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Debate: Phonetic failings

Updated Monday 4th April 2005

Forum guest Richard Stephen suggested a way of improving access to the English language

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In my opinion, the main problem of English is that it is not a phonetic language.

I would not have written this letter, if I had not been struck by the following text, from one of the leading persons in Entrepreneurship, Prof. Peter F. Drucker:

"Everyone agrees that non-phonetic spelling is a major obstacle to learning a language, forces schools to devote inordinate time to the reading skill, and is responsible for a disproportionate number of reading disabilities and emotional traumas among children (I would like to add adults too). The knowledge of phonetics is a century old at least. Means to achieve phonetic spelling are available in the two languages where the problem is most acute: any number of phonetic alphabets for English, and the much older, forty-eight-syllable Kana scripts in Japanese. For both countries there are examples next door of successful shift to phonetic script. The English have the successful model of German spelling reform of the mid-nineteenth century; the Japanese, the equally successful phonetic reform of the Korean script." (Drucker, P.F., Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and principles, Butterworth Heinemann, Oxford, 2001, page 117).

There is no doubt that English presents many advantages in comparison with other languages. For example, the future and past tenses are much simpler than those of my mother tongue Portuguese, or the similar ones in French or Spanish. There are not the terrible declinations of German. The second person is ‘you’, without the subtle ways of approaching found in Japanese or German. It is already the third most spoken language, behind Chinese Mandarin and Hindi, just due to the large population of China and India. Why not then start an entrepreneurial effort to make English also phonetic?


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