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Book: Spellbound

Chapter: Appendix: Table of Vowels

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24681


This book has two parts. The first six chapters are relatively general. They review the history of English spelling and the reasons for the many irregularities of our modern language. The author argues that the irregular spelling of English contributes seriously to the disgracefully high rate of illiteracy in the English speaking world. He then reviews some of the many attempts to reform the spelling of other languages.

Korean reforms required centuries, but were ultimately successful. Reforms have sometimes been successfully carried out more quickly, but other attempted reforms have been complete failures. During the first half of the 20th century there was a flurry of interest in reforms for English but since then reform has been little more than the object of humor. The reasons for opposition to reform are considered.

The second part of the book is more technical. The criteria that should govern the choice among alternative reforms are described with care. The relatively easily reformed consonants and the much more difficult vowels are then considered in detail. Special attention is given to ways of designing a spelling that is equally suitable for the many and diverse dialects of spoken English. A unified spelling could not be perfect for any single dialect, but it could be very much better than our present spelling for all dialects. Possible ways by which reforms might be brought about are considered, but no particular spelling is advocated.

Chapter Contributors

  • Robbins Burling ( - rburling) 'University of Michigan, (Emeritus)'