Th’ Fneemk Inglsh Seudoe-Abj(a)d

As ye may recall, I recently invented u nue wey uv rieting Inglish kold thu Funymik Inglish Alfubet, which was designed to simplify English spelling with a basic one-symbol-per-phoneme-one-phoneme-per-symbol system. And in my opinion, this worked decently well. The core assumptions of the Funymik Inglish Alfubet, however, give it inherent unavoidable drawbacks. Specifically, u Funymik Alfubet cannot effectively deal with dialectical variation.

When I first made Funymik Inglish, I intended that no speaker should need to memorise different spellings for words that sound the same to them, thus ensuring that writing be a trivial task. What I did not realise at the time was the degree to which English dialects vary. I knew and acknowledged that “cot” and “caught”, while homophonous to me, are distinct to others, so I decided that they should both be spelled “kot”. I did not realise, however, that “pin” and “pen”, “psalm” and “sum”, “bud” and “bird”, “mitt” and “meet”, “pit” and “pet”, and countless other pairs are all also homophonous in various other dialects. My initial inclination to spell vowels the same way if anyone merges them completely broke down in the face of this information—I would have an orthography with only a single vowel!

That got me thinking, though. Do we really need vowels? Well, the answer is “yes”. Kn j md͡ʒn rd nd rtŋ wθt n vwlz? Abjads, no doubt, are perfectly effective scripts in plenty of languages. In English, though, they have no place. And yet, it’s clear that we don’t need all of our vowels. Prtclrly wth lngr wrds, omttng vwls to sv spce isn’t an uncommon practice. All we need is a good standardised system to determine when to specify vowels and how to spell them when we do. A pseudo-abjad if you will.

Introducing th’ Fneemk Inglsh Seudoe-Abj(a)d!

/m/m/n/n/ŋ/n(g)
/p/p/t/t/t͡ʃ/ch/k/k
/b/b/d/d/d͡ʒ/j/ɡ/g
/f/f/θ/th/s/s/ʃ/sh/h/h
/v/v/ð/th/z/z/ʒ/zh/./
/ʍ/wh
/w/w/l/l/r/r/j/y
trapafaceaistartar
bathagoatoesquareer
palmapriceienorthor
lotofleeceeeforceoar
clothodeuceeudryerier
thoughtaugooseooneareer
kitichoiceoinurseur
dressemouthoucureeur
strutucommafoyeroir
footoohappyeehoursour
letter‘r

Here’s how it works:

  • Only stressed vowels and vowels adjacent to word boundaries are written.
  • Internal unstressed vowels may be included for clarity’s sake (for example when using a long name or technical term for the first time), but must be enclosed in paretheses.
  • Vowel hiatus is indicated with “y” if the first vowel is “i” “ai” “ie” “ee” or “oi”, “w” if it is “o” “oo” “oe” “eu” or “ou”, or nothing if it is a different vowel. This hiatus consonant is always written, regardless of whether the surrounding vowels are.

You’ll note that the consonants are much the same as they were in the Alfubet. The voiceless labio-velar approximant is distinguished, in line with the theme of spelling distinctions as long as someone still makes them, but everything else is straightforward. The vowels, on the other hand, are much more etymological in their spellings. I understand more now than before that the spellings of the vowels are never going to make sense in every dialect. The best we can do is clean up after bygone mergers like “ee”/”ea” and “ai”/”ei”, but to try for more logic than that is futile. By far the most noteworthy choice is the apostrophe for the schwa, which can be spelled with any vowel in standard English and thus desperately needs a character of its own. It’s not like the apostraphe really does anything for us these days.

This system solves a great many problems that Funymik Inglish faced. The first and most obvious is that British people and American people can all spell “kant” the same way, regardless of whether they say /kɑnt/ or /kænt/. This doesn’t resolve all regional disputes—”schedule” will still be spelled differently in different places—but it takes care of most of them, especially when schwas are involved.

Even more noteworthy than the reduction of vowel quality-related divergences is that of vowel elision-related ones. The number of syllables in “billion” may still be ambiguous, but it no longer matters to the spelling. It’s “bilyn” either way.

Here’s a sample of this new system transcribing a literary masterpiece.

But ie wuznt goewng too die. Not unles yoo invietd sumwn, Miek add. “Noep,” ie lied brietly. “Laundry,” and then hee rusht, stumblng, too th’ floar. Jasp(‘)r, hwevr, pauzd at th’ desk wood ‘lou. Insted, hee sat kwiet kloes bsied Jaik(‘)b. Ie glanst ’round, but it didnt sound rpentnt, soe ie startd too wundr egzaktlee whut iem saiyng?” Ie nodd glumlee. “Iel bee in th’ forst, hiz breethng sloe and tierd az ie h’rd Sam ask. “Ya’, iel aulwz luv yoo, Mom, for beeyng lait.” Ie glanst at him, runng insied and slamng th’ doar it hung frum, and shuvd it bak intoo it reerd up and ’round soon eenuf. Bee paishnt.” Ie didnt hav enee iedeey’ whut that ment. “And yool shoe mee hou yeur unhapee ‘ lot. Sumtmz ie treulee hait mieslf. Ie reelzd which wun rzembld mee th’ last reel burthdai enee ‘v it,” ie mumbld, a nee-j’rk ryakshn. Then ie reelzd whut it thaut ie hurd hiz voys. “Yoo lost mee ‘gen.” “Ie doent meen too dsturb yoo,” ie toeld them glumlee. “Shee and Ben arnt kumng.” “Ie ges that ie h’rd Sam ask. “Ya, iel see yoo in an ‘rlyr sentree. “Ie onstlee kant rmembr.”

Maxter Mind

It’s possible that I misspelled some things, as I am American and don’t know, among other things, my cots from my caughts when I see them. There would be spelling standardisation under this system, which would require a survey of anglophones from several dialects, as I don’t think any one group makes all of the distinctions for which I account here.

I honestly believe that were we able to teach all literate anglophones to read differently and reshape the English orthography to be whatever we wanted without being limited by what we have today, this would be the way to go. It deals easily with dialectical variations, is completely regular (save mergers, but those are never going to look regular), and retains a Latin character that makes it not unreasonable to pick up from another language that uses the Latin alphabet. It’s more complicated than a regular alphabet to be sure, but I think a language as physically large and interesting as English calls for such.

What do ye think? Is this more or less practical than thu Funetik Inglish Alfubet? What shortcomings and drawbacks do ye see with a pseudo-abjad? I’m curious to hear from my fellow anglophones.

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