The spelling of frequently used words evolves at a much slower pace than less common words. These words often retain old spellings longer because they are used more often than less familiar words, and so the old forms are very familiar. The greater familiarity of their appearance causes people to be disturbed by any disruption of them in the name of ‘reform’.
This explains the failure of most English spelling reform attempts – because they try to change the most common words first. This is intuitive, but it is wrong.
Changing the less familiar words gets less opposition, because they are less familiar and so when their forms don’t fit the words’ pronunciation any more, we change them more readily.
That is why I recommend keeping the spelling of the 38 most common irregular words. They are more familiar and they make 12% of what we read – all almost always among as come some could should would half know of off one only once other pull push put they their two as was what want who word why, and word-endings -ion/-tion/-sion/zion. People learn them quickly because they are faced with them all the time, and research has shown that 40 words are within most people’s capacity to learn as word-signs by heart.
Then in time we will be ready to change them too.
((the list above may not actually be 38)
Two popular writers who have written books in ‘phonetic’ spelling for adults are Russell Hoban (Riddley Walker) and David Almond (True tale of the monster Billy Dean). Peple enjoy them, and critics write notes on them. Only a few who have learned our spelling by rote find them difficult. Those who use reason to spell find them easy. Why not try these books on pepl who cannot read our tricky spelling?
A striking exampl of denial (State of denial, New Scientist 15 May, p 35-45) is denial that English spelling can be updated without radical change. We deny other languages’ reforms, which update their existing spellings. Scors of far-out English fonetic reforms ar invented; they ar impossibl, and therefor reform is assumed to be impossibl.
Yet experiment can demonstrate the benefit of updating to omit the unnecessary difficulties in present spelling for lerners and lerners of English. Yet no-one seeks to replicate it.
There is evidence that unnecessary difficulties in spelling contribute to our serius literacy problems despite enormus expenditure on teaching reading. It is ignord.
A sientific spirit can challenge the assumptions that changing the awful spellings is impossibl. Most assumptions about spelling fall down; the remainder can be made the basis for reform.
The famus Scrambld Spellings sent around emails since 2001 is one exampl of repeated false statements about spelling despite their demonstrated fallacies. It supposedly demonstrates that everybody reads words as entire elements. Untrue.
“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearr at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.”
(Written in updated spelling.)