Last weekend I was at the Language Show in London, mostly telling people about Esperanto at the stand of the Esperanto Association of Britain. (I had a lot of fun, of course, getting to tell people almost everything about my hobby.)

There were lots of exhibitors proposing various ways to learn various languages, but what stuck in my mind was the stand about Saaspel, a proposal for an alternative English orthography. Reforming their spelling system is something the English should have done a long time ago, as the pronunciation of a word generally has no relation to its spelling—which makes using the language harder for learners and native speakers alike. (The traditional spelling may have been a perfect fit for the language of Shakespeare's time, but is quite irrelevant now.)

Saaspel (or Sāspel, as written in its alternative form, with macrons to indicate long vowels) stands for "same sound—same spelling", which is a pretty good summary of how it works. Words are written as they are pronounced, with little (but still some) consideration given to their classical spelling. A few other rules and principles are:

  • A "long vowel", pronounced as in the alphabet, is written "long", either "aa ee ii oo" or "ā ē ī ō", depending on your taste. "U" gets special treatment: "use" → "yuz", "boot" → "buut" or "būt".

  • The vowels A, E, I and O, when short, generally correspond to the sound written with those letters in most continental European languages. For the same reason, "automatic" becomes "outomatic" but "sound" becomes "saund". Again, "U" gets special treatment and is used for the sound in "cut".

  • "K" is not used except in proper names. The letter "C" always stands for the "K" sound, never for "S".

  • Voiced "th", as in "this", is written "th", but voiceless "th", as in "thin", becomes "tt".

  • Often a consonant is enough for an entire syllable: "silabl" (syllable), "endd" (ended), "problm" (problem).

See their web site for more.

Though I'm not convinced that Saaspel is the perfect way to fix English spelling, I feel that it is a decent implementation of a good idea, so I'll try using it and see if I can make someone happy with it. (Ideally my effort would make the entire world adopt it, but if I can give at least one fellow human that warm fuzzy feeling of something done right, it's totally worth it.)

How I found out about Saaspel…