Why Fix English?

And How To Fix It

First posted 2014.04.18

Updated 2014.04.18

Despite arguments about whether English is the hardest language to learn, (1) it probably isn't, and (2) it depends on your first language. What is indisputable though, is that English was a hodge-podge of various Germanic dialects that developed in fits and starts over 1500 years. It's also indisputable that the language grew organically, without much direction or forethought.

Unlike French, there is no central language authority to govern English, the result of which is dozens of major dialects and accents to the point where speakers of one can sometimes not understand speakers of another. Even formal written English suffers from irregular spelling, pluralization, and conjugation rules, most of which would not be difficult to fix — especially the spelling rules.

So, why fix English?
  1. It needs fixing.
  2. It would be relatively easy to fix 90% of the issues.
  3. As one of the lingua francas of the world, English could better serve its users.
  4. It would be easier to learn if spellings were standardized.
  5. It would be easier to teach if spellings were standardized.
Now, on to How:

Guidelines for Fixing

It makes sense to have some guidelines/rules for correcting the language. Here are a few I've come up with; the overriding goals being: (1) easier to learn, (2) easier to teach, (3) easier to remember.

I think everyone can agree that it would be a mistake to impose all the following suggestions at once. It would render the language unrecognizable. So I also propose making the changes (in order) over a considerable period of time. For example, changing the PH to F would be done alone and the next change would not begin until people were accustomed to the first change.

Phix the ph

(see blog entry: Phixing English...)

"Ph" was borrowed by Romans from Greek, first as a separate sound but eventually just as "f", and then later made its way into English. It was almost entirely eradicated at one point but then made a strong comeback.

In most words like photography and philosophy, it makes the "f" sound, for which English has a better letter: F. In a few instances, like Stephen, it makes the "v" sound, for which English already has a better letter: V.

This would be perhaps the easiest change, because it's a simple replacement — affecting mostly technical/scientific terms — and because English speakers already are very familiar with F and V. In no case would it affect pronunciation. (Words like "peephole" would obviously retain the "ph", because it makes the sounds of the P and H, respectively.)

Examples, fixed: Steven, fotografy, elefant, telefone, faze (phase), alfabet, foniks (phonics).

Make double letters single

(see future blog entry: Fixxing English...)

This one has already happened (in the U.S.), in examples like traveling (travelling) and modeling (modelling) — any time it won't change the pronunciation. (It might change the pronunication of "propelled", for example.)

Many words, my own first name (Will) included, have two consonants in a row, where there is no reason for the doubling. I propose we remove the second one in all instances where it's unnecessary for pronunciation.

Examples, which could be fixed: will, mill, grill, shill, fill, ball, tall, fizz

Could not be fixed: filling (filing is already a word), willy (wily is already a word), buss (bus is already a word). These can only be fixed after the vowel sound spellings are standardized.

Nix silent Gs, Ks, and Ws

(see future blog entry: Kfixing English)

Another very easy correction would be to remove all the silent letters that begin words, usually G, K, or W. In no case do they affect pronunciation.

Examples: knife, gnat, knight, write, wrist, wren, gnaw, knot, knob, gnome, gnash

Remove unnecessary letters from alphabet

(see future blog entry: Fiksing English...)

Three letters in the English alphabet are either entirely or mostly unnecessary: C, Q, and X.

Examples, fixed: seiling, kat, flok, stik, kwit, kiche, plak, taks, fiks, zylofone, Havyare (or Egzavier)

An argument for keeping C is the CH sound, as in chick, change, or switch. I propose using the X for that sound and dropping C altogether: Xick, Xange, swix.

G can just be G (because: J)

(see future blog entry: Fixing Enjlish...)

G is used for both the "hard G" and "soft G" (J) sounds, though we already have the J. Let's just use J for one and G for the other.

Examples, fixed: Garaj, gaij (gauge), fuj (fudge)

S can just be S (because: Z)

(see future blog entry: Fixing English'z S/Z Problem)

S is used for both the S and Z sounds, though we already have the Z. Let's just use Z for one and S for the other. In the U.S. some have already been fixed, like realize and recognize.

Examples, fixed: surprize, skiez (or skyz?), waz (or wuz?), hiz, buziness

Ende Unnecessary Es

(see future blog entry: Fixeing English: Ye Olde E)

Quite a few words have an E at the end (and a few in the middle) that doesn't affect pronunciation. These Es can be removed without negative effect.

Examples, fixed:

There are also Es at the end of words that do affect pronunciation (surprise, realize, tale, slide, stroke etc.); those need to stay for now, at least until we can fix the language's vowel problems — see below.

Change policy on new/changed words

(see future blog entry: Fixing English: New Words)

There is no central authority on the English language — though I've met a few Brits (and a few editors in the U.S.) who believe that they personally are the only authority — so the major dictionary publishers have become the de facto authority, especially the Oxford English Dictionary.

For (how long?) there's been a policy of adding words to the language once they appear in print or common usage. "Phat", for example, was added to the OED in 2003. I propose a similar policy, except any new words added must match the new spelling rules.

Those Pesky Vowels

(see future blog entry: Foxing Eenglish Vowils)

(The "o" is pronounced like the "o" in women.)

For reasons still under debate, English underwent what's called the Great Vowel Shift several hundred years ago, just about the time the printing press was catching on — which had a hand in standardizing the spelling of English words. The spellings used were those of Middle and Old English, even as the pronunciations of vowel sounds were changing to what we know today. So we were left with words like "thigh", "women" and "great", where the vowel sounds don't match up with their spellings.

Though there is actually some disagreement, there are about 15 vowel sounds in the English language, usually spelled with the five vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and a variety of modifiers like Y, W, and silent E, but also spelled in crazy other ways, like "through" and "straight". If each of the 15 vowel sounds were spelled the same way every time, I would have no issue with vowels, but they're not. I propose that they should be.

NameGuideExampleAlt. Spellings
Short Aăhat
Long Aāhaterain, say, steak, they, eight, vein, straight
Short Eĕpetbread, said
Long EēPetemeet, meat, chief, he, key, sunny, ski
Short Iĭkitmyth, women
Long Iīkitelied, wild, night, height, fly
Short Oŏhopfraud, law, tall, fought, taught
Long Oōhopetoe, boat, most, grow, though, soul
Short Uŭcuttouch, some, affect, the, pupil
Long Uūcutecue, pupil, few
Short OOoobookwould, bush
Long OOōōbootblue, new, suit, flute, soup, shoe, do, through
OWowpowout, drought
IRirfirfur, work, dollar, faster, learn

  • OO and U: Some charts listed the "long oo" and the "long u" as the same vowel
    sound, though they're clearly different (poo and pew are not pronounced similarly).
  • IR vs. AR, OR, etc.: Some charts list the "ir/er" as a vowel, but not any others
    followed by R, though they all sound different: fur, air, ear, or, seer, fire, and so on.
    I also chose to only list the "ir"; the others can be defined as a vowel followed by
    an R.

Several serious proposals have been made over time, all of which include making vowel spelling more sensible, including SR1, which was taken up for a while in Australia. As far as I can tell, they all had the right idea. My idea for vowel reform is to keep it simple and easy..

Always SpellWithExamples (former spellings)
Short aahat, pat
Short eepet, e (eh), bred (bread), sed (said), bery (bury, berry), frend (friend)
Short iihkiht (kit), mihth (myth), wihmihn (women)
Short oawlaw, hawp (hop), frawd (fraud), tawl (tall), fawt (fought), tawt (taught, taut), sawree (sorry), bawl (ball, bawl), dawn (don, Don, dawn, Dawn)
Short uucut, tuch (touch), sum (some), uffect (affect), thu (the), pewpul (pupil)
Long aaysay, hayt (hate), rayn (rain), stayk (steak, stake), thay (they), ayt (eight, ate), vayn (vein, vain), strayt (straight)
Long eeemeet (meat), Peet (Pete), cheef (chief), hee (he), kee (key), sunee (sunny), skee (ski), reeakt (react), weeld (wield)
Long iii (I, aye, eye), wild, pi (pie, Pi), lid (lied), kit (kite), hi (hi, high, hie), ri (rye)
Long oomost, poem, hop (hope), bot (boat), gro (grow), tho (though), sol (soul), do (doe, dough)
Long uewfew, pew, kewt (cute), cew (queue, cue), pewpul (pupil)
Short ooouwoud (would, wood), bouk (book), boush (bush), sout (soot)
Long ooooboot, bloo (blue, blew), noo (new), soot (suit), floot (flute), soop (soup), shoo (shoe), doo (do), throo (through)
oyoyboy, boyl (boil)
owowpow, owt (out), drowt (drought)
er/ir/urirfir (fur, fir), wirk (work), dawlir (dollar), fastir (faster), lirn (learn)

Clearly, there are problems with this. I will continue to work on it. However, keep in mind, that like the other changes, it would be done over time, perhaps beginning with the short e as in bread, said, bury, and friend. I think it would be relatively easy to state: "Going forward, 'e' always makes the short e sound and 'ee' always makes the long e sound." Bang. One is out of the way, using spellings that are already common.