Another proposed new spelling system


I’ve just found this on the BBC website. In case anyone has problems linking to it, it says

‘Learning a language is often tricky, particularly when it comes to spelling new words. “The Spell As You Pronounce Universal Project” (SAYPU) wants everyone to spell words the way they are pronounced – and for the world to spell in Latin script.

‘School children in English-speaking countries have difficulty spelling words such as ‘people’ and ‘friend’. They contain the odd vowels which are not pronounced. SAYPU suggests it is about time we started spelling what we pronounced and not just in English, but in all languages. Say, for instance, the word ‘oui’ – or ‘yes’ in French – would be spelled WEE and the word ‘Leute’ in German – meaning ‘people’ – as LOITE. The director of Logos Capital, Jaber George, who is launching the programme today, insists their aim is to help raise worldwide literacy levels by making spelling easier.

“One of the reasons why, in some cultures and in certain languages, there is [sic] higher illiteracy rates than in others is because of the difficulty in learning how to read and write, and by having, actually, a phonetic alphabet, then you don’t have this problem anymore; everyone will be able to read and write much more easily. So Esperanto, basically, is to have a single language spoken by everyone; here, what we are trying to do is just to have all these languages written using the same alphabet.”‘

The obvious objection to this is that the Latin alphabet has only five vowel symbols (six if you include ‘y’), but English has 11 monophthongs before we get to schwa. French also has 11 plus schwa, and also 3-4 (depending on dialect) nasalized vowels. Unfortunately, the 11 monophthongs are not identical in the two languages, so the same symbols, which I assume in this new system are supposed to represent the same ‘sounds’, do not do so. For instance, if we use ‘e’ for the sound in English get, this is most similar to the French vowel in tête, and then what do we do for the second vowel in abbé? This is something like the English diphthong in they, which we could write as ‘ey’. But then if we adopt this spelling for French, what do we do with the words abeille and abbaye? According to my Petit Robert, all three of these words are pronounced differently, so we need three different spellings for them.

I can find no information about “Jaber George” except that he is a director of Logos Capital, as mentioned above. I assume he isn’t a linguist, and I think we can safely dismiss his plans as ill-thought-out. After all, if they don’t work for two major languages such as English and French, then they fail at the first hurdle.


  1. The home page is here:

    It’s based on American English. I could find no examples of transcriptions of non-English words.

    Seems like a half-baked project with a good PR operation.

  2. dw – There are now examples of other languages, including French, Russian, Arabic and Bulgarian, but not German. There are all sorts of gaps and inconsistencies in the material presented. Mr Jaber George Jabbour works in investment banking.

  3. I find the idea interesting, because it then bring into question the consideration of the different vowel sounds from different languages. It posses a difficulty for a Spanish-native speaker to learn how to spell English words, since their alphabets are different. Then you must consider the different dialects just in America alone.

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