“But only the future holds life. To live in the past is to embrace what is dead. As rational, thinking beings, we must use our intellect, not a blind devotion to what has come before, to make rational choices.” Terry Goodkind in The Pillars of Creation.
The Dead Hand of Tradition! Or… Why is written English so hard?
Spoken English springs from an individuals’ mental awareness of word-elements, but written English is accessible only in the form of specific groups of letters selected by authorities as “correct spelling.” This lexical concept was “invented” by Samuel Johnson in his 1755 Dictionary of the English Language. He printed words exactly as reputed authorities had written them during the preceding several centuries. Dr. Johnson shoved English writing back into the Elizabethan “golden age” of British imperialism and his idea was applauded as an intellectual innovation that saved the language from chaos, anarchy, and ultimate degradation. During the next several centuries, they unilaterally insinuated their stilted spelling “system” as de facto standard for the English-speaking world. Their creed: Persons who misspell a word reveal themselves to be either ignorant or stupid. Anyone daring to question the absolute correctness of conventional English writing was stupidly ignorant. Furthermore, they branded as childishly naïve anyone who thought that reading and writing skills could be learned by ordinary folk. Anyone among the learned societies who voiced such possibilities was shunned, silenced, and eventually hounded out of their august ranks.
Figure 1. Relationship between spoken and traditional written English.
Beginners are taught to read and write words in “Spellingese.”
Writing Is Only for Highly-educated Englishmen! Or… How does conventional spelled orthography work?
Figure 1 shows the conventional procedures for communicating English words by speech and conventional writing. The first step in expressing words by both processes is the same: Thoughts are converted in an individual’s mind into sentences consisting of speech vocabulary words which are remembered in the form of word-elements.
1. Spoken English—A speaker’s speech habits convert word-elements into speech sounds that listeners’ hearing habits interpret into words and sentences that express the speaker’s thoughts. All members of a speech community (General American, for example) remember words using the same set of word-elements they all acquired and learned to understood as infants. Spoken words naturally make sense to everyone and new words they encounter are all equally easy to add to their vocabularies and use.
2. Written English—A writer mentally converts speech vocabulary words into mental writing words, remembered as groups of letters that match an authority’s spelling. The writer then uses personal writing habits to convert mental words into written words. Readers’ personal reading habits then convert written words into mental reading words, memorized mental images that match visual images of the words printed in a dictionary. The mental-image words are interpreted in readers’ minds as speech vocabulary words and sentences, the original thoughts the writer expressed.
What does ‘Ay’See’See’E’Es’Es’ spell? Does
‘See’’Ay’Tee’ spell “cat?”
What does ‘Ay’See’See’E’Es’Es’ spell?
Does ‘See’’Ay’Tee’ spell “cat?”
Exhibit 1. Pictures of Frustration and Boredom – Learning Spelled English Writing.
About 6 months after birth, babies begin to recognize speech sounds from among all sounds they hear. A one-year-old understands the speech-sound elements of its native language, recognizes, remembers them, and experiments saying them. At 18 months, children understand and say many words related to common objects and everyday experiences. They begin adding a new word to their speech vocabularies about every 2 hours, a rate they maintain into adolescence. At 3 years, children are “grammatical geniuses” with nearly adult-like conversational skills according to Steven Pinker (The Language Instinct). Dr. Pinker describes the phenomenal growth in brain size and organizational complexity during the first 2 years of human life and concludes, “language seems to develop about as fast as the [infant’s] growing brain can handle it.” It is not clear whether language development is driven by brain development or the linguistic organization of the brain is created by speech development but, either way, most children reach school age speaking their native language reasonably well Spoken English works this way, too. However, conventional English writing differs enough from English speech to make it as difficult to learn, in some ways, as a foreign language.
But Speaking Well Is No Guarantee of Reading Effectively! Or… Written English: So bizarre that Americans speak effectively but many cannot read or write as well.
Conventional English is a spelled orthography (Figure 1, above). Most children cannot understand the intellectual content of spelling processes until age 6 or 7. By then, their ability to acquire new language skills is already diminishing. Most children, at one time or another, question why written words don’t make sense, asking something like “Why are some words spelled so strangely?” The answers given make no sense to anyone, not even to most teachers. There are no rational reasons that justify English spelling.
The Traditional Road To Literacy! Or… Teaching children to read has always been a form of institutionalized child abuse.
Children’s expectations—At some time in their young lives, most children decide they want to read the words in their favorite books. They have mastered speech well enough to meet their needs and naturally expect reading to be about as easy as understanding speech.
Teacher’s role—All teachers have been indoctrinated in the “spelling gospel” of the literary elite. During teacher-training they are brainwashed with the creed that the highest achievement of their profession is to indoctrinate subsequent generations of children in the illogical traditional English writing system.
Conflicting Goals of Beginning Education. Or… No one had a thought for the needs of the children.
Children’s needs—Stereotypical portrayals of children as “little savages” actively resisting all attempts to civilize them are inaccurate. That view is held by people who never actually listen to children express the problems they encounter. In trying to deal with written English, children are “smarter” than adults perceive them to be. The goal of American children is to read and write the words they know based upon their success in speaking the language. They are frustrated by printed words that do not make sense to them in the context of the oral English they already know. If encouraged to express their idea without fear of censure, they state it as a simple fact: Too many words are spelled wrong.
Teacher’s mission—Since the 18th century, teachers have been front-line agents for English language elites who, in turn, were and continue to be ruled by the dead hand of a tyrannical linguistic tradition. All parents have been “brainwashed” into entrusting children only to teachers who teach and recognize traditionally spelled English. When children most need praise and reinforcement of self-worth, teachers destroy their natural eagerness to learn by finding fault with natural, instinctive reading and writing habits, criticizing children for “bad spelling” when the spelling system is at fault. We cannot blame teachers of students for these bad and ineffective teaching methods. They are only doing what they have been trained to do, and many are as unsatisfied as the children
Help Is On the Way, Or Is It? Why didn’t the “reading wars” improve children’s chances for literacy?
Responding to public concern raised by reports during the 1960s that less than 1/3 of children read competently at their grade level, the federal government legislated programs intended to improve reading skills. Language and education experts all agreed the literacy rate was much too low, but they could not agree on the cause. Since then, every new Congress and Administration has spent large sums of money attempting to improve reading and writing of America’s school children (based upon recommendations of linguistic and educational experts), yet no improvements in reading and writing performance have emerged. The 2002 national tests of 4th grade students again found only about 1/3 were proficient readers at the 4th grade level. Clearly, experts’ suggestions during the 20th Century consisted only of methods for teaching children to read and write traditional text in accordance with the processes illustrated in Figure 1. The only variables are 1) methods teachers should use to encourage or force children to memorize word spellings or 2) “systems” children should employ to memorize word spellings. The unfortunate truth behind the failure of these efforts is that the traditional spelling “system” involves no truly systematic relationships between words children know (to speak) and the written words they desperately want to read and write. Consequently, none of the proposed new “teaching” methods or learning “systems” put forth by the experts had a chance of making noticeable improvements in children’s success in reading and writing.
We Have the Technology To Rebuild Broken English! Or… A phonemic English writing system makes reading and writing as easy and natural as spoken English.
Traditionally-spelled English text is only about 80% phonemic. In other words, 20% of English word-elements are not intuitively recognizable from printed characters. Because these non-phonemic characters are arbitrarily scattered among words, fluent speakers intuitively recognize an average of only 1 out of 6 written words they encounter. The processes of memorizing and recalling word spellings are extra intellectual steps in the traditional writing mode shown in figure 1. In many ways, learning to write and recognize spelled words becomes as much a challenge to English-speaking beginning readers as learning another language. This extra intellectual effort explains why written English is difficult to learn. But more importantly, it reveals how easily the traditional writing system can become intuitively accessible, just like speech. Figure 2 illustrates how spelling-free English works. The solution is simple: 1) Adopt a character set with a unique character for each word element, 2) print an English dictionary using this character set, and 3) use this transparent English writing to educate all children.
Figure 2. Relationship between spoken and phonemic written English.
Or… Words written sensibly, just as they are spoken.
Writing English Can Be Child’s Play! Or…A more rational, sensible written English is ready and waiting to be used.
Figure 2 reveals that phonemic writing is simply a medium that expresses words that are visible to the eye. AKSES is a writing system with phonemic characters representing word-elements. It makes writing as transparent to users as speech. The character names are the sounds the word-elements create in speech, which makes written words as sensible (that is, as rational and understandable) to beginning readers as spoken words. Any child who recognizes the characters and calls them by their phonemic names is ready to read and recognize all words it knows (to speak). It changes elementary teachers. They are no longer feared task-masters who entice, pressure, and bully children into memorizing the spellings of tens of thousands of words. With AKSES writing, children “sound out” all words at first sight which saves them years of boring trial and error, memorization, and deadly drill.
“My books give me:” Akses
too lerning. “I can easily
write:” U kat had 7 kitenz.
“My books give me:” Akses too lerning.
“I can easily write:” U kat had 7 kitenz.
2. Pictures of Success and Enthusiasm –
Dyslexia Now! Or…
This legislative and administrative plan ensures that all children learn to read and write by age 6. This goal is achieved, not by coercion, but by informing parents, early-care-givers, and school personnel of the fundamentals of the AKSES plan for early literacy. Elementary teachers and some government employees and elected officials are required to use AKSES writing in their work the first few years. It is not a hardship for them; everyone who reads traditional text can read AKSES text intuitively. They rapidly achieve normal reading fluency with a few weeks’ practice. Writing is not a problem. Anyone can type traditionally-spelled English text files and convert them to AKSES text with a transliteration program as easily as using a spell-checker. Everyone else achieves AKSES-fluency when they feel the need or simply by the increasing frequency of casual exposure over the years.
Enabling Children To Read Effectively At Age 6 Is Just The Beginning! Or…English transformed from difficult to easy to learn.
For children—The AKSES program enables beginning readers to enjoy successful first efforts. They understand written words as easily as spoken words. They acquire sight-reading skills quickly because they can read all words without referring to care-givers or teachers. Teachers help elementary students comprehend the meanings of everything they read starting with first grade. Children perceive it as fun and the current gloomy attitude that school is boring and irrelevant disappears as teachers guide students to books and stories that are educational in an interesting way. Teachers take advantage of the fact that all students’ reading vocabulary is as large as their speech vocabulary from second grade on.
For reading-impaired adults—This category includes those who truly cannot read, those who have minimal reading or writing skills, and those who habitually avoid reading and writing because it is disagreeable and frustrating for them. All who desire to do so learn to read and write AKSES text as well as they speak English. A few brief classes are all it takes to get started and self-study makes them proficient readers in a few months. At first, they have difficulty finding adult material printed with AKSES characters, but they are able to read books and stories with children or grandchildren and gain proficiency rapidly that way. Within 10 years, newspapers, magazines, and many adult books become available as AKSES-literate students graduate from schools and begin demanding AKSES-text publications for their personal use and enjoyment.
For those learning English as a Second Language—ESL students find AKSES a great help in learning to speak and understand spoken English. The first steps are verbal - learning to recognize English speech sounds that do not occur in their native languages and then developing speech habits that permit other English speakers to understand words they utter. Learning AKSES characters and their names enables them to acquire English vocabulary rapidly by self-study of AKSES-based text material with the help of foreign-language AKSES-English dictionaries. Eventually all American written communication and publication will be in AKSES orthography (which will be called Modern American English) and Traditional (spelled) English will be a part of the history of the language. People all over the world will want to learn American English because it is as easy as it is useful.
A Literate Future For Americans! Or… Soon everyone wins.
Obviously, when all schools adopt the AKSES writing system, Americans eventually become nearly 100% literate (i.e., able to read and write English as well as they speak). Other factors tend to shorten the transition period dramatically. Advertisers soon recognize that AKSES text is most influential because, as phonemic words become familiar to potential customers, those messages are more easily understood than traditionally spelled writing. Non-readers become interested readers as they discover how easy AKSES text is to read and write. People seeking English as a second language quickly find that reading interesting books printed with AKSES text is a fast way to build up a useful vocabulary. The crime, poverty, and ignorance associated with illiteracy gradually disappear over a period of 25 or 30 years.
AKSES Text Examples
Usual first reactions to the AKSES program are 1) disbelief in the idea that children can learn to read at an early age or 2) firm opposition to a concept of phonemic orthography.
You need to be reminded of how helpless you were when first pressured into reading printed words. You learned names of the letters - “ay” “bee’ “cee”…”ex” “wie” “zee.” You probably do not recall being taught a basic reading “rule:” Recognizing and saying the names of letters is not reading. Read whole words instead - “see ay tee” spells /kat/, “bee oh wie” spells /boy/, and “gee eye are ell” spells /gerl/. Word by word, you must build up in your mind by rote memory two mental word lists (in addition to the speech lexicon you already learned) - a visual spelled lexicon for reading and oral spelled lexicon for writing.
Little wonder, then, that most children are daunted by this seemingly endless task and many fail to master it. Though relatively uneducated in the conventional sense, they are not linguistically ignorant as is traditionally believed. Each knows thousands of words and uses basic concepts of grammar to understand spoken ideas and utter words that convey their inner thoughts to others. Personal speech habits let them convert mental elements of words into spoken words. Listening habits enable them to convert spoken words into mental elements making them conscious of the speaker’s thoughts. It is all natural and intuitive.
To unbelievers of the first kind, I present the following logical “proof” (some might call it a “mental experiment”): 1. Infants (6-12 months) learn to understand words by recalling them in the form of basic elements (listening habit). 2. They (about 9-18 months) learn to say words by expressing the same elements as (phonemic) sounds and blending them into spoken words (speech habit). 3. Children (2-5 years) learn to recognize and name written (phonemic) characters that represent the same elements. 4. When motivated, they (3-6 years) read words by blending phonemic character names into words (reading habit). Steps 1 and 2 happen now. Steps 3 and 4 follow immediately when American society decides to install AKSES in our schools to enable all children to read and write before they leave first grade.
I assure unbelievers of the second kind that the AKSES program does not require readers of conventional text to learn the modified orthography until they want to or feel they need to. Mandatory use by teachers and other government employees will be phased in over a period of up to 6-10 years.
Hopefully, you can now control the preconceived prejudices against an AKSES program. With open mind, examine the next pages, with spelled text versions preceding AKSES text versions. Imagine, if you can, which version would make sense to a child who knows how to talk but has no concept of spelling (i.e. which character set seems to represent oral word elements more consistently). It might help to speak each word as you look at it.
If you are unable to forget your hard-earned spelling lessons, try answering these 2 questions honestly: 1. At first glance, which page strikes you as English writing and which seems to be some strange mixture of European words? (I’ll bet you can’t resist the familiar look of spelled orthography. Familiarity makes it “look rught.”) 2. “…it was proper to enquire the true orthography, which I have always considered as depending on derivation, and have therefore referred them to their original languages”—from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, the model for all subsequent conventional English orthography. Based upon Johnson’s rule of correct spelling, which page is written with a strange mixture of “European” words and which is written with consistent characters that represent sensible elements of English words? (Can you see it? Most English written words resemble in part at least the “foreign” words from which they sprang. In this respect, Old and Middle English are as “foreign” as French, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin or modern and classical Greek.)
Example 1(Conventional text)
by Robert Louis Stevenson
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when Ī jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close behind me, he’s a coward you can se;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me.
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
Ī rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Example 1(AKSES text)
bī Robert Louis Stevenson
Ī hav u litul shadō ŧhat gōz in and owt with mē,
Hē iz vairē, vairē līk mē frum ŧhu hēlz up too ŧhu hed;
And Ī sē him jump bēfor mē, hwen Ī jump intoo mī bed.
ŦHu funēest ŧhing ubowt him iz ŧhu wā hē līks too grō—
Not at awl līk proper children, hwich iz awlwāz vairē slō;
For hē sumtīmz shoots up tawler līk an indēu-ruber bawl,
And hē sumtīmz gets sō litul ŧhat ŧhair’z nun uv him at awl.
Hē hazun’t got u nōshun uv how children ot too plā,
stāz sō klōs bēhīnd mē, hē’z u kowerd Ū
Ī’d ŧhiŋk shām too stik too nersē az ŧhat shadō stiks too mē.
1 morniŋ, vairē erlē, bēfor ŧhu sun wuz up,
Ī rōz and fownd ŧhu shīniŋ doo on evrē buterkup;
But mī lāzē litul shadō, līk an airant slēpē-hed,
Had stād at hōm bēhīnd mē and wuz fast uslēp in bed.
Example 2 (Conventional text)
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this
continent, a new nation, conceived in
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Example 2 (AKSES text)
4 skor and 7 yearz ugō, owr foŧherz brot forth on ŧhis kontinent u noo nāshun, konsēvd in libertē and dedikāted too ŧhu propōzishun ŧhat awl men ar krēāted ēkwul.
wē ar engājd in u grāt sivil wor, testiŋ hweŧher ŧhat
nāshun or enē nāshun sō konsēvd and sō
But in u larjer sens, wē
Published 11 May, 2006. Last worked on 12 Oct, 2007. James H. Kanzelmeyer (Tīpōz corekted 5/18/12 JHK)