Spelling reforms are a natural part of any language. An orthography is developed, it is applied to other languages for which it wasn’t designed, said languages change such that said orthography no longer reflects how they are spoken, and then the orthography changes slightly and inconsistently to make some words more intuitive by disconnecting them from their etymologies. This is the natural order of things.
While spelling reforms are almost always slow and minimal, one cannot deny the vast long-term advantages of a good old-fashioned overhaul. Look at Hangul, created as a completely new script invented to replace the old and ineffective system, largely considered to be one of if not the best writing systems in the world (I think it’s overhyped, personally, but that’s another matter). So it’s no wonder that one finds such evangelical proponents of throwing out conventions and starting anew in fields such as mathematics (tau), timekeeping (decimal time), computer input (Dvorak), and international affairs (auxlangs). I think you can tell where I’m going with this.
I assumed the movement to spell English completely phonetically would be a thriving movement of a dozen or so people who threaten to fight anyone who says their plan is bad. I expected a website filled with impassioned if not deeply naïve arguments, insisting that teachers would at least teach the new form alongside the old one if they were properly informed of the benefits. And yet, a cursory Google found no such thing.* And then, I thought, “I’m not doing anything for the next two hours.”
Behold! Thu Funymik Inglish Alfubet!
This system was constructed based on two guiding design principles: no one should need to memorise spellings, people who already read English should be able to read Inglish, and no Unicode should be required. The rules are simple: break a word up into its component phonemes and map them together. /ŋ/ is spelled ⟨n⟩ before ⟨g⟩ and ⟨k⟩, but ⟨ng⟩ elsewhere. Vowel hiatus is marked with an apostrophe to prevent ambiguous letter sequences. Capitalisation works mostly the same way, but “I” (“ie”) doesn’t need to be capitalised anymore.
And these rules apply to loanwords and names, too. Spell your name as you want it pronounced. Look at that, I’ve solved the problem of people mispronouncing other people’s names! I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with changing the spellings of words from other languages, but those people need to get over themselves. When we speak and write English, it doesn’t matter whence the words came. In the context of an English sentence, they become English words, and should be pronounced and spelled accordingly. Otherwise, they’re just foreign and not necessarily intelligible, which defeats the point of saying them in the first place. I mean, can you imagine if we actually spelled all words like they were spelled in their original language? “My name is Łazarz; I’m from Białystok, near Беларусь, I like アニメ, and I play the ਸਿਤਾਰ”. In case you’re wondering, my last name in the Funymik Alfubet is “Kuenymueney”.
There are a few things you’ll notice off the bat. For one thing, I opted to define the vowels with lexical sets rather than IPA (this is what makes it phonemic, not phonetic). It’s just far more reliable, given the huge range of vocalic variation among English dialects. For another, ⟨y⟩ is both a vowel and a consonant (albeit a semivowel), as in standard English. That was a matter of verbosity; if not ⟨y⟩, I would have used ⟨ee⟩ for /iː/, but that just made words too long.
Another characteristic feature of Funymik Inglish is that a lot of vowels (and two consonants) are represented by duplicate graphemes. This is how I decided to deal with mergers (well, not the consonants. That was just because the distinction is rarely important and ⟨dh⟩ looked too weird for my taste). See, as an American, I pronounce the vowels in “palm”, “lot”, “cloth”, and “thought” the same way: /ɑ/. To expect me to spell them differently, then, would be infeasible, as I have no way of knowing which words fall into which lexical sets without memorisation, the very problem we’re trying to avoid with spelling reform in the first place.
A more controversial aspect of this system, perhaps, is the choice of graphemes. ⟨y⟩ for /j/, ⟨oo⟩ for /ʊ/, and ⟨ie⟩ for /aɪ̯/ may be off-putting for some. This is tied to my second design goal, that it be recognisable to present Anglophones. At the end of the day, any writing system is arbitrary. A grapheme that makes sense to one people group will seem strange to another. This is especially true with English vowels, which are so diverse and change so rapidly that trying to match their graphemes to their phonetic representations would be impossible. British people say /θɔːt/, but I say /θɑt/. How is one to rectify these disparate vowels? By spelling them with the letters traditionally used to spell them, in this case ⟨o⟩.
Now this system does have limitations. The main one is a lack of standardisation. Different people say words differently, and not even using lexical sets can necessarily account for that. Take the word “can’t”, for example. British people pronounce that vowel like “palm”, so it makes sense for them to write it ⟨kont⟩. Correct people, on the other hand, pronounce that vowel like “trap”, so we would write it ⟨kant⟩. Most people say “the” differently depending on whether a vowel follows it (I generally use the pre-consonant pronunciation when writing phonetically, just to simplify things). I was surprised when playtesting this to find out that most people think of the “E” in “English” as an /ɪ/, not an /i/ like I do. This is a necessary shortcoming of such a system, and probably a worthwhile tradeoff.
Now for what I’m sure you’re dying to see: some text in Funymik Inglish. Here’s a excerpt from the article “Funetik Inglish”, which I published in my school newspaper last month.
Thu hardist part uv lurnyng Inglish iz lurnyng tue spel, but it duznt haf tue by. Wut if Inglish wuz speld funetikly? Moest uv thyz wurdz mey look streynj, but theynks tue thu dizien uv this nue kunvenshin, meny uv thyz spelyngz ar egzaktly or nyrly thu seym az ther standurd kownturparts, wiel uthurz ar alredy in yues az nonstandurd spelyngz umung yung pypul.
Rydyng this mey by hard for yue, but ask eny chield or hispanufoen and they wil tel yue: this form iz signifikintly yzy’ur tue lurn. If yue kan sey a wurd, yue kan spel it, and if yue kan spel a wurd, yue kan sey it (with thu noetubul eksepshin uv “th”, wich miet by voyst az in “this” or voyslis az in “thin”). Moroevur, “Q” and “X” ar wurthlis pysiz uv garbij and ar not yuezd in Funetik Inglish, kutyng thu numbur uv leturs lurnurz nyd memuriez down tue tweny-tue.
Now ie kan hyr yue thynkyng: “Wut ubowt thu etimolujyz? Thu konjoogeyshinz? Woent it by hardur tue lurn tue riet if kidz doent noe wen tue ad u ‘-s’, ‘-z’, or ‘-iz’? Or if they kant sy thu ryleyshinship butwyn ‘telefoen’, ‘fonugram’ and ‘funolugy’?” Um, noe. And hue kerz enywey? The kunjunkshinz ar yzy; kidz kan due thoez vurbuly withowt thynkyng, soe tychyng them in skuel iz ryly a weyst uv tiem enywey. Az for the etimolujyz, lyngwists liek Noe’u Webstur and Otoe Yesbursin tend tue furget how yueslis they ar. Noe’yng how tue riet iz moer importint than noe’yng frum wens wurdz keym.
So there you have it. Thu Funymik Inglish Alfubet. I’m sure once Anglophones around the world read this, they will see the logic in my points and make the transition quickly and easily. Look forward to seeing these spellings in the next edition of Merriam-Webster.