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u noo rihting sistem (a new writing system)


English has, for a long time, been plagued by inconsistent and ambiguous transcriptions of spoken words into written words. Everyone complains about this problem, including me, and I've finally decided to do something about it. So I've developed a new system for writing English.


The purpose of this project is to design an alternative spelling for English words to eliminate the ambiguity in spelling and pronunciation that has long plagued the language. While the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) is an obvious first choice, it uses many characters that are unknown to the vast majority of English speakers and can't easily be typed on the keyboard. Furthermore, the pronunciations of many characters in the IPA are very different from what an average speaker of English would expect.

To address these problems, I've designed a system that uses only the 26 letters of the English alphabet (and, in rare [possibly nonexistent] situations, the underscore), and that, for the most part, uses letters in a way that will be familiar to English speakers (although I considered terseness to be more important than backwards compatibility).


PhonemeExamplesNew Spelling
/i/ "long E"me, feet, leap, baby, shriekee
/u/ "long U"boot, rude, chewoo
/I/ "short I"sit, pitchi
/U/ "short U"book, putuh
/e/ "long A"table, train, sayay
/ɛ/ "short e"pete
/ə/ "schwa"ugly, putt, about, wagonu
/o/ "long O"okay, soap, lowoh
/ô/ "short O"awed, bought, tall, poto
/æ/ "ash"flat, applea
/a/ "short A"alms, fatherah

Deciding between /ô/ and /a/ is often very difficult. I think this is because the pronuncations were never standardized and were simply left up to people to figure out for themselves. Almost certainly, both /ô/ and /a/ are acceptable in some places, and in others, only one or the other, depending on the local accent.

I think British English makes heavier use of /ô/ than American English.


PhonemeExamplesNew Spelling
/aI/ "long I"bite, light, skyih
/aU/ "ow"out, cowou
/ôI/ "oy"oil, point, toyoy


PhonemeExamplesNew Spelling
/d/door, woodd
/k/back, key, catk
/g/gas, tugg


PhonemeExamplesNew Spelling
/c</ "ch"chest, catchc
/j</ "dg"jet, edgej


PhonemeExamplesNew Spelling
/f/fix, phonef
/þ/ "thorn"thistle, baththh
/ð/ "eth"the, this, batheth
/s/say, cent, sciences
/z/zoo, nosez
/s</ "sh"ship, nation, specialsh
/z</ "zh"measurezh


PhonemeExamplesNew Spelling
/n/no, knockn
/ŋ/ "ng"sing, thinkng


PhonemeExamplesNew Spelling
/l/lamp, pill, picklel


PhonemeExamplesNew Spelling
/r/road, wrong, herr, rr*

* When /r/ follows a vowel phoneme, it is generally shortened (and sometimes softened as well). This does not include the common consonant+"er" ending as in "bigger", "cheaper", etc. because in those, the /r/ sound actually follows the consonant immediately. The "e" before the "r" is not pronounced. But if you contrast "bigger" with "beer" (or "car" or "peer", etc), you can hear that the /r/ sound in "beer" is shorter and slightly softer. There are some words, however, in which the /r/ sound is not shortened even though it follows a vowel. Examples are "heavier" and "carrier". So the rule I will be using is the following: /r/ is shortened/softened when it follows a vowel, unless it is spelled "rr", in which case it is never shortened. So "car", "peer", "beer", "bigger", and "cheaper" would end with "r", while "heavier" and "carrier" would end with "rr". [I'm still investigating this. This rule may be revised in the future.]


PhonemeExamplesNew Spelling
/w/wash, whitew
/j/ "y"yesy


When writing, these should be used in place of the longer forms.

Long FormExamplesShort Form
kwkwik (quick)q (qik)
ksboks (box)x (box)


Longer phonemes are matched first. For instance, "ay" would be matched before "a". The underscore can be used as a break between phonemes in the rare event that an arrangement of letters creates a situation where a longer phoneme would be matched when a shorter match is desired.


As an example, here are the opening paragraphs translated into the new system. However, since reading and writing using this system isn't yet second nature for me, it's possible that a mistake or two may have slipped into the translation.


Thu prpus uv this projekt iz too deezihn en oltrnutiv speling fohr Inglish wrdz too iliminayt thu ambigyooitee in speling end prohnunseeayshun that haz long playgd thu layngwij. Wihl thu IFA (Intrnashunul Fohnetik Alfubet) iz en obveeus frst coys, it yooziz menee keruktrz that ahr unnohn too thu vast mujohritee uv Inglish speekrz end kan't eezilee bee tihpd on thu keebohrd. Frthrmohr, thu prohnunseeayshunz uv menee keruktrz in thu IFA ahr veree difrint frum wut en avrij speekr uv Inglish wuhd expekt.

Too udres theez problemz, Ih'v deezihnd u sistem that yooziz ohnlee thu 26 letrz uv thu Inglish alfubet (end, in rer [posiblee nonexistent] sicooayshunz, thee undrskohr), end that, fohr thu mohst pahrt, yooziz letrz in u way that wil bee fumilyr too Inglish speekrz (olthoh Ih kunsidrd trsnes too bee mohr impohrtent than bakwrdz kumpatibilitee).


I've created an application in Perl that translates English text into the new writing system. After I port it to C# and finalize all the rules, I'll release it to the general public.


klumzee 2010-11-10 07:08PM
The initial sounds in ugly and ago are too different.. And too many short vowel sounds are represented by double letters- the visual and vocal rhythms don't jibe. Article adjectives are in ordinary situations all schwas. I think you need a system of representing unaccented vowels as single letters, or else a way of indicating accented syllables (triple vowels? ha haaa ha ha); and the -h to represent "long" vowels iz too too tootonik. Hope I don't sound too critical; Ive toyed with this task and concluded that a graceful and elegant solution is unlikely. Problem: we need two obscure vowels, front and back, as for the 2d and 4th in unanimity.
an anonymous george
thanks 2010-12-26 07:02PM
Thanks for the reply. Actually the initial sounds in "ugly" and "ago" are identical the way I pronounce them. :-) But this kind of thing is precisely what led me to conclude that it might not even be desirable to have a phonetic spelling system, at least for English which has so many common homophones and homographs, and so many dialects and accents. One might say that a phonetic spelling system could force the accents and dialects to unify, but I think that's unlikely.

For instance, we pronounce "the" as "thuh" or "thee", depending on which is easier. But it's somewhat ridiculous to spell them differently. It would be even worse to have different spellings of words in different parts of the country/world (the old "tomayto/tomahto" thing).

I'm sure there really are improvements that could be made to English spelling, in particular unifying the spelling of the many unambiguous cases that don't vary widely, but I guess it won't be as simple as making it phonetic. :-/

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