Ken writes: The Observer has an article reporting claims that the English spelling system is so bad it actually holds people back.
English spelling reform is one of the things Dot and I enjoy discussing. She favours the status quo, which is why I like to find little articles like the above linked to subtly remind her of the cogency of the case for change. The superannuated English system is causing needless suffering and actually costing us money!
I don’t know what we should replace it with, but that is best left to the experts. Get a bunch of linguists to study the phonology of various world Englishes and find the common vowel sounds and the extent of variation around those sounds and find some easily remembered correspondence between those sounds and the letters. If you have very large divergences, where different dialects use different sounds, just let them both spell the word as it sounds to them, as we do with American and British spellings of ‘mom’ and ‘mum’. The different spellings used in different dialects would pose a barrier to reading writing in other dialects, but not as great a barrier as that posed by the status quo, and people who had cause to read writing in other dialects would learn those variations quickly and would have the advantage that all that was needed to learn how to read a different dialect was to imagine it being spoken with that accent.
Changing the spelling system means we lose a certain connection with the English of the past (and the Romance languages of the past and present) because the etymology of English words would no longer be present on the surface. But this matters only to people with a historical interest in English, like me and Dot. We can take the trouble to learn the old spellings. I don’t see how our interest in the language should entail an obligation on others to suffer a difficult and counter-intuitive spelling system.
By the way, here’s an interesting site giving the pronunciations of all the characters in the International Phonetic Alphabet.