Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Benjamin Franklin and spelling

Another Mencken footnote, on Benjamin Franklin’s spelling reforms:

The Scheme is reprinted in Franklin’s Words , edited by John Bigelow; New York, 1887-8; Vol IV, p. 198 ff . The six new characters were a modified a for the long a in ball , an h upside down for the u in unto , a combination of long s and i for the sh in wish , a y with a curled tail for ng , an h with a curled tail for the h in wish , and a somewhat similar h , but with a wavy appendage at the top, for the th of thy . Franklin expunged c , w , y and j from the alphabet as unnecessary. He proposed that the vowels be differentiated by using one letter for the short ones and two for the long ones. He made a trial of his new alphabet in a letter to Miss Stephenson of London, apparently a bluestocking of the time. She replied on September 26, 1768, saying that she could si meni inkanviiniensis in it. He defended it in a letter from Kreven striit , London, Sept. 28.

H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States , 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936).
For more on Franklin’s reforms: “Benjamin Franklin’s Phonetic Alphabet” (Smithsonian).

Also from The American Language
The American a : The American v. the Englishman : “Are you a speed-cop? : B.V.D. : English American English : Franco-American : “[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty” : On professor : Playing policy : “There are words enough already” : The -thon , dancing and walking Through -thing and -thin’ : The verb to contact

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