THE absolute necessity of phonetic reform is now almost universally recognised, not only by practical teachers but also by scientific philologists. All the objections that prejudice and irrational conservatism have been able to devise have been successfully met, and the only question now is, What system shall we adopt?
The great difficulty of arriving at any agreement is the multiplicity of possible systems. Any system, however clumsy and arbitrary, which clears away only a portion of the irregularities of the existing spelling, is an improvement on it. Any one, for instance, if he likes, can drop the silent w in such words as write, and make night into nite, thus getting rid of a large number of irregularities at one stroke. In fact, given a hundred human beings of average intellect who can read and write, it would be perfectly easy to turn out a hundred different systems of spelling, all of them more or less an improvement on the existing one.
This was until lately the state of things - every man did what was right in his own eyes. But in the thirty years that have elapsed since Messrs. Ellis and Pitman first began to work on a phonetic alphabet, practically everything has been changed, especially within the last ten years. The labours of Messrs. Bell and Ellis have given us a thorough analysis of the sounds of English, the history of English pronunciation has been fully investigated by Mr. Ellis, and a variety of spellings have been practically tested.
It is now possible from an examination of these various systems to deduce certain general principles, by which all reform must be guided. If there were no such principles, the problem would be a hopeless one. Nothing can be done without unanimity, and until the majority of the community are convinced of the superiority of some one system, unanimity is impossible.
No one is qualified to give an opinion on spelling reform who has not studied these general principles, and has at least an elementary knowledge of the formation of the sounds of the English language and their relations to one another.
The present remarks are intended to supply the necessary information in as clear and untechnical a form as possible, so as to enable the general reader to form an independent judgement without having to search through an indefinite number of scattered publications.
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James Chandler 1998.