invented a phonetic alphabet most successful reformer of english spelling supported the Simplified Spelling Society of England supported the Simplified Spelling Society of England thought spelling reform was a waste - advocated a new alphabet
Benjamin Franklin Noah Webster Charles Darwin Lord Tennyson Mark Twain
a founding member of the Simplified Spelling Society of the US attempted to change the Government Printing Office - advocated simplified spelling left the proceeds of all his works to the winner of an annual contest to invent a better alphabet
Andrew Carnegie Theodore Roosevelt George Bernard Shaw Richard Feynman Isaac Asimov

To varying degrees they (and many more) recognized that the technology (the 'code')  of reading was responsible for the social injustices of illiteracy and it moved them to action.: Franklin tried to add new letters to the alphabet - Webster invented diacritical markings and instituted many spelling changes in his dictionaries - Darwin and Tennyson supported the Simplified Spelling Society of the UK - Twain vehemently protested against spelling reform and argued the alphabet instead must be changed - Carnegie was a founding member and significant contributor to the Simplified Spelling Society of the U.S. - Roosevelt tried to institute spelling reforms through the Office of Government Printing - Shaw willed all the proceeds from his work to fund an annual contest to invent a better alphabet - Feynman lectured that the reason 'Johnny can't read'  is the spelling - Asimov developed a proposal to reform spelling towards a phonetic reflection of the way children spell.

Except for Webster's work, nothing came from any of their efforts to change either of the technologies. 

One well known reference suggests that the traditional writing system is the root of other unfortunate aspects of present-day American society as well. In June 1971, Ben D. Wood, Director of the Bureau of Collegiate Educational Research, Columbia University, wrote in a foreword to English Spelling: Roadblock to Reading by Godfrey Dewey: "Even among those of our children and adults who do not become non-readers, the traumas of an irrational alphabet often continue as hidden or unconscious antipathies for, or roadblocks to, effective reading habits, and even more effective roadblocks to writing".

Webster's 1789 prophesy concerning grave consequences of failure to adopt rational English orthography has indeed come to pass. He wrote, "Delay in the plan here proposed may be fatal ... the minds of men may again sink into indolence; a national acquiescence in error will follow, and posterity be doomed to struggle with difficulties which time and accident will perpetually multiply."
           Akses to Reading - Jim Kanzelmeyer

People are more likely to change their religion than change their writing system.
            Charles Hockett, Anthropological Linguist  

Writing systems are similar to organized religions in some respects of their function and significance. The two have often been closely connected. Sacred scriptures are often written in scripts that are regarded as being sacred as their contents. Language and orthography may be carefully preserved as an essential manifestation of the sanctity of a religion, making its holiness tangible. Antique Arabic script is retained untouched for the Qur'an, ancient Hebrew for the Jewish Scriptures, roman script for Catholic Croats and cyrillic for Orthodox Serbs. Latin has been critically important in Catholic history, and the language of the King James Bible for English Protestants. Older Boers in South Africa felt it was profanation when the Holy Dutch Bible was translated into the vernacular Afrikaans that they actually spoke. There is a close psychological connection between a sign and what it signifies. The name hieroglyphics means sacred writing.
            Writing Systems and Society

All reforms…have to consider the dangers of incompatibility…a costly, worldwide program of re-education would be needed; the transition would mean a typographical revolution …At worst, future generations might be cut off from everything written in the past.
The Simplified Spelling Society  

Writing systems today are taken for granted because they are not new inventions of this century. Although they are a vital component of communications technology , their very antiquity and familiarity makes them the one aspect that is virtually ignored in the tremendous thrust of research and development to research to improve written communication. The modern advances in written English language are in its print, layout, textual cohesion, legibility and readability, but not in updating the writing system itself, to fit the task to the needs and abilities of users and learners following modern principles of human engineering. For hundreds of years there has been more argument than research on the improvement of English spelling, which after all, is only a tool, only part of the technology.
Writing Systems and Society

Given all that we have gained by our current alphabet, turning the clock back is not a feasible option.
            Typo-Literacy, Johanna Jacob

There have been dozens of serious attempts to change the alphabet in the past few hundred years. None of them have succeeded.  Suggesting that we should change the alphabet is analogous to suggesting we should all agree to a new operating system for our computers that would be incompatible with all our existing applications - not a chance. That leaves spelling reform. The web is full of information on dozens of systems intended to reform or simplify spelling: Restored English Spelling, CUT Spelling, NuSpell.... they, to varying degrees, suffer from the same problems Mark Twain illustrated so well in his famous parody on spelling reform:

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s," and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.

Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c," "y" and "x"--bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez--tu riplais "ch," "sh," and "th" rispektivli.

Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.  
A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling by Mark Twain  

Absent any viable approach to changing the either of the technologies, educators and reading theorists have virtually forgotten their role in reading.  Once we began assuming that the code was unchangeable, our options (that could possibly improve reading) become constrained to developing methodologies  that can better help us learn to use it as it is. Thus the great debate: decoding vs. word-as-a-whole recall - phonics vs. whole word; the wars that have been raging for nearly 400 years.


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