Transition from and to the Present Spelling.

We have hitherto considered the question of spelling reform solely from the point of view of those who learn to read for the first time. But we have also to consider the question of the transition from and to the present orthography. The two points of view may be contrasted thus:-
(1) Which system of spelling will be easiest learnt by a child learning to read for the first time?
(2) Which will come easiest to an adult who has already learnt on the received system?

The first of these two alternatives is, as we have seen, fully met by the simple principle of returning to the original Roman values of the letters. The second, on the other hand, requires that our new spelling should be based not on the original values of the letters but on some one of their present values. We may, then, distinguish two main classes of reformed spellings, (1) the Roman-value system, and (2) the English-value system. The only consistent and practical alphabet on the English-value system that has yet been produced is the "Glossic" of Mr. Ellis.

Glossic is based on the principle of retaining the traditional means of expressing the sounds of English, but selecting one among the many symbols of each sound, and using it invariably to express that sound, rejecting, of course, all silent letters. Thus ee is taken as the sole representation of the sound of long i, being written not only in feel, but also in reed, skeem, = "read" and "scheme", peek ="pique", &c. ai is written not only in fail but also in naim = "name", rain = "reign", &c.

It cannot be denied that from its own point of view this system has considerable advantages. It would certainly cause the adults of the present generation less trouble than any Roman-value spelling, for any one who has learnt to read on the present system can read Glossic at sight. Mr. Ellis also thinks that those who had learnt Glossic would easily acquire the ordinary or "Nomic" spelling, as he calls it. Before attempting to settle the relative merits of the Roman- and English-value systems, as regards ease of transition to and from the "Nomic" spelling, it will be well to weigh the following considerations.

(1) In both systems a large number of words will retain their spellings entirely or almost unchanged. The following words, for instance, remain unchanged in both: best, bend, desk, fed, let, men; if, hit, fish, wish, in, gift; on, hot, god, dog, pot; oil, boil, loin, and many others.

(2) Many, indeed most of the remaining words, will undergo great alterations under both systems. Let us consider, for instance, that most of our written words are practically hieroglyphs, which we recognise individually by the consonant skeletons without thinking of the sounds they represent. Thus, if we substitute a (-) for the vowels in such words as kn-ght, wr-ck, -n-gh, we still recognise them without any difficulty, which would not be materially increased even by the introduction of different vowels. Now, on any system whatever of phonetic spelling, these words, which all contain silent consonants, entirely alter the shape of their skeletons, so that whether we write nite, neit or nait, rec or rek, inuf or enf, the results are equally disguised to the eye, and can only be made out by an effort. Any possible superiority of one alphabet over another is thus very considerably reduced. To this may be added that, although in most cases where any superiority in point of resemblance to Nomic can be claimed by one system over the other, the advantage is naturally on the side of Glossic, yet the Roman-value system often has the advantage on its side. Thus the u in "full," "pull," "put," &c., and the i in "pique," "machine," "marine," &c., are preserved unchanged in the Roman-value system, while in Glossic u being used to represent the vowel in "but" cannot be retained in "full," and the i of "pique," &c. must of course be written ee.

(3) Again, the very resemblance of Glossic to Nomic often causes very puzzling confusions. Thus "latter," "ridding," "supper," become later, riding, super, while the Nomic "later," "riding," "super(fine)," are represented by laiter, reiding, seuperfein. The Roman-value system, being more remote from Nomic, is much less liable to such cross-associations. In fact, the relation of Glossic to Nomic is very like that of two closely allied languages, such as Danish and Swedish, or Spanish and Portuguese. Although Danes and Swedes soon learn to understand one another's languages, they hardly ever, even after years of study, succeed in speaking each other's languages with real accuracy, the very nearness of the two languages, with their constant deviations from one another in matters of detail, causing constant confusion and cross-association.

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James Chandler 1998.