I've seen the list of English spelling reform from Wikipedia. However all the reforms listed there are inclined to reestablish the whole orthography and sever the relationship to the current traditional spelling. I don't think it's a good idea because it also sever the natural link to the Greek/Latin/French origins of a large amounts of words. Then I think there are many diacritics that may help learners to pronounce correctly, and not only used for indicate accents.

For example, we may use diacritics as in "máke", "fàt", "âny", "örthògraphy" -- like the French/Italian orthography -- and save the traditional spelling as well. There is no new thing under the sun, so maybe someone has already invented such a scheme.

  • I don't think we really need a new scheme. Also, if we wanted to help people to improve their pronunciation intuition like you suggested, how'bout riting it like aye'm doin' rite now. It wud be uh lot ezer to read. Doncha think? – Damkerng T. Jun 21 '15 at 9:56
  • How come "phonetic" is spelled "fonetik", like it sounds? – Jay Dec 3 '15 at 14:21
  • Considering that the Wikipedia page linked does contain one such reform and there is a whole table there with quite a few accented letters in it, I guess it's safe to assume that the answer now is: yes. (The suggestion seems to be younger than the OP, though). – Gábor Mar 11 '17 at 15:07

If you mean, "Is there anyone anywhere in the English-speaking world who thinks this would be a good idea?", I guess the answer is yes, there's at least one: the original poster of this question. :-)

If you mean, "Has anyone worked out such a scheme in detail?", I am not aware of any. I haven't searched the academic journals for any such proposal, but at least in my casual reading of news and so forth, I haven't heard of any such.

But the serious question is, "If someone has or did work out such a scheme in detail, is there one chance in a billion that it would be adopted and replace current spelling?" To which I think the answer is clearly and obviously, "No."

  • Not for replacing the current spelling, just for the beginners, in a teacher's opinion :-) In fact today's spelling system is good enough and very suitable for the situation that English spreads worldly, for the current orthography tolerates varied pronunciations in different countries. Thank you all the same. – phan Jun 11 '15 at 5:15
  • For teaching pronunciation, or to express punctuation in a dictionary or other reference, it is common to use the basic Latin alphabet with diacritical marks. The same basic system is used by almost all dictionaries, though there are variations in details. But that doesn't seem to be exactly what you're asking for, as these systems do not retain the conventional spelling and simple add the diacritical marks, but rather they use an alternative phonetic "spelling" that may or may not resemble the conventional spelling. – Jay Jun 11 '15 at 5:28
  • Yes, "they do not retain the conventional spelling", I know that, as the IPA scheme... I think these schemes (used in dictionaries) may not help people to improve their "pronunciation intuition". – phan Jun 11 '15 at 5:33

Usually additional symbology on the glyphs used to write a language have to pay for themselves. It may help for English language learners for a year, but it provides less help for those using the language to communicate on a daily basis. All those extra strokes do add up. Given how similar they would be, since you are choosing only to mark up the vowels, you would quickly find that everybody simply omits them because 99.9% of the usage is between people who already knew the pronunciation.

Another data point to look at is Chinese. Their hanzi is effective at letting people know the meaning of the word, but there's no connection to the pronunciation at all. It is not unheard of for people to say "I can tell you this means 'mountain,' but I don't know how to pronounce it."

Both data points lend themselves to the argument that languages are designed to convey information efficiently. The costs of learning the language are often secondary to ensuring that, once you learn it, the language is efficient. If one wants spelling reform, it will need to help everybody. Perhaps we can get rid of silent letters!


No, because English conveys this information in different ways. Silent letters, position of the vowel within the word, the grammatical function of the word (noun form vs verb form), importance of the word within the sentence, and sentence structure all go into how a vowel is pronounced. Even the simplest word, the indefinite article "a", has two pronunciations depending on what sentence (or part of the sentence) it appears in. Adding marks would not help this, in fact, it would hinder this very process.

You may be having difficulty with the fact that English is a stressed language. The vowels shift and slide around regularly in order to accommodate different stress patterns. Unfortunately, this is an intrinsic part of the language, and cannot be removed without making it not be English anymore.


English DOES use diacritics but only in "higher" writing. Few ever use a breve, diaeresis or accent. Our numerous vowel sounds might seem perfect for diacritics but you can blame the French. Normans used few diacritics (unlike Latin) and that determined our non-use. The Great Vowel Shift created the difficulty today - letters are not pronounced as they appear (again like French).

I teach English to Spanish and Arabic students and vowels are a problem. Their vowel sounds are limited and fixed and they cannot tell if something does not "sound" right. The 5 hardest words in English for a non-native are "pat, pet, pit, pot and put'. (Say them rapidly)

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