Introducing Cut Spelling

written English simplified by cutting redundant letters

Contact: Christopher Upward
61 Valentine Road, Birmingham, B14 7AJ, UK
tel.+44(0)121 689 2597, e-mail

The English spelling problem

English spelling is notoriously difficult. It is an antiquated, unpredictable system not designed for universal literacy. We all suffer from its irregularity: it takes much longer to learn than more regular systems; it inhibits free expression; it causes mispronunciation; it is handled erratically by most people, with even skilled writers prone to uncertainty and error; and it depresses educational standards (millions are functionally illiterate). Many languages with more regular spellings have modernized their writing in the past century, and several English-speaking countries modernized their currency and/or weights & measures in the 1970s. Our spelling can and should now be modernized too.

Old and new to be recognizably similar

An ideal spelling system matches letters to speech-sounds. The sounds of words then tell us how to spell them, and the spelling tells us how they sound. English is so far from that ideal that we would need a totally new spelling system to make a perfect match. Even if such a drastic change were agreed, it would so disrupt the continuity of literacy, and the necessary worldwide re-education would be so costly, that it would be impracticable. As other languages show, new spellings must be close enough to the old for people educated in the one to read the other easily.

Redundant letters the key

Isolated reforms (eg, abolishing GH) may therefore seem the only feasible approach, but their effect on the all-pervading irregularity of English spelling would be marginal. So does that mean it is impossible to improve the spelling of English significantly, without excessive disruption? An answer came in the 1970s, when Australian psychologist Valerie Yule noted the many redundant letters in English. In the next decade those letters were classified, and the effect of removing them studied. The result was the Cut Spelling (CS) system which regularizes swathes of inconsistencies in written English that confuse learners, readers and writers everywhere, regardless of accent. In 1992 the Simplified Spelling Society published a comprehensive Handbook to CS (2nd edition 1996). Interested readers around the world have since come to know CS, and a number of writers have become proficient in using it. Its principles are widely acknowledged as offering a promising new approach to the English spelling problem that is flexible enough to be adapted to public demand.

Efect of CS on readrs

Th foloing paragrafs sho CS in action. We first notice it is not hard to read, even without noing its rules, and with practis we read it as esily as traditionl spelng. Most words ar unchanjed (over 3/4 in th previus sentnce), and we hav th impression not of a totaly new riting systm, but of norml script with letrs misng here and ther. Th basic shape of most words, by wich we recognize them, is not fundmently altrd, and nearly al those that ar mor substantialy chanjed ar quikly decoded; very few ar truly puzlng. This means that, if al printd matr sudnly apeard in CS tomoro, peples readng ability wud not be seriusly afectd. Foren lernrs in particulr ar helpd by th clearr indication of pronunciation, as wen pairs like lo/cow, danjer/angr, undrmine/determn cese to look like ryms. With groing familiarity, users apreciate CS as a streamlined but mor acurat represntation of spoken english. Its novlty lies in th disapearnce of much of th arbitry clutr that makes ritn english so confusing and causes most of th mistakes peple now make.

Lernng CS

How CS is lernt depends on th lernr. Those first aquiring litracy skils can lern by norml fonic methods, wich ar mor efectiv in CS thanks to its improved regularity (eg, hav, wer, litl, nyt, scool, frend). Litrat lernrs, by contrast, mastr CS by practisng deletion of redundnt letrs from traditionl spelng. They may first try riting CS by foloing th Beginrs Gide overleaf, wich outlines th 3 cutng rules and 3 substitution rules, or they may teach themselvs systmaticly thru th exrcises in th Handbook. It soon becoms aparent that CS not only removes many of th old perversitis like th unhistoricl GH in hauty, but it also smooths away countless iritating variations like th unpredictbl vowl letrs befor final R in burglr, teachr, doctr, glamr, murmr, injr, martr, etc. Th difrnces between british and americn spelng evaprate. For lernrs from a numbr of othr languajs CS has th furthr atraction of removing discrepncis between english and ther mothr tong (eg, singl consnnts in CS acomodation as in spanish acomodación). Once mastrd, CS is ritn mor fluently and acuratly than traditionl spelng, as inumerabl uncertntis and traps that previusly causd hesitation and mispelng hav been elimnated (eg, receive/relieve becom receve/releve). From 1997 it has also been posbl to produce text in CS without lernng th rules at al (se last paragraf).

Econmy of efrt, time, space, mony

CS not only asists readng and riting skils, but also speeds up th production of text. Th loss of redundnt letrs shortns riting by around 10%, and so saves time and efrt for evryone engajed in creating ritn text, wethr scoolchildren, novlists, printrs, jurnlists, secretris, advrtisers, grafic desynrs, editrs, or anyone else. Th gretr regularity of CS means less time spent lernng to read and rite, and less need for chekng and corectng. In education th time saved can be spent on mor useful lernng, wile in th workplace it increses productivity. Th reduced space ocupyd by CS has typograficl advantajs: public syns and notices can be smalr, or ritn larjr; mor words can be fitd on video or computer screens; fewr abreviations ar necesry; and fewr words hav to be hyfnated at line-ends. Ther ar also material econmis: with 10% space-saving, books and newspapers use less paper (or else th same pajes can carry mor text), and less storaj and transport ar required. Not least, th environmnt benefits from loer consumtion of raw materials and enrjy, and from reduced waste. Al these gains also save mony.

CS a flexbl concept

Som peple fear spelng reform wud mean spelng caos (as if english spelng wer not alredy caotic). Th flexbility of th CS concept minmizes that danjer. CS is not a rijid systm, but a synpost pointng to th omission of redundnt letrs as th most practicl and advntajus way of modrnizing english spelng. Th CS Handbook ofrs a coherent systm, as seen here, but difrnt users (ranjing from individul riters and orgnizations to entire cuntris) cud adopt CS to varying degrees. Probbly only a few of todays litrat adlts wud chanje ther riting, tho in ther readng they wud becom acustmd to many simplr forms. Of those that do chanje, som may rite commitee (many alredy do, tho it now counts as rong), wile othrs prefer ful CS comitee: th two forms can co-exist, just as judgement/judgment and othr alternativ 'cut' spelngs co-exist today. In th long run th lojic and econmy of ful CS cud be expectd to prevail. Those responsbl for deciding standrd spelngs in education, publishng, dictionris, etc, can decide th balance between cutng and keepng redundnt letrs that best suits ther needs. Worldwide co-ordnation wud be desirebl, but a comn urj for simplification by shedng redundnt letrs wud work against any fragmntation of ritn english as a medium of world comunication.

Autmatic spelng convertr

Ful mastry of CS may take mor time, concentration and practis than many peple can giv to th task, yet they may stil wish to produce text in CS (eg, to print a weekly CS colum in newspapers). They can now do so, thanks to enjneer Alan Mole (Colorado, USA), aidd by Bernard Sypniewski (New Jersey, USA) and John Bryant (Cambridge, UK), ho hav created th BTRSPL program. In conjunction with th 40,000-word CUTSPL dictionry, this rapidly (at about 100 pajes per minut) converts text from traditionl orthografy to CS. Availbl fre of charj from th Intrnet, BTRSPL/CUTSPL curently suits PCs (incl. WINDOWS), but not yet th Macintosh. Th program is stil in its infncy, and furthr developmnts ar pland, for instnce to enable users to adapt th dictionry to ther own needs, adng new words or altrng those alredy listd, and so bild up a persnlized CS riting tool. For details and to download th program, visit:



"CUT SPELLING: a Handbook to the simplification of written English by omission of redundant letters"
prepared by Christopher Upward
2nd (revised and expanded) edition, 1996,
Birmingham, UK: Simplified Spelling Society, 340+viiipp, ISBN 0 9506391 3 3
Price 10/US$20 + airmail outside Europe 3/US$6.
From: 61 Valentine Road, Birmingham, B14 7AJ, UK.


For information on the automatic Cut Spelling converter program, see last paragraph overleaf. For more details, and to download the program free of charge, visit:
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