George Bernard Shaw's Essay on Spelling and the English Language
A Note on the Text From Professor Rodgers: The following text is an excerpt from Shaw's preface to R.A. Wilson's 1941 book. For the complete text of the preface, including graphics, see the following Web site: http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/vangogh/555/Spell/shaw-pref2.html. Please note that this excerpt is taken from a Web site that published the excerpt informally, meaning without any professional editorial supervision, there may be typos and other types of writing errors contained in it.
George Bernard Shaw
Professor Wilson has shewn that it was as a reading and writing animal that Man achieved his human eminence above those who are called beasts. Well, it is I and-my like who have to do the writing. I have done it professionally for the last sixty years as well as it can be done with a hopelessly inadequate alphabet devised centuries before the English language existed to record another and very different language, Even this alphabet is reduced to absurdity by a foolish orthography based on the notion that the business of spelling is to represent the origin and history of a word instead of its sound and meaning.
Thus an intelligent child who is bidden to spell debt, and very properly spells it d-e-t, is caned for not spelling it with a b because Julius Caesar spelt the Latin word for it with a b. Now I, being not only a scribe but a dramatic poet and therefore a word musician, cannot write down my word music for lack of an adequate notation. Composers of music have such a notation. Handel could mark his movements as maestoso, Beethoven as mesto, Elgar as nobilemente, Strauss, as etwas ruhiger, aber trotzdem schwungvoll und enthusiastich. By writing the words adagio or prestissimo they can make it impossible for a conductor to mistake a hymn for a hornpipe. They can write ritardando, accellerando and tempo over this or that passage. But I may have my best scenes ridiculously ruined in performance for want of such indications. A few nights ago I heard a broadcast recital of The Merchant of Venice in which Portia rattled through "How all the other passions fleet to air!" exactly as if she were still chatting with Nerissa and had been told by the producer to get through quickly, as the news had to come on at nine o'clock sharp. If that high spot in her part had been part of an opera composed by Richard Strauss a glance at the score would have saved her from throwing away her finest lines.
(p. 24) These particular instances seem impertinent to Professor Wilson's thesis; but I cite them to shew why, as a technician, I am specially concerned with the fixation of language by the art of writing, and hampered by the imperfections of that art. The Professor's conspectus of the enormous philosophical scope of the subject could not condescend to my petty everyday workshop grievances; but I may as well seize the opportunity to ventilate them, as they concern civilization to an extent which no layman can grasp. So let me without further preamble come down to certain prosaic technical facts of which I have to complain bitterly, and which have never as far as I know been presented in anything like their statistical magnitude and importance.
During the last 6o years I have had to provide for publication many millions of words, involving for me the manual labor of writing, and for the printer the setting up in type, of tens of millions of letters, largely superfluous. To save my own time I have resorted to shorthand, in which the words are spelt phonetically, and the definite and indefinite articles, with all the prepositions, conjunctions and interjections, as well as the auxiliary verbs, are not spelt at all, but indicated by dots and ticks, circles or segments of circles, single strokes of the pen and the like. Commercial correspondence is not always written: it is often spoken into Dictaphones which cost more than most private people can afford. But whether it is dicta-phoned or written in shorthand it has to be transcribed in ordinary spelling on typewriters, and, if for publication, set up from the typed copy on a printing machine operated by a stroke of the hand for every letter.
(p. 25) When we consider the prodigious total of manual labor on literature, journalism, and commercial correspondence that has to be done every day (a full copy of the London Times when we are at peace and not short of paper may contain a million words) the case for reducing this labor to the lowest possible figure is, for printers and authors, overwhelming, though for lay writers, most of whom write only an occasional private letter, it is negligible. Writers' cramp is a common complaint among authors: it does not trouble blacksmiths. In what directions can this labor be saved? Two are obvious to anyone interested enough to give half hour's thought to the subject.
• 1. Discard useless grammar. 2. Spell phonetically.
(p. 26) Ebonics Useless grammar is a devastating plague. We who speak English have got rid of a good deal of the grammatic inflections that make Latin and its modern dialects so troublesome to learn. But we still say I am, thou art, he is, with the plurals we are, you are, they are, though our country folk, before school teachers perverted their natural wisdom, said I be, thou be, he be, we be, you be, they be. This saved time in writing and was perfectly intelligible in speech. Chinese traders, Negroes, and aboriginal Australians, who have to learn English as a foreign language, simplify it much further, and have thereby established what they call business English, or, as they pronounce it, Pidgin. The Chinese, accustomed to an uninflected monosyllabic language, do not say "I regret that I shall be unable to comply with your request." "Sorry no can" is quite as effective, and saves the time of both parties. When certain Negro slaves in America were oppressed by a lady planter who was very pious and very' severe, their remonstrance, if expressed in grammatic English, would have been "If we are to be preached at let us not be flogged also: if we are to be flogged let us not be preached at also." This is correct and elegant but wretchedly feeble. It says in twenty-six words what can be better said in eleven. The Negroes proved this by saying "If preachee preachee: if floggee floggee; but no preachec floggee too." They saved fifteen words of useless grammar, and said what they had to say far more expressively. The economy in words: that is, in time, ink and paper, is enormous. If during my long professional career every thousand words I have written could have been reduced to less than half that number, my working lifetime would have been doubled. Add to this the saving of all the other authors, the scribes, the printers, the paper millers, and the makers of the machines they wear out; and the figures become astronomical. However, the discarding of verbal inflections to indicate moods, tenses, subjunctives, and accusatives, multiplies words instead of saving them, because their places have to be taken by auxiliaries in such a statement as "By that time I shall have left England." The four words "I shall have left" can be expressed in more infected languages by a single word. But the multiplication of words in this way greatly facilitates the acquisition of the language by foreigners. In fact, nearly all foreigners who are not professional interpreters or diplomatists, however laboriously they may have learnt classical English in school, soon find when they settle in England that academic correctness is quite unnecessary, and that "broken English," which is a sort of home made pidgin, is quite sufficient for intelligible speech. Instead of laughing at them and mimicking them derisively we should learn from them.
(p. 28) In acquiring a foreign language a great deal of trouble is caused by the irregular verbs. But why learn them? It is easy to regularize them. A child's "I thinked" instead of "I thought" is perfectly intelligible. When anybody says "who" instead of "whom" nobody is the least puzzled. But here we come up against another consideration. "Whom" may be a survival which is already half discarded: but nothing will ever induce an archbishop to say at the lectern "Who hath believed our report? and to who is the arm of the Lord revealed?"
(p. 28) But it is not for the sake of grammar that the superfluous m is retained. To pronounce a vowel we have to make what teachers of singing call a stroke of the glottis. The Germans, with their characteristic thoroughness, do this most conscientiously: they actually seem to like doing it; but the English, who are lazy speakers, grudge doing it once, and flatly refuse to do it twice in succession. The Archbishop says "To whom is" instead of "to who is" for the same reason 'as the man in the street, instead of saying Maria Ann, says Maria ran. The double coup de glotte is too troublesome. No Englishman, clerical or lay, will say "An ass met an obstacle." He says "A nass met a nob-stacle." A Frenchman drops the final t in "s'il vous plait," but pronounces it in "plalt-il ?" Euphony and ease of utterance call for such interpolations. I can give no reason for the Cockney disuse of final l. Shakespear, accustomed to be called Bill by Anne Hathaway, must have been surprised when he came to London to hear himself called Beeyaw, just as I was surprised when I came to London from Ireland to hear milk called meeyock. Final r does not exist in southern English speech except when it avoids a coup de glotte. In that case it is even interpolated, as in "the idear of." French, as written and printed, is plastered all over with letters that are never sounded, though they waste much labor when they are written. The waste of time in spelling imaginary sounds and their history (or etymology as it is called) is monstrous in English and French; and so much has been written on the subject that it is quite stale, because the writers have dwelt only on the anomalies of our orthography, which are merely funny, and on the botheration of children by them.
Nothing has been said of the colossal waste of time and material, though this alone is gigantic enough to bring about a reform so costly, so unpopular, and requiring so much mental effort as the introduction of a new alphabet and a new orthography. It is true that once the magnitude of the commercial saving is grasped the cost shrinks into insignificance; but it has not been grasped because it has never yet been stated in figures, perhaps because they are incalculable, perhaps because if they were fully calculated, the statisticians might be compelled to make the unit a billion or so, just as the astronomers have been compelled to make their unit of distance a light year.
(p. 30) In any case the waste does not come home to the layman. For example, take the two words *tough and *cough. He may not have to write them for years, if al all. Anyhow he now has tough and cough so thoroughly fixed in his head and everybody else's that he would be set down as illiterate if he wrote tuf and cof consequently a reform would mean for him simply a lot of trouble not worth taking. Consequently the layman, always in a huge majority, will fight spelling reform tooth and nail. As he cannot be convinced, his opposition must be steam-rollered by the overworked writers and printers who feel the urgency of the reform. Though I am an author, I also am left cold by *tough and *cough; for I, too, seldom write them. But take the words *though and *should and *enough: containing eighteen letters. Heaven knows how many hundred thousand times I have had to write these constantly recurring words.
Figure 1. Spell: though (with 2 letters) should (with 3 letters) enough (with 4 letters) Shaw
Unigraf spellings xO Scd Enuf So
xo' 5u•d inuf 5o
Figure 1. 9 letters instead of 18, a 100% savings
Unigraf converts the upper case letters into new sound signs S=sh, E=ee, O=oa
The C is redefined as a lazy U providing the symbols for /u/ as in hck (hook) and /u:/. U=/yu/ x=/dh/
With a new English alphabet replacing the old Semitic one with its added Latin vowels I should be able to spell t-h-o-u-g-h with two letters, s-h-o-u-l-d with three, and e-n-o-u-g-h with four: nine letters instead of eighteen: a saving of a hundred per cent of my time and my typist's time and the printer's time, to say nothing of the saving in paper and wear and tear of machinery. As I have said, I save my own time by shorthand; but as it all has to go into longhand before it can be printed, and I cannot use shorthand for my holograph epistles, shorthand is no remedy. I also have the personal grievance, shared by all my namesakes, of having to spell my own name with four letters instead of the two a Russian uses to spell it with his alphabet of 35 letters. (See Fig. 1)
All round me I hear the corruption of our language produced by the absurd device of spelling the first sound in my name with the two letters sh. London is surrounded by populous suburbs which began as homes or "hams" and grew to be hamlets or groups of hams. One of them is still called Peter's Ham, another Lewis Ham. But as these names are now spelt as one word this lack of a letter in our alphabet for the final sound in wish, and our very misleading use of *sh to supply the deficiency, has set everyone calling them Peter Sham and Louis Sham. Further off, in Surrey, there is a place named Cars Halton. Now it is called Car Shallton. Horse Ham is called Hor-shm. Colt Hurst, which is good English, is called Coal Thirst, which is nonsense. For want of a letter to indicate the final sound in Smith we have Elt Ham called El Tham. We have no letter for the first and last consonant in church, and are driven to the absurd expedient of representing it by ch. Someday we shall have Chichester called Chick Hester. A town formerly known as Sisseter is so insanely mis-spelt that it is now called Siren.
But the lack of consonants is a trifle beside our lack of vowels. The Latin alphabet gives us five, whereas the least we can write phonetically with is eighteen. I do not mean that there are only eighteen vowels in daily use: eighteen hundred would be nearer the truth. When I was chairman of the Spoken English Committee of the British Broadcasting Corporation it was easy enough to get a unanimous decision that exemplary and applicable should be pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, though the announcers keep on putting the stress on the second all the same; but when the announcers asked us how they should pronounce cross or launch there were as many different pronunciations of the vowels as there were members present. I secured a decision in favor of my own pronunciation of launch by the happy accident that it was adopted by King George the Fifth when christening a new liner on the Clyde. But the members were perfectly intelligible to one another in spite of their ringing all the possible changes between crawz and cross, between lanch and lawnch. To get such common words as son and science phonetically defined was hopeless. In what is called the Oxford accent son and sun became san; sawed and sword are pronounced alike; and my native city becomes Dab-blin. In Dublin itself I have heard it called Dawblin. 'The Oxford pronunciation of science is sah-yence: the Irish pronunciation is shi-yence. Shakespear pronounced wind as wined; and as late as .the end of the eighteenth century an attempt to correct an actor who pronounced it in this way provoked the retort "! cannot finned it in my mirreed to call it winned." Rosalind is on the stage ridiculously pronounced Rozzalinned though Shakespear called her Roh- za-lined, rhyming it to "If a cat will after -kind." Kind, by the way, should logically be pronounced kinned. The word trist is again so far out of use that nobody knows how to pronounce it. It should rhyme to triced, but is mostly supposed to rhyme to kissed. The first vowel in Christ and Christendom has two widely different sounds, sometimes absurdly described as long i and short i; but both are spelt alike.
(p. 33) I could fill pages with instances; but my present point is not to make lists of anomalies, but to shew that. (a) the English language cannot be spelt with five Latin vowels, and (b) that though the vowels used by English people are as various as their faces yet they understand one another's speech well enough for all practical purposes, just as whilst Smith's face differs from Jones's so much that the one could not possibly be mistaken for the other yet they are so alike that they are instantly recognizable as man and man, not as cat and dog. In the same way it is found that though the number of different vowel sounds we utter is practically infinite yet a vowel alphabet of eighteen letters can indicate a speech sufficiently unisonal to be understood generally, and to preserve the language from the continual change which goes on at present because the written word teaches nothing as to the pronunciation, and frequently belies it. Absurd pseudo-etymological spellings are taken to be phonetic, very. soon in the case of words that are seldom heard, more slowly when constant usage keeps tradition alive, but none the less surely. When the masses learn to read tay becomes tee and obleezh becomes oblydge at the suggestion of the printed word in spite of usage. A workman who teaches himself to read pronounces semi- as see my. I myself, brought up to imitate the French pronunciation of envelope, am now trying to say enn-velope like everybody else. Sometimes the change is an aesthetic improvement. My grandfather swore "be the varchoo" of his oath: I prefer vert-yoo. Edge-i-cate is less refined than ed-you-cate. The late Helen Taylor, John Stuart Mill's stepdaughter, who as a public speaker always said Russ-ya and Pruss-ya instead of Rusher and Prussher, left her hearers awestruck. The indefinite article,[a], a neutral sound sometimes called the obscure vowel, and the commonest sound in our language though we cannot print it except by turning an e upside down, was always pronounced by Mrs. Annie tiesant, perhaps the greatest British oratress of her time, as if it rhymed with pay. In short, we are all over the shop with our vowels because we cannot spell them with our alphabet. Like Scott, Dickens, Artemus Ward and other writers of dialect I have made desperate efforts to represent local and class dialects by the twenty-six letters of the Latin alphabet, but found it impossible and had to give it up. A well-known actor, when studying one of my cockney parts, had to copy it in ordinary spelling before he could learn it.
(p. 35) My concern here, however, is not with pronunciation but with the saving of time wasted. We try to extend our alphabet by writing two letters instead of one; but we make a mess of this device. With reckless inconsistency we write sweat and sweet, and then write whet and wheat, just the contrary. Consistency is not always a virtue; but spelling becomes a will o' the wisp without it. I have never had much difficulty in spelling, because as a child ! read a good deal, and my visual memory was good; but people who do not read much or at all, and whose word memory is aural, cannot spell academically, and are tempted to write illegibly to conceal this quite innocent inability, which they think disgraceful because illiteracy was for centuries a mark of class. But neither speech nor writing can now be depended on as class indexes. Oxford graduates and costermongers alike call the sun the san and a rose a rah-ooz. The classical scholar and Poet Laureate John Dryden said yit and git where we say yet and get: another instance of spelling changing pronunciation instead of simply noting it. The Duke of Wellington dropped the h in humble and hospital, herb and hostler. So did ! in my .youth, though, as we were both Irish, h- dropping as practised in England and France was not native to us. I still say onner and our instead of honour and hour. Everybody does. Probably before long we shall all sing "Be it ever so umbl there's no place like ome," which is easier and prettier than "Be it evvah sah-oo hambl etc."
(p. 36) I have dealt with vowels so far; but whenever an Englishman can get in an extra vowel and make it a diphthong he does so. When he tries to converse in French he cannot say coupd or entrez: he says coopay and ongtray. When he is in the chorus at a performance of one of the great Masses--say Bach's in B minor--he addresses the Almighty as Tay [Awl-mie-tay] instead of making the Latin e a vowel. [Awl-mie-tee] He calls gold gah-oold. I pronounce it goh-oold. Price, a very common word, is sometimes prah-ees, sometimes prawce, sometimes proyce, and sometimes, affectedly, prace. That is why our attempts to express our eighteen vowels with five letters by 'doubling them will not work: we cannot note down the diphthongal pronunciation until we have a separate single letter for every vowel, so that we can stop such mispronunciations as reel and ideel for real and ideal, and write diphthongs as such. The middle sound in beat, spelt with two letters, is a single pure vowel. The middle sound in bite, also spelt with two letters, is a diphthong /ai/. The spelling 1- i- g- h- t is simply insane.
The worst vulgarism in English speech is a habit of prefixing the neutral vowel, which phoneticians usually indicate by e printed upside down, to all the vowels and diphthongs. The woman who asks for "e kapp e te-ee" is at once classed as, at best, lower middle. When I pass an elementary school and hear the children repeating the alphabet in unison, and chanting unrebuked "Ah-yee, Be-yee, Ce-yee, De-yee" I am restrained from going in and shooting the teacher only by the fact that ! do not carry a gun and by my fear of the police. Not that I cannot understand the children when they speak; but their speech is ugly; and euphony is very important. By all means give us an adequate alphabet, and let people spell as they speak without any nonsense about bad or good or right or wrong spelling and speech; but let them remember that if they make ugly or slovenly sounds when they speak they will never be respected. This is so well known that masses of our population are bilingual. They have an official speech as part of their company manners which they do not use at home or in conversation with their equals. Sometimes they had better not. It is extremely irritating to a parent to be spoken to by a child in a superior manner; so wise children drop their school acquirements with their daddies and mummies. All such domestic friction would soon cease if it became impossible for us to learn to read and write without all learning to speak in the same way. And now what, exactly, do ! want done about it? I will be quite precise. I want our type designers, or artist-calligraphers, or whatever they call themselves, to design an alphabet capable of representing the sounds of the following string of nonsense quite unequivocally without using two letters to represent one sound or making the same letter represent different sounds by diacritical marks. The rule is to be One Sound One Letter, with every letter unmistakably different from all the others. Here is the string of nonsense. An alphabet which will spell it under these conditions will spell any English word well enough to begin with. ..
Chang at leisure was superior to Lynch in his rouge, munching a lozenge at the burial in Merrion Square of Hyperion the Alien who valued his billiards so highly. Quick! quick! hear the queer story how father and son one time sat in the house man to man eating bread and telling the tale of the fir on the road to the city by the sea following the coast to its fall full two fathoms deep. There they lived together served by the carrier, whose narrower mind through beer was sore and whose poor boy shivered over the fire all day lingering in a tangle of tactless empty instinct ineptly swallowing quarts of stingo.
372 sounds should require 372 symbols (letters) not 504. 1. Unigraf transcription 2. Chkt Spel transcription
KaG at lEZr woz supErior tu LinK in hiz rUZ, munKiG u loZenZ at Du beriul in merion skwer ov hYperion Du Alien hu valUd hiz bilyards so hYli. kwik kwik hir Du Kwir stori hV fothr and sun wun tYm sat in Du hVs man tu man EtiG bred and teliG Du tAl ov Du fR on Du rOd tu Du siti bY Du SE falON Du kOst tu its fol fcl tu fathMz dEp. Der DA livd tugethr sRvd bY Du keriR, hCz nero mYnd thrC bir woz sor and hCz pCr bQ Sivrd ovr Du fYr ol dA liGRiG in u tangl ov takles empti instinkt ineptli swqlOiG kwqrts of stiGO. Unigraf Speling - one symbol per sound
Chang (Ca3) at lee2r woz supirior tu Linch in hiz ruu2, munching a' lo2en2 at x beria'l in merion skwer of hyperia'n x eilia'n hu valuud hiz bilyardz so hyli. Kwik! kwik! hir x kwir stori hau fothr and sa'n wa'n tym sat in x haus man tu man eeting bred and teling x teil ov x fir on x ro'd tu x siti by x si folo'ing x co'st tu its fol fu.l tu fathomz deep. Ther thei livd tugethr s'rvd by x kari'r, huuz naro'r mynd thru bir woz sor and huuz puur boi shiv'rd ovr x fyr ol dei ling'ring in a' tangl ov tacles empti instinkt swalo'ing kwartz ov stingo' Chkt Speling
Figure 2. Nonsense with 372 sounds: Should require 372 symbols not 504 letters as it does in TO
As well as I can count, this sample of English contains 372 sounds, and as spelt above requires 504 letters to print it, the loss in paper, ink, wear and tear of machinery, compositors' time, machinists' time, and author's time being over ~6 £ (amount did not scan), which could be saved by the use of the alphabet I ask for. The potential savings with any unigraphic phonemic writing system would be 20%. [400 letters instead of 500]. If the new script had narrower letter forms, the savings would be more. I repeat that this figure, which means nothing to the mass of people who, when they write at all, seldom exceed one sheet of notepaper, is conclusive for reform in the case of people who are writing or typing or printing all day. Calligraphers intelligent enough to grasp its importance will, if they have read these pages, rush to their drawing boards to seize the opportunity.
Call for new 42 character non-Roman alphabet for English
(p. 39) The first question that wi11 occur to them is how many letters they will have to design; for it will seem only commonsense to retain the 26 letters of the existing alphabet and invent only the ones in which it is deficient. But that can only serve if every letter in the 26 is given a fixed and invariable sound. The result would be a spelling which would not only lead the first generation of its readers to dismiss the writers as crudely illiterate, but would present unexpected obscenities which no decent person could be induced to write. The new alphabet must be so different from the old that no one could possibly mistake the new spelling for the old. This disposes of all the attempts at "simplified spelling" with the old alphabet. There is nothing for it but to design 24 new consonants and 18 new vowels, making in all a new alphabet of 42 letters, and use it side by side with the present lettering until the better ousts the worse. The artist-calligraphers will see at first only an opportunity for 42 beautiful line drawings to make a printed book as decorative as a panel by Giovanni da Udine, and a handwritten sonnet as delightful visually as one by Michael Angelo, the most perfect of all calligraphers. But that will never do. The first step is to settle the alphabet on purely utilitarian lines and then let the artists make it as handsome as they can. For instance, a straight line, written with a single stroke of the pen, can represent four different consonants by varying its length and position. Put a hook at the top of it, and you have four more consonants. Put a hook at the lower end, and you have four more, and put hooks at both ends and you have another four; so that you have 16 consonants writable by one stroke of the pen.
(Fig. 2. Sweet's Shorthand from M.K.C. MacMahon)
The late Henry Sweet, still our leading authority on British phonetics, begins his alphabet in this way, achieving at one stroke p, t, k, and ch; b, d, g (hard) and j; m, n, ng and the ni in companion; kw, r, Spanish double 1 and the r in superior. He takes our manuscript e and 1 (different lengths of the same sign) and gets f, s, and zh. Turning it backwards he gets v, z, and sh. He takes our c and o, and gets dh and th. A waved stroke gives him I; and thus, borrowing only four letters from our alphabet, he obtains the required 24 consonants, leaving 22 of our letters derelict. For vowels he resorts to long and short curves at two levels, with or without little circles attached before or after, and thus gets the requisite 18 new letters easily. Thus the utilitarian task of inventing new letters has already been done by a first rate authority. The artists have only to discover how to make the strokes and curves pleasing to the eye. At this point, however, the guidance of Henry Sweet must be dropped; for when he had completed his alphabet he proceeded to bedevil it into an instrument for verbatim reporting, which is the art of jotting down, not all the sounds uttered by a public speaker, which is beyond manual dexterity, but enough of them to remind the practiced reporter of the entire words. He writes zah and depends on his memory or on the context to determine whether this means exact or example or examine or exasperate or what not. After seven years' practice Sweet became so expert at this sort of guessing that the specimens he gives in his Manual of Current Shorthand (published by the Clarendon Press) are unreadable by anyone lacking that experience.
(p. 41) This is true of all reporting systems. There are dozens of them in existence; and they are all efficient enough; for the debates of Cromwell's Ironsides and the cross-examinations of St. Joan are on record. Charles Dickens was a competent verbatim reporter before any of the systems now in use were invented. Sweet's contractions and guessings were therefore quite superfluous: what was needed from him was an alphabet with which the English language could be unequivocally spelt at full length, and not a new reporting shorthand. Now Sweet, being a very English Englishman, was extremely quarrelsome. Being moreover the brainiest Oxford don of his time, he was embittered by the contempt with which his subject, to say nothing of himself, was treated by his university, which was and still is full of the medieval notion, valid enough for King Richard Lionheart but madly out of date today, that English is no language for a gentleman, and is tolerable only as a means of communication with the lower classes. His wrath fell on his forerunner Isaac Pitman, whose shorthand he called the Pitfall system. Pitman had anticipated Sweet's strokes; but he made their interpretation depend on their thickness and the direction in which they were written. Thus a horizontal stroke meant k, and a vertical one t. The strokes slanting halfway between meant p and ch. The same strokes thickened gave him g, d, b, and j, with the addition of r for ch written upward instead of downward. Thus he got nine letters from the single stroke, and would have got ten if an upstroke could be thickened, which is not possible as a feat of penmanship. Sweet discarded these distinctions because, as no two people write at the same slant, the stroke shotfid have only one meaning no matter at what slant it is written. Making strokes at different slants is drawing, not writing; and Sweet insisted that writing must be currente calamo: hence he called his script Current Shorthand. Thick and thin he discarded as unpractical for upstrokes and pencil work. His getting rid of these elaborations was an important improvement. The distinctions he substituted were those to which the old printed alphabet has accustomed us. In it the stroke projects sometimes above the line of writing as in the letter 1, sometimes below it as in the letter j, sometimes neither above nor below as h the letter i, sometimes both above and below as h our manuscript p, f and capital j. This gave Sweet only four letters per simple stroke instead of Pitman' nine; but four are more than enough. Also much o the pen work imposed by our alphabet is unnecessary: for instance, 'm and w take twice as long t, write as 1 though they can be indicated quite a briefly; and p and q could be indicated by their projecting strokes alone without attaching an n to the p and an o to the q.
(p. 43) I take it then that the new English alphabet will be based on Sweet, and not on Pitman, though I am writing this preface in Pitman's shorthand and not in Sweet's, having discarded Sweet's reporting contractions as unnecessary for my purpose and puzzling for my transcriber. The designer of the new alphabet will find that Sweet has done all the preliminary. study for him, and solved its utilitarian problems. What remains to be done is to make the stroke and hooks and curves and circles look nice. If very young, the designer may ask me indignantly whether I think of the beauty sought by artists as something to be stuck on to the inventions of the pedant. In this case it is. An architect has to make a house beautiful; but the house, if it is to be lived in, must b, dictated by the needs of its inhabitants and not by the architect's fancies. The great printers, Jensen, Caslon, Morris, did not invent letters: they made the old ones pleasing as well as legible, and made books worth looking at as well as reading. What they did for the old alphabet their successors must do for the new. There is plenty of scope for invention as well as for decoration: for instance, Sweet's alphabet has no capitals nor has Pitman's. Neither has any italics. Since Morris revived printing as a fine art, scores of new types have come into the market. Morris himself designed several.
The superior legibility of lower case forms over all upper case.
(p. 44) The new alphabet, like the old, will not be written as printed: its calligraphers will have to provide us with a new handwriting. Our present one is so un-writable and illegible that I am bothered by official correspondents asking me to write my name "in block letters, please," though a good handwriting is more legible and far prettier than block, in which the letters, being the same height, cannot give every word a characteristic shape peculiar to itself. Shakespeare's signature, though orthographically illegible, is, when once you have learnt it, much more instantaneously recognizable and readable than SHAKESPEARE, which at a little distance might be CHAMBERLAIN or any other word of eleven letters. Other changes and developments in the use of language and the art of writing may follow the introduction of an English alphabet. There is, for instance, the Basic English of the Orthological Institute at 10, King's Parade, Cambridge, by which foreigners can express all their wants in England by learning 8oo English words. It is a thought-out pidgin, and gets rid of much of our grammatical superfluities. The Institute is, as far as I know, the best live organ for all the cognate reforms, as the literary Societies and Academies do nothing but award medals and read historical and critical lectures to one another.
(p. 45) The various schools of shorthand teach new alphabets; but they are wholly preoccupied with verbatim reporting, which is a separate affair. Their triumphs are reckoned in words per minute written at speeds at which no language can be fully written at all. They train correspondence clerks very efficiently; but they should pay more attention to authors and others whose business it is to write, and who cannot carry secretaries or dictaphones about with them everywhere. Such scribes can write at their own pace, and need no reporting contractions, which only waste their time and distract their attention, besides presenting insoluble puzzles to the typist who has to transcribe them. I have long since discarded them. On these terms shorthand is very easy to learn. On reporting terms it takes years' of practice to acquire complete efficiency and then only in cases of exceptional natural aptitude, which varies curiously from individual to individual.
The only danger I can foresee in the establishment of an English alphabet is the danger of civil war. Our present spelling is incapable of indicating the sounds of our words and does not pretend to; but the new spelling would prescribe an official pronunciation. Nobody at present calls a lam a lamb or pronounces /wawk/ and /tawk/ as *walk and *talk. But when the pronunciation can be and is indicated, the disputable points will be small enough for the stupidest person to understand and fight about. And the ferocity with which people fight about words is astonishing. In London there is a street labeled Conduit Street. When the word conduit, like the thing, went out of use, cabmen were told to drive to Cundit Street. They are still so told by elderly gentlemen. When modem electric engineering brought the word into common use the engineers called it con-dew-it. A savage controversy in the columns of The Times ensued. I tried to restore good humor by asking whether, if the London University decided to pay a compliment to our Oriental dominions by calling one of its new streets Pundit Street it would be spelt Pon-duit Street. I had better have said nothing; for I was instantly assailed as a profane wretch trifling with a sacred subject. Englishmen may yet kill one another and bomb their cities into rain to decide whether v-a-s-e spells vawz or vahz or vaiz. Cawtholic or Kahtholic may convulse Ireland when the national question is dead and buried. We shall all agree that h-e-i-g-h-t is an orthographic monstrosity; but when it is abolished and we have to decide whether the official pronunciation shall be hite or hyth, there will probably be a sanguinary class war; for in this case the proletarian custom is more logical than the Oxford one.
(p. 47) Still, we must take that risk. If the introduction of an English alphabet for the English language costs a civil war, or even, as the introduction of summer time did, a world war, I shall not grudge it. The waste of war is negligible in comparison to the daily waste of trying to communicate with one another in English through an alphabet with sixteen letters missing. That must be remedied, come what may.