Ever had to explain English spelling rules to someone learning English? For practically every rule, we have a list of exceptions that must simply be memorized, which slows literacy acquisition in both adults and children.

Much to my annoyance, the various English spelling reforms listed at wikipedia fail because sounds don't map directly to letters (and vice versa). The ones that do use a bijective mapping fail because they resort to a different alphabet. That makes you think that the number of discrete sounds (phonemes) in English overstretches our alphabet and we end up having crazy spellings in order to compensate.

English actually only has 42 phonemes. Most of the encoding issues derive from the vowels, long and short. Let's do some simple replacement, we'll say that long vowels just use the letter twice, so 'i' = a short i, 'ii' = a long i. Our phonemes then become:
Phoneme Spelling(s) and Example Words
aa a (table), a_e (bake), ai (train), ay (say)
a a (flat)
b b (ball)
k c (cake), k (key), ck (back)
d d (door)
ee e (me), ee (feet), ea (leap), y (baby)
e e (pet), ea (head)
f f (fix), ph (phone)
g g (gas)
h h (hot)
ii i (I), i_e (bite), igh (light), y (sky)
i i (sit)
j j (jet), dge (edge), g[e, i, y] (gem)
l l (lamp)
m m (my)
n n (no), kn (knock)
oo o (okay), o_e (bone), oa (soap), ow (low)
o o (hot)
p p (pie)
kw qu (quick)
r r (road), wr (wrong), er (her), ir (sir), ur (fur)
s s (say), c[e, i, y] (cent)
t t (time)
uu u (future), u_e (use), ew (few)
u u (thumb), a (about), e (loaded), o (wagon)
v v (voice)
w w (wash)
ks x (box, exam)
y y (yes)
z z (zoo), s (nose)
eu oo (boot), u (truth), u_e (rude), ew (chew)
ui oo (book), u (put)
oi oi (soil), oy (toy)
ou ou (out), ow (cow)
aw aw (saw), au (caught), a[l] (tall)
ar ar (car)
sh sh (ship), ti (nation), ci (special)
wh wh (white)
ch ch (chest), tch (catch)
th th (thick, this)
ng ng (sing), n (think)
zh s (measure)

Let's trii this neu speleeng and see if it is anee geud. The funee theeng is that advertiizeeng alredee uses this: wee goo teu the "Kwik-Mart" and bii sum "Donuts" (yum yum!). Perhaps internet-speek wil sloolee beekum moor liik this oover tiim.

Spelling changes never take off because of network inertia (so much previous output), coordination difficulty (what about the Brits?!?), optimal change determination (well, if we're changing that, we should also change...), et cetera. We can rationalize not changing with a slew of reasons. However, the simple truth is that having already learned English once, we don't ever want to do it again.

And that's why we need to change....

Speleeng? Theeng? I guess this brings out differences that go unnoticed in speech. I pronounce it speling. Do you read Language Log? http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=492 http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=507 --Rehana
Mark Twain wrote a satirical piece on spelling reform that people still analyze to determine if he meant it as satire or for real change: http://www.twainquotes.com/Spelling.html -Doug
Further confusing the issue, many 'alternate' spellings exist for the same English word which people think is correct because they saw it on the internet. As the internet is a large community of people from various countries, it cannot be used as an authoritative source for accurate spelling. Adding unnecessary 'u' characters is at the top of my list here including 'colour' for 'color' and 'flavour' for 'flavor.' This is correct usage in International English, but it has no place in US English text. -Daniel
ethnocentrism FTW! -Doug
Language Hat http://www.languagehat.com/ which tends to cover the interesting tidbits from LL, while partying with Russian, German, Mandarin and the other cool kids. -- Twain sold out. ;) -- Patrick.