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As is commonly known, English is quite notorious for having a writing system that is far removed from the actual way it is most commonly pronounced. I understand that there are important historical reasons dating back to the Norman invasions, and the influence of French in medieval English courts and elites.

My question is historical. Was there ever a movement or attempt at reforming the spelling system in order to bring it closer to phonetics?

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closed as too broad by Marv Mills, Mysti, Chenmunka, choster, Tushar Raj Jun 24 '15 at 18:14

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

@RegDwighт: Well put. And beat me by a minute. The problem is that spelling reform brings written English in line with the spoken English of the reformer. – TimLymington Apr 29 '13 at 9:20
@AndrewLeach It seems to me that Webster's reform was quite marginal. – Spatz Apr 29 '13 at 10:26
Do a web search on "English spelling reform" and you'll find lots of examples. – gmcgath Apr 29 '13 at 13:56
@Spatz: to get all the vowels correct in "Standard English" and "General American", you need something like 23 distinct vowels/diphthongs (see John Wells' lexical sets). And we only have 5 letters to do it with. The IPA transcriptions for RP don't work. Then you'd be spelling "lore" and "law", and "pass" and "parse" the same, and we Americans would never put up with that. – Peter Shor Apr 29 '13 at 18:02

Preface: I knew I'd be able to recycle my lengthy answer one day. This is copied, almost verbatim, from a previous answer I gave a few days ago. I can only say that in my opinion people would just as likely continue misspelling despite the noble aims of the spelling reforms below.

The short answer to Spatz's question is an emphatic, yes!

  • Cut Spelling In the 1970s the Australian psychologist Valerie Yule found that many irregular spellings arise from redundant letters. These are letters which mislead because they are not needed to represent the sound of a word. Writers then cannot tell from a word's pronunciation which letters its written form requires, nor where to insert them, while readers are likely to mispronounce unfamiliar words containing them. A group within the Simplified Spelling Society therefore decided to explore which letters are redundant in English, and the effect their removal has on the appearance of the resulting 'cut' text. This Cut Spelling (CS) is now used for the rest of this column and for the next in order to demonstrate that effect.

Esy readng for continuity.

One first notices that one can imediatly read CS quite esily without even noing th rules of th systm. Since most words ar unchanged and few letrs substituted, one has th impression of norml ritn english with a lot of od slips, rathr than of a totaly new riting systm. Th esential cor of words, th letrs that identify them, is rarely afectd, so that ther is a hy levl of compatbility between th old and new spelngs. This is esential for th gradul introduction of any spelng reform, as ther must be no risk of a brekdown of ritn comunication between th jenrations educated in th old and th new systms. CS represents not a radicl upheval, but rather a streamlining, a trimng away of many of those featurs of traditionl english spelng wich dislocate th smooth opration of th alfabetic principl of regulr sound-symbl corespondnce.

  • SaypYu (Fun website by the way!) Wikipedia:The project was launched on 10 December 2012 by Jaber George Jabbour, Director of the Logos Capital Ltd.(UK), who is of Syrian origin, widely travelled and has encountered difficulty pronouncing words spelt in conventional Roman text such as Leicester Square which becomes, in SaypU: Lestɘr skwer.

The Spell As You Pronounce Universally project promotes "the simple universal phonetic alphabet" which is intended to facilitate a quick and convenient writing system for verbally penetrating foreign situations and pronouncing unusual place-names reasonably quickly and accurately.

"We are building a list of words from all languages spelled using a consistent alphabet to make it easier to pronounce foreign words in a truly cosmopolitan world. SaypYu is designed with the hope of becoming the default global alphabet one day.

This is a collaborative crowd-sourced project that is being developed based on users’ contributions. Therefore, for this experiment to succeed, we need your help in adding, correcting and voting on the spelling of words in the database."

In SaypYu spelling:

Wi aar bilding ɘ list ɘv wɘɘrdz frɘm ool langwijiz spelt yuzing ɘ kɘnsistɘnt alfɘbet tu meyk it iiziɘr tu prɘnawns forin wɘɘrdz in ɘ truuli kozmɘpolitɘn wɘɘrld. SaypYu iz dizaynd widh dhɘ howp ɘv bikɘming dhɘ difoolt glowbɘl alfɘbet wɘn dey

Dhis iz ɘ kɘlabɘrɘtiv krawd-soorst projekt dhat iz biing divelɘpt beyst on yuzɘrz’ kontribyushnz. Dherfoor, foor dhis iksperimɘnt tu sɘksiid, wi niid yor help in ading, kɘrekting and vowting on dhɘ speling ɘv wɘɘrdz in dhɘ deytɘbeys

  • SoundSpel is an English language spelling reform proposal. Its origins date back to 1910. SoundSpel has been endorsed by the American Literacy Council because English speakers can easily read it

Example of SoundSpel spelling: The Star by Herbert George Wells

It was on the ferst dae of the nue yeer the anounsment was maed, allmoest siemultaeniusly frum three obzervatorys, that the moeshun of the planet Neptune, the outermoest of all planets that wheel about the Sun, had becum verry erratic. A retardaeshun in its velosity had bin suspected in Desember. Then a faent, remoet spek of liet was discuverd in the reejon of the perterbd planet. At ferst this did not cauz eny verry graet exsietment. Sieentific peepl, however, found the intelijens remarkabl enuf, eeven befor it becaem noen that the nue body was rapidly groeing larjer and brieter, and that its moeshun was qiet different frum the orderly progres of the planets

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"Was there ever a movement or attempt at reforming the spelling system in order to bring it closer to phonetics?"

Indeed there was. "Orthoepy" was a preoccupation in England in the 16th century and later. You'll find in Chomsky and Halle's SPE quotes from John Hart, writing in 1550 on the speech of his time, for instance, in their summary of the historical development of the English vowel system.

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