Trying To Make English Easier

Although I’m a writer, I’m not shy to admit that I’m not the greatest speller in the world…at least by the standards of my generation. Though subsequent generations seem to be increasingly casual about the “rules” of English (actually, more conventions than rules), for the purposes of clarity and consistency, we do all sort of need to be on the same page.

proofedsheet-320English is a very flexible language. It evolved as a language of commerce so that people who spoke different languages in Britain could still conduct business. Some very good things came out of that, especially the dropping of gender casing for nouns and verbs which are now so onerous to native English speakers when they learn a foreign tongue. But, since the language itself was cobbled together instead of being designed, a lot of small irregularities came into practice that have been the bane of people learning English for generations.

While keenly aware of the frequent historic failures to simplify the language, I can’t help but feel that changes can still be made. Instead of appealing to those in academia to foster these changes, I call upon the general users of the language, the unwashed rabble as it were, to use their massive numbers to effect the changes themselves. It can happen. :–) LOL and more have all been accepted…if not in formal writing, then with the casual writing of the people.

So, here are a few suggestions I have. Feel free to comment or to suggest others.

Letter Changes

Change the name for the letter W to Dub. Calling it “double-u” is inaccurate as it doesn’t represent the use of two Us together (we don’t spell “vacuum” as “vacwm”, after all). It also totally breaks with the convention of one-syllable names for the letters (unless you count elemenoh :-D ).

If we look closely at the alphabet, we notice that the low-use frequency of certain letters makes questionable their reason for being. Let’s take the letter Q, for example. When doesn’t it represent the k sound? Maybe it would be justified if it at least acted as the combination sound of KW, as in “queen”, “quick”, or “quiet”; but as you can see, it doesn’t even do that.

So, let’s give K its due and relegate Q to another use: how about the ch sound, as in “church”…or in this case, “qurq”. Yeah, yeah, weird at first, but we just made a six-letter word into a four-letter word. Who wouldn’t rather be texting that?

Or, for those who think that’s a little overkill, why not have Q represent the kh sound? While it isn’t a native sound in English, it has most definitely entered the language from others. This choice seems to be just as good as the other, to me.

Also under scrutiny is the letter X. While it does ease the pain of the ks combination, let’s face it, it doesn’t come up all that often to make a difference. I’m perfectly willing to type “eksellent”. Besides, spelling “desks” as “desx” has never been viewed as an acceptable substitution, anyway. Then there is the matter that X usually acquires the z sound…for which the letter Z would be just as easy.

What to change X to? I propose the sh sound. This is a common transliteration from Chinese, and it is the standard in Portuguese (at least in Brazil). “Action” would then become “acxon”. “Shine” becomes “xine”. Again, an easy change and one that will save some letters over time.

Admittedly, these two changes could get adopted simply because the letters are infrequently used. The next change will not go down so easily.

What purpose, really, does the letter C serve? Singly it is either the k or s sound, doubled it can also evoke the ks sound, and is otherwise only really used in the CH pair. If we elect to have K and S assume their rightful letter-to-sound correspondence, and if Q stands in for ch, then we can sit back and repurpose “C”.

Now this suggestion will delight bad spellers everywhere: I recommend changing C to a vowel representing the schwa sound “ə“. No more struggling with whether a word should end in “-ible” or “-able”; make them all end with “-cble” and be done with it. Of course, if we do this and combine with the above suggestions, “action” would now be “akxcn”, which looks weird even to me, but at least I’d know how to pronounce it.

Spelling Tweaks

In a similar vein, ie and ei get to be annoying…not because the “‘I’ before ‘E'” rule is difficult to remember (except after “C”, or when sounded like “ay” as in “neighbor” and “weigh”), but because there are too many weird exceptions. We could do as the Germans and have the second letter dictate what the pair sounds like. A long-e for “ie” and a long-i for “ei”. Less confusing and strengthens the ties to one of English’s ancestral language families. (Yes, we’ll have to make a decision as to what to do about “vein”, but it’s not something that can’t be overcome.)

Conversely, we need to get rid of sch. It’s a legacy of our Germanic roots, but is also an occasional troublemaker. Spell it either sh or sk depending on need. Shorter and the pronunciation is clear.

Let’s drop the capitalization of the first-person-singular pronoun, “I”. It sort of gets in the way, don’t you think? In fact, while we’re at it, let’s drop capitalization as a general sentence convention. Back in the days when punctuation was absent, capitalization was a very important clue as to the beginnings and endings of things. Now, it’s just one more thing we have to tend to that is nothing but redundant information. Keep it, certainly, for proper names as the reader sometimes needs the help in that area.

The Missing Pronoun Group

Sociologically, we came of age in the late twentieth century in regards to the general equality between our two genders. Unfortunately, the language hasn’t quite caught up. Too often, when writing about individuals in a gender-neutral setting, you have to pick one set of gender pronouns, alternate between the sets, or somehow combine them (“his or hers”, “s/he”, etc.).

In the past, the way around over-reliance of masculine pronouns has been to use the word, “one”. Over time, it has come to be so over-used and so stodgy that one [hee] really doesn’t want to have to stoop to that level. More recently, some people have resorted to the gender-neutral “they/them/their” as a substitute. My objection is that these are plural pronouns unsuitable for referring to a generic and singular “one”.

My solution is to adapt “they/them/their” to a singular form, “ey/em/eir”. “Ey” = “he/she”, “em” = “him/her”, and “eir” = “his/hers”. (The careful reader will note that I simply dropped the “th”s from they/them/their.) There are three other similar systems out there, but all seem to carry with them some sort of subtle gender bias. I like to think that mine avoids that. PLUS, since I had a gender-less species in my latest novel, I used this combination throughout the book. It was actually pretty easy to deal with for either writing or reading. Personally, I think this is a winner.

Miscellaneous Changes

While I warmly embraced “Ms” (I prefer it without the period) as a matrimony-neutral and “Mr”-rank equivalent back in the 1970s, I’ve long felt that we needed something a little more overtly respectful—something that didn’t require knowing more than one of a person’s names (first, last, whatever), and didn’t require knowing a person’s gender. The Japanese honorific “-san” seems to fit the bill very nicely. First, it already has an established base of users, and it has stood the test of time.

Now, quotation marks. This is more for the American audience. My view is that quotation marks should ONLY frame a quote and shouldn’t add any punctuation that wasn’t in the original quote. The U.S. convention is to end the quote with punctuation inside the closing quote, which makes no sense. Whenever editors let me get away with it, I try to leave the punctuation outside the closing quote unless it was part of the quote itself.

Next…I’d like some domestic and international standardization on whether to have one space or two spaces between the end of once sentence and the start of another. I don’t care which, as I’ve had to do it both ways for different markets, but just pick one. (For what it’s worth, one space seems to be winning among publishers, even in the U.S.)

Wrapping Up

And I think that’s enough to start getting y’all riled up. I’m sure some will complain that if we implemented all of these suggestions that it wouldn’t be long before the young wouldn’t be able to read what had been written in the past. All I have to say to that is, have you tried reading an un-translated version of The Canterbury Tales recently? (Here’s a link to an interlinear version of one of the Tales.)

But this does bring up an interesting commercial aspect. Millions of texts will need to be transcribed to the new method. While much of it will be done on computer, it will definitely be a boon to the publishing industry.

so, there we are. instead of qasing around a whole mess of fiendix rules, we can just get on with the muq more enjoycble business of writing. sure, there is muq more that can be done, suq as dropping silent-e’s and the like, but if you throw in too many qanges all at once, people become incredcbly resistcnt to taking any akxcns whatsoever. i have no illuzhcns about how warmly these suggesxcns will be embraced…but you have to start somewhere.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: