Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
to get started!
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Crime does not pay ... as well as politics."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    A Simplified Alphabet

    by Mark Twain
    • Rate it:
    • 1 Favorite on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode
    (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

    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. [Figure 1] 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. 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

    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

    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. [Figure 3]

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

    To write "fonografic alfabet," the pen has to make fifty strokes.
    To the penman, the saving in labor is insignificant.

    To write that word (with vowels) with the phonographic
    alphabet, the pen has to make only SEVENTEEN strokes.

    Without the vowels, only THIRTEEN strokes. [Figure 4] The
    vowels are hardly necessary, this time.

    We make five pen-strokes in writing an m. Thus: [Figure 5]
    a stroke down; a stroke up; a second stroke down; a second stroke
    up; a final stroke down. Total, five. The phonographic alphabet
    accomplishes the m with a single stroke--a curve, like a
    parenthesis that has come home drunk and has fallen face down
    right at the front door where everybody that goes along will see
    him and say, Alas!

    When our written m is not the end of a word, but is
    otherwise located, it has to be connected with the next letter,
    and that requires another pen-stroke, making six in all, before
    you get rid of that m. But never mind about the connecting
    strokes--let them go. Without counting them, the twenty-six
    letters of our alphabet consumed about eighty pen-strokes for
    their construction--about three pen-strokes per letter.

    It is THREE TIMES THE NUMBER required by the phonographic
    alphabet. It requires but ONE stroke for each letter.

    My writing-gait is--well, I don't know what it is, but I
    will time myself and see. Result: it is twenty-four words per
    minute. I don't mean composing; I mean COPYING. There isn't any
    definite composing-gait.

    Very well, my copying-gait is 1,440 words per hour--say
    1,500. If I could use the phonographic character with facility I
    could do the 1,500 in twenty minutes. I could do nine hours'
    copying in three hours; I could do three years' copying in one
    year. Also, if I had a typewriting machine with the phonographic
    alphabet on it--oh, the miracles I could do!

    I am not pretending to write that character well. I have
    never had a lesson, and I am copying the letters from the book.
    But I can accomplish my desire, at any rate, which is, to make
    the reader get a good and clear idea of the advantage it would be
    to us if we could discard our present alphabet and put this
    better one in its place--using it in books, newspapers, with the
    typewriter, and with the pen.

    [Figure 6]--MAN DOG HORSE. I think it is graceful and
    would look comely in print. And consider--once more, I beg--what
    a labor-saver it is! Ten pen-strokes with the one system to
    convey those three words above, and thirty-three by the other!
    [Figure 6] I mean, in SOME ways, not in all. I suppose I might
    go so far as to say in most ways, and be within the facts, but
    never mind; let it go at SOME. One of the ways in which it
    exercises this birthright is--as I think--continuing to use our
    laughable alphabet these seventy-three years while there was a
    rational one at hand, to be had for the taking.

    It has taken five hundred years to simplify some of
    Chaucer's rotten spelling--if I may be allowed to use to frank a
    term as that--and it will take five hundred years more to get our
    exasperating new Simplified Corruptions accepted and running
    smoothly. And we sha'n't be any better off then than we are now;
    for in that day we shall still have the privilege the Simplifiers
    are exercising now: ANYBODY can change the spelling that wants

    ANY WAY. It will always follow the SOUND. If you want to change
    the spelling, you have to change the sound first.

    Mind, I myself am a Simplified Speller; I belong to that
    unhappy guild that is patiently and hopefully trying to reform
    our drunken old alphabet by reducing his whiskey. Well, it will
    improve him. When they get through and have reformed him all
    they can by their system he will be only HALF drunk. Above that
    condition their system can never lift him. There is no
    competent, and lasting, and real reform for him but to take away
    his whiskey entirely, and fill up his jug with Pitman's wholesome
    and undiseased alphabet.

    One great drawback to Simplified Spelling is, that in print
    a simplified word looks so like the very nation! and when you
    bunch a whole squadron of the Simplified together the spectacle
    is very nearly unendurable.

    The da ma ov koars kum when the publik ma be expektd to get
    rekonsyled to the bezair asspekt of the Simplified Kombynashuns,
    but--if I may be allowed the expression--is it worth the wasted
    time? [Figure 7]

    To see our letters put together in ways to which we are not accustomed
    offends the eye, and also takes the EXPRESSION out of the words.

    La on, Makduf, and damd be he hoo furst krys hold, enuf!

    It doesn't thrill you as it used to do. The simplifications
    have sucked the thrill all out of it.

    But a written character with which we are NOT ACQUAINTED
    does not offend us--Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, and the
    others--they have an interesting look, and we see beauty in them,
    too. And this is true of hieroglyphics, as well. There is
    something pleasant and engaging about the mathematical signs when
    we do not understand them. The mystery hidden in these things
    has a fascination for us: we can't come across a printed page of
    shorthand without being impressed by it and wishing we could read

    Very well, what I am offering for acceptance and adopting is
    not shorthand, but longhand, written with the SHORTHAND ALPHABET
    UNREACHED. You can write three times as many words in a minute
    with it as you can write with our alphabet. And so, in a way, it
    IS properly a shorthand. It has a pleasant look, too; a
    beguiling look, an inviting look. I will write something in it,
    in my rude and untaught way: [Figure 8]

    Even when _I_ do it it comes out prettier than it does in
    Simplified Spelling. Yes, and in the Simplified it costs one
    hundred and twenty-three pen-strokes to write it, whereas in the
    phonographic it costs only twenty-nine.

    [Figure 9] is probably [Figure 10].

    Let us hope so, anyway.
    If you're writing a A Simplified Alphabet essay and need some advice, post your Mark Twain essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?