A Rationale for Unifon
Egyptian hieroglyphic writing was a mixture of phonograms, pictograms, semagrams, and logograms. The great breakthrough in simplification came with the full realization that phonograms alone were sufficient to record speech. According to McLuhan, the phoenician alphabet made writing a skill that could be acquired in a couple of weeks instead of one that took half a lifetime to master.
The idea of the alphabet spread like wildfire and within few hundred years, all of the cities where the Phoenician's exchanged trade goods adapted the semitic letters to their own language. The Greek's added phonograms for vowels to make system that was usable for non-semitic languages. Under Greek influence, the Copts started writing Egyptian using a Greek-Phoenician inspired system. The Roman's adapted the Phoenician inspired etruscan script.
Although England was occupied by the Romans in the 4th century. When the Romans left in 430 AD, the Engles and Saxons moved in. They spoke a low German tongue. In the 8th Century, the Saxons adopted the Roman letters and adapted it to Old English. As was the custom, when the Anglo-Saxon's adopted the Roman alphabet, they also adopted the Latin sound values. The Latin sound-symbol correspondence system was augmented with the additon of ae or ash and the thorn and ash or crossed D: These were sounds that were not found among the Latin phonemes.
1200, the Anglo Saxons had perfected a highly phonemic system of spelling
for Old English. For
information on what happend next, read the history
of English Today,
nearly half of the words in the English dictionary contain shifted sound
values and are in need of respelling. However, after years of neglect,
there is no alphabetic standard -- no real to way
Starting with the 20 letters where there is agreement, Unifon arbitrarly assigns sounds to 20 additional letters including some upper case letters. With 40 unequivocal sound signs, it is now possible to respell all of the words in the English language. With a restored alphabet, reading and writing can once again become as simple as it was in ancient times and as easy as it is in languages with highly phonemic writing systems.
Children can learn a highly phonemic system in a couple of weeks, an adult can learn it in 40 minutes. Once mastered, a child will be able to write any of the 3000+ words they can pronounce and pronounce or "sound out" any word they see spelled.
For an adult, sound writing seems more difficult than traditional writing but for a child it is ten times easier than memorizing the configuration of whole words.
lurn tU spel fast! [2 weeks vs. 10 years] After two weeks of practice, students can spell better in a phonemic system than they can in the traditional writing system after ten years of practice. Findings consistent with this claim have been published in the Journal of Reading Research. For example, students of German can spell words in the German writing system with greater accuracy than they can spell words in the writing system associated with their native tongue [Upward, 1990].
The reason for this is that
German is more phonemic and consistent than English. English has
too many orthographic options. On the average, there are over 14
different ways to spell a sound in the English writing system. In
Unifon, the average is less than 1.4 different ways. This makes Unifon
about ten times
easier to spell.
phonograms and you can spell any word as you pronounce
Wouldn't you prefer to spell
the way it is pronounced? You
The dictionary will tell you that the word is pronounced /'tr-t's/, which is fine if you can read IPA. Traditional spelling gets the first syllable correct. The spelling of the second syllable might seems to rhyme with TOYS. Whatever the pronunciation of [TOISE], few would guess /t's/. If you had to spell TUSK, it is unlikely that you would pick TOISEK among your first 100 guesses. In Unifon, TUSK would be spelled tusk if stressed and tcsk if unstressed.
traditional writing system [TO] is ambiguous. Almost any particular
spelling in the TO can be pronounced a half dozen different ways. The word,
for instance, might be pronounced "oo-nee-fawn". With Unifon there is no
has to be pronounced [yoo-nih-foan]. According to the look-up
Y=you, i=the vowel in in,
and O=the vowel in Old.
virtue of a phonemic alphabet is its simplicity. An alphabet is a
code, it is a correspondence table such as the one above
that maps the sounds of the language onto a set of letter shapes. When
England first adopted the Roman letters in the 7th century, they also adopted
the Latin sound conventions. The Saxon scribes had to add an additional
vowel, the ash, and associate the five vowel letters with ten different
vowel sounds, as was the practice in Italy. To indicate the short vowels,
they usually doubled
consistency and predictability of an orthography can be calculated by comparing
the dictionary spelling with pronunciation guide spelling. The spelling
of Old English or Anglo Saxon was over 85% consistent with its pronunciation.
This is the estimated average for most European languages today. The spelling
of Modern English is less than 40% consistent with its pronunciation.
Dictionary spelling matches dictionary pronunciation guide spelling less
than 40% of the time. tortoise does not match
spelling: tOrtcs hare
does not match its pronunciation spelling her.
her does not match its pronunciation spellings
as in hurdcr.
tortoise hare her here = TORT'S
Most people will concede that Unifon is indeed a simpler way to code the sounds of the English language. The real question is whether or not the learning of Unifon will speed up the learning of the traditional code.
Learning Unifon or any phonemic system will certainly improve language skills and provide important insights. Phonemic awareness is supposed to be one of the best predictors of reading success. Unifon provides insight into how the alphabet is supposed to work.
Unifon can be mastered quickly by children. Learn 40 phonograms or sound signs, and you can write any word you can pronounce. As with Pitman's i.t.a. in the 1970's, children will master the code quickly and without the usual frustration and difficulty of having to memorize whole words.
40% of Unifon will transfer since it corresponds to the consistent part of the English code. 60% will not transfer any better than explicit phonics training. Irregular words will have irregular spellings and will still have to be memorized as logograms. Unifon provides little help in this area.
An i.t.a. builds phonic awareness, provides the satisfaction of early success with reading and writing, builds good word attack strategies, and postpones the frustration of having to deal with the inconsistencies of the traditional code. Unifon provides a "metalanguage" a way to talk about the sounds of speech. All we can say for sure is that starting with Unifon does not slow down the learning of the traditional code. .
i.t.a. was shown to speed up the learning of the traditional
i.t.a. experiment was based on the transfer of skill hypothesis:
By the time they reach school, children have already mastered the phonemic speech code. The phonemic alphabetic code is an exact model or replica of the speech code. The speakers of any language have mastered the code but cannot articulate or explain it. It was not until around 1900 that linguists became adept at explaining the specifics of the phonemic code.
languages change over time. They may change faster when not anchored by
an archaic writing system and an educational system. Some words start
to be pronounced in a different way, some words cease to be used and others
are coined. English was changing rapidly in the late 15th century
around the time that its spelling was being fixed by the printing industry
. What was fixed was a set of conventions that properly applied to the
earlier way of speaking. In Chaucer's time [pre-1400] "law" was pronounced
the spelling law or lawe reflects the pronunciation of a long A [ah] followed
by a rounding short
The current English alfubet, however, is not as easy as ABC. Our 26 letters are at once too few and too many to handle the roughly 40 pieces of sound (phonemes) that constitute today's spoken English, the variety of speech used by tom brOkx and pEtcr jeniNz. [more]
We have a total of more than 560 spellings for the 40 basic sounds of spoken English. This is many times the number required; it produces an efficiency rating on average of just 20 percent for our written code. [more]
Ask any child or foreigner about the vagaries of written English. They will chronicle the agonies of "one" and "eight" and "tough" and "through" and "though." English is a verbal melting pot, and we have never had an Academy, as do the French, to establish linguistic standards. As a result, we have 15 spellings for the long o sound (owe, beau, though, doe, etc.) and another 15 for the long A sound (may, maid, gauge, great, weight, etc.). Imagine the efficiency of our Arabic number system if any digit could randomly take on several other values: "7 (frequently) times 6 (occasionally) equals 42 (more or less)." [more]
Twain, who wanted a new one for one alfabet, had a few words on the
If UNIFON or something similar became the alfubet, these improvements could follow:
Content Developer - Steve Bett
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