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Spelling Dearest is primarily a book about the history of English spelling. Within the book's introduction and threaded throughout the history, however, are fundamental complaints about our modern-day English-spelling system: e.g., it is the worst alphabetic spelling system in the world, it is enormously and needlessly complex, it not only creates poor spellers but poor readers as well. Additionally, the book makes the important observation that many non-English-speaking countries with simple spelling systems do not have anything like the problems with reading, writing, and spelling that English-speaking countries have. These fundamental grievances are the foundation and reason for the book. The quotations given below support them.



English Has The Worst Alphabetic Spelling System In The World...


"The spelling practices of modern English are the worst of any major language in the world."

(Dr. John Nist, A Structural History of English, 1966, page 16).


"We have the most erratic spelling of any of the great languages."

(Dr. Charlton G. Laird, The Miracle of Language, 1953, page 228).


"The biggest spelling-chaos that it has ever been the misfortune of any nation to cope with."

(Dr. Mont Follick, The Case for Spelling Reform, 1965, page 220).


"English is by far the most erratically spelled of modern languages."

(Dr. Edward Rondthaler and Dr. Edward J. Lias, Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling, 1986, page 3).


"The fact remains that our spelling is more than irrational — it is inhuman, and forms the bane not merely of foreigners, but of our own younger generations, compelled to devote interminable hours to learning a system which is the soul and essence of anarchy."

(Dr. Mario Pei, The Story of the English Language, 1967, page 338).


"The English language has the worst system of spelling of any major language."

(Robert C. Pinckert, Pinckert's Practical Grammar, 1986, page 22).




English Spelling Is Un-Phonetic

(i.e., words are generally not spelled the way they sound)...



"During the time of the Saxon Kings [Old English], the English writing system was 90% alphabetic. After Johnson [Samuel Johnson's 1755 dictionary], it was only 40% alphabetic."

(Dr. Steve T. Bett, Saundspel, Oct. 2000).


"80 percent...of the words in English are not spelled phonetically...; it is evident, therefore, that English is not one language, but two — a written one and a spoken one."

(Rolf Johnson, professor of English, University of Illinois. From an article in The American Mercury, 1948).


"44...English sounds are spelled more than 600 ways."

(Dr. Stanley L. Sharp, The REAL Reason Why Johnny Still Can't Read, 1982, page 32 & 252).


"The 42 sounds of spoken English are not spelled in 42 simple ways, but in a mix-up of at least 400 different and conflicting ways!"

(Dr. Edward Rondthaler and Dr. Edward J. Lias, Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling, 1986, page 9).


"One study worked out that in English there are 13.7 spellings per sound."

(David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 1987, page 213).




English Spelling Is Much More Complex Than The Spelling Of Other Languages...



"First, we must dispose of some myths. English is not intrinsically easier to learn than French or Russian.... English has some impossible characteristics...; there are no fewer than thirteen spellings for sh.... School children are still grappling with a spelling system that dates back to William Caxton [1476]..., supple in grammar, maddeningly inconsistent in spelling."

(McCrum, Cran & MacNeil, The Story of English, 1986, page 46 & 47).


"Most English speakers never fully learn unpredictable English spelling and can spell better in a foreign language with a consistent orthography [spelling system] than they can in English."

(Dr. Steve T. Bett, Saundspel, Oct. 2000).


"English Students of German can spell six times better in German than they can in English".

(Christopher Upward, Former Senior Lecturer, Department of Languages and European Studies, Aston University, Journal of Research in Reading, 1992).


"Italian pupils...have to cope with no more than 350 un-phonetically spelt words in all, while ours are confronted with a minimum of 3500 before the age of 16."

(Marsha Bell, retired teacher of English and modern languages. From a letter in The Independent, Dec. 20, 2002).


"Children in lands which have fairly phonemic [(phonetic)] spelling, such as Germany, Denmark, Italy, Spain...never see a spelling book."

(E. V. Starrett, Doctoral dissertation, Wayne State University, 1981).


"Any [English] spelling-book gives you five thousand words commonly mis-spelt. There is no spelling-book in Germany. There is no spelling-book in Italy."

(William Barkley, The Two Englishes, 1965).


"In some languages, such as Finnish, there is a neat one-to-one correspondence between sound and spelling."

(Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue, 1990, page 85).




English Spelling Is The Problem, Not The People Who Can't Learn It...



"There is horrible overlapping of spelling [in English], which compounds learning difficulties enormously. For instance, children have to learn the spelling of twelve sounds by the letter a, but they must also learn that the letter e spells nine of those same sounds."

(Dr. Stanley L. Sharp, The REAL Reason Why Johnny Still Can't Read, 1982, page 25).


"If we know the sounds of a word (in English) we can't know how to spell it; if we know the spelling, we can't know how to pronounce it."

(Otto Jespersen, philologist, Essentials of English Grammar, 1905, page 11).


"One cannot tell how to spell an English word by its pronunciation or how to pronounce it by its spelling."

(Professor Albert C. Baugh, A History of the English Language, 1959, page 13).


"The English language, for all its variety and richness, is illogical. There is no way to learn its orthography [(spelling)]."

(Vermont Royster, editor, The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 5, 1975).


"If the professors of English will complain to me that the students who come to the universities, after all these years of study, still cannot spell friend, [I say to them that] something's the matter with the way you spell friend."

(Dr. Richard Feynman, physicist. From a lecture at the University of Washington, 1963).




More Rules Won't Help...


"A 2-year study at Stanford University determined that over 300 rules would be required to spell correctly, by rule, half of our 17,000 most frequently used words."

(Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society (JSSS), Issue 32-03/1, page i, 2003. The study is Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences as Cues to Spelling Improvement, 1966).


"The rules taught in phonics methods of teaching number about 70 to 100...; text-to-speech computer programs show that the rules to decipher English number over 500. Hence, problems."

(Dr. Valerie Yule, Ph.D., Australian psychologist, JSSS, Issue 33-03/1, page 15, 2003).


"It would take more than 650 rules to spell 95+% of the 20,000 most frequently used words. This is staggeringly more than is required with other countries' more phonemic [(phonetic)] spelling systems."

(Better Education thru Simplified Spelling (BEtSS) 1985-86 Annual Report, page 4).


"There is no rule that will tell a child whether a word should be regarded as an exception or not, and what is the point of remembering a lot of rules if you have to recognize a word before you can tell whether it follows the rules or not?"

(Professor Frank Smith, Reading Without Nonsense, 1979, page 55).


"Phonic rules look deceptively simple when you know what a word is in the first place."

(Professor Frank Smith, Understanding Reading, 1978, page 139).


"There are no useful rules except the famous 'I before E except after C, or when sounded as A in neighbor and weigh.'"

(Robert C. Pinckert, Pinckert's Practical Grammar, 1986, page 24).


"There are no reliable rules."

(G. H. Vallins & D. G. Scragg, Spelling,1973, page 15).




Due To English Spelling, Reading In English Is Much More Difficult Than Reading In Other Languages...


"English children cannot easily derive general principles of reading by just learning to read a few words, as is the case with more regularly spelt languages."

(Memorandum from the Simplified Spelling Society (SSS) to the United Kingdom Parliament, clause 13, 2000).


"English spelling is almost divorced from its pronunciation and forms hardly any guide as to how words should be pronounced."

(Mont Follick, The Case for Spelling Reform, 1964, page 87).


"Almost all of the words of Finnish...are spelled phonetically...; it is no wonder that the children there learn to read with relative ease and speed, a high percentage even before they start school! That is also the basic reason for the very low rate of illiteracy in [that country]."

(Dr. Stanley L. Sharp, The REAL Reason Why Johnny Still Can't Read, 1982, page 7).


"Finnish children, whose language is written in a very consistent alphabetic system, need spend only a few months learning to read and write the language they speak."

(Professors Morton W. Bloomfield and Leonard Newmark, A Linguistic Introduction to the History of English, 1963, page 31).


"[In] languages like Finnish...each letter of the alphabet can have but one sound and one only...; one can read the language with phonetical correctness after a few hours' instruction."

(Mario Pei, The Story of the English Language, 1967, page 304).


"It takes over twice the time and effort to learn to read and write in English as it does in Spanish."

(Dr. Steve T. Bett, Saundspel, Oct. 2000).


"A learning period of 2 ½ to 3 years is needed to match the competence which is achieved in less than one year in most languages…. We would therefore like to retain the suggestion that learning to read in English is simply a slower process than learning in other languages. We suggest that syllable complexity affects decoding and that orthographic depth affects both word learning and decoding.” [This study defines orthographic depth as “How consistently and precisely spelling maps onto sound."]

(Professor Philip H.K. Seymour, University of Dundee. How do children learn to read? Is English more difficult than other languages? From a Paper presented to the British Festival of Science, Glasgow, September 2001).





English Spelling Causes Functional Illiteracy...


"The forty-odd sounds we speak are spelled in well over four hundred different ways...; it is indeed a major factor in creating our mass of adult English-speaking functional illiterates."

(Dr. Edward Rondthaler and Dr. Edward J. Lias, Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling, 1986, page 3).


"There is a clear correlation between inconsistent spelling systems and functional illiteracy."

(Times Editorial Supplement, Dec. 13, 2002).


"In huge numbers of words our spelling does not correspond to our sounds. That is the real reason why...millions of English-speaking people are illiterate."

(Dr. Stanley L. Sharp, The REAL Reason Why Johnny Still Can't Read, 1982, page 13).


"In all English-speaking countries, illiteracy is widespread. England, Canada and Australia share [America's] difficulty in teaching people how to read and write. Yet in other industrialized countries, the problem of functional illiteracy is not significant. Why not? Because most languages look the way they are spoken — Spanish, for example. But English spelling is unpredictable and off-putting."

(Michael Gianturco, Forbes Magazine, Aug. 16, 1993).


"Written Spanish helps one learn Spanish. Written English only confuses the learner."

(Dr. Edward Rondthaler and Dr. Edward J. Lias, Dictionary of Simplified American Spelling, 1986, page 21).



Thanks to SSS, ALC, BEtSS, Saundspel, and Stanley L. Sharp for a number of these quotations.

Saundspel is an electronic discussion group on the development of writing systems for English (Click button at bottom of page). SSS, ALC, and BEtSS are defined and explained under the heading "Links To Literacy And Simplified-Spelling Organizations" ahead. (Also click buttons at bottom of page). 








Adult Functional Illiterate Estimates...


USA, 22%; UK, 23%; Canada, 17%; Germany, 12%; Netherlands, 10%; Sweden, 7%.

(Literacy Skills for the Knowledge Society, OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), 1997).


USA, 20.7%; UK, 21.8%; Canada, 16.6%; Finland, 10.4%; Netherlands, 10.5%; Sweden, 7.5%.

(Human Development Report, UNDP (United Nations Development Program), 2002).





Links To Literacy And Simplified-Spelling Organizations...


Reform-minded individuals and simplified-spelling organizations have tried valiantly since the middle of the 16th Century to regularize or simplify English spelling. Regrettably, their impact has been disproportionally small compared to their tremendous effort and wisdom. The foremost instances when the reform movement has had an impact on English spelling have been recorded in Spelling Dearest. Despite the reform movement's lack of major impact, it is still going strong. It is alive and well and living in California, USA; Warwick, England; Ontario, Canada; Victoria, Australia; Christchurch, New Zealand; and in many other places around the world. Many of the people interested in spelling reform are members of one or both of the two surviving simplified-spelling organizations listed below. As well, some were members of a recently disbanded organization also listed.


The Simplified Spelling Society (SSS) was founded in 1908 and is based in London, England. It works to modernize English spelling for the benefit of learners and users worldwide. It currently has members and associates on four continents. The society publishes the Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society at least once yearly. The journal provides articles on a wide range of subjects relating directly or indirectly to spelling reform.

For more information about SSS, or to join, visit 

Membership Secretary, John Gledhill, 4 Valletta Way, Wellesbourne, Warwick, CV35 9TB, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1789 842 112.


The American Literacy Council (ALC), based in New York City, is the current name for a string of US based literacy and simplified spelling organizations that date back to 1876. These organizations in reverse chronological order are: The American Language Academy (1984), Simplified Spelling Association (1946), Simplified Spelling Board (1906), and Spelling Reform Association (1876). ALC has developed many programs and systems to help people become more literate. The council is dedicated to the concept of reforming English spelling.

For more information about ALC, or to join, visit

Snail-mail: American Literacy Council, 148 W. 117th St., New York, NY 10026, USA. Tel: (800) 781-9985.




Better Education thru Simplified Spelling (BEtSS) was a Michigan-based organization dedicated to the regularization of English spelling. BEtSS has recently folded after over 25 years of dedicated service. We in the literacy and reformed-spelling communities would like to thank that organization and its founders, Abe Citron and Chuck Kleber, for their passion and perseverance since the organization's inception in 1978.




Proposed New Writing Systems & Alphabets For The English Language...


Below is a list of names that represent a small sample of the many modified or new writing systems and alphabets, which have been invented to replace our existing English-writing system. Most of these systems have been created by individuals, committees, or organizations with a strong desire to change English writing in order to make it easier for people to read and spell.


AKSES, ALC Fonetic, Altscript, ANJeL, CCS (Checked Clipped Spelling), CS (Cut Spelling), ESS (English Simplified Spelling), Englishspeak, EnglSpel, Fanetik, Fohnetek, Globish (Global English), New Follick, New Romaji, New Spelling, NuSpel, RES (Restored English Spelling), RITE Spelling (Reduced Irregularities in Traditional English Spelling), Saispel, Snapscript, Spanglish, Spell Right, Truespel, Unifon, WES (World English Spelling), Winglish.


Many of these proposals have their own web sites (e.g. that provide in-depth details of their inner workings. There are many more proposed systems in existence that are finalized or in construction. Some minimize the number of changes and look very similar to the system we have now. Others add letters to the alphabet or change the appearance of written English completely. Without exception, all make English writing many times easier to read and spell. The major challenge that reformers have is choosing a system that they can all agree on — worldwide. Once that is achieved, they have to convince all the English-speaking governments to implement it simultaneously. A daunting task indeed.


To link to many of the above mentioned websites visit Steve Bett's Alphabets, Spelling & Pronunciation site at 

Dr. Bett is the editor of the Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society.




Languages That Have Successfully Reformed Their Spelling Systems...


The following is a list of some of the languages that have successfully simplified their spelling systems in the past 125 years: Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish. The simplifications that were implemented in these languages have had a profound impact on the people using them. Apart from the obvious increase in spelling abilities, the results of many of these reforms are: a substantial reduction of the number of functional illiterates; a greater understanding amongst early readers about what is written; a significant decrease in the time needed to learn to read and write; and the early development of independent studying abilities. In addition — for the ecology-minded — simplified spelling has resulted in a huge reduction in the number of murdered trees. It has been reported that one single element of Russian spelling reform reduced each copy of Tolstoy's War and Peace by about 70 pages. That's a lot of liberated lumber. Killing trees for a reformed-spelling edition of War and Peace or Romeo and Juliet could be interpreted as a worthwhile sacrifice. Killing them for silent letters, double consonants, and elongated vowel combinations is senseless slaughter!


For further information regarding spelling reforms that have taken place in non-English-speaking countries, click the following:

The Netherlands (Holland):




Many other countries:





Famous English-Spelling Reformers...


English-spelling reform has been the passion of many of the brightest and most innovative minds of all time. George Bernard Shaw and Benjamin Franklin created new letters for the alphabet. Mark Twain wrote repeatedly and humorously about spelling and spelling reform. Between 1906 and 1919, Andrew Carnegie donated a quarter of a million dollars to the Simplified Spelling Board. Other celebrated individuals who were interested in spelling reform are: American President Theodore Roosevelt, British Prime Minister William Gladstone, Noah Webster, Charles Darwin, H. G. Wells, Walt Whitman, Brigham Young, John Milton, Alfred Tennyson, and William Wordsworth. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was onboard. Most reformers would say it doesn't take Sherlock Homes to figure out we need a new spelling system, but it's nice to know his creator noticed.


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