( < | issues | 49 | > )


B 1 2
3 4 5
6 7 8
9 0 E

On the Text ‘IC’ by F.C.

Although we have known of the existence of the text IC by F.C. for several years now, it has not been until recently that we have had the opportunity to publish it. We first came across it in serialized form in the mailings of the Invisible College list serve. Since that time, it has gone through a number of revisions that we are aware of; what is reproduced here is only the latest of those. When we approached the author about rendering it in reformed spelling, he expressed an interest. When he saw what we had done to it, his enthusiasm was undimmed. However, due to the difficulty of reading the reformed text, his partner felt that it should also be made available in conventional spelling on the web, so as not to discourage the text’s being read. We concurred. Another friend felt that understanding of this new spelling system might be encouraged by means of a side-by-side comparative transliteration as occasionally exists in dual-language versions of works of literature. Again we agreed, and these pages are the result. To these, and to other suggestions made more or less in passing to us about this project, we are indebted.

On this Method of Reformed Spelling of English

The text on the pages that follow is rendered in a Reformed English Spelling of the editor’s invention. It is not our intent here to argue the merits of our particular spelling system over any other. We feel it works reasonably well at unambiguously capturing the sounds of English.

However, we would be foolish indeed if we did not recognize that the road to the widespread adoption of a reformed spelling of the English language will be fraught with resistance and difficulty. More study and experimentation than we have been able to give the subject will no doubt be needed. Be that as it may, it seems clear to us that any task based on representing a synaesthesia, such as the rendering of audible signs into visible ones, must be at base highly arbitrary. It is easy to forget that orthography is a man-made set of conventions and not something naturally occurring, as language itself seems to be. It is difficult sometimes to extricate the two. Judgments made on the appropriateness or efficacy of any innovation made to an entrenched and historic formal system are generally subject to a great deal of prejudice, and at times, even superstition.

We admit that what we have accomplished here is imperfect. Our reformed spelling system is arbitrary; not less so, however, than that of conventional English spelling. It is our only hope that the decisions we have made in our reforms although arbitrary, are nonetheless reasoned. We do not advocate for this system, but instead offer it to public scrutiny. The advantages of a simplified English spelling should be obvious to anyone; but the disadvantages of instituting it at this late date, too, are quite clear. We are also eager to hear recommendations as to changes that can be made to perfect the system we have devised. Contact us at the e-mail or postal address below.

Basic Concepts

The letters ‘q’, ‘k’ and ‘x’ are abolished. Their keyboard positions are re-assigned to represent instead the sounds ‘th’ , ‘ng’ and ‘sh’ respectively. We have adopted special signs for these sounds, although they do not appear in the HTML version you are reading here. These special signs are shown on the ( final page ) of this document.

Vowels are marked long or short by means of diacritical markings. A macron (appearing in HTML as an acute accent mark) can appear over the vowels /a/, /e/, /o/ and /u/ to form their long counterparts. The long version of /i/ is rendered as /y/ since it is not a vowel at all but rather a diphthong demanding special treatment. A new vowel is added, /æ/. The semivowels ‘y’ and ‘w’ are parsed here as vowels or parts of diphthongs. How this works will become obvious as you read the text. The sign ‘w’ is technically the vowel that appears in the word ‘book’ /bwc/ in this system. English has at least 11 simple vowels (subject to dialectal variation) as laid out in the table below.

‘long a’ as in ‘bate’renders as /bát/
‘short a’ as in ‘father’renders as ‘faqr’
‘long e’ as in ‘beet’renders as /bét/
‘short e’ as in ‘bet’renders as ‘bet’
‘long i’ as in ‘bite’renders as /byt/
‘short i’ as in ‘bit’renders as ‘bit’
‘long o’ as in ‘boat’renders as /bót/
‘short o’ as in ‘bought’renders as ‘bot’
‘long u’ as in ‘boot’renders as /bút/
‘short u’ as in ‘but’renders as ‘but’
‘lax u’ as in ‘book’renders as /bwc/
‘lax a’ as in ‘bat’renders as ‘bæt’

For the sake of efficiency, we have chosen to represent many sounds that are technically diphthongs (such as all the long vowels in English) as single characters, since no matter where they appear, they are always diphthongs, and no distinction of meaning between any two words is lost by this choice.

The system we have chosen is not strictly phonetic, but rather somewhat morpho-phonemic. That is to say that markers, such as the plural marker /s/, are spelled the same wherever they fall no matter how they are pronounced (in this case the plural marker /s/ can be pronounced /s/ ‘cats’,/z/ ‘dogs’ or /iz/ ‘boxes’, depending on the phonetic context. Similarly, the past-tense marker /d/ is pronounced /d/ ‘chewed’, /t/ ‘creased’ or /id/ ‘handed.’ Respectively, these words render into /cæts/, /dogs/, /bocss/; and /tjúd/, /crésd/, /hændd/.

Consonant System

The consonant sounds elaborated in this spelling system interrelate according to the following table. The points of articulation mentioned, rather than being precisely defined locations, instead merely suggest 4 broad areas of the mouth where articulation takes place. For example, /home/ is not velar; it is glottal; however, it is convenient to list it as velar, since in any event doing so preserves its approximate relationship to the rest of the sounds.

 palatal djtjjxl,r

The palato-alveolar fricatives and africates ‘sh’ ‘ch’ ‘zh’ and ‘j’ deserve special attention, too. We have defined the fricatives as single characters: ‘sh’ ‘shoot’ becomes /x/ /xút/ and ‘zh’ as in ‘vision’ becomes /j/ /vijn/. The /j/ is also used as an "africate marker" in this system, such that ‘ch’ ‘church’ becomes /tj/ /tjrtj/ and ‘j’ ‘judge’ becomes /dj/ /djudj/.

Noting that some syllables in English have such a nominal vowel as to be absent, we have decided that the sounds /l/ /r/ /n/ and /m/ can take on a syllabic character, and be the core of a syllable in their own right. Thus, ‘bottle’ ‘butter’ ‘button’ and ‘bottom’ become /botl/ /butr/ /butn/ and /botm/.

Abbreviatory Conventions

To some extent, we have gone somewhat beyond mere spelling, too, and have chosen to incorporate certain abbreviatory conventions that do not at all directly reflect the pronunciation of a word, but perhaps have something to say about its structure.

For example, the gerund marker /ing/ is rendered simply in /k/; such that the word ‘love’ /lov/ ‘s gerund is spelled ‘loving’ /lovk/. Non-gerund instances of the string /ing/ are rendered as /ik/, as in ‘sing’ /sik/. Such words as ‘singing’ are rendered /sikk/.

Additionally of note is the very common ending ‘-tion’, which is rendered as /-xn/ in this method. Likewise, ‘-sion’ often renders as /-jn/.

In the future, we will institute further abbreviatory conventions. The forms of the verb ‘to be’, for example, could be rendered quite clearly in the following way: ‘be’ /b/; ‘is’ /s/; ‘am’ /m/; ‘are’ /r/; ‘being’ /bk/; ‘been’ /bn/; ‘was’ /wz/; and ‘were’ /wr/.

Further Notes

Some will point out that this spelling system is based on a dialect of American English, and this is certainly true. However, variation among dialects follows a consistent pattern and governed by predictable rules, and so assigning slightly different values to some of the sounds in this system to accommodate differing dialects does not necessarily mean that the spelling system will need modification. Indeed, as in current usage, one method of spelling suffices for all the various dialects of English spoken in the world today. The mere handful of words that are spelt differently in Britain from in America are a matter of tradition and have no reflection whatever in the pronunciations of those words.

The best way to evaluate the merits of the system proposed here is to attempt reading a text in it. What follows is a text, IC by F.C., rendered in side-by-side transliteration for comparison and study.

Comments, suggestions and proposals for modifications to this system should be directed to ( The Editor ).


( next )