Eesti Elu
Estonian as an example for spelling in English
Arvamus 05 Jul 2012  Eesti Elu
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To the beginner, the English language’s sights and sounds often don’t jibe. Rough, dough, doe, mow, now, roe (fish egg), row (with oar). Oar, or. Some, sum. Why, nigh. Glue, do. To, two. Corpse, corps, horse, worse. Tear (in eye), tear (rip). Sew, so. Brake, break, bleak. Daughter, laughter, rafter. Doll, roll. Some, home. The list is practically endless.

Allan Kiisk has been on a mission of orthographic reform for years. With the recent publication of his second book, Simpel-Fonetik Dictionary (Tate Publishing), Kiisk wants to eliminate the frustration for beginners caused by English spelling. “English is becoming a global language. I want to make it easier to learn. I support the global use of English.”

His first book on the subject was released several years ago. Simple Phonetic English Spelling – Introduction to Simpel-Fonetik, the Single-Sound-per-Letter Writing Method (Tate Publishing) established the rules of logical spelling: a) Each letter represents only one spoken sound; b) For longer vowels and stronger consonants use double letters – and another letter with the same sound. The same rules could easily apply for the Estonian language.

The new alphabet would add the letters ä and ö, and eliminate the letters c,q, x, y – adding up to a total of 24. Why pick ä and ö? (The bane of Hiidlased and Saarlased – õ.)The letter A in current English is used to represent more than eleven different sounds. Examples: far, ant, all, ago, make, head, read, foam, fear, pair, earn. C, q, x, and y are eliminated because they’re not suitable for Simpel-Fonetik writing. Each represents more than one sound and can be substituted by other, more common letters.

Wen ju riid Simpel-Fonetik words, ju mast pei ättenshön to iitsh leter. Rimember, iitsh leter häs oolweis the seim saund, the saund given in the Simpel-Fonetik alphabet, regardless wat leter is nekst tu it.

Kiisk says that Simpel-Fonetik is based on the keep-it-simple principle. It has only one letter for the sound of R, and it uses TH for both the slightly different pronounciations of that sound, as in then and three, because most people, especially foreigners, have difficulties pronouncing the Englis R and TH as it is. One must take into account that there are now at least three times more foreign than native speakers of English.

Allan Kiisk spent his tshaildhud in Estonia änd tiineidsh jeers in Germany bifor kaming tu the United States. Hi obteind his elektrikal endshiniiring edukeishon ät Oregon State änd Stanford *Universitys. Hi worked äs än endshineer änd mänidsher for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, äs ä professor of endshiniiring ät the University of Redlands, California, änd äs the prinsipal endshiniir in his oun konsalting förm, Alkitek Associates. Hi änd his waif, Karin, häv träveld änd livd in meni kantris. Thei häv setld daun nier Sacramento, California, klous tu their tshildren.

Since 1850 simple phonetic writing has been the rule in Estonia, in Finland much before that. It has been an ideal method of writing ever since. Neither the Finns nor Estonians need to spend time learning pronounciation or spelling. No need to look up the spelling of words in dictionaries. They do it mainly for foreign words and mostly for those originating in the English language.

Kiisk’s solution for difficult and sometimes illogical rules of the English language has been a quest of many international prominents. None other than John Milton, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, H.G.Wells, Isaac Asimov, George Bernard Shaw, Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster (yes, of dictionary fame) Theodore Roosevelt have all thrown their hat into the ring, have proposed English language orthographic reform. But the advocacy of these, and other influential and credible luminaries has not created a mass movement. Why would Kiisk expect otherwise?

Kiisk explains: Other proposals have been more complicated, difficult to learn. They haven’t considered the case of the enormous proportion of foreigners who speak English, it’s global reach and the blending with other languages. The letters and sounds used in Simpel-Fonetik conform with the International (NATO) Alphabet. They also conform with the International Phonetic Alphabet, practically in its entirety. That’s only part of the explanation for Kiisk’s optimism.

It would be naïve to suggest that Kiisk’s Estonian roots, the acknowledged national characteristics of perserverance and obstinacy will prevail in Kiisk’s pursuit. At the very least, a logical, easy to adapt orthographic reform is another innovation offered by an Estonian. Gud lak tu him.
Laas Leivat
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