Are We Ready For Mentur?

Are We Ready For Mentur? 

In Aug 1981, I read an article in “Science Digest” about a new spelling system for English. It is called Unifon. It is very easy to learn. While I believe Unifon to be helpful in assisting children to learn to read traditional spelling (TS), I came to believe it would never do as a replacement for TS, because of its unusual font (letters). I began looking for other spelling systems for English. I didn’t like what I found, so I began looking for features I thought might make a user-friendly spelling system that had a chance of being accepted. Mentur is the result. My past is littered with spelling systems I designed that I thought were better than any I had seen so far, so you might ask, “What makes Mentur different?” For one thing, I now have well over 10,000 hours spent in this endeavor. I have followed the suggestions of others on what would sell and what would fail. No one really knows. Anyway, I think I have taken a close enough look. In my files, I have a Mentur reference as old as Mar 02, 2008. Somehow, I don’t believe I will be finding any excuses to make a “better” spelling system. In the early days, I was influenced by the idea that a “radical” spelling system wouldn’t sell. By their definition, Mentur is radical. I have come to believe anything less radical than Mentur would be a bad idea. If you are going to produce a truly user-friendly spelling system, it will have to look a lot different from TS. 

Mentur is a new way to spell in English.

Mentur iz a noo wae to spel in Ingglish.

Mentur is a spelling system for English. The spellings are different from TS. Mentur is not a method to teach the reading of TS; rather a way to spell English that is easy to learn. Mentur is so different from TS, that it should not be considered reforming TS, but a separate spelling system. We will need TS for a long time, but millions of English speakers find it too hard to learn well; if at all. Mentur can be easily learned by most of those who have given up on TS. Mentur can provide the reading experience to those millions mentioned. Not right away, since there is very little text in Mentur available right now. But if we can find a way to provide such text, a demand for more will surely materialize.

In TS, many phonemes (pronunciation symbols) are spelled several ways. This is very hard to teach. Mostly, it requires memorization of the whole word. Day, they, made, maid, straight, basic, weigh, etc.

There is much symbol overlapping in TS. Snow/now; get/gem; out/soup; was/set; city/cat; etc.

If schwa (explained more below) was always spelled with the same symbol, it could provide a considerable amount of stress identification. This, alone, will make a significant difference in appearance.

In Mentur, most such confusion is removed. Each phoneme is spelled just one way, and with a few exceptions, each symbol is pronounced just one way. Most exceptions are covered by rules which take away the ambiguity. There are some ambiguities left in a few vowel combinations; <poet, pout> pout; <influential> inflooenshul. –ooe can only be pronounced one way and make any sense; \oo-e\. And there are a few “sight words” that do not follow the alphabetic principle; to/too/two, for/faur, be/being, he, dhe, no, go, an/Ann, in/inn, etc.

English text is one of the most difficult to master in the world. This is because of all the irregularities. Ideally, when you see a word, you know right away how it is pronounced and what it means. For some languages, the effort to achieve that skill is relatively light. For English it is never achieved, by a significant percentage of the English speaking population. As much as 30% of English speaking adults.

Conservative attitudes toward change prevents us from adjusting our spellings to conform to the “alphabetic principle”; (spelling suggests pronunciation). In languages where their spellings closely follow the alphabetic principle, word recognition is relatively easy, permitting faster acquisition of reading and spelling skills; which in turn provides a basis to learn in all other subjects.

Text is only an approximation of speech. If you will examine the way you actually speak, you will see that you pronounce the same words in different ways, in different relationships. Sometimes you run words together, or leave some sounds out altogether; Puss ‘n boots. Gimme dat. Many words are recognized as having more than one pronunciation in use. So, it is a little picky to make a big fuss about the fine details of speech, or a spelling accent.

The explanation of the alphabetic principle, and symbols, and phonemes, may seem complicated, but it’s not as bad as it looks.

In English, the pronunciation of the sound of ai in <main> is spelled 36 different ways according to one source; though I disagree with some of the samples. (English Spelling Roadblock to Reading, by Godfrey Dewey, 1971, p104. The alphabetic principle would suggest to only spell this “phoneme” one way. A phoneme is not a specific pronunciation, but represents a short range of pronunciations that “fit” in a specific word without confusing it with another word. For instance; the au in <auto> and the aw  in <saw>, sound a bit different, yet are represented the same in pronouncing dictionaries. They are close enough to not need another phoneme. The o in <or> has the same phoneme, but keeps the traditional <or> spelling because it is easy to do and maintains a degree of familiarity. 

The Mentur alphabet:

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p r s t u v w y z

C is only spelled with h; as in ch.

V, w and y, are both vowel and consonant. Rules remove any seeming ambiguities. 

Mentur phonemic alphabet:

Vowels: a e i o u ur v vr w ae ee ie oe ue oo au oi ou

Consonants: b d f g h j k l m n p r s t v w y z – ch dh sh th zh ng – ar* arr or 

*Ar, arr, and or, retain their TS sound assignments, for appearance. \barn\, \’marr y\, <paragraph> \’par ru graf\, \fork\. 

Syllabic consonants are consonants with a vowel quality, like the n in <button> bvtun, and the r in <fire> fier, and the l in <sail> sael. Their spellings are discussed in the Mentur rules. 

Vowel-v is the sound of the u in <mud> mvd.

Vowel-w is the sound of the oo in <book> bwk.

Vowel-y is unstressed ee; <penny> peny.

Vr is the sound of theur in <burn> bvrn.

Ur is the sound of the er in <letter> letur.

U is spelled for schwa (always unstressed) and unstressed or semi-stressed \v\. <Until> until, <pronunciation> prununseaeshun. This helps identify primary stress as well.

Ee and vowel-v are always stressed. 

Traditional spelling Mentur
It will take some getting used to, to read symbols as phonemes, rather than memorizing complete words but it cuts learning time considerably. Eventually the words will be memorized. If English text is respelled to conform to the alphabetic principle, most traditional spellings will be respelled. This is an unpopular idea to most people, but they are thinking with fear of change, rather than logic. You can see with the sample text given here that present readers can easily read the new text, though there will be a little tripping at first. But this change will enable the approximately 30% or so of adults with reading problems, to enjoy benefits now reserved to those skilled in reading traditional text.  It wil taek svm geting uezd to, to reed simbulz az foenymz, radhur dhan memuriezing kumpleet wvrdz bvt it kvts lvrning tiem kunsidurubly. Iventuuly dhv wvrdz wil be memuriezd. If Ingglish tekst iz ryspeld to kunform to dhe alfubetik prinsupul, moest trudishunul spelingz wil be ryspeld. Dhis iz an unpopyulur iedeu to moest peepul, bvt dhae ar thinking with fir uv chaenj, radhur dhan lojik. Yoo kan see with dhv sampul tekst givun hir dhat prezunt reedurz kan eezuly reed dhv noo tekst, dhoe dher wil be a litul triping at fvrst. Bvt dhis chaenj wil enaebul dhe uproksumutly 30% or so uv udvlts with reeding problumz, to enjoi  benufits nou rizvrvd to dhoez skild in reeding trudishunul tekst.

 While Mentur text looks like it may have a lot of problems, rules remove almost all ambiguities. You can see by this small sample that TS and Mentur have nearly the same text length. It will vary some, depending on the text. 

The alphabetic principle is difficult to follow in English because we don’t have enough letters in our alphabet to cover the forty-plus “sounds” we use. But there are ways to make up the difference. Sometimes rules can allow a symbol to represent more than one pronunciation. Like the present use of y for both consonant and vowel, and the use of a by itself, to represent two sounds, depending on environment. And the spelling of “schwa” which represents several unstressed, obscure pronunciations, like the; a in alone, the e in silent, the i in cabin, etc. Mentur: uloen, sielunt, kabun. Digraphs (two letters put together) can represent specific phonemes. Like; the ie in <pie> could be used universally for this sound.

When schwa is always spelled with the same symbol, it provides a considerable amount of stress identification, as well as more accurate pronunciation, but TS spells it many different ways; alone, silent, bottom, circus, mountain, famous, acetylene, etc. 

In Mentur, v, w and y, are both vowel and consonant. We are used to y, but v and w will raise some eyebrows. Sometimes, ww and yy, occur. It’s a bit jarring to the sensibilities at first. –ww, and yy, are always pronounced just one way, vv will always be a doubled consonant to mark a u as the same as stressed \v\. <Govern> guvvurn. 

These features are expected to raise the most objection from those newly exposed to Mentur. But they carry their own weight nicely.

In Mentur, present readers will have little difficulty understanding the spellings. With a little instruction, children can quickly read a fairly large vocabulary, compared to that being taught to them at school.

Spelling is still a little harder than reading, because we don’t all speak the same, so the spelling will not always match our speech. That’s something that can’t be avoided. No text made for general use can accurately represent speech. So we have to learn the “spelling accent” as it differs from our speech. Lots of reading will help fix the spelling accent in our minds. This is much easier than the present need to memorize the spelling of every word. The alphabetic principle helps us recognize words we haven’t yet committed to memory, thereby allowing us to read text that matches our speaking and listening vocabulary.

The spelling accent will have to be a little flexible for awhile, until a standard is set, so some variable spellings will have to be tolerated. Prievusy or privusy? Reading comprehension will hardly be affected. Spelling guidelines found with the Mentur rules will reduce the number of variable spellings.

I favor a spelling accent that might belong to a single, imaginary individual, rather than have several “standard” spelling accents to fit better with different regions. This is a sore point with some spelling reformers. But consider; TS caters to no speaking accent; yet we don’t hear a lot of people calling for change on that account. A spelling accent makes the spelling more predictable, and more universal. And less in need of updating.

Spelling reformers, as a group, can’t come to consensus on whether even to promote a new spelling system, or to just push for small changes. I believe small changes will leave us with a hard to learn spelling system. Text in English is not like that in spelling systems that are closely matched with the alphabetic principle. Those can make small changes because they are already relatively easy to learn. English has so many flaws that—in order to make it user-friendly—it has to have a lot of changes. So, we should leave TS alone, but provide a new spelling system for those who wish to use it. In time, expecting the new spelling system to replace the old.

There have been many arguments against promoting a new spelling system. They have all been adequately answered, but they keep coming up. I will not be going into them here. 

You can find samples of other spelling system proposals on the Internet. While I am convinced you will find none better than Mentur, I invite you to check them out. See the Links category on this site.

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About Paul Stought

This blog will only be about spelling reform and Mentur. I am a retired machinist. I have been studying spelling reform since about 2000. I decided Mentur is what I would like to see as a user-friendly spelling system for English. Spelling reformers in general have widely differing views on the subject.
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