig u
Widh such werdz az vaig and agu,
But be caerfool hou u speke,
Sa: gush, boosh, stake, streke, brake, bleke,
Preveyous, preshous, fueshaa, viyaa,
Rescipy, pipe, studding-sale, qwire;
Woven, uvven, hou and lo,
Script, recete, shoo, powem, to.
Sa, expecting fraud and trickery:
Dauter, laafter and Terpciccory,
Braanch, raanch, mezelz, topslz, ialz,
Miscialz, cimmileze, revialz.
Wholy, holly, cignal, cining,
Same, exammining, but mining,
Scollar, viccar, and cigar,
Solar, micaa, wor and far.
From “dezire”: dezirabel —
admirabel from “admire”,
Lumber, plummer, beyer, but briyer,
Topsham, broowam, renoun, but none,
Nollej, dun, lone, gon, nun, tone,
Wun, anemmony, Balmoral,
Kichen, lichen, laundry, lorel.
Ghertroode, German, wind and wiand,
Bo, kiand, kindred, cu, mankiand,
Tortois, terqwoiz, shammy-ledher,
Reding, Redding, heedhen, hedher.
Dhis fonettic labbirinth
Ghivz mos, groce, brooc, broach, nianth, plinth.
Hav u evver yet endevvord
Too pronouns reveerd and cevverd,
Demon, lemmon, goole, foul, sole,
Peter, petrol and patrole?
Billet duz not end like balla;
Booca, wollet, mallet, shalla.
Blud and flud ar not like foode,
Nor iz moald like shood and wood.
Banqwet iz not neerly parca,
Which exactly riamz widh caaky.
Discount, vicount, lode and braud,
Tooword, too forword, too reword,
Riccoashade and croashaying, croca?
Rite! Yor pronunceyaishonz OK.
Rounded, wuinded, greve and civ,
Frend and feend, alive and liv.
Iz yor R correct in hiyer?
Keets ascerts it riamz Thaleyaa.
Hu, but hug, and hood, but hoote,
Boiyant, minnute, but minute.
Sa abcishon widh precizhon,
Nou: pozishon and tranzishon;
Wood it tally widh mi rime
If I menshond parradime?
Toopens, threpens, teze ar ezy,
But cece, crece, grece and grecy?
Cornice, nice, valeze, revize,
Rabeze, but lullabize.
Ov such puzling werdz az nauzhous,
Riming wel widh caushous, torshous,
Ule envellop lists, I hope,
In a linnen envelope.
Wood u like sum mor? Ule hav it!
Affidavit, David, davvit.
Too abjoor, too perjoor. Shake
Duz not sound like Chec but ake.
Libberty, liabrary, heve and hevven,
Raichel, lokh, muistaash, elevven.
We sa hallode, but alloud,
Pepel, leppard, tode but voud.
Marc dhe differens, morover,
Betwene moover, pluvver, Dover.
Leechez, brichez, wize, precice,
Challice, but polece and lice,
Cammel, cunstabel, unstabel,
Principel, discipel, label.
Pettal, penal, and canal,
Wate, cermize, plat, prommice, pal,
Sute, swete, roowin. Cerkit, conjoowit
Rime widh “sherc it” and “beyond it”,
But it iz not hard too tel
Whi its paul, maul, but Pal Mal.
Muscel, muscular, jale, iarn,
Timber, climer, bulleyon, liyon,
Werm and storm, shez, cayos, chare,
Cennator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privvy, famous; clammor
Haz dhe A ov dracm and hammer.
Pooscy, huscy and pozzes,
Dezert, but dezzert, adres.
Golf, woolf, countenans, leftennants
Hoist in lu ov flagz left pennants.
Cooreyer, corcher, toome, bom, come,
Cou, but Cooper, sum and home.
“Soalder, soalger! Blud iz thicker”,
Qwoath he, “dhan licyer or liccor”,
Making, it iz sad but troo,
In bravaado, much adoo.
Strain‘ger duz not rime widh an‘gher,
Niadher duz devour widh clan‘gor.
Pilot, pivvot, gaunt, but aant,
Font, frunt, woant, wunt, grand and graant.
Arcenic, speciffic, cenic,
Rellic, rettoric, higenic.
Goozberry, gooce, and cloze, but cloce,
Parradice, rize, roze, and doce.
Sa inva, na, but inveeghel,
Make dhe latter rime widh eeghel.
Miand! Meyandeuring but mene,
Vallentine and maggazene.
And I bet u, dere, a penny,
U sa manny-(foald) like menny,
Which iz rong. Sa rapeyer, peyer,
Tiyer (wun whoo tize), but tere.
Arch, arcain‘gel; pra, duz aring
Rime widh herring or widh steuring?
Prizzon, bison, trezhoor trove,
Trezon, hovver, cuvver, cove,
Perceverans, cevverans. Ribbald
Riamz (but pibauld duznt) widh nibld.
Feton, peyan, nat, gat, nau,
Lene, cikic, shon, bone, pshau.
Doant be doun, mi one, but ruf it,
And distin‘gwish buffa, buffet;
Broode, stood, roofe, rooc, scoole, wool, boone,
Wooster, Bolin, too impune.
Sa in soundz correct and sterling
Hers, here, harken, yere and yeerling.
Evil, devvil, metsotint,
Miand dhe Z! (A gentel hint.)
Nou u nede not pa attenshon
Too such soundz az I doant menshon,
Soundz like porz, pauz, porz and pauz,
Riming widh dhe pronoun yorz;
Nor ar propper naimz inclooded,
Dho I often herd, az u did,
Funny riamz too unicorn,
Yes, u no dhem, Vaun and Straun.
No, mi maden, coi and cumly,
I doant wunt too speke ov Chumly.
No. Yet Froode compaerd widh proud
Iz no better dhan McLoud.
But miand trivveyal and viyal,
Tripod, meenyal, deniyal,
Trol and trolly, relm and reme,
Skedjoole, mischefe, skizm, and skeme.
Argil, gil, Arghile, ghil. Shoorly
Ma be made too rime widh Raaly,
But yor not suppoazd too sa
Peca riamz widh sobrica. Had dhis invalid invallid
Werthles doccuments? Hou pallid,
Hou uncuith he, couchant, looct,
When for Portsmouth I had booct!
Zuce, Theebz, Thailz, Afrodity,
Parramor, enammord, flity,
Eppisoadz, antippodeze,
Aqweyes, and obceqweze.
Pleze doant munky widh dhe ghizer,
Doant pele taterz widh mi razor,
Raadher sa in axents pure:
Naichoor, stachoor and maichoor.
Piyous, impeyous, lim, clime, glumly,
Wersted, woosted, crumbly, dumly,
Conker, conqwest, vaaz, faze, fan,
Won, cedan and artizan.
Dhe Th wil shoorly trubbel u
Mor dhan R, Ch or W.
Sa dhen dheze fonettic gemz:
Tommas, time, Terezaa, Temz.
Tompsun, Chattam, Woltham, Strettam,
Dhare ar mor but I forghet em —
Wate! Ive got it: Antony,
Liten yor anxiyety.
Dhe arcayic werd aulbeyit
Duz not rime widh ate — u ce it;
Widh and forthwith, wun haz vois,
Wun haz not, u make yor chois.
Shooze, goze, doze*. Nou ferst sa: fin‘gher;
Dhen sa: cinger, gin‘ger, lin‘gher.
Reyal, zele, move, gauz and gage,
Marrage, foleyage, miraazh, age,
Hero, herron, qwery, verry,
Parry, taary fury, berry,
Dust, lost, poast, and duth, cloth, loath,
Jobe, Job, blossom, boozzom, oath.
Fau, oppugnant, kene oppunerz,
Bouwing, bowing, banjo-choonerz
Home u no, but noze, canooze,
Puny, troowizm, uce, too uze?
Dho dhe differens ceemz littel, We sa acchoowal, but vittel,
Cete, swet, chaist, caast, La, ate, hite,
Poot, nut, grannite, and unite.
Refer duz not rime widh deffer,
Fefer duz, and zeffer, heffer.
Dul, bool, Gefry, Jorj, ate, late,
Hint, piant, cennate, but cedate. Galic, Arrabic, paciffic,
Ciyens, conshens, ciyentific;
Toor, but our, door, succor, for,
Gas, alas, and Arcansau.
Sa manuver, yot and vommit,
Next omit, which differz from it
Bonaa fidy, allibi
Girate, doury and ari.
Ce, ideyaa, ghinny, areyaa,
Saam, Mareyaa, but malareyaa.
Ueth, south, sudhern, clenz and clene,
Doctrine, terpentine, marene.
Compare aleyen widh Italleyan, Dandeliyon widh battalleyon,
Rally widh alli; ya, ye,
I, I, i, i, wha, ke, ke!
Sa aver, but evver, fever,
Niadher, lezhoor, scane, recever.
Nevver ghes — it iz not safe,
We sa caavz, valvz, haaf, but Ralf. Staary, granary, canary,
Crevvice, but device, and ery,
Face, but prefface, dhen grimmace,
Flem, flegmatic, as, glaas, bas. Bace, larj, targhet, gin, ghiv, verging,
Aut, oust, joust, and scour, but skerging;
Ere, but ern; and are and tare
Doo not rime widh here but are.
Miand dhe O ov of and often
Which ma be pronounst az orfan,
Widh dhe sound ov sau and saus;
Aulso soft, lost, cloth and cros.
Poodding, puddel, pootting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it riamz widh shutting.
Respite, spite, concent, rezent.
Liyabel, but Parlament. Cevven iz rite, but so iz even,
Hifen, ruffen, neffu, Steven,
Munky, donky, clarc and gerc,
Asp, graasp, wausp, demane, corc, werc.
A ov vallor, vappid vapor,
S ov nuze (compare nuespaper),
G ov gibbet, ghibbon, gist,
I ov anticriast and grist,
Differ like divers and diverz, Rivverz, striverz, shivverz, fiverz.
Wuns, but nons, tole, dol, but role,
Pollish, Polish, pol and pole.
Pronunceyaishon — thinc ov Ciky! —
Iz a paling, stout and spiky.
Woant it make u looze yor wits
Riting groats and saying grits?
Its a darc abis or tunnel
Stroone widh stoanz like roloc, gunnel,
Izlingtun, and Ile ov Wite,
Houswife, verdict and indite.
Doant u thinc so, reder, raadher,
Saying laadher, baidher, faadher?
Finally, which riamz widh enuf,
Dho, throo, bou, cof, hoc, sou, tuf??
Hiccup haz dhe sound ov sup…
Mi advice iz: GHIV IT UP!

*No, yor rong. Dhis iz dhe plooral ov do.

—Dhe Cayos
Gerrard Nolst Trennita (1922)


½ a word on stress

In word like ‘solid,’ the ‘o’ is in tense context, and the ‘i’ is lax. This implies it should be pronounced so-lid, which it obviously is not. In order to maintain some sense of integrity, and extra value for readers, we would like to fix that. In many cases in English words, the tenseness of a vowel is not that clear. For example, in ‘antediluvian,’ is the ‘e’ pronounced lax or tense? Arguments could be made either way, and not very productively. The lexical context is tense, and that seems good enough. The stress in this word is on the ‘u,’ and it’s very clear that it’s pronounced tense, which matches the lexical context. So all is well, and we can spell the word ‘antediluveyan.’

Other words have exceptions in both directions. In the word ‘wholly,’ the lexical context of the stressed vowel is lax, but the pronunciation is tense, so we will spell it as ‘wholy.’ The word ‘ghost’ is similar, but there are 2 consonant sounds, so we can’t make a lax context there. Instead, we have to use the 2-letter form, and write ‘goast.’

In the word ‘solid,’ it’s the other way round, so we spell it ‘sollid.’


So how does it look?

So the question we started with was, if English could be spelled regularly, what would it look like? Now we can answer the question. Since this spelling is regular, it should be easy for all kinds of people to learn, so it will be called “social spelling.” Here’s a fable of Æsop that’s often used for this purpose:

Dhe North Wind and dhe Sun wer disputing which woz dhe stron‘gher, when a travveller came along rapt in a worm cloke. Dha agrede dhat dhe wun whoo ferst suxeded in making dhe travveller take hiz cloke of shood be concidderd stron‘gher dhan dhe udher. Dhen dhe North Wind bloo az hard az he cood, but dhe mor he bloo dhe mor cloasly did dhe travveller foald hiz cloke around him; and at laast dhe North Wind gave up dhe attempt. Dhen dhe Sun shon out wormly, and immejaitly dhe travveller tooc of hiz cloke. And so dhe North Wind woz obliajd too confes dhat dhe Sun woz dhe stron‘gher ov dhe too.

Here’s a poem:


Twoz brillig, and dhe sliadhy toavz
Did ghire and ghimbel in dhe wabe:
Aul mimzy wer dhe borogoavz,
And dhe mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware dhe Jabberwoc, mi sun!
Dhe jauz dhat bite, dhe clauz dhat cach!
Beware dhe Jubjub berd, and shun
Dhe froomeyous Bandersnach!”

He tooc hiz vorpal sord in hand:
Long time dhe manxome fo he saut—
So rested he bi dhe Tumtum tre,
And stood awhile in thaut.

And, az in uffish thaut he stood,
Dhe Jabberwoc, widh ize ov flame,
Came whifling throo dhe tulgy wood,
And berbld az it came!

1, 2! 1, 2! And throo and throo
Dhe vorpal blade went snicker-snac!
He left it ded, and widh its hed
He went galumfing bac.

And, haz dhou slane dhe Jabberwoc?
Cum too mi armz, mi bemish boi!
O frabjous da! Calloo! Calla!
He chortld in hiz joi.

Twoz brillig, and dhe sliadhy toavz
Did ghire and ghimbel in dhe wabe;
Aul mimzy wer dhe borogoavz,
And dhe mome raths outgrabe.

Luwis Carrol
from “Throo dhe Loocking-Glaas and Whot Allice Found Dhare” (1872)

And finally for this page, a dwarf poem:

Far over dhe Misty Mountainz coald,
Too dunjonz depe and cavvernz oald,
We must awa, are brake ov da,
Too ceke our pale enchaanted goald.

Dhe dworvz ov yor made mity spelz,
While hammerz fel like ringing belz,
In placez depe, whare darc thingz slepe,
In hollo haulz beneeth dhe felz.

For ainshent king and elvish lord
Dhare menny a gleming goalden hord
Dha shaipt and raut, and lite dha caut,
Too hide in gemz on hilt ov sord.

On cilver neclacez dha strung
Dhe flouweuring starz, on crounz dha hung
Dhe draggon-fire, on twisted wire
Dha mesht dhe lite ov moone and sun.

Far over dhe Misty Mountainz coald,
Too dunjonz depe and cavvernz oald,
We must awa, are brake ov da,
Too clame our long-forgotten goald.

Goblets dha carvd dhare for dhemcelvz,
And harps ov goald, whare no man delvz
Dhare la dha long, and menny a song
Woz sung unherd bi men or elvz.

Dhe pianz wer roring on dhe hiats,
Dhe wind woz moning in dhe nite,
Dhe fire woz red, it flaming spred,
Dhe treze like torchez blaizd widh lite.

Dhe belz wer ringing in dhe dale,
And men looct up widh facez pale.
Dhe draggonz ire, mor feers dhan fire,
Lade lo dhare touwerz and houzez frale.

Dhe mountane smoact beneeth dhe moone.
Dhe dworvz, dha herd dhe tramp ov doome.
Dha fled dhe haul too diying faul
Beneeth hiz fete, beneeth dhe moone.

Far over dhe Misty Mountainz grim,
Too dunjonz depe and cavvernz dim,
We must awa, are brake ov da,
Too win our harps and goald from him!

Dhe wind woz on dhe widherd heeth,
But in dhe forrest sterd no lefe:
Dhare shaddoze la bi nite or da,
And darc thingz cilent crept beneeth.

Dhe wind came doun from mountainz coald,
And like a tide it rord and roald.
Dhe braanchez groand, dhe forrest moand,
And leevz wer lade uppon dhe moald.

Dhe wind went on from West too Eest;
Aul muivment in dhe forrest ceest.
But shril and harsh acros dhe marsh,
Its whisling voicez wer releest.

Dhe graacez hist, dhare tascelz bent,
Dhe reedz wer ratling—on it went.
Oar shaken poole under hevvenz coole,
Whare racing cloudz wer torn and rent.

It paast dhe Loanly Mountane bare,
And swept abuv dhe draggonz lare:
Dhare blac and darc la boalderz starc,
And fliying smoke woz in dhe are.

It left dhe werld and tooc its flite
Over dhe wide ceze ov dhe nite.
Dhe moone cet sale uppon dhe gale,
And starz wer fand too leping lite.

Under dhe Mountane darc and taul,
Dhe King haz cum untoo hiz haul!
Hiz fo iz ded, dhe Werm ov Dred,
And evver so hiz foze shal faul!

Dhe sord iz sharp, dhe spere iz long,
Dhe arro swift, dhe Gate iz strong.
Dhe hart iz boald dhat loox on goald;
Dhe dworvz no mor shal suffer rong.

Dhe dworvz ov yor made mity spelz,
While hammerz fel like ringing belz
In placez depe, whare darc thingz slepe,
In hollo haulz beneeth dhe felz.

On cilver neclacez dha strung
Dhe lite ov starz, on crounz dha hung
Dhe draggon-fire, from twisted wire
Dhe mellody ov harps dha rung.

Dhe mountane throne wuns mor iz frede!
O! Wondering foke, dhe summonz hede!
Cum haist! Cum haist! Acros dhe waist!
Dhe king ov frend and kin haz nede.

Nou caul we over dhe mountainz coald,
“Cum bac untoo dhe cavvernz oald!”
Here at dhe gaits dhe king awaits,
Hiz handz ar rich widh gemz and goald.

Dhe king haz cum untoo hiz haul
Under dhe Mountane darc and taul.
Dhe Werm ov Dred iz slane and ded,
And evver so our foze shal faul!

Faerwel we caul too harth and haul!
Dho wind ma blo and rane ma faul,
We must awa, are brake ov da
Far over dhe wood and mountane taul.

Too Rivvendel, whare Elvz yet dwel
In glaidz beneeth dhe misty fel.
Throo mor and waist we ride in haist,
And whidher dhen we cannot tel.

Widh foze ahed, behiand us dred,
Beneeth dhe ski shal be our bed,
Until at laast our toil be paast,
Our gerny dun, our errand sped.

We must awa! We must awa!
We ride befor dhe brake ov da!

—From “Dhe Hobbit” bi J R R Tolkene (1937)



So this is where we are: there are 6 vowel letters, ‘a,’ ‘e,’ ‘i,’ ‘o,’ ‘u,’ ‘oo,’ 4 “contexts,” lax, tense, r-lax and r-tense and 18 vowel sounds, 12 of which can be spelled by 2 letters, ‘aa,’ ‘ae,’ ‘ai,’ ‘au,’ ‘ee,’ ‘eu,’ ‘ia,’ ‘oa,’ ‘oi,’ ‘ou,’ ‘ue,’ ‘ui.’ Each vowel letter has a specific way of pronouncing it for each of the contexts, and if that isn’t the way that’s wanted, the fallback is to use the 2-letter spelling.

The lax context is before 2 or more consonant letters, unless the first is an ‘r’ and the second is not, or before a single consonant if it’s at the end of the word. Any context can be made lax by doubling the consonant, as in ‘holly’ (not ‘holy’) or ‘marry’ (not ‘Mary’).

The tense context is before a single consonant letter except ‘r’ followed by a vowel, or the very end of the word.

The r-lax context is before ‘r’ and a consonant that’s not ‘r’, or before ‘r’ at the end of a word.

The r-tense context is before ‘r’ and a vowel.

So a final vowel is pronounced tense, as in ‘caffa,’ ‘fli,’ ‘hello,’ ‘cu,’ ‘moo,’ with an exception for ‘e’: a final ‘e’ is not pronounced, but still provides the context to make a preceding vowel tense or r-tense. If the word is one syllable (only consonants before the ‘e’), the e is not magic—there is nothing for it to magic—so it’s still pronounced normally, as in ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘fle,’ ‘tre.’ So how to get a final ‘e’ sound in a multisyllabic word? Magic ‘y,’ that’s how, as in ‘coffy,’ ‘silly’ or ‘acmy.’ Final ‘y’ is magic because it’s not a consonant, it’s a vowel. Luckily, a word can’t end in a consonant ‘y’—that’s just the case, it seems—so we don’t need any more rules after this.

Late update: we do need more magic. Some authorities allow for a word to end with a short vowel, and we have no way to represent that. So we need magic ‘h’, a final consonant which still shortens the previous vowel, but is not sounded itself. This is used if ‘dhe’ is pronounced ‘dhuh.’


the last 2 vowels

There are 2 sounds left that don’t have a single-letter spelling, but the situation is not as bad as ‘aa’ or ‘dh,’ in that they are always written as digraphs.

spellingIPAas in …
oiɒɪcoil, join, hoist
ouæʊabout, oust, flour

That’s about all there is to be said about them. The 1st is often spelled ‘oy’ (‘coy,’ ‘boy,’ ‘ahoy’) and the 2nd ‘ow’ (‘how now, brown cow’), but it’s useful to keep the universe of vowels separate from the the universe of consonants.

We have one last problem to solve. What happens when 2 vowels are consecutive? We can’t just write them in order, because that would lose information. How do we spell words like ‘acuity,’ ‘area,’ ‘biology,’ ‘chaos’? We could use the separator we use for consonants, and end up with ‘acu‘ity,’ ‘are‘a,’ ‘bi‘ology,’ ‘cha‘os,’ but this gives an awful lot of scratchy little marks on the page. Instead we can add a “glide consonant,” ‘w’ or ‘y,’ depending on the previous vowel, to separate them. This gives us ‘acuwity,’ ‘areya,’ ‘biyology,’ ‘cayos,’ a clear win.


r-tense vowels

We haven’t finished with ‘r’ yet. When it’s followed by a vowel, it has a different effect than when it’s followed by another consonant or the end of the word, like this:

spellingIPAas in …fallback
aɛːsquare, mareae
ehere, queeree
iæɪfire, liaria
oɔːbore, moreau
uɪʊcure, pureue
ooboorish, touringui

Though these are very different from the r-lax table, only 1 of them is new: the sound in ‘square’ and ‘mare.’ All the rest have been seen before. So to spell the words above, we will have ‘square,’ ‘mare,’ ‘here,’ ‘quere,’ ‘fire,’ ‘lire,’ ‘bor,’ ‘mor,’ ‘cure,’ ‘pure,’ ‘boorish,’ ‘tooring.’ The new sound can also occur where it isn’t followed by ‘r’+consonant, in which case we use the fallback spelling ‘ae,’ as in

spellingIPAas in …
aeɛːbares, pared, airbase

which means these words will be spelled ‘baerz,’ ‘paerz,’ ‘aerbase.’ A non-rhotic speaker might prefer ‘baez,’ ‘paez,’ ‘aebase,’ but I think we’ve spent enough time with that.

Isaac Pitman thought that ‘ɛː’ wasn’t really a vowel in English—he said that ‘bear’/‘fair’/‘square’ would be spelled ‘bair’/‘fair’/‘sqwair’; and that ‘her’/‘fir’/‘cur’ would be pronounced (all differently) as the lax vowels ‘e’, ‘ɪ,’ ‘ʌ,’ with the r-colouring glossed over. We acknowledge that these are all different.