The “Provable Ultimate” Spelling System

My new ending functional illiteracy in English website, covers the problems of English literacy and functional illiteracy — the extent, the causes, and the cost of illiteracy, the suffering of illiterates, and the proven solution. The home page of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc., http://NuEnglish.org, also presents valuable information about our humanitarian project of ending English functional illiteracy.

This blog covers only one important aspect of the solution to illiteracy: the proposed NuEnglish spelling system. A very natural objection to a new spelling system is the difficulty of learning the new system. Most of us learned to read as a child and have long ago forgotten just how difficult it was. Our eyes glide easily over a multitude of traps for beginning readers of traditional English spelling. Nevertheless, when the subject of a new spelling system comes up, in the back of our minds is the fear that learning any new spelling system is going to be very difficult — because of our experience with traditional English. But as you will see in reason (10) Why NuEnglish Is the Ultimate Spelling System (below) NuEnglish is extremely easy to learn, for present readers as well as beginners.

The purpose of this blog is to prove that learning NuEnglish will be very easy for YOU. I can only do that, of course, if you will carefully and honestly examine the simple-to-understand facts presented in this blog. If you do not want to be convinced because you do not want to be bothered with learning a new spelling system, you are not only doing yourself a disservice by continuing the average of more than $5,000 that functional illiteracy is costing you (and every adult American, both reader and non-reader) each year, but you are also doing our nation a disservice by doing nothing to help enable 93 million or more functionally illiterate U.S. adults to have an above-poverty-level-wage job. In addition, illiteracy has caused some American jobs to be sent overseas. Most importantly, you will be contributing to the continuance of the problems and suffering of hundreds of millions of English-speaking people around the world who are functionally illiterate in English.

Why Present Spelling Is So Difficult to Learn

  • A spelling system following the laws of logic for an alphabetic spelling system will have only one spelling of each phoneme (the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables and words in a language or dialect) and each grapheme (a letter or a specific combination of letters) will represent only one phoneme. With only 38 phonemes needed to learn English and 26 letters in the English alphabet, ideally, a single letter would be used for 26 of the phonemes and a specific combination of two letters would be used for each of the other twelve phonemes. Instead, there are at least 184 two-letter graphemes, at least 131 three-letter graphemes, 22 four-letter graphemes, and at least 4 five-letter graphemes! There is a total of at least 367 graphemes (26+184+131+22+4) when only 38 are needed!
  • Only four of the single-letter graphemes (B, K, P, and V) have only one pronunciation, but all four are doubled in some words and not in others.
  • In total there are at least 1,768 graphemes used for forty phonemes in English because many of these phonemes are spelled with more than one grapheme! Two phonemes (H as in had and TH as in then) have only (!) four spellings; all the others have more than four. The worst of all (the U phoneme as in nut) has at least 60 spellings! We only need forty graphemes for forty phonemes — one each! (Different linguists will list different English phonemes; it is easily provable that students can easily learn to read English fluently by knowing only 38 phonemes, as in NuEnglish.)
  • Present English spelling uses hundreds of silent letters.
  • Present English spelling uses hundreds of double-letters which represent only one phoneme. All but six of the single-letter graphemes (H, Q, U, W, X, and Y) are not doubled in any of the words.
  • Present English spelling has at least 203 spelling rules and every one of them have exceptions — some of the exceptions even have exceptions!
  • Present english spelling has no indication of accent. The accent of each English word must be memorized the same as the spelling must be memorized (since you cannot be sure of the spelling by spelling rules.)
  • Some English words have phonemes which are not represented by any grapheme — you just have to learn that the phoneme is there!

Why NuEnglish is the Ultimate Spelling System

Basically speaking, NuEnglish is the ultimate in ease of learning for two reasons. First, it avoids all of the problems listed above for present spelling. Second, I have carefully examined every spelling system proposed in the last two and one-half centuries, that I could find, and no other known proposed spelling system has all of the beneficial characterisitcs listed below that NuEnglish has.

Surprisingly, I could not find any proposed spelling system that had a perfect one-grapheme-for-one-phoneme correspondence. As a result, every spelling system I could find requires a certain amount of memorization of individual words.

Beneficial Characteristics of NuEnglish

(1) No phoneme is ever spelled with more than one grapheme.

(2) No grapheme ever represents more than one phoneme.

(3) There are no silent letters.

(4) There are no double letters which represent only one phoneme except OO and TT — and EE, if macrons are not used. (A macron is a horizontal line directly above a letter.)

(5) Every sound in every word is represented (except the NG sound in words such as bank and jinx) and is represented in strict first to last order.

(6) An asterisk (pronounced “star,” when spelling aloud) precedes the vowel in the primary accented syllable unless the accent is on the first syllable, the English syllable which is more likely to be accented than any other. Knowing the accent helps considerably in recognizing (reading) words. The pronunciation of some English words, in fact, is different only in the placement of the accent, such as insight and incite.

(7) The maximum number of phonemes possible are spelled as they are most often spelled in traditional spelling (30 of the 38 phonemes, 79% of them, used in NuEnglish), based upon Godfrey Dewey’s landmark 100,000 word study of numerous representative prose samples of English usage. Every spelling of the phonemes in NuEnglish, except one (the grapheme TT), is either the most-used or the expected spelling of that phoneme in traditional spelling. The TT grapheme represents the phoneme as in the word thin. This is because in traditional spelling the TH grapheme represents both the sounds in thin and then. Many people who can already read fluently will tell you, “that is no problem,” because they know which phoneme to use anytime they see the TH grapheme. That is true, of course, but it is only because of years of experience in seeing words with that grapheme. A beginning learner does not know which phoneme the TH graphemes represent and learning the difference is just one more added thing they must learn by memory. The vowel phoneme, as in the word say, must be spelled AE or A with a macron over it because all other choices conflict with another phoneme spelling. The other seven are spelled as they are expected to be spelled.

  • The letter F is expected to have the sound as in the word fan, but more often it has the sound of the letter V entirely because of the very common word of.
  • OE is expected to have the sound as in the word doe, but it most often has the U sound as in the word nut entirely because of the common word does.
  • the letter S is expected to have the sound as in the word set, but more often it has the sound of the letter Z because of the common words is and was and plurals such as bags.
  • E and O are expected to have the sound as in the words pet and not, but most often have the sound of U in nut because of the illogical use of them in unaccented syllables.
  • IE is expected to have the sound as in the word lie, but most often has the vowel sound as in the word bee because of changing Y to I and adding ES or ED for plurals and past tenses, and
  • Y most often has the sound of the vowel in the word bee because of words ending in Y, but Y must be used for its “consonant” sound as is yet, as it is expected to be pronounced.

(8) There are 14 vowel phonemes, five of which are spelled with a single letter grapheme (a,e,i,o, and u, as in “That pet did not run.“), five are spelled with a digraph (ae, ee, ie, oe, or ue) or with a macron (pronounded as in “They eat fried tofu.”), and four others are spelled only with digraphs (au, oi, oo, and ou, as in “Haul good oil out.”). There are 24 consonant phonemes, 18 of which are spelled with a single letter grapheme (as in “Yes, Val ‘Zip’ Kim hid our big fan-jet win.“) and six are spelled with a digraph (ch, sh, ng, zh, th, or tt pronounced as in which, wishing, azure, then, and thin).

(9) There is a free computer program on our http://nuenglish.org website which will quickly convert up to about 25 pages of traditionally spelled material at a time into NuEnglish. The program has an English word database of more than 600,000 words and provides NuEnglish spelling in either General American or British dialects. It was prepared by my colleague, Gary Sprunk, who has a masters degree in English Linguistics.

(10) Due to the simplicity and logic of NuEnglish spelling, people who already read traditional spelling can learn the ten simple, unvarying NuEnglish spelling rules in less than ten minutes. In fact, I have seen several people pick up something written in NuEnglish, knowing nothing about NuEnglish and read it aloud to me at almost a normal reading speed with only an occasional two or three second stumble over some of the words. Present readers can return to previous reading speeds after only two or three months of using NuEnglish. Most of the better beginning students can learn to read NuEnglish fluently in about a week, as Dr. Frank Laubach stated. All but the most mentally challenged students can learn to read English fluently in less (perhaps much less) than three months.

In NuEnglish there is very little that must be learned other than the spelling of 38 phonemes and how to blend them into words. Traditional English requires the rote memory (or learning by repeated use) of every word in a person’s reading vocabulary, because there are no spelling rules that do not have exceptions. Most readers have a reading vocabulary of 20,000 or more words. Some readers have reading vocabularies of more than 70,000 words.

There are ten invariable spelling rules in NuEnglish ; some of them are specifically to remove the variability of spelling (due to slight differences in pronunciation by different speakers) so that the Respeller computer program could be prepared to convert traditional spelling to NuEnglish.

Most of what you need to know to read NuEnglish, besides the spelling of the phonemes, is the following. Since we have billions of dollars worth of computers and printing equipment using Q and X, which are unneeded for a spelling system, NuEnglish uses these two letters for two consonant phoneme blends. The letter X is used ONLY for the KS phoneme blend, as in exit (X also represents another consonant and three other consonant blends in traditional spelling). The letter Q (NOT QU)is used ONLY for the KW phoneme blend as in quit (Qit in NuEnglish), but the Q also represents another consonant and another consonant blend in traditional spelling.

Traditional English does not distinguish between the two “long U” sounds as in the words sue and fuel. The vowel sound in these two words is different, but they are spelled the same. This ambiguity is removed in NuEnglish by spelling the first sound as “sue” and the second as “fyuel.” This is equivalent to placing an F phoneme before the English word Yule. In short, traditional English does not show whether the Y sound is there or not.

Many, if not most, people pronounce the words watt and what (and many similar words) differently. The word what is different from the word watt by having an expulsion of air (an H phoneme) before a W phoneme. In traditional spelling this phoneme blend is spelled WH. In NuEnglish, it is spelled as it is pronounced; for example, the word what is spelled hwot in NuEnglish.

The only deviation from phonemic spelling is for numbers of less than a million. Thus: “U 3-foeld inkrees”, “1 and 1 iz 2″, “Sum-1 iz at thu doer”, and “Ie’l bee u-wae foer 4 daez”. The reasons are because numerals are universally understood, are very compact, and are easily distinguished from “won”, “to”, “too”, “for”, “fore”, and “ate”. Ordinal numbers are written as a numeral plus “tt” or “ett”: “4tt”, “10tt”, “100tt”, “20ett”, “30ett”, excepting “1st”, “2nd”, and “3rd”, and the pronunciation of “5tt” (fiftt).

The use of numerals instead of spelling the numbers is optional and should not be used when filling out forms such as bank checks which specify spelling out the numbers, or whenever the number 1 could possibly be confused with the letters I or L, or when the letter O could possibly be confused with zero. This is all you need to know to read NuEnglish. To spell NuEnglish consistently, it is necessary to follow the other NuEnglish spelling rules.

About bcenglis

Bob Cleckler is a retired Chemical Engineer. In 1985 he read Jonathan Kozol's shocking new book, "Illiterate America." He decided to use his research skills as an engineer to see if there was a solution to the problem. He spent more than a year in his research. He read EVERY book he could find on the subject of his research. He read dozens of books from the large Marriott Research Library at the University of Utah. Based upon his findings, he developed a solution to the problem of English illiteracy. It is a PROVEN solution. Dr. Frank Laubach spent his entire adult life teaching adult illiterates around the world how to read in more than 300 alphabetic languages. Dr. Laubach proved that he could teach students, in 98% of the languages in which he taught, to read fluently in less than three months. His books, "Teaching the World to Read" and "Forty Years With the Silent Billion," never mention being unable to teach ANY of his students to read fluently.

Cleckler collaborated with Gary Sprunk, M.S. English Linguistics, to perfect his solution based upon Dr. Laubach's experience and findings. Two non-profit educational corporations were formed. Cleckler is the CEO of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and Vice Pres. of R & D of NuEnglish, Inc. Gray Sprunk is President of NuEnglish, Inc. Cleckler's award-winning book, "Let's End Our Literacy Crisis," originally published in 2005 is now available on our website, http://LearnToReadNow.org, without cost or obligation for the Second Revision, released in late 2012. This breakthrough book covers:

A. the tremendous need for improving English literacy. Cleckler found research proving (1) that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate, defined as being unable to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job, (2) that 31.2% of these functional illiterates are in poverty, and (3) that they are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other causes combined. Furthermore he found at least 34 types of serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems that illiterates must endure every day of their lives that we would consider a crisis if we had to endure them. Cleckler also found that illiteracy costs EVERY U.S. adult -- readers and non-readers -- an average of more than $5,000 each year for government programs that illiterates use; for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy; and for the higher cost of consumer goods due to illiterates in the labor pool and in the workforce.

B. the causes of illiteracy. Before any problem can be solved, you must find the cause. Otherwise you can spend huge amounts of money fighting the symptoms of the problem without preventing the problem from recurring.

C. the preferred, proven solution to the problem. We have been fighting the symptoms of the difficulty in learning to read English for almost a century. Although numerous changes in American education have been implemented in the last century, none of them solve the foundational cause of the problem. Almost half of U.S. students never become fluent readers, and most of the ones who do become fluent readers require at least two years to learn to read well enough to continue increasing their reading skills after third grade, when most reading instruction in school ends.

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