Questions and Answers
What is Simpel-Fonetik?
It is a new, simple and easy-to-learn method of writing in English. It is described in the books titled Simple Phonetic English Spelling – Introduction to Simpel-Fonetik, the Single-Sound-per-Letter Writing Method, and the Simpel-Fonetik Dictionary -- For International Version of Writing in English, both authored by Allan Kiisk.
What motivated you, Allan, to develop the Simpel-Fonetik?
When I was learning English as my third language, after Estonian and German, I was frustrated by the complex and arbitrary English spelling and pronunciation. For example, I could not believe that you, yew, ewe and the letter u were all pronounced the same way.
Because English is becoming a global language, millions of people are learning English. They are experiencing the same frustrations. I have great empathy for them. I want to make it easier for them to learn English. I support global use of English.
What is wrong with the present spelling?
The problem is that the use of letters to represent sounds is not consistent. Many letters, especially the vowels, are used to represent many different sounds. Just look at the words cough, rough, through, though and plough and pronounce them as you are supposed to. The ou has a different sound in each of those words. The gh is used for the f sound, but in the last three words the gh has no sound at all.
Just visualize a foreigner who has never heard those words before, trying to read and pronounce them. Let's suppose that someone told him that through is pronounced as thru. Then, based on logic and common sense, he would assume that ough stands for the u sound, and he will pronounce cough as ku, rough as ru, though as thu, and plough as plu. Can you visualize his frustration when he finds out that ough is pronounced differently in each of those words, and that he will have to memorize each of those spellings and pronunciations?
The basic cause of the spelling difficulties is the English alphabet. The alphabet should serve as the key, or the rule for the use of letters. But presently, when we recite the English alphabet many sounds are left out. We don't recite the sounds ʌ as in cup (the strange single letters are from the International Phonetic Alphabet), æ as in and, e as in end, ə as in ago, u as in put, g as in go,and j as in yes. And the vowels A, I, O and U are recited as diphthongs, as a combination of two sounds.
How do you intend to improve the present spelling?
In science and engineering we base our improvements and advancements on what has been shown to work well, or what has been established as the best method. I use the same approach in trying to improve the English spelling.
There are languages that have excellent writing methods that are logical, simple, easy to learn and to use. Best examples are the Finnish and Estonian languages. In those languages the alphabet serves as the basis for pronouncing and writing words. Every letter has only one sound. Two letters are used for longer or stronger sounds. Vowels are recited with single sounds, not as diphthongs. Once the children learn what sound—a single sound—goes with each letter in the alphabet, they know how to read, pronounce and write words. Most children learn to read in about a month or two.
Simpel-Fonetik method is based on the same principles.
What are the basic principles for Simpel-Fonetik?
1. Each letter represents only one spoken sound.
2. There is a letter in the alphabet for each basic English language sound.
3. Double letters—two identical letters—are used for longer vowels and stronger consonants.
What does the Simpel-Fonetik alphabet look like?
The Simpel-Fonetik writing is based on the single-sound-per-letter alphabet of 24 letters. That is what children need to learn for reading and writing in English.
The Simpel-Fonetik alphabet is shown below. There are seven vowels and seventeen consonants. The vowel letters are shown in italic (slanted) print.
Aa Ää Bb Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Öö Pp Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Zz
New letters: Ä,ä, Ö,ö. They correspond to the International Phonetic Alphabet's (IPA) letters æ and ə/з. Ä is used as in words häpi (happy) and ripäär (repair). Ö is used as in words öbaut (about), pörtein (pertain) and ritöörn (return).
All other letters (lowercase letters) correspond to those used in the IPA, except that the more commonly used Latin letters a, i, u, th, tsh and dsh are used in place of IPA's ʌ, ɪ, ʊ, θ/ð, t∫ and d∫/ʤ letters.
Letters not used: Cc, Qq, Xx, Yy.
These letters are not needed for the basic Simpel-Fonetik English alphabet. But the present writing (spelling) of English is expected to be around for a long time. Therefore, we need to maintain familiarity with these letters and retain them on keyboards. This requires keeping these four letters in an expanded alphabet of twenty-eight (28) letters.
For international use of English, additional letters such as the vowels Ü,ü and Õ,õ, which correspond to IPA letters y and ɤ, may need to be added. The expanded version of the English alphabet may then end up with thirty (30) or more letters.
What sound goes with each letter? Please provide words as examples.
Shown below are sample words that show the sound of each letter. Also shown are samples for the use of double letters for longer vowels and stronger consonants. For some consonants there are no double letter samples shown because in phonetic spelling double letters are not used with those consonants; the second letter does not help produce a stronger consonant. For some consonants, double letters are seen only when some words are joined.
A – kap (cup), aardvark; Ä – hät (hat), dimäänd (demand); B – big; D – dog, middei (midday); E – end, melee; F – left, offend; G – go; H – hotel; I – fit, fiit (feet); J – jes (yes); K – kilo, bukkeis (bookcase); L – leg, illiigal (illegal); M – lemon, lemming; N – tenant, tennis; O – on, door; Ö – pörtein (pertain), ritöörn (return); P – pet, lämppost; R – risk, irregular; S – son, lesson; T – rät (rat), rätträp (rattrap); U – fut (foot), fuud (food); V – vim; W – win; Z – Zulu.
Why did you pick the letter A for the a as in art sound?
The letter A,a in present English is used to represent more than eleven different sounds. Examples: art, and, ago, all, make, head, read, foam, fear, pair, earn. I had to make a choice: Which single sound should the letter a represent? I chose it to represent the a sound that is in cup and art, for two reasons: (1) other languages use the letter a for that sound, and (2) that sound occurs more often than the ä, or æ, as in and sound – this is revealed when one uses the phonetic, single-sound-per-letter writing.
In present spelling, many different letters are used for the a sound, e.g. up (ap), my (mai), eye (ai), some (sam) and like (laik). When those spellings are converted to phonetic writing, such as Simpel-Fonetik (spellings shown in red), it turns out that there are many more a than ä letters. For example, in my book in the chapter titled Reading Practice, in the three pages of Simpel-Fonetik writing, there are 60 percent more a letters than ä letters. In the recently published Simpel-Fonetik Dictionary, in the listing of over 18,000 phonetically written words, a computer count of letters indicated that there are nearly twice as many A,a letters and sounds than Ä,ä letters and sounds. Those findings strongly support the choosing of the simpler, the internationally used letter A,a for the a as in art sound rather than for the a as in and sound.
Why were the letters Ä and Ö picked as new letters?
After picking the letter a for the art sound, I had to decide what to do about those other sounds that the letter a was used for in present spelling. I found that other existing letters could be used for nearly all of them. For example, all could be spelled as ool, make – meik, head – hed, read – riid, foam – foum. But for two sounds, the and and ago sounds, which correspond to the IPA's æ and ə sounds, there were no existing letters in the present alphabet that could be used. The only solution was to add two new letters to the alphabet.
For the and sound and the same but longer sound as in demand, I had a choice of using the IPA's symbol æ, ASCII's @, or the letter ä. For the ago, pertain and the same but longer sound as in return, I had the choice of using the IPA's symbols ə, з, œ or the letter ö.
I chose the letters ä and ö because they were already being used for those sounds in many other languages, including German, Swedish, Finnish and Estonian, and they were readily available on computer keyboards.
Did you know that the name of the country that the native English speakers call Austria is actually Österreich? That should show the prominence and popularity of the letter ö.
Don't you need more letters for vowels?
No. For converting English speech to writing, just seven single-sound vowels are needed. Additional vowels such as Ü and Õ would be needed for dealing with other languages or writing dialect expressions, but they are not needed for the basic English writing.
Remember that two identical letters are used for longer vowel sounds. This method of spelling seven additional sounds, the long vowel sounds, is simple and logical. It avoids adding additional letters to the alphabet. Many other languages use double letters for long vowels.
A child learning to read in a phonetically written language looks at a word and sounds it out letter by letter, using the sounds that go with each letter. Pronouncing two identical vowel letters one after another makes that vowel automatically sound longer. That is the logic behind the use of double letters for longer vowels. The same idea applies also to making consonants sound stronger.
Two different vowel letters are used for forming diphthongs (from Latin, meaning two sounds). When talking fast, the two sounds may glide together, but when you enunciate the word or the syllable, they become distinct.
Be aware that a combination of two different vowels placed side-by-side can no longer be used for another vowel sound as, for example, au is presently used in pause for the o sound. The diphthong au will always be pronounced with distinct a and u sounds as in house – haus, cow – kau and sauerkraut. And pause will be spelled as poos.
Please elaborate on the use of double letters and diphthongs.
The word luck is written as lak in Simpel-Fonetik (SF). There is a short a sound. In the word lark, however, there is a longer-sounding a. In SF it would be written as laark.
The word fit is a phonetically correctly written word. The letter i is pronounced as in other languages, as the i in India. The long version of the i can be heard in the word feet, but there the letters ee are used for the long i sound. In SF feet is spelled as fiit.
The word off has the short o sound. The word door has the long o sound. Two o's are used for the long o sound. This shows that the concept of double letters for the longer sound is used even in present spelling.
But the present spelling is inconsistent in the use of double letters. In the word foot the oo is used for the short u sound. It would be spelled fut in SF. In the word food, however, the oo is used for the long u sound. In SF it will be spelled fuud. Simpel-Fonetik brings consistency to the spelling of these words.
Diphthongs are made up of two vowel sounds. Each of the seven vowels in the Simpel-Fonetik alphabet can be combined with the other six vowels to form as many as 42 diphthongs. In the English language, the diphthongs AI, AU, EI, IE, OI, OU, UI, and the British versions ÖU, EÖ and IÖ, are the most common. Here are some samples:
AI : aisle – ail, time – taim, lye – lai.
AU: sound – saund, now – nau, loud – laud.
EI : veil, rain – rein, fame – feim.
IE : lien, pier, skiier, reenter – rienter.
OI : toilet, toy – toi, royal – roial.
OU : soul, note – nout, flow – flou.
UI : ruin, doing – duing, brewing – bruuing.
What are the replacements for the letters C, Q, X and Y?
In place of C use either S (cinder – sinder) or K (cold – kould).
In place of Q use KW (quick – kwik) or K (liquor – likör).
In place of X use KS (six – siks) or Z (xylophone – zailofon).
In place of Y use AI (type – taip), or I (typical – tipikal), or J (you – ju).
Why didn't you use the letter Y at all? Why did you substitute j for y?
The letter Y is used for at least four different sounds. In addition to the three sounds mentioned above, as in type, typical and you, other languages—Finnish, for example—use it for a quite different sound, for the original Greek Üpsilon sound, the ü sound that is in München and Olympia. That is the sound for which the IPA uses the letter y. But that sound is not used in the English language. To avoid conflicts in usage, I decided not to use the letter Y at all.
IPA uses the letter j for the sound of y in yes and you. A great majority of European languages use j for that sound. The "constructed" Esperanto language, for example, has the word yes and it is written as jes. The decision to use j also in Simpel-Fonetik was influenced by the desire to make English more compatible with other languages, and to make it more user-friendly for use by foreigners as an international language.
What are some of the other more significant changes?
Where PH or GH is used for the F sound, use F (photo – foto, rough – raf).
In place of CH use TSH (chop – tshop), or K (scheme – skiim), or SH (machine – mashiin), or KW (choir – kwair).
In place of J and G as in job and gin use DSH (job – dshob, gin – dshin).
Will SH be used as in present spelling?
Simpel-Fonetik spelling is based on global, international use of English. When foreign learners of English, especially those who are used to languages with phonetic spelling see s and h, they assume that s and h sounds go with those letters. When they see the word harp, they pronounce the h. When they see the letter s placed in front of harp to make the word sharp, they pronounce the s; they add it to the harp sounds. The outcome may not sound exactly as the natives pronounce the sh but it is close to it. And once the foreigners hear how most natives pronounce the word, they might modify their pronunciation slightly to sound more like the native pronunciation.
In the word mishap, for example, the foreigners pronounce the s and h letters. That, of course, is the way it should be pronounced. The natives, however, have the initial tendency to pronounce the sh the way they have become accustomed to, as in bishop.
Foreigners tend to use the s and h sounds also in bishop, whereas natives tend to use a different sound, a sound that is not in the English alphabet. They claim that the letters sh just represent that sound, whatever it is. In the Encarta College Dictionary pronunciation guidance it is shown as sh.
In Simpel-Fonetik the s and h sounds are intended to be present when sh is used. Therefore, the use of sh conforms with the single-sound-per-letter principle. That simplifies the use of English for non-natives. And continuing the present use of sh makes it easy for the natives.
Because the letter s has some variations in international usage, the combined s and h sounds may differ slightly as used by different people. But the use of s in combination with h is still the best choice for use in words like mishäp and bishop.
The use of TSH for CH, and DSH for G and J seems strange. How do you justify it?
In spelling textbooks and elsewhere, the CH sound is often referred to as the TSH sound. Maybe that is why most people don't have a problem with using TSH in words like chop – tshop and chin – tshin. The use of TSH is based on natural progression as in hop, shop, tshop.
But my use of DSH has raised questions, especially from native English speakers. Some argue that the English j sound is a single sound and should not be represented by two or three letters. Here is my response:
When I was learning English while living in Germany I remember that the j sound was described as the dsh sound. Foreign dictionaries use the letters dsh, dzh, d∫ or dʒ to represent the English j sound. There is always the letter d in front of one or two additional letters. This indicates that the j sound includes at least two different sounds: The d sound and an s-like hissing sound. Noah Webster in his American Spelling Book described the j as "a compound sound, or union of sounds."
From those different representations I chose the dsh. This choice avoids adding another letter such as the IPA's ∫ or ʒ to the Simpel-Fonetik alphabet. The use of the letters sh is already well established in the English language. The use of dsh follows the natural progression: him, shim, dshim (Jim) and hot, shot, dshot (jot). Foreigners can learn the j sound just by reading.
The use of dsh follows the example of tsh. The use of dsh in place of j and g as in job and gin (job – dshob, gin – dshin) is very similar to the use of tsh for the ch sound in chop – tshop and chin – tshin. The j in job and g in gin sound softer, so the use of d, the softer version of t, is logical and appropriate.
Another justification for dsh is that in single-sound-per-letter writing, any letter, syllable or word that is joined with another letter, syllable or word should keep its sound, the same sound, even after joining. For example when we add the words end and shin together, the combined word is endshin. Now pronounce endshin. Sounds like engine. So it is logical to use that spelling for engine. The g is replaced by dsh and the silent e is dropped off.
Another argument: In handshake, the dshake part sounds like the name Jake. If we want to retain j for dsh, then, for consistency, we would have to write handshake as hänjeik. We also would have to change windshade to winjeid, friendship to frenjip along with many other similar words. This shows that the use of j for the dsh sound is not acceptable in a phonetic, single-sound-per-letter writing method. But j is well suited for use as the IPA's j, as in jes.
The present use of j and g and other letter combinations for the dsh sound tends to hide the fact that we are dealing with hissing sounds, and that tends to promote the use of hissing sounds. I am hoping that by using dsh the use of those sounds will become less popular. The English language would sound better with fewer hissing sounds.
The th sound—what problems did you have with it?
In the present, traditional English writing, th is used in words like think and this for the IPA's θ or ð sound, which is a dental fricative, somewhat like a lisp sound. The native English speakers have further classified this sound into two types: voiced and voiceless. Since both are spelled the same way, one has to look up in a dictionary which way each th should be pronounced. This is supposed to be voiced and think voiceless.
The Simpel-Fonetik writing avoids this complication. It retains the present spelling, the same spelling for both voiced and so-called voiceless th. It allows deviations in the placement of the tongue for the dental fricative th sound. It does not require memorizing in which word the th should be voiced or voiceless. Preferably, they all should be voiced, sounded out, so that a listener can hear und clearly understand the pronunciations.
I did consider adding the symbol/letter θ (theta) to the Simpel-Fonetik alphabet for the dental fricative th sound, but after some difficult pro and con analysis, decided against it for three reasons:
(1) An ideal new method of spelling should allow its users to read and understand also the old spelling without great difficulties. One should not need to transcribe all the old books and documents for use by future generations. Therefore, deviations should be kept to a reasonable minimum. The use of a new letter such as θ in place of th would amount to a major deviation from the present English writing.
(2) Adding the letter θ would cause a deviation from the way similar words are spelled in other languages. For example, three is written as tre in Swedish, tre in Danish, drei in German, tre in Italian, tres in Spanish, tria in Greek. If th is retained and three is written as thri there is still some similarity. But by doing away with the letter t and spelling it as θri, the similarity disappears. This problem extends to many other internationally used words such as theater, theory, theology, and mathematics. When spelled with θ they become θeater, θeori, θeolodshi and mäθemätiks.
(3) Many people, especially foreigners, have difficulties pronouncing the th as the θ (theta) sound. They tend to pronounce th as d or t, or phonetically as separate t and h sounds. The single-sound-per-letter principle applies to their pronunciation. That pronunciation should not be frowned on. We should accept it because it helps blend English with other European languages and makes it easier for foreigners to learn and use English as a global language.
Do you use Z in place of S in English plurals?
In Simpel-Fonetik, the letter s will continue to be used as in present spellings, in most cases. In is and was the s will not be replaced by z. And the letter s will continue to be used for plurals even where the dictionary pronunciation guides might show the letter z. Z will be used only where the z sound is absolutely called for. This decision is based on trying to maintain similarity between the old and new spellings of words, and the desire to make English easier to use by foreigners. The non-native English speakers and learners don't have problems with the letter s as it is used in present spellings. They would have problems using z's in place of s's. Most of them are used to pronouncing z with the ts or tset sound, as in Nazi (Natsi).
What are the guidelines for converting present spelling to Simpel-Fonetik?
In present English, the writing often does not tell you how to pronounce a word. That has resulted in different pronunciations in different regions and countries. The selection of letters for the Simpel-Fonetik writing depends on pronunciation. Each pronunciation results in a different spelling in Simpel-Fonetik. Which one should be used? Here are the guidelines for conversions:
(1) Strive to retain similarity with present spelling, so that far in the future when the new spelling has been well established, people can still read old books and documents.
(2) Strive for standardization and blending in with other languages. When selecting letters and pronunciations, keep the foreign speakers and learners of English in mind. Most foreigners have the tendency to pronounce words the way they are written. Their present pronunciations reflect that. When they see an s they pronounce it as an s, not as a z. And they don't convert various vowel sounds to the shwa (ə,ö) sound as often as most native speakers do. Strive to minimize changes to their present pronunciations. Strive to make English user-friendly for global use. Keep in mind that there are at least four times more foreign than native speakers of English.
(3) Strive to remedy situations in present spelling where words that are spelled differently are pronounced the same way. For example: Sun and son are usually pronounced alike as san (written in Simpel-Fonetik). To remedy this situation, convert sun to san but leave son as it is now, resulting in spelling and pronunciation which is similar to German, Dutch and other languages. Please note that Simpel-Fonetik automatically corrects the problem where different words are spelled the same way but are pronounced differently. Examples: read, becomes riid or red, wind becomes wind or waind.
(4) Visualize little children and foreigners learning to read and pronounce words. They look at a word and sound it out letter-by-letter.
Make it easy for them. KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Give a sample of Simpel-Fonetik writing.
Here is one:
This is interesting: No federal government order or effort so far for ending the helter-skelter spelling. Don't beg or long for it. It's haard for the big gorilla tu start implementing spelling dogma. It wil linger, limp, loiter, swing from pillar tu poust . . .
As you may have noticed, in this sample only the words hard, to, will and post have changed, slightly. It illustrates that Simpel-Fonetik will not change the words that use letters consistently and in agreement with the sounds established for Simpel-Fonetik writing.
Here is a another sample, shown first in present writing:
When you read Simpel-Fonetik words, you must pay attention to each letter. Remember: each letter has always the same sound, the sound given in the Simpel-Fonetik alphabet, regardless what letter is next to it.
And here it is re-written in Simpel-Fonetik:
Wen ju riid Simpel-Fonetik wörds, ju mast pei ätenshon tu iitsh leter. Rimember: iitsh leter häs olweis the seim saund, the saund given in the Simpel-Fonetik alfabet, rigaardles wat leter is nekst tu it.
The words through, cough, rough, though and plough that were mentioned earlier as examples of what is wrong with the present English spelling, would be written in Simpel-Fonetik as thru, koof, raf, thou, and plau.
Why is Simpel-Fonetik better than other proposed spelling improvements?
(1) Other proposals are more complicated, difficult to learn, especially for children and foreigners. Nearly all other spelling methods that have been proposed, or are being used in dictionaries in native English-speaking countries, ignore the global use of English and the blending in with other languages. For example, they use the letter a for the ä (IPA's æ) sound and u for the a (IPA's ʌ) sound, which is quite different from their use in other languages.
(2) The letters and sounds used in Simpel-Fonetik conform with the International, or NATO, Alphabet (Alfa, Bravo...). They also conform with the International Phonetic Alphabet, except that the few uncommon symbols are replaced by commonly used Latin alphabet letters.
(3) Simpel-Fonetik is based on the keep it simple principle. It uses only 24 letters.
(4) The single-sound-per-letter idea has been supported by Ben Franklin, Noah Webster and others. Here is a quote from Webster's book The American Spelling Book, published in 1824: "In a perfect language, every simple sound would be expressed by a distinct character; and no character would have more than one sound."
(5) Single-sound-per-letter writing has been in use in Estonia since 1850's, and in Finland even before that. That method of writing has proven to be ideal. Estonians and Finns don't spend time learning spelling or pronunciation. After learning the sound of each letter, they know how to read, write and pronounce. They pronounce a word the way it is written and write it the way it should be pronounced. English-speakers can do it also, by using Simpel-Fonetik.
What possibilities do you visualize for spelling reform?
I visualize the international community, the non-native English speakers and learners, taking the lead in English spelling reform. Individual countries, or organizations such as United Nations and NATO, and perhaps even European Union, could take the initiative for implementing the Simpel-Fonetik as the international version of writing in English.
I don't expect enthusiastic support for Simpel-Fonetik spelling in native English-speaking countries, mainly because the native speakers have become used to present spelling, and also because they are not used to reading and sounding out every letter individually. And most of them can't visualize what a difference the single-sound-per-letter spelling can make.
But I feel that someday even the native speakers of English will realize that in the modern, technical, scientific, computer-oriented, competitive world the present English spelling places a heavy burden on its users. Tests and statistics indicate that students in English-speaking countries are not doing as well as students in countries that use phonetic, single-sound-per-letter writing method. Eventually, even the native English speakers will recognize that by fixing the spelling problem they will greatly help their children's learning process and their ability to compete with children of other countries.
As the first step in the improvement process, English teachers, schools and dictionary publishers should start using Simpel-Fonetik spelling for pronunciation guidance, as pronunciation key. Once people get used to seeing and reading English words in single-sound-per-letter writing, they will support the spelling reform.
Where can I buy the books?
Both books can be bought from the publisher, bookstores and from internet sales sites, such as Amazon.com. The publisher is Tate Publishing & Enterprises, Mustang, OK, USA. Tel. 888-361-9473, www.tatepublishing.com.
For more information, please click on the tabs marked Book and Dictionary.