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A Simplified Alphabet
by [?]

(This article, written during the autumn of 1899, was about the last writing done by Mark Twain on any impersonal subject.)

I have had a kindly feeling, a friendly feeling, a cousinly feeling toward Simplified Spelling, from the beginning of the movement three years ago, but nothing more inflamed than that. It seemed to me to merely propose to substitute one inadequacy for another; a sort of patching and plugging poor old dental relics with cement and gold and porcelain paste; what was really needed was a new set of teeth. That is to say, a new ALPHABET.

The heart of our trouble is with our foolish alphabet. It doesn’t know how to spell, and can’t be taught. In this it is like all other alphabets except one–the phonographic. This is the only competent alphabet in the world. It can spell and correctly pronounce any word in our language.

That admirable alphabet, that brilliant alphabet, that inspired alphabet, can be learned in an hour or two. In a week the student can learn to write it with some little facility, and to read it with considerable ease. I know, for I saw it tried in a public school in Nevada forty-five years ago, and was so impressed by the incident that it has remained in my memory ever since.

I wish we could adopt it in place of our present written (and printed) character. I mean SIMPLY the alphabet; simply the consonants and the vowels–I don’t mean any REDUCTIONS or abbreviations of them, such as the shorthand writer uses in order to get compression and speed. No, I would SPELL EVERY WORD OUT.

I will insert the alphabet here as I find it in Burnz’s PHONIC SHORTHAND. It is arranged on the basis of Isaac Pitman’s PHONOGRAPHY. Isaac Pitman was the originator and father of scientific phonography. It is used throughout the globe. It was a memorable invention. He made it public seventy- three years ago. The firm of Isaac Pitman & Sons, New York, still exists, and they continue the master’s work.

What should we gain?

First of all, we could spell DEFINITELY–and correctly–any word you please, just by the SOUND of it. We can’t do that with our present alphabet. For instance, take a simple, every-day word PHTHISIS. If we tried to spell it by the sound of it, we should make it TYSIS, and be laughed at by every educated person.

Secondly, we should gain in REDUCTION OF LABOR in writing.

Simplified Spelling makes valuable reductions in the case of several hundred words, but the new spelling must be LEARNED. You can’t spell them by the sound; you must get them out of the book.

But even if we knew the simplified form for every word in the language, the phonographic alphabet would still beat the Simplified Speller “hands down” in the important matter of economy of labor.
alphabet of phonic shorthand
I will illustrate:

PRESENT FORM: through, laugh, highland.

SIMPLIFIED FORM: thru, laff, hyland.


To write the word “through,” the pen has to make twenty-one strokes.

To write the word “thru,” then pen has to make twelve strokes– a good saving.

To write that same word with the phonographic alphabet, the pen has to make only THREE strokes.

To write the word “laugh,” the pen has to make FOURTEEN strokes.

To write “laff,” the pen has to make the SAME NUMBER of strokes–no labor is saved to the penman.

To write the same word with the phonographic alphabet, the pen has to make only THREE strokes.

To write the word “highland,” the pen has to make twenty-two strokes.

To write “hyland,” the pen has to make eighteen strokes.

To write that word with the phonographic alphabet, the pen has to make only FIVE strokes.

To write the words “phonographic alphabet,” the pen has to make fifty-three strokes.