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FAQ  About AKSES and Phonemes

Hwut objekshunz doo pēpul hav too AKSES?Boy thinking of questions.

  1. Isn't AKSES just a new name for an old idea that failed to work when tried before?
  2. AKSES seems the same as i.t.a.(initial teaching alphabet).  Are there any differences?
  3. Isn't phoneme another term for sounds in spoken words?
  4. Is AKSES a kind of spelling reform?
  5. Do you visualize standardized spelling for the AKSES Writing System?
  6. Some English words sound the same but are spelled differently.  Does AKSES show these differences?
  7. Phonemic writing looks weird.  Doesn't that make it hard to read?
  8. Which English speech pattern [dialect] is AKSES designed to represent?
  9. How do children who learn AKSES gain access to all past written English materials?
  10. Research suggests that the brains of at least 20% of humanity are "wired" in a manner that interferes with the translation of printed words into phonemes.  Does AKSES deal with this?
  11. Spelling is said to support "visual representation of meaning", an example of the "semantic demand upon the spelling system."  Does AKSES have a comparable quality?
  12. Children are said to respond well from K-4 to reading "phonetically regular" text.  Doesn't that provide the same literacy as AKSES without resorting to a different orthography?
  13. Doesn't the public oppose AKSES in the same way it has rejected most other changes in spelling?
  14. Won't AKSES create chaos in English as linguists and literary experts predict?
  15. A librarian asks:  Must we throw away all our lovely old books or will we keep 2 sets, "regular" ones for educated people and new ones for those who learn "natural writing"?  (The implication:  AKSES-trained people will have inferior education.)
  16. Why use 2 or more letters to represent some phonemic characters?

A startled man.

Ū mīt bē serprīzd bī sum uv ŧhu anserz.

Responses to Questions

  1. Never before (to my knowledge) have the several concepts that comprise the AKSES writing system been assembled into a single viable proposal with experimental validation of its major components.  The key concept, that written words be represented by psychological word elements (phonemic content), is fairly modern (ca.1879, Kruszewski and De Courtenay).  Traditional orthography represents written words as a conventional arrangement of letters (spelling) in accordance with literary authorities. AKSES represents the word-elements (phonemes) of oral English as a conventional set of written symbols (phonemic characters).  Spellings are randomly related to the elements of spoken words, so conventional writing is not "natural" and is therefore difficult to learn.  Phonemic writing is directly related to the elements of spoken words, so AKSES "feels" natural to children and is easy to learn.  Back to Questions.
  2. AKSES is fundamentally different from i.t.a.  It is NOT a temporary teaching tool.  It IS a complete writing system that (like i.t.a.) is easy for children to master but (unlike i.t.a.) takes the place of spelling to give them access to written language throughout their lives.  Back to Questions.
  3. Phonemes are NOT sounds, but are the word-elements speech sounds convey.  Phonemes are located in the brain.  Speech sounds carry information through the air from speaker to audience.  A speaker translates phonemic word-elements into nerve signals that cause the speech organs to generate sequences of sounds, the spoken words.  A listener hears the sounds and translates the auditory nerve signals back into word-elements, recognizing them as remembered words.  In short, phonemes enable the transmission of word-thoughts from one person's mind into other people's minds. Back to Questions.
  4. AKSES is NOT Reformed Spelling in any sense of the term.  It is a writing system based on "phonemic" principles (relating to word elements).  It functions differently from conventional spelling which is based on the "alphabetic principle."   Words written in AKSES are "hard copies" of spoken words; conventional writing translates words into “spellingese.”  Back to Questions.
  5. AKSES does not need a "spelling system" in the same sense as "conventional" spelling.  Spelling is based on an "alphabetic principle" - the sequence of letters in words according to written usage by authorities, established by a lexicographer, and published in a dictionary.  Phonemic writing is based on the "phonemic principle" - the sequence of phonemic characters according to word elements as exhibited in standard American speech, established by a lexicographer, and published in a dictionary.  Back to Questions.
  6. Two words sound the same if they have the same phonemic content.  Such words are written identically in AKSES. Critics believe readers and writers will find this behavior a serious problem.  In fact, oral miscommunication from this source is rare.  A comparable criticism of spelling is that some words are spelled the same, but are pronounced differently.  Such words are differentiated in AKSES but not in spelling.   A more pervasive "non-problem" for both spelling and AKSES are the tens of thousands of English words with multiple meanings.  Logic tells us that each meaning is actually represented by a different word even though pronounced and spelled the same.  Both writers and speakers handle this very common problem by supplying contextual clues to a word's specific meaning. Back to Questions.
  7. Of course, phonemic written text looks different because it is different.  A spelling-trained reader cannot at first glance find familiar word shapes to aid quick "reading" by scanning the page.  In fact, only about 1 in 6 words in running text is written in AKSES exactly the same as it is spelled in TO.  But more careful inspection reveals that every phonemic word is easily decoded into a spoken word, demonstrating the systematic nature of phonemic characters.  When a reader gains more experience reading phonemic text, the strangeness disappears as the new forms of words become familiar sight words.  Children who begin reading with AKSES have no confusing spellings to dispel from their minds.  For this reason, they recognize and understand written forms immediately on learning the corresponding oral words.  Back to Questions.
  8. Phonemic characters of AKSES do not represent sounds; they represent phonemic elements (see Answer 3.) Each person's speech habits cause him or her to pronounce words a little differently.  The differences, usually small, are referred to as an idiolect.  A group of people in close and frequent communication develop speech patterns having similarities.  These characteristics constitute a dialect.   Differences among dialects are often noticeable, but in only extreme cases do they cause miscommunication.  Listeners identify a speaker's idiolect and dialect, filter them out as extraneous "noise," and "hear" the phonemic components of the speaker's words.  Across America, extreme differences between dialects have nearly disappeared.  Still, some remaining differences suggest that speakers from different regions intend to convey different phonemes in certain words.  Much of this kind of misunderstanding is caused by "inexpert" listening.  For example, people from southern states find that listeners from other regions have difficulty distinguishing between certain words they speak such as "pin" and "pen" although those who share their dialect "hear" the appropriate word-elements.  This is a problem of spoken English, not written English. Both words happen to be written in AKSES exactly the same as they are spelled.  There are a few words in some dialectics that contain elements (usually vowels) that are different from standard American usage.  A lexicographer includes the alternative phonemic patterns as "second choice" entry words if a significant fraction of the population uses them.  In TO dictionaries, similar accommodations are made for words having more than one conventional spelling. Back to Questions.
  9. Prominent literary and academic figures always argue strenuously against proposed changes in written English.  The main objection, no matter how beneficial the proposal may seem, is that future readers will not have access to materials written before the change.  Historically, great unplanned changes have taken place, yet English prospers and continues to evolve.  When children are taught phonemic writing, publishers will reprint (in phonemic text) any existing literary or informational materials for which demand develops.  Although the English language Chaucer used to write his 15th century poems and Canterbury Tales is nearly indecipherable to the average reader today, Chaucer's works are still assigned reading for college English majors and are widely available in modern translations. Back to Questions.
  10. Some researchers postulate that language develops by neural connections established in accordance with patterns and timetables preordained by an individual's biological inheritance.  An attractive extension of that theory suggests that "the genes" create potential pathways that provide individuals with a large but finite number of possible alternative behaviors.  An individual learns to speak by reinforcing and combining available behaviors most "successful" in oral communication.  They become a person's "speech habits" (encoding words to speech sounds and decoding other's speech to words.)  Learning spoken communication is "natural" because critical aspects are spontaneous, self-directed adaptations of universally shared human neural connections. AKSES permits an individual to develop similar reading and writing habits, but in this case they link the phonemic content of words to visual instead of aural sensory input and hand coordination instead of vocal output.  Learning phonemic writing is as "natural" as speaking because it uses the types of neural pathways already developed for speaking.  "Mis-wired" brain connections observed in dyslexic individuals are striking examples of counterproductive reading and writing "habits" resulting from unsuccessful attempts to teach the "alphabetic principle" and “spellingese”   Back to Questions.
  11. A favorite defense of spelling is that it preserves the meanings of words.  In 1755, Samuel Johnson stated the basis for the spellings of words in his dictionary:  " was proper to inquire the true orthography, which I have always considered as depending on derivation, and have therefore referred to them in their original languages...."  Modern dictionaries follow his lead.  Obviously, such references are meaningless today except to scholars who are familiar with the meanings of words at the time they were adopted for English use.  (Note that modern American dictionaries give authoritative etymological information, something ordinary readers cannot surmise from spellings.)  A second defense is that spelling is necessary for proper teaching of grammar.  The forms of some parts of speech can be derived by applying spelling rules to more "primitive" word forms.  However, like other English "rules", these are not helpful to beginning readers and writers.  Generic irregularities and specific exceptions occur in such profusion that how and whether a specific rule applies to a specific word in a specific situation must always be known beforehand.  Back to Questions.
  12. "American spelling is phonetic.  That is to say, the letters of our alphabet stand for certain sounds...."  The author of that dictionary introduction was surely smiling broadly at his little joke.  According to the same dictionary, a (first letter in the alphabet) "stands for" 7 of the total of 43 phonemic "sounds."  In some words, as many as 4 letters are needed to spell one sound.  In others, a letter makes no sound at all.  One K-4 teaching method avoids much of spelling's complexity by starting reading instruction with words which involve only 70 of the estimated 251 "common" phonemic spellings.  This "controlled-vocabulary" text is relatively easier for children to read than text that randomly includes oral vocabulary appropriate to grade level. Students so taught are able to read carefully selected materials above traditional grade levels.  If the i.t.a. experience is any guide, much of the apparent improvement disappears a few years later as students encounter the other 180 phonemic spellings they eventually must master to read material with uncontrolled spelling content.  AKSES permits children to read and write all words in their oral vocabularies immediately after learning the phonemic elements and the characters that represent them.  If Americans adopt AKSES as their writing system, children will learn to read any word they see and write any word they can pronounce before leaving 1st grade.  From that time on, language instruction can concentrate on developing vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing exposition, not on spelling. Back to Questions.
  13.  The "public" is not aware that writing systems exist that will eliminate the major cause of illiteracy in America.  Ideas that might have produced a phonemic writing system were discussed about the time spelling was adopted, but phonemes were (incorrectly) thought to be "speech sounds" and the proposals were labeled spelling reform rather than written speech.  Literary critics and authors have always told the public that, without spelling, English would degenerate into chaos.  As difficult as spelling was for them to learn as children, adults were unwilling to change from the spelling they already knew to another kind that appeared equally difficult to learn.  The benefits touted for spelling reform - efficiency in business communication, the savings of few pen strokes in writing, or fewer pages for printed books and magazines - did not outweigh the terrifying threat that everyone would have to relearn a different kind of spelling.  Today's public must be convinced that the AKSES system of writing will actually permit every child to learn to read and write in the first few months of schooling, no matter how incredible that may seem.  No one who adopts AKSES will have to "spell" another word - EVER.  They will simply know how to read and write all words they master for speech.  Before they leave first grade, children will, in effect, learn the relatively easy skill of "speaking" words on paper, and "hearing" printed words with their eyes.  If given these facts, the American public predictably will endure a few minor short-term inconveniences in order to give all future Americans access to literacy. Back to Questions.
  14. Prominent language critics and intellectual figures proclaim that only conventional spelling maintains the spirit and ultimate significance of English (in Samuel Johnson's words "the genius of the language").  Common sense provides a different wisdom.  The "purity" of the language is promoted by speakers or authors who carefully choose commonly understood words to convey their thoughts and who help people better understand the proper meaning of words by skillful and grammatical use of them.  As long as a speaker's pronunciation or writer's spelling succeeds in conveying exactly which words are intended, personal idiosyncrasies should not be criticized.  However, common sense also admonishes us to teach children to recognize and use standard American speech and orthography.  Recognition of the AKSES writing system is the key to a radical improvement in both speech and writing for all segments of American society.  With phonemic writing, properly written words guide every reader toward standard speech, and properly pronounced words guide every speaker and listener toward standard writing.  Back to Questions.
  15. Librarians will continue to do what they always have done, order and shelve new books while caring for and providing access to old books to serve the needs of their clients.  At first, Junior Departments will be most affected as parents and children demand new books printed in AKSES or old favorites transliterated and republished in AKSES.  Eventually, conventionally printed books that no longer circulate will be eliminated to make room for books printed in the new orthography.  As children grow older and adults become familiar with phonemic writing, this renewal process gradually will spread throughout the library.  Librarians will continue to discard unused conventionally printed books to make room for those that will be used.  (However, libraries that maintain important "antiquarian" volumes for archival and research purposes will continue to do so.)  We must understand that information printed in AKSES is word-for-word the same as in traditionally-printed books.   Back to Questions.
  16. It is reasonable to expect that children will have no difficulty identifying a di-graph or tri-graph with a word-element.  For example, if the character "ch" is not referred to as /cee/ /aich/ but instead is called /ch/ (as pronounced in "child") the concept is easier for a child to comprehend than that "w" is the letter we call /dubul/ /yoo/.  Similarly, the character "ow" (called /ow/ as in "cow") is much more easily grasped than the spelled equivalent /oh/ /dubul/ /yoo/.  Children will learn the proposed characters and their phonemic names as easily (or perhaps a bit more easily) than they now learn the 26 letters of the alphabet and their names in alphabetic order.  The AKSES script and character set were selected to simplify traditional-to-phonemic transition for adept traditional readers.  They are compatible with current printing technology as explained elsewhereBack to Questions.

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Published 3-09-99.  (Last worked on 10-13-07) - James H. Kanzelmeyer