III.1 The oldest writing system used for English and its ancestors was the “runic” alphabet called “FUTHARK” from its first seven letters, of which the “Elder FUTHARK” had 24:
It was probably brought from the European continent around the fifth century and represented the sounds of the speech of those times quite well. As pronunciation continued to change , it was expanded until “Younger FUTHARK” (or “FUTHORC”) had 33 letters. But the encroachment of Latin promoted the emergence of an “Old English Alphabet” around the ninth century, which looked rather like our modern one:
Here, “j” and “v” were missing, but even in later English, we find “i” and “u” as substitutes, perhaps imitating the Romans who simplified the chiselling of inscriptions in stone. The forms of “s” varied according to position. And the old runic “thorn” was retained for the “th-” sound.
III.2 Ever since then, writers, scribes and copyists have been puzzling over how to fit the cycle of sounds in evolving English to the “Roman” alphabet. One might feel a bit like slapping bangers and mash, with bubble and squeak, on top of a pizza romana.
Even the categories of sounds come from Latin. The VOWELS are named after “vocal”, and are the very cores of English SYLLABLES; and the CONSONANTS are named after “with + sounding”, and are expected to accompany VOWELS in SYLLABLES (though they may be less mannerly). But at greater detail, labels go astray, even for Standard English. The “LONG VOWELS”, which generally do take “longer” to say than “SHORT VOWELS”, evince no chivalrous loyalty to their nominal letters. The sound of “long a” shows up not just as “a” (“potato”), but as “ai” (“main”), “ay” (“may”), “ea” (“great”) or “eigh” (“weigh”); “long e” not just as “e” (“she”), but as “ea” (“sea”), “ee” (“see”), “ei” (“seize”), or “ie” (“siege”); “long i” not just as “i” (“hi”), but as “ie” (“lie”), “igh” (“high”), “uy” (“buy”) or “y” (“by”); “long o” not just as “o” (“so”), but as “oa” (“boat”) or “ow” (“bow”); “long u” not just as “u” (“impromptu”), but as “ue” (“sue”) “ew” (new”) or “oo” (“noon”), or “ou” (“you”) -- on and on. Further merriment is contributed by regional variation, for example:
 In the south of England the vowel in “bath” will rhyme with “art” and “harp”, but in the north [...] “bath, “giraffe, “path and “laugh” will rhyme with “hat”, “fat”, “sat”, “cat”. (Hearing Loss)
III.3 The histories of English “orthography” and “pronunciation” have run partly parallel with those of “grammar” and “lexicon”. All these domains have weathered spirited interventions by aspiring reformers and language guardians, including an assortment of amateurs (cf. II.87). And, hardly by coincidence, all domains have at times been wilfully misunderstood as indicators of linguistic, cognitive, and social capacities such as “intelligence” that account for and justify inequalities in human rights (cf. II.16, 54).
III.4 Yet these several histories have diverged in their eventual outcomes. “Grammar” remains an arena of unresolved skirmishes among alternative language varieties, often staged within a dissonant hodgepodge of petulant or jargonised “grammar-books”. The “lexicon” has been tamed by dictionaries that evolved from one-man shows to expanding teamwork that generated stilted and ponderous listings, featuring erudite or antiquarian vocabulary, and avoiding the “improper”, yet recently turning into user-friendly data-based accounts of current attested vocabulary (cf. II.122). Dictionaries have succeeded far beyond “grammars” in “standardizing”, though many people don’t use them, and many who do are motivated precisely by the harrowing unpredictability or inconsistency of English orthography and pronunciation, which, to a foreign learner of English, might well appear like a droll alphabet soup well and truly spoiled by too many cooks.
III.5 The appearance of disorder can be attributed to two principal factors also looming in the histories of GRAMMAR and LEXICON reviewed so far. The shallower source has been the fondness for borrowing from other languages, which often preserves the loan words with some mild if not pungent flavour of the country of origin: from France, “artisan”, “bourgeois”, “façade”, “moustache”, “omelette”, “rendezvous”, “vogue”; from Spain, “armada”, “banana”, “barbecue”, “bravado”, “potato”, “vanilla”; from Italian, “canto”, “incognito”, “gondola”, “macaroni”, “madrigal”, “motto”, “virtuoso”; from the Netherlands, “brandy”, “cambric”, “knapsack”, “landscape”, “muff”, “smuggle”, “yacht”; from Germany, “hamster”, “flak”, “Nazi”, “plunder”, “sauerkraut”, “waltz”; from India, “bungalow”, “chintz”, “chutney”, “juggernaut”, “pundit”, “bugaboo”, and many other entrées from foreign word-kitchens.
III.6 The deeper source has been the radical sound changes that the language underwent during the periods when it was spoken and not commonly written. The Old English scribes had to apply the intrusive alphabet to differing sounds in the respective varieties; for example, the Angles got “world” and “heven”, whilst the West Saxons got “weorld” and “heofon”. In the 13th century, an industrious Augustine canon named Orm devised a whole consistent quasi-phonic spelling system to edify the pious with a 20,000-line poem called The Ormulum, a collection of homilies in wooden, mind-numbingly dull verse (and horrid penmanship).
For example, he introduced the convention of double CONSONANT after SHORT VOWEL, and single CONSONANT after LONG VOWEL. Apparently, the work was not widely circulated; the only surviving copy looks like a cheaply-made draft.
III.7 After the invasion of the rumbustious “Normans”, the writing of English fell into neglect and so went on changing largely without a consensual orthography to stabilise it, up into Early Modern English. Thomas Elyot’s counsel to “speke none englisshe but that whiche is cleane, polite, perfectly and articulately pronounced, omittinge no lettre or sillable” (The Gouernor, 1531) was a gem of unintended irony. In the late 15th century Will Caxton of printing-press fame was moved to cry out in despair, “loo, what sholde a man in thyse dayes now wryte?” (cf. II.80, 86).
III.8 Today, children still sweat over such quiddities and pedantries as “silent ‑e” in schoolrooms at every shire’s end, whilst the business world exploits the same relic for social snobbery. The Internet surfed with AltaVista in mid-2005 showed me 896,000 hits for “ye olde”, ranging from the banal, e.g., “Ye Olde Gift Shoppe” and “Ye Olde Starre Inne” to the wacky, e.g., Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe” and “Ye Olde Paintmashe Pubbe”.[Note 1] The “y” in “ye” is a confusion of the Futhark (thorn) letter, yet I’ve mostly heard “ye” rather than the historical “the”.
III.9 The introduction of the printing press by “simple” Will Caxton meant that sooner or later projects would emerge to fit orthography to pronunciation. In 1569, John Hart took the lead among English orthographers and its reformers with his buoyantly titled Orthographie, conteyning the due order and reason, howe to write or paint th’image of mannes voice, most like to life or nature. He lamented the “present unfit manner” of “writing”  and proffered his own “delectable new manner” .
 In the moderne & present manner of writing there is such confusion and disorder as it may be accounted rather a kinde of cyphring, [...] unfit and wrong shapen for the proportion of the voice.
 The new manner, thoughe it seeme at the first very straunge, hard and unprofitable, will prove it selfe fit, easie, and delectable.
The “new manner” sought a one-to-one correspondence between spoken sounds and written letters. Here is a sample of his work:
There soon followed Bullokar’s Booke at large, for the Amendment of Orthographie (1580) whose brash promise of “perfect use” (II.88) was soon matched by works with gung-ho titles like this:
 An English orthographie, wherin by rules lately prescribed is taught a method to enable both a childe to reade perfectly within one moneth, & also the vnperfect to write English aright (Francis Clement, 1587)
III.10 The elementarie vvhich entreateth chefelie of the right writing of our English tung by Richard Mulcaster (the presumed model for Shakespeare’s Holofernes) made even brasher though less tangible promises: to “make the childe most capable of most commendable qualities”, to “season the young mindes with the verie best, and swetest liquor”, to “rid the course of the after learning from all difficultie and hardnesse”, and to “avoid ignorance” and “all misliking”. The book opens with lengthy theoretical arguments, e.g., why having “the sound alone rule the pen” allows “diuerse and great corruptions to encroche against both reason and custom”. There follows an alphabetical list of undefined words ostensibly spelled by the “right writing”, including such delightful ones as “akecorn”, “bumbuste”, “caffaie”, “disperple”, “entermedle”, “fafle”, “gnible”, “huklebone”…
III.11 Genuine phonetics had to wait until Alexander Melville Bell published A new elucidation of the principles of speech and elocution (1849); and until his famously inventive son Alexander Graham Bell published Visible Speech: The Science of Universal Alphabetics (1867).
III.12 Long deprived of phonetics, the orthography and pronunciation of English drifted along as restive if not swashbuckling enterprises. Even the prodigiously erudite John Milton, richly steeped in Latin, seems to have followed his instincts, e.g.:
 nor dislik’d by themselves, were they manag’d to the intire advantages of thir own Faction; not considering the while that he toward whom they boasted thir new fidelitie, counted them accessory; and […] by those Statutes and Lawes which they so impotently brandish against others, would have doom’d them to a Traytors death for what they have don alreadie. (Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 1650)
Perhaps individual variations in spelling attracted little more notice in those times than in pronunciation. Precise uniformity was not expected, and hardly practicable anyway.
III.13 Fatefully, it was the 18th century, with its Age of Enlightenment, that proved so eager to standardise orthography and pronunciation (cf. II.93). Alongside the emerging gallery of dictionaries (II.108ff), guides for “elocution” went public. Shortly after Dr Johnson’s renowned work appeared, Thomas Sheridan, an Irish actor the godson of Jonathan Swift, published British Education: Or, The Source of the Disorders of Great Britain (1756), whose remarkable subtitle read:
 An Essay towards proving that the Immorality, Ignorance, and false Taste, which so generally prevail, are the natural and necessary Consequences of the present defective System of Education; [and that] a revival of the Art of Speaking […] might contribute, in a great measure, to the Cure of those Evils.
Though Sheridan was bursting with advice and lectures for “important” people, ordinary citizens could hardly be trained after the manner of stage actors. At any rate, they seem to have resisted such “Cures” and kept on wallowing in those “Evils” to this very day; at least Prince Charles seems to think so (II.102).
III.14 In 1890, Henry Sweet published his seminal A Primer of Phonetics. His own pupil Daniel Jones, the first professor of phonetics in the UK, played a grandstand one-two with his English Pronouncing Dictionary (1917) and An Outline of English Phonetics (1918).
The “standard” described by Jones was first vaguely named “Public School Pronunciation”, but in the 1926 edition of the “dictionary” he used Received Pronunciation, precisely (if quaintly) defined as “the everyday speech of families of Southern English persons whose menfolk have been educated at the great public boarding schools” and thus, one assumes, fit to be “received” even in the snootiest drawing-rooms. Its most grateful and influential users have been the British Broadcasting Corporation -- whence the less loaded name BBC Pronunciation -- and Tory politicos who see it as a magic cloak to wrap their insidious inanities. Perhaps their favour has helped to spread the more recent name of “Upperclass Twit”, publicised by the “awards” once issued by Monty Python’s Flying Circus and variously acted by its members.
However, as Professor of English and presumed model, I occasionally feel some duty to adopt a mild version of RP or BBC on the lecture platform -- stiff upper lip and all that -- where I hope I don’t come across as a “twit”. Anyhow, I doubt that academics are generally counted “upperclass” these days by the real aristos and money-mongers swimming in the glitz.
III.15 Many Internet sources tell me that this elitist pronunciation has declined in popularity, whilst fortune smiles on Estuary English,[Note 2] so called for being “widely spoken in London and, more generally, in the southeast of England -- around the river Thames and its estuary” (Wikipedia). It is seen by “significant numbers of young people” “as modern, up-front, high on ‘street cred’ and ideal for image-conscious trendsetters” (Paul Coggle, 1993, in Do you speak Estuary?).
III.16 Standardising orthography has not been such an iffy affair. Dictionaries were probably less influential than the spread of skilful, cultivated prose in such popular outlets as literary novels and periodicals like The Spectator of Joseph Addison and The Tatler of the his collaborator, Richard Steele.
In the bulk of this, printed English came to look much as it does now, apart from the capitalisation of presumably important words, viz.:
 It is a great Imperfection in our London Cries, that there is no just Time nor Measure observed in them. Our News should indeed be published in a very quick Time but not cried with the same Precipitation as Fire. […] A Bloody Battle alarms the Town from one End to another in an Instant. Every Motion of the French is Published in so great a Hurry, that one would think the Enemy were at our Gates. (Spectator)
III.17 In 1870, the crusade for “public literacy” led to “public education” being mandated by law in England (centuries after it became common in Scotland); and “English” was introduced as a subject matter for students to “read” at university. In the 20th century, university “English Departments” became enormous wherever the entire “student body” -- which might equal the population of a whole town -- was “required” to pass through “basic courses” strictly demanding adherence to “standard” orthography, along with “correct grammar” and “formal vocabulary”, however conceived. Pronunciation was mostly left to smaller and less common “Departments of Speech”.
III.18 Yet for the 21st century, a rise in illiteracy is generally predicted, now that public schooling is pushed toward the brink of collapse as public funding is ravaged by “tax cuts” and “tax havens”, and now that books are losing ground to videos and video games. Yet in exchange, “computer literacy” opens up access to unlimited stores of written English via the Internet. Word-processors will check your spelling and even anticipate specific errors, though the design betrays no high regard for the literacy of users: Microsoft WORD foresees clueless US typists knocking out “speach”, “writting”, “reconize”, “windoes”, “sercumstances”, and even “dollers”, defiling the National Word if such a title existed. Also beware of the gratuitous if not scurrilous “corrections” suggested by spellcheckers at a loss. For example, FrameMaker suggested changing “cdrom” to “cauldron” or “cutworm”, “filesystem” to “fleshiest” or “filthiest”, and “pathname” to “python” or “playthings”.
III.19 In Britain, the chirpy National Curriculum for English mandates “confidence” in “using orthographic features of standard English” (cf. II.12, 46f). Perhaps such good cheer would pall had that committee subscribed to the New Scientist, which reported that “there are more than 260 ways to spell 18 to 20 basic English vowel sounds, and there are another 226 forms for the 23 consonants”. Such great inconsistency should call for a thorough reform. Yet all attempts have all foundered on reefs like these:
· Accurate reproduction of sounds would either presuppose a single variety, such as “Received Pronunciation” (III.14), or else destabilise the unity of printing for wide distribution by adapting to multiple varieties.
· The stony “Roman” alphabet of 28 letters would yield to a larger system. The modest COBUILD dictionary annotations use a “phonetic alphabet” of 22 letters or letter-clusters for VOWELS, and 26 for CONSONANTS -- rather a lot for societies fumbling and stumbling over 28.
· The familiar literacy of books, magazines, film subtitles, and so on would grow estranged, perhaps the way older “Englisshe” strikes us now (cf. II.80; III.7f).
· Elite groups would cling to their established spellings and hector the reformists with pungent taunts.
· Gazillions of keyboards of typewriters and computers would need to be retooled and their typists and users retrained. On the way, we might do well to junk our preposterous “QWERTY” keyboard designed by C.L. Sholes in 1878 to slow typists down and prevent the mechanism jamming up in quick successions -- as occurred on his first model with the keys arranged alphabetically in two rows -- by consigning common letters like “’a, “e”, and “s” to the clumsier fingers. “Touch typing” is a burdensome sleight-of hand or handcuffed prestidigitation imposed by this bad joke of industrial history, which I at least have refused to master. (Instead, I fill “Autocorrect” with simple codes that type out the whole words for me, e.g. “laaa” => “language”, or “ppzzz” => “PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE”.)
III.20 The history of past reforms has been correspondingly spotty. Papa Webster’s Compendious Dictionary (quoted in II.109) managed to slip minor changes into US English, turning “‑our” and “‑ick” into “‑or” and “‑ic”, but fell flat with his “ake”, “crum”, “ile”, and “spunge”. Even the Rough Riding Teddy Roosevelt found his Big Stick gone limp in 1906 when Congress killed his order for government printing offices to follow 300 reforms set down by a “Simplified Spelling Board".
III.21 A more workable solution would be not a linguistic spelling reform, but a social attitude reform. If we cannot change our orthography much, we can and ought to change how we treat people who use it in their own ways. Unless we are composing a serious document for publication, an irregular spelling should count as a natural event like discretely coughing or clearing your throat while speaking (or at the worst a sneeze or a belch discreet enough not to blow the mouse off the desk). Some of these are reasonable adaptations to common pronunciations, viz.:
 Traditional pollution control in the UK has been fragmented with air, water and wastes regulated by diffrent agencies (Guardian)
 A very intresting read. I think the books are great and very intresting, it is like having a good gossip about someone you shouldn’t (Ali McConnell)WWW
 Lou Macari came to Swindon in 1984. He [was] sacked and then reinstated within two extrordinary days at the club. (Central TV news script)BNC
These alternative spellings may be encouraged by the resistance of English PROSODY to accumulating lengthy rows of unstressed syllables (cf. VI.15).
III.22 Others serve to capture the sounds of regional speech:
 I wanner be me if you wanner know, an’ woss so wrong wiv vat. [...] I wanner go up in a pile a smoke an’ flames an’ eye shadder an’ levver shoes an’ dancin’. [from Nigel Williams, Sugar and Spice]. This speech in the cockney vernacular […] has a well defined construction and rhythm. (Authors)
III.23 Still others proliferate on the Internet as a playful or defiant rejection of conventions:
 yeh im good wat bout u? i havnt been doin much just skool work and parties nuthin to special. (MySpace)WWW
 yu kin kli'k on stuff an’ yu'll get tayken tu straynge an’ wundruhrus playcez, bu’ mos’ly jus’ tu stuhriez an’ pitchuhz (MadMadMax)WWW
 hEy WeLcOmE t0 mY xAnGa! I h0pE yOu LyKe It! WuTs Up §øÜ†H §ïD€? (Pearl Soup)WWW
 im too lazy to capitalise things. (Star Wars Message Boards)WWW
I doubt “laziness”  is the main motive. Fancified texts like [11-13] are if anything strenuous.
III.24 The irregularities to really guard against are ones with unintentional and ludicrous results. Schoolchildren may inscribe gems of purest ray serene when they hear a word they can’t spell and substitute one they can, never mind the meanings:[Note 3]
 In the Olympic games, Greeks ran races, jumped, and hurled biscuits [discus]
 Ancient Egypt was inhabited by mummies and they all wrote in hydraulics. [hieroglyphics]
 King Solomon had three hundred wives and seven hundred porcupines. [concubines]
The most public perils lie in wait for newspapers:
 Named Great Adventure, the amusement complex is expected to attack two million visitors during the first year. (Trenton Times) [attract]
 Freshwater Pond Associates could begin construction of housing units within 45 days; […] “if local approval is given, the hovels can go in the ground”. (Daily News) [shovels]
 Students must sin in assigned seats, as they appear on the Seating Charts. (Morning Herald) [sit]
III.25 The history of English litterature, erm, literature is pocked with droll misprints:
 the fathers of the Church, saints, and martyrs, awaited the general insurrection (Areopagitica) [resurrection]
 What beast was't then, that made you break this enterprise to me? (Macbeth) [boast]
 Now he goes, with no less presence, but with much more love, than young Alcides when he did redeem the virgin tribute paid by howling Tory to the sea-monster. (Merchant of Venice) [Troy]
 There is no form of faith in existence more effectually tenacious than the Afghan form, which asserts the full catholicity of that branch church whose charter is the English Church Prayer Book. (W.E. Gladstone) [Anglican]
 A land that rides at anchor, and is moored, in which they doe not live, but cows abound. (Samuel Butler, Description of Holland) [go aboard]
 All the low actions of the just swell out and blow Sam in the dust. (James Shirley, Contention of Ajax and Ulysses for the armour of Achilles) [smell sweet and blossom]
III.26 However vulnerable orthography may be, its “standard” version of English can support the GRAMMAR more ably than would a phonetic alternative. Thus, the ENDINGS for the POSSESSIVE and the PLURAL of NOUNS and the THIRD PERSON SINGULAR of VERBS are still spelled with “-s” or “-es”, even when the spoken SOUNDS are more like “-z”, “-iz” or “-uhz”, viz. “bets” vs. “beds”, “Jack’s” vs. “John’s”, “snoots” vs. “snoozes”, “notes” vs. “noses”, and so on.
III.27 Moreover, orthography can preserve grammatical relations better than sounds, e.g., between NOUN and NOUN, like “thief – theft” or “sign – signature”; between VERB and VERB, like “rise – risen” or “dream – dreamt”; or again between VERB and NOUN like “lose – loss” or “breathe – breath”; and so on.
III.28 On the whole, we’ll have to make the best of English orthography, provided we do not treat it as a pedantic obsession or an invidious measuring-stick for intelligence, education, or moral rectitude. By those ominous measures, the cumulative output of my own lousy typ(o)ing over a quarter of a century might rank me among the dumbest and most illiterate miscreants of our times, who should only be strapped to a rocket and shot to Saturn, the furthest reach of our present spacecraft. To my knowledge, no such interplanetary heave-ho has yet been proposed -- it might after all be doing me a favour, since Saturn has, since the Renaissance, been reputed the “planet of melancholics” like me -- “meditative, brooding, solitary, creative” (Art Criticism). Instead, the general message from cyberspace from a galaxy of chat-sites and blogs seems to confirm the relaxation of social attitudes proposed in III.21.
1. According to Wikipedia, “Paintmash” refers either to the feeble program Microsoft Paint (sometimes called Paintbrush), or to images created with it, which may be intentionally badly drawn, either quickly or ironically.
2. Term coined by David Rosewarne in “Estuary English: Tomorrow’s RP?” in English Today, 37/10, 1994 pp 3-9.
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