"Ō yē ŧhat luv mankīnd! Yē ŧhat dair opōz, not ōnlē ŧhu tearunē, but ŧhu tīrant, stand forth!"
-- Thomas Paine (Common Sense, transliterated into AKSES)
Americans no longer are told to speak "the King's English." The old British penchant for pre-judging a person's worth by the way he speaks rather than by what he says has nearly disappeared in this country. Unfortunately, the revolution that won freedom to develop our own political and social institutions did not free us from the stultifying tyranny of the English writing system. Too few early Americans were concerned with reading and writing. Those who were had continuing ties to British interests and institutions. For more than 250 years, Samuel Johnson's authoritarian orthography (spelling) has been the standard for American educational, political, social, business, and personal written communications. Only now do we open our eyes to its role in denying millions of Americans the educational and economic benefits of reading and writing their native language. This web site is dedicated to inflaming the hearts of Americans against Tyrant Spelling and enlisting aid in a literary revolution to establish in its place a benevolent system to ensure that all children and adults enjoy their natural right to read and write as effectively as they understand and speak English.
On "Our Side" are "radicals" who believe that spelling
must be eliminated as the key element of a needlessly complex writing system
that fails to meet
Our weapon is reason. Our spur to action is the conviction that our children need help now. We must convince Americans that our citizens, especially children and literacy-disadvantaged adults, need a writing system like AKSES. It is a writing system designed just to record words as a writer conceives them, a system that is simple enough for preschool children to learn to use yet powerful enough to satisfy the most demanding adult requirements.
doo eksperts not admit ŧhu trooth? ŦHā nō ŧhat
children hoo kannot bē tot too rēd kunvenshunul rīting
Iz ŧhu liturairē establishment unwiling too publish ŧhu trooth bēkawz it rēfūz too aksept it?
Active participants on the "enemy” side" are "zealots" in the educational, literary, linguistic, and business establishments who believe they have vested interests in maintaining the present system. Many mean well; they point out that "people who count" are comfortable with it, and that it is traditional and ubiquitous in our society. Some promote the fable that spelling, more than a writing system, is an essential part of a mysterious "super language" unique to English. (Elite Chinese literary figures believe the same of Classical Chinese writing, with much more justification.)
The weapons of elitists are force of habit, complacency, and tyrannical use of
positions of public trust and intellectual reputation. They exaggerate
the communication value of spelling, while claiming it has no part in denying
large segments of our population access to reading and writing. Like many
unthinking literate Americans, they will be heard to say something like,
"I learned spelling; why shouldn't today's kids learn to read and write
the same way I did?" They put the blame for poor literacy on lack of
motivation in students, lack of parental control, ineffective teaching,
anything but the truth: They refuse to confront the obvious cause:
Traditional orthography requires abilities to memorize and apply arcane
spelling "rules" that most children do not possess to the necessary
degree. Underlying all is the unspoken fear that if reading and writing
is made easy for "common folk", the influence and consequent
position, fame, or public reputation of the intellectually powerful will
Noah Webster observed that the major obstacle to progress is public apathy. Since WW II, the American public has generally been interested in and concerned about improving children's education and, in particular, their reading and writing skills. Educational and academic communities responded by advancing and implementing a series of faddish "teaching methods" each having minimal effect, if any, on student performance. These "reading wars" have wearied the public and produced an insidious loss of public confidence. The public loses interest when it sees that promised improvements, even modest ones, fail to materialize. To make matters worse, they have been told that no better approaches are available. The general public has little confidence that educators and politicians can deliver better education merely by spending huge amounts of money.
The immediate goal of this revolution is to re-ignite a spark of hope in the
hearts of all Americans - parents, teachers, administrators, public servants,
politicians, and everyone who cares about children. The battle cry
is: At least 95% of our children will acquire the ability to read and
write before they leave first grade. The problem: How to
convince the public and politicians who must lead the fight that this bold
assertion is NOT just another idle promise? It seems necessary to
attack apathy in many identifiable groups:
The concerns of everyone must be addressed, and their questions about efficiency and practicality of the proposed system must be answered. All above groups are expected to be concerned with at least these factors:
Technical aspects of spelling vs. phonemics are discussed in detail on other pages. This page emphasizes effects of the writing system and why people should favor an effective program and demand that it be set up expeditiously.
Everyone must understand that the proposed change is the only way our society can achieve universal literacy. Equally important they must be convinced that the proposed system will achieve the desired result. The following argument is simple and should convince open minds:
Innovative educators have been trying for more than 300 years to find a method guaranteed to teach all children to read and write English. Early in this century, the American literacy rate stabilized its gradual rise at between 50 and 75 percent and, despite the best efforts of schools and teachers, it has stubbornly stuck there. Most children "know" that reading and writing are hard to learn because they have an intuitive belief that words are spelled "wrong." Several facts confirm this observation. Uneducated people who have the courage to try to write, spell words according to the sounds used to speak them. Children, being uneducated, are no exception. This tendency demonstrates that phonemic writing employs the same "natural" language elements as the spoken language they have already mastered. The high success rate of i.t.a. programs in teaching children to read phonemic text in first grade is experimental confirmation that children understand the problem better than the experts. Only if we abandon spelling in favor of phonemic orthography, will all children learn to read and write naturally.
Theodore Roosevelt used the wrong approach when, in 1906, he tried to force the Federal government to adopt a spelling reform program by Executive Order. Perhaps it is fortunate that he was unsuccessful, for the reform he proposed would have been little help to children. However, he did have the right idea; government must lead the way if the Nation is eventually to adopt a writing system to do the job. Only then can teachers, in good conscience, instruct with phonemic writing (AKSES). Only then will schools and state departments of education be able to establish curricula using AKSES, secure in the knowledge that by the time students take their places in society the Nation will be writing and reading in accordance with the new orthographic standard.
History is filled with examples of successful reforms in writing systems of major nations for the purpose of encouraging education and reducing illiteracy. Recent examples include: German, reformed under the influence of Martin Luther (with evolution of ever simpler written forms continuing to this day); Turkish, transformed from Arabic to Latin characters by Kemal Atatürk in 1926 (producing a dramatic increase in literacy); and Chinese, a Romanized written version recognized by The Peoples Republic of China in 1958 (now displacing Classical forms in business and government).
Compared with these sweeping foreign writing system changes, the proposed reform of American orthography has minor consequences for the reading public. However, it will have a dramatic effect on reducing illiteracy and making our universal schooling more effective.
In our form of government, no individual has the power to force everyone else to make even the small changes AKSES requires. But, Congress and the President can and do enact and implement laws that "promote the general welfare" of citizens. In particular, recent legislation provides standards for removing barriers to physical access by disabled persons. It is clear that spelling is an intellectual barrier to reading and writing for more than 25% of our citizens and that weakness in written language skills bars at least an additional 25% from full enjoyment of the social and economic benefits of adequate literacy. We must convince our leaders that traditional orthography is a serious barrier to "pursuit of happiness." It is as tangible an obstacle to learning and personal success for illiterate and semiliterate citizens as street curbs and building stairways are to the physically disabled. Only government can lead the way by:
If Congress is serious about stamping out illiteracy, it will NOT study this
program to death, or allow obstructionists to filibuster and special interests
to raise self-serving objections or propose ineffective alternatives.
Well meaning language experts of many persuasions will advance their own pet
schemes (which may or may not be as effective as AKSES), but no existing
systems are better designed to balance the needs of beginning readers against
minimum inconvenience to everyone else. Compared with current proposals
for improving literacy, the cost of the proposed changes is negligible.
The major governmental "cost" will be the time and effort individuals
spend learning the new system. With few exceptions, forms and other
documents need not be changed until revised. New documents will be
written in AKSES as issuing authorities meet scheduled deadlines for
The program must start with the government. Public leaders show the way, and political institutions need a head start to complete the program in a timely way. Most changes can be completed within a 4-year Presidential term of office. Quick action to begin implementation and timely completion of all phases of the program is necessary to signal determination in government circles to comply with its own plans. Significant progress at the Federal level will strengthen the resolve of state and local school officials to start kindergarten and first grade phonemic reading and writing programs and to begin adjusting curricula to raise educational goals and revise teaching methods and materials to match children's improved reading and writing skills.
The initial educational burden of changing to the phonemic system will fall on primary grade teachers. Kindergarten will stress phoneme awareness, the relationship between word-elements and the sounds and the written characters representing them. First grade provides a quick review in the first several weeks to prepare students to read and write in AKSES. The rest of the first year's program is conducted with AKSES text books and handwriting. More than 95% of children in second grade will read and write AKSES text competently - not just a few hundred words of controlled vocabulary, but every word they understand in speech. As they advance through school, they always are able to read (say aloud) any AKSES written word in the English language and write any word they pronounce correctly. Spelling and special reading classes disappear and are replaced by more important learning activities.
Elementary level book publishers experience an immediate demand for AKSES text books and enrichment reference books for grades 1 through 6. Republishing traditionally-spelled texts transliterated into AKSES is only a stop-gap response; teachers demand books with more challenging vocabulary and subject matter. Junior and Senior High teachers have a few years to prepare themselves before AKSES-trained students reach their grade level. Some may elect to use AKSES material immediately for students struggling to read traditional text material. Others may introduce the concept to all students in order to give them an early start in reading and writing the new orthography.
Businesses have several years before having to use AKSES in dealing with government entities such as the IRS and regulatory agencies. More enlightened employers encourage employees to begin familiarizing themselves with the new writing system in order to be able to communicate effectively with other employees and also with customers or clients who wish to use the new orthography.
The way the general public responds to the challenge will determine how long
and, ultimately, how "painful" the transition to AKSES will
be. All Americans, from the President to a new-born child, are citizens
of the country with private lives except in matters that pertain to their
political offices, professional responsibilities, or business connections. Each
citizen makes a personal choice either to develop the ability to read and write
in AKSES or to reject the program and continue to use traditionall spelling.
It is expected that a great majority will feel they have a duty to children and
support a rapid transition to
The effect of the new orthography on American society is positive.
Disruptive tactics of nay-sayers against AKSES is countered effectively
by scholastic, economic, and social success of class after class of AKSES-trained
students. School again becomes a place of motivation and
opportunity. Episodes of children reacting violently to academic and
social failure are rare or cease entirely because children achieve early
success in the fundamental skills of reading and writing regardless of their
social or economic home environments. Reading comprehension and writing
fluency are learned in the primary grades. Students find that books and written
materials are efficient vehicles for learning subjects with high information
content. Parents and teachers find that well-prepared print material
dealing with abstract concepts attracts the attention of students and competes
successfully with the emotional appeal of excitement- and violence-oriented
media. Most important is the
self-respect and respect for each other they gain from academic success.
When young adults graduate, they are emotionally and mentally prepared to
compete for employment and enjoy satisfying personal lives.
Standard American English will continue much as it has in the past 250 years. That is to say that slow changes in meanings and pronunciations of words take place much as in the past. We have Samuel Johnson's word for it that the spellings he immortalized in his 1755 Dictionary did not match the language spoken then any better than modern spelling relates to modern speech. He repeatedly insisted that pronunciation had nothing to do with the spellings he chose. In the Preface to the Dictionary, he explained that alternative spellings for a number of words were included because there was no way for him to identify which of several forms then in general use was "correct." As examples he gave sope and soap, choke and choak. Notice that different spellings of the "long-O" vowel phoneme survive in these 2 words after 250 years. With AKSES writing, regional differences in pronunciation diminish and alternate forms representing the same word with different dialectical phoneme content eventually disappear from dictionaries as well.
Lexicographers continue to serve the same basic functions of matching
meanings with words and noting their usage. Instead of citing generally
accepted spellings of authorities, they write words in accordance with
generally accepted phoneme content in much the same way they arrive at
pronunciations. Dictionary entries reflect the commonly-used word
elements in written and spoken sources. The traditional spellings (if
different from AKSES) are recorded as the most recent step in
etymological development. No pronunciation guide is needed beyond
indications of primary and secondary emphasis, as appropriate.
Direct benefits to future Americans are immense and manifest. Freed from the oppressive task of mastering spelling, children approach school and books to discover answers to questions about the world and how they should prepare themselves to deal with it. They exercise their mastery of reading skills and express their thoughts by writing them down for others to see. Teachers will be pushed to the limits of their own resources to keep up with the varied needs of individuals in their classes. Ingenuity is required to ensure that children pick up mundane, but necessary, basic knowledge in the process of exploring interesting and exciting vistas of learning and experience that lie before them. It is true that few of these children will endure the drudgery of reading traditionally-spelled books not republished in AKSES, but most would not read those books anyway because of the difficulty associated in reading traditional text. Advanced courses for students interested in scholarly pursuit of traditional-text material prepare students to read the old orthography, just as doctoral students once learned the foreign languages needed for specialized studies.
Adult literacy students and those studying English as a second language will benefit from AKSES. During the transition period, ability to read and write AKSES will have limited, but increasing, usefulness. English-speaking adults who cannot read traditional text will find AKSES much easier to deal with, although many will require tutoring to regain phoneme awareness. Students attempting to learn both spoken and written English as a second language find that the 1-to-1 word-element correspondence between speech and writing simplifies learning American English.
For these groups - children, adults seeking greater literacy, and foreign language speakers - AKSES is an unalloyed benefit. But what of the rest of the population, those who are satisfied with their written English skills? You and I are obviously part of this group. Are we not the complaisant people Noah Webster described as falling into slothful habits? We delude ourselves into believing that spelling is the "easiest and best" writing system. We pride ourselves on being bilingual in English (fluent in both speech and spelling). Some forget the unrewarding drudgery of learning sight-reading and memorizing word spellings. Others rationalize it as the foundation of a "proper" education, and, with unspoken sense of superiority, think "I mastered it and they should too. It teaches them mental discipline!"
But what must we to do if our Nation adopts phonemic orthography? For a matter of years, nothing changes drastically. Except in Children's Departments, all the familiar books printed in TO still are on library shelves, and except for authors targeting a younger audience, most write new books for several years for TO audiences. As books wear out or grow outdated, they are removed from shelves to be replaced by AKSES editions as demand requires or by new books written by AKSES-proficient authors. News and features in newspapers and magazines are printed in TO for a time, although more progressive publishers prepare their staffs and contributors to meet the needs of an increasingly PO-literate public. Some publications find their audience expressing a preference for AKSES within 4 or 5 years from the start of the program. Within 20 years, only the most hidebound individuals refuse to make the simple adjustments to the new orthography. Even the latter do not suffer unduly; AKSES written material is actually accessible to everyone and they will be able to read essential documents in spite of their aversion for it.
The change to writing AKSES text is more difficult than reading it
and takes more concerted effort and experience to reach a satisfactory level of
proficiency. Personal correspondence continues in TO between individuals
who are comfortable with it. Parents, grandparents, and others writing to
PO-trained children make the effort to accommodate to the skills of recipients.
Courtesy and custom guide thoughtful people through the transition years.
Authors find the orthographic needs or preferences of their target audience
require the decision (traditional, AKSES, or both) to be made in
planning and executing new articles and books. Personal choices are not
unlike the choices made during the last century between handwriting vs
typing manuscripts, personal vs machine dictation, and paper-based
composition and editing vs word-processing.
The "out of pocket" cost to implement the AKSES program is small. It is impossible to predict budgets politicians and business leaders will assign to this project because cost estimates are likely to cover other activities such as administrative restructuring or advertising not directly associated with implementing the new orthography. Educational programs or materials specifically developed to promote understanding and appreciation of the writing system may be effective in gaining acceptance from employees and the general public, but these costs too are limited only by the amount the sponsoring agency or business is willing to allocate to it and other related objectives. This discussion indicates that incremental dollar costs will be negligible if we assume that participants lend their best efforts to complete required tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible in a carefully preplanned and cost-effective manner.
It is important to keep in mind that this program is a revolt against the traditional writing system. The American people must convince the keepers of that system that they are willing to make personal sacrifices to ensure that all children become competent readers and writers at an early age. They must convince politicians at all levels of government that only if they implement AKSES as the official government writing system will the people support them. They must support educators who introduce the AKSES system. The incremental cost to government and the educational system of actually doing these things is almost nothing. After all, enacting and administering laws and regulations and educating children costs the same no matter which writing system is used to develop and print laws and regulations or educational curricula and teaching materials.
The actual cost of victory in this revolution takes the form of changing our reading and writing habits. The bill is not in dollars but in time and effort and is "collected" individually from almost every adult in the country. For children, it is not a cost, but a dividend, for they learn in a fraction of the time it took their parents and most become better readers and writers than their parents. Many TO readers do not experience noticeable inconvenience either. TO text materials remain in libraries and continue to be published in magazines and newspapers for a number of years. Casual contact with AKSES in advertising and informal communications permits most people to pick it up "naturally" like children do with no formal instruction and little conscious effort. Some individuals may live 15 or 20 years before encountering a situation that demands that they read or write AKSES text.
Others must familiarize themselves with AKSES quickly. For
example, authors of children's books, teachers, and some government workers
must learn how to read and write AKSES fluently if they are to do their
jobs properly. For some, the skills may have to be mastered in a matter
of months. After a brief (10 hours or less) introductory exposure to the
philosophy and mechanics of AKSES, teachers become proficient along with
their students by teaching it. A similar formal introduction for
government employees prepares them to use AKSES when it becomes
appropriate. Forms, instructions, and reports change from traditional
spelling to AKSES as they are reissued, revised, or new documents are
produced. Slowness in reading AKSES is to be expected at first,
but confidence is regained after a few weeks of experience. Composing
documents in <AKSES text is not an immediate problem. The
1-to-1 correspondence of words makes the construction of a traditional-to-AKSES
transliteration program a simple matter. If authors do not want to learn AKSES
characters and writing patterns, they may write spelled text and convert it
into documents printed in flawless AKSES with no more effort than using
ordinary spelling checkers. (As with spelling checkers, they must ensure
that spelled words having homographs with different pronunciations are
transliterated into appropriate AKSES words.)
Lexicographers have the important function of providing Standard English. Not since the time of Samuel Johnson have scholars and literary mavens had such an opportunity to influence the language toward clarity. Johnson established his kind of order in written English from 1747 through 1755. Modern lexicographers must establish broad guidelines and specific rules to ensure that the writing system reflects generally accepted word-element patterns but, where possible, retains the traditional "spelling" of words that already represent widely accepted phonemic speech. (spelling and AKSES are the same for about one sixth of the words in running text.)
The most important general guidelines are things to avoid:
These "laws" negate many of the bases for traditional spelling and clearly indicate that the new orthography has no regular relationship with the old. Lexicographers will understand that phonemic forms are not merely revised or reformed traditional forms, but spring from the mental elements that create spoken words, not from the sounds themselves. The proper phonemic pattern is obvious for most common words, but several rules help a lexicographer decide the phonemic content of controversial words.
Examples: 1) The first vowel sound in "about" is shown as a schwa, but it is almost exclusively pronounced /ubowt/. 2) The middle vowel in "business" may slightly affect pronunciation in some speakers and the final vowel is shown as a schwa, but careful speakers may divide between /biznus/ and /biznes/. 3) The middle vowel in "daffodil" is shown as a schwa, but careful speakers may favor /dafoedil/. 4) "Privilege" is pronounced either as a 2- or 3-syllable word; both /priv'lij/ and /priv'u lij"/ should be included if substantial groups use them.
The cardinal rule for selection of word elements is that lexicographers
endeavor to print the words enlightened and literate parents and teachers would
want their children to learn. There is no expectation that people will
suddenly change their personal or dialectical speech habits. Nor should
less formally educated people who write words as they speak them be criticized
or ridiculed if they do not adhere strictly to the standard. AKSES
permits everyone to write as well as they speak. If they have mastered
language enough to make their speech understood, phonemic writing enables them
to write equally well (or poorly). The purpose of a dictionary remains
the same: To provide a standard of speech, writing, and word meanings
that teachers can teach and that individuals aspiring to the clearest and most
effective communications can consult and use in their work.
"O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!" Thus wrote Thomas Paine in Common Sense to rally Americans to support new ideas of government while the outcome of the struggle for separation from English rule still hung in the balance. His writing had one purpose and one message: to banish apathy and lead the people to believe that self-government was desirable and achievable. He helped citizens of that day become patriots who believed that the goal was worth the effort, deprivation and suffering, and even the loss of life that the war threatened.
In this modern literacy revolution, surely all thinking Americans oppose the tyranny: the loss of self respect, economic and cultural deprivation and susceptibility to exploitation engendered by widespread illiteracy. But as a nation, we do not yet agree that the tyrant responsible, spelling, must be abolished. That first objective on the road to literacy is not yet reached even though the first shots in this war were fired with emotion and persistence by Benjamin Franklin before the start of the American Revolution.
The first step is up to you. Look at this problem with an open mind and you cannot help but see that it has a clear and achievable solution. Accept that solution as the key to the future strength of our country and the well being of all Americans. If you give it your undivided attention, you will become a tenacious partisan. Make this revolution your cause and be confident that it will prevail because what you seek is right. Every apathetic American you convince will be one more patriot working to end the undisputed tyranny of spelling. Taunts and snubs of elitists do not discourage you from grasping every opportunity to confront them with the truth: The system they blindly uphold harms our children and thereby weakens the intellectual, political, and moral fiber of our country.
The second step is to carry the battle directly to the enemy. They are not wicked, but merely misguided. They accept, without question or thought, the concept that spelling embodies all that is great and noble in the English language. All must give up that false doctrine if they accept the fact that blind acceptance of authoritarian spelling prevents children from reading and writing at an early age. We must help teachers, educational psychologists, and linguists see the truth. We must open their eyes to the unmistakable proof that phonemic orthography is the essential tool young children need to get going on the road to literacy. Those responsible for their education must join the effort to set children free. A majority of us must realize that the traditional advantages claimed for spelling are either illusory or of little real value to society.
The final step is enlisting the aid of public opinion to force government and schools to start the program. Help from even a few educational and linguistic professionals may be enough to get the attention of the press and information media. Once the truth becomes evident, the public and politicians alike will embrace a program that guarantees universal literacy at a token cost to everyone.
(Last worked on 10/13/07.) - James H. Kanzelmeyer