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 I have an all-new appreciation for the human mind as I’m experiencing the joys of reading through my son’s eyes. As adults we may forget the difficulty that the English language poses when we try to feel out a new word. Some words can go in a dozen different ways when trying to pronounce them. When you come across a “c”,  you are never sure that it is a soft “c” or a hard “c” until you try it both ways. You have to guess whether an “h” or “e” is silent. And what the hell is the point of the “gh” in “tight”, “light”, and so on?

This process of connecting the sounds that we hear in spoken English with letters or groups of letters in written English is called phonics. In my opinion, “phonics” is a term that was invented because they didn’t want to called the process “fucked up bullshit.”

Before you write and say, “English is an amalgamation of many other languages and different rules apply depending on their origin.” Ok. Fine. That’s why it is the way it is now. But why should it continue this way? “That’s the way it’s always been,” has never been a good excuse to not explore changing something for the better (I’m looking at you, electoral college).

I am no scientist nor did I do any research on this, but I am going to make the bold assumption that your brain wastes tiny amounts of energy running down its lists of exceptions when trying to figure out a word like, “physician.” Is that pahisikian? No. You have to remember that “ph” makes an “f” sound. You have to remember that “y” in this instance makes a short “i” sound. And then you have to just know that “cian” is pronounced shun. Crazy. Why can’t it just be spelled “fizzishun”?

If all words were spelled phonetically, we could spend less time learning English in school and more time learning other subjects that can enhance our children’s knowledge before they are cast off into the world. More math, science and history. Hurrah! Or perhaps implement a second language earlier in life? Most Americans don’t begin learning a second language in school until 7th or 8th grade (and that’s in a good school system). One thing that can be learned from other languages is how phonetic they are. In Russian, they have a 33 character alphabet. Each letter has its own unique sound and there are specific rules to each. There are very few exceptions. In English, there are 143,987 exceptions (estimate).

What if we assigned letters to sounds and just stuck with it no matter what the word?

  • a, b, d, e, f, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, w, z would basically stay the same
  • c would not be either soft nor hard. We have s and k for those roles. “C” would represent the ch sound.
  • g would handle its current sound as in the word “grape.” The g-sound as in the word “barrage” would be picked up by “j”
  • j would handle its current sound in the word “jeep” or as previously stated, the other g-sound
  • q would stay the same, but can we stop requiring a “u” to be used with it? Let the “q” do all of the work. Q’s that sound like k’s will be eliminated though: plak“, “barokeandtork“.
  • x is useless. We have z’s for words like “xemur” and we have “ks” for words like “tax”. New role: the sh sound. That xood work nicely.
  • y, how did you get vowel status in the first place? We need you for “yellow” and “yarn” but you need to stop being such a poser. No vowels for you!
  • We need a new letter for the th sound. How about θ (known as theta)? θis is working nicely.
  • And as you will see below, we’ll need something for the oo sound in “book”. I’m using ω (omega) because it looks like boobs.

Bonus: How exciting would it be to see an alphabet poster that has a nice 7×4 grid and all the squares are populated? I hate seeing two extra spaces that are filled in with silly things like apples, schools, or happy children.

With change, some new rules need to be established…

  • letters are assumed to be short sounding unless they are triggered for the long sound. We can use a silent “e”, but the point of this exercise is to become phonetic. So we need some other way to indicate a long sound. My idea is to double the letter up.
    • bak = “back”
    • baak = “bake”
    • red = “red” or “read”
    • reed = “reed” or “Reid” or “read”
  • The current double vowel “oo” be replaced by ω as previously stated. So it would be bωk, not “book”. Book would not be pronounced “boke“.
  • Compound vowels like “aw” v “au” or “ow” vs “aw” will always default to the combination with the “w”.
  • The age of silent letters is over. If there is an “e” at the end of a word, it should be pronounce eh.
  • Words that currently end in “y” will now end in “ee“. (No more y as a vowel)

Obviously, I’m no linguist and I’m sure any English major would laugh at the mere suggestion of upheaving our “beautiful” language for such nonsense. Purists will be sad to see the introduction of new letters and the disappearance of homonyms. Not-yet-realized problems also might occur when you don’t have three different spellings of “to”, “two” and “too”. But with practice and ingenuity (“to”, “2” and “also”), I think it would pay off for our future generations.

Now let’s give it a whirl:

Mii naam iz Pat. Ii doon’t ekspektcaanj θe wirld wiθ miisistem, but Ii hoop tω raaz awaarnes tω θe problems ov owr komplikaated langwej. OK? Eet sum beens and fart in pees.

Ow. My brain. Must remember. It’s for the children.



 



11 thoughts on “Phuck Phonics

  1. mb says:

    I’m sorry to say, but that’s mostly the problem of english :P

  2. Stephen Yang says:

    You haven’t seen Mark Twain’s spin on this, have you?

    http://design.caltech.edu/erik/Misc/Twain_english.html

  3. No, I wasn’t aware of Twain’s ideas on this subject. I certainly knew that I wouldn’t have been the first with this idea. It’s too crazy to ignore.

  4. James Fuggo says:

    I’ve got a system of my own that requires no new characters. It’s very similar to your system.

    At first I wanted to make vowels more simple, then I made sure that every letter in the alphabet represented one sound only. I made exceptions for some letter combinations like “ao” in “saond/SOUND”, “zy” in “aazyun/ASIAN”, and “oy” in “oyl/OIL” and “boy/BOY”. Also, every double vowel has a specific function. “oo” = “took/TOOK”, “hood/HOOD”, “foot/FOOT”, “pool/PULL”, “shood/SHOULD”… I prefer to avoid capital letters because I dislike the difference between a capital “I” and a lowercase “L”. This system embraces homonyms. I think the hardest part is accepting the role of “C”, as in “wic/WHICH/WITCH”, “caanj/CHANGE”, etc.

    This may look strange at first. Every letter has one sound and so do double vowels. With all these changes, three letters got new jobs. “c” was left only with the “CH” sound and the “H” became useless. “q” became the vowel that falls between “a” and “o”. “x” inherits both “th” sounds like in “BREATHE” and “BREATH”. Apostrophes are vowels without a sound like in “k’rt’nz/CURTAINS”, “peep’l/PEOPLE” and “sist’r/SISTER”, but are never in words like “dont/DON’T” or “wont/WON’T”. Apostrophes are also used to separate double vowels from single vowels like in “dii’ing”, but this can also be avoided by using “diiying”. “y” and “w” are modifiers that allow for interesting overlaps like “aa” = “ey” and “ao” = “aw”. This may look strange at first, but it makes sense to focus on the expressive power of sound instead of rigid spelling.

    The only thing I haven’t resolved is the difference betweeen “SINGER” and “FINGER”. So far, I have been using “NG” for both. I still wonder if “NGG” would be appropriate for “fingg’r/FINGER”, “langgwij/LANGUAGE” etc.

    Also, I acknowledge that my system has a bias for Western U.S. English.

    ———————————————————-

    at f’rst ii wqntid tu maak vaolz mor simp’l, xen ii maad sh’r xat evree let’r in xee alfubet reprizentid wun saond onlee. ii maad eksepshunz f’r sum let’r kqmbinaashunz liik “ao” in “saond/SOUND”, “zy” in “aazyun/ASIAN”, and “oy” in “oyl/OIL” and “boy/BOY”. qlso, evree dub’l vaol haz u spisifik fungkshun. “oo” = “took/TOOK”, “hood/HOOD”, “foot/FOOT”, “pool/PULL”, “shood/SHOULD”… ii prif’r tuu uvoyd kapit’l let’rz beekuz ii disliik xu difrins bitween u kapit’l “I” and u lo’r kaas “L”. xis sistum imbraasiz hqmunimz. ii xingk xu hqrdist pqrt iz eksepting xu rol uv “C”, az in “wic/WHICH/WITCH”, “caanj/CHANGE”, ets.

    xis maa look straanj at f’rst. evree let’r haz wun saond and so duu dub’l vaolz. wix ql xeez caanjiz, xree let’rz gqt nuu jqbz. “c” wuz left onlee wix xu “CH” saond and xee “H” beekaam yuuslis. “q” beekaam xu vaol xat fqlz bitween “a” and “o”. “x” inherits box “th” saondz liik in “BREATHE” and “BREATH”. upqstrufeez qr vaolz wixaot u saond liik in “k’rt’nz/CURTAINS”, “peep’l/PEOPLE” and “sist’r/SISTER”, but qr nev’r in w’rdz like “dont/DON’T” or “wont/WON’T”. upqstrufeez qr qlso yuuzd tu sep’raat dub’l vaolz frum sing’l vaolz liik in “dii’ing”, but xis kan qlso bee uvoydid bii yuuzing “diiying”. “y” and “w” qr mqdifiirz xat ulao f’r int’resting ov’rlaps liik “aa” = “ey” and “ao” = “aw”. xis maa look straanj at f’rst, but it maaks sens tu fokus qn xee ekspresiv paor uv saond insted uv rijid speling.

    xee onlee xing ii havint rizqlvd iz xu difrins bitween “SINGER” and “FINGER”. so fqr, ii hav bin yuuzing “NG” for box. ii stil wund’r if “NGG” wood bee upropreeit f’r “fingg’r/FINGER” and “langgwij/LANGUAGE”, ets.

    qlso, ii ignqlij xat mii sistum haz u biiyis f’r west’rn U.S. ENGLISH.

    • vpjvm says:

      I would do some further shifts in the vowels: “ey” in “eyzy’n/ASIAN”, “ie” in “piep’l/PEOPLE”, “ay” in “layk/LIKE”, “aw” in “sawnd/SOUND”, “u” in “fut/FOOT” and apostrophes in “b’t/BUT”. The only double vowels would be “aa” in “kaar/car” and “uu” in “nyuu/NEW”. Other double vowels would be only in foreign words like “fiancée” or “shiitake” (I don’t know the usual English pronunciation of “fiancee” but the French pronunciation would be similar to “fyansey”). How do you write the “sh” sound in your system?

      at f’rst ay wqntid t’ meyk vawlz mor simp’l, xen ay meyd sh’r xat evrie let’r in xie alf’bet reprizentid w’n sawnd onlie. ay meyd eksepsh’nz f’r s’m let’r kqmbineysh’nz layk “ao” in “saond/SOUND”, “zy” in “aazyun/ASIAN”, and “oy” in “oyl/OIL” and “boy/BOY”. qlso, evrie d’b’l vawl haz a spisifik f’ngksh’n. “oo” = “took/TOOK”, “hood/HOOD”, “foot/FOOT”, “pool/PULL”, “shood/SHOULD”… ay prif’r tuu ‘voyd kapit’l let’rz biek’z ay dislayk x’ difrins bitwien a kapit’l “I” and a lo’r keys “L”. xis sist’m imbreysiz hqm’nimz. ay xingk x’ hqrdist pqrt iz eksepting x’ rol ‘v “C”, az in “wic/WHICH/WITCH”, “caanj/CHANGE”, etc.

      xis mey luk streynj at f’rst. evrie let’r haz w’n sawnd and so duu d’b’l vawlz. wix ql xiez ceynjiz, xrie let’rz gqt nyuu jqbz. “c” w’z left onlie wix x’ “CH” sawnd and xie “H” biekeym yuuslis. “q” biekeym x’ vawl xat fqlz bitwien “a” and “o”. “x” inherits box “th” sawndz layk in “BREATHE” and “BREATH”. ‘pqstr’fiez qr vawlz wixawt a sawnd layk in “k’rt’nz/CURTAINS”, “peep’l/PEOPLE” and “sist’r/SISTER”, b’t qr nev’r in w’rdz layk “dont/DON’T” or “wont/WON’T”. ‘pqstr’fiez qr qlso yuuzd t’ sep’reyt d’b’l vawlz fr’m sing’l vawlz layk in “dii’ing”, b’t xis kan qlso bie ‘voydid bay yuuzing “diiying”. “y” and “w” qr mqdifayrz xat ‘law f’r int’resting ov’rlaps layk “aa” = “ey” and “ao” = “aw”. xis mey luk streynj at f’rst, b’t it meyks sens t’ fok’s qn xie ekspresiv pawr ‘v sawnd insted ‘v rijid speling.

      xie onlie xing ay havint rizqlvd iz x’ difrins bitwien “SINGER” and “FINGER”. so faar, ay hav bin yuuzing “NG” for box. ay stil w’nd’r if “NGG” wud bie ‘proprieit f’r “fingg’r/FINGER” and “langgwij/LANGUAGE”, etc.

      qlso, ay ignqlij xat may sist’m haz a bayis f’r west’rn U.S. ENGLISH.

  5. Noid Hunter says:

    The problem with a phonetic approach to language is that spelling would change as fast as pronunciation does and people usually don’t read letter by letter, decode the sound of the word and then map it to an idea, people mostly read whole words or even groups of words and immediately map them to ideas.

    Also, you would need all speakers to be 100% aware of their pronunciation so they don’t use bωk for book which, despite the spelling, rhymes with put and not with food.

    • James Fuggo says:

      Doesn’t German have a weird rule that words ending with certain letters are pronounced with a non vocal cord equivalent? For example, words ending with B are actually pronounced with P. The same goes for G/K and D/T.

  6. MPythonGirl says:

    Theodore Roosevelt tried it. This is what happened.

    http://www.childrenofthecode.org/code-history/roosevelt.htm

    Also: The same reason we aren’t using metric.

  7. Martin W says:

    “…the thing about English, and most of the languages related to it, is that it’s supposed to be phonetic…”

    That’s the problem right there – because English does have fascinating structures and is *to some extent* governed by consistent rules, it’s so tempting to think of it as if it were “planned” or “designed” but has exceptions to the rules. But the fact is that the consistencies *are* the exceptions – it’s just a set of arbitrary conventions that are useful simply because they’re conventions. If you want or expect consistency or logic you’re generally pretty much going to go mad.

    Except for German spelling of course which is completely and utterly phonetic. Lucky Germans.

  8. James Fuggo says:

    True. Realistically, it would be very hard to implement a system like this. But the thing about English, and most of the languages related to it, is that it’s supposed to be phonetic, but it really isn’t because people see each word as a picture regardless of pronunciation. When we learn English they tell us to “sound it out”, as if every letter had an obvious sound. I think text messaging and the Internet are slowly dragging English into a new era of phonetic spelling. It won’t be perfect, but it will be an improvement.

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