Standard English spellings, both American and British, are dysfunctional. To be clear, I am using dysfunctional here to mean not functional. And I'm using functional to mean that any major property/effect of x is useful for accomplishing something wanted, and furthermore doesn't interfere with accomplishing something wanted.

Having worked for years with kids who were trying to learn to read and write, I can tell you with certainty that our system of spelling is an obstacle to learning both. (A lot of my work was with kids with learning disorders, which makes the problem worse, but even 'normal' kids spend a lot of time to (re)learn the language they have been speaking all their life).

Since we have been working with this language all our lives, it's hard to see the problems, but they are there. Wee have at least four ways to make the /s/ sound -- 's', 'ci' (city), 'ce' (place), and 'cy' (lacy). We have 5 vowels, although we clearly speak using at least ten. Why all this muddlement? Tradition!

And only tradition. There seems to be no reason to have letters like X and Q in our alphabet -- and we could use a standardized grapheme for that 'sh' (sh, tio, cio, sio, ch) sound. We stick with these old forms because we were taught them at a time when we were too young to protest (effectively, anyway). We have been taught this, and nothing else. And it would be too much trouble to change it now.

Count up the hours that you spent learning to spell. You were probably trying to master spelling well into high school. All that, redundant. Remember how long it took you to learn to read? Probably not, but make an estimate. Okay, reading is always going to be a problem, but if you've ever taught kids, you know that the sounding out of words is comparatively easy. Imagine if that were all you had to do! Most kids like learning to read, but they like the ability gained, and not the process. Why put them through a long complicated process when a short on will do?

We're wasting the time of all teachers, parents, and kids. And we're spending a lot of money teaching people this stuff. We're surely upping the illiteracy rate because of this, most particularly the functional illiteracy rate. And we're not doing all that well with spelling here on E2. You see spelling errors all the time, despite having a mostly college-educated and literate user base. (It is important, of course, to distinguish spelling errors from typing errors. These are completely different things).

Okay, so I admit that there is a problem with overhauling the language. The next 2-3 generations are going to be learning two (to, too, tu) forms of English. (And substantial parts of the next 4-6 also, I'm sure). One that works, and one that doesn't. Of course, that's not exactly a problem, because only the one generation that makes the change will have to learn both languages. The others will learn the old system by choice, because they are interested in the old books -- much the same way that some of us work to understand Shakespeare. The real problem is the idea that we might be that first generation that must suffer additional education. Because really, except for teachers and our children, most of us won't benefit personally.

Don't worry, we're too stupid to do something like that (pardon the cynicism). But if we were to do such a thing, I think the first week would drive you crazy, and after the first month you'd never look back. And yes, I've learned three different phonetic alphabets/systems myself, so I know it's not that hard.

See also: spelling reform.

I am disgusted to say that this writeup was written with the help of a spell checker. And over 20 years of practice writing with traditional English orthography.

Oh yes -- some have asked about the cost of putting a new spelling system in place. $0. (Well, almost).

Introducing the new system is easy and painless. We simply get the government to change what they teach. Next time the public schools are ready to buy new textbooks and materials for the first grade, they announce that they are going to be buying ones that teach, and are written in, the new system. Some small press will have the sense to put out a decent set of reading books written in this system, and they will become rich overnight. The others will follow quickly. Then the publishers of children's books will realize that there is a large untapped market for books written in the system that all the new readers know. And so on. It is an opportunity to make money, not to loose it. And it doesn't cost the taxpayers or school system anything.

Translating books is a bigger problem, but again, we're not pulling the old books off the shelves and printing new ones, we're just changing the text of any new books we print. I think someone would make a lot of money off of a simple program that would translate from English to English, and then all problems would be solved. (Assuming that we're not changing Grammar at this point.) We would put new stuff into the system, but we would allow old stuff to remain through its natural lifespan. I'm not proposing a revolution, just a necessary change.

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