Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Truespel vs IPA part I

An ambitious gentleman named Tom Zurinksas has formulated and proposed a form of phonetic notation that he believes will better serve English phonetics than will the IPA. He describes his system over at tuespel.com, also providing a table full of examples of his transcriptions.

On the American Dialect Society LISTSERV forum he has provided a snippet of his manifesto sales-pitch. Here I share a few notable quotes.

English is the lingua franca of the world....Because English is the most important language, phonetic notation should be based on English. It should use regular letters so that it's easy to write. That's the big impetus behind truespel notation.

He doesn't say what body of phonetic notation should be done with "truespel." By calling English "the most important language" I must assume that he is ranking this phonetic system against systems that favor other languages. I can't think of any standard phonetic notation system that isn't heavily based on conventional English characters. But I'm not really sure if he means that "truespel" is valuable because it's based on the orthography of English or just the characters. Either way he is mounting an attack on the Internation Phonetic Alphabet for some odd reason that makes sense to him. Apparently he doesn't like using character maps.

But there's a bigger reason; our kids. They are not exposed to phonetic reading and writing because of unusable phonetic notation in our dictionaries.

Oh is that why? I thought we kept phonetics from them because... wait... My nieces and nephew are learning phonics. Isn't that a system that attempts to show the relationships between spelling and pronunciation? And just how unusable is the phonetic notation in dictionaries? There are several systems yes. Confusing? Sometimes. I remember my 5th grade teacher who thought the pronunciation gloss of John Muir's name (MYOOR) meant it was pronounced like flier and buyer. I do wish dictionaries would provide a pronunciation key or som- (...What's that? ...which ones?...really?...)
Never mind.

So I'm not grasping Mr Zurinskas' reason for this new standard he has organized. To his demand that the system base itself more on English (he apparently wants to favour American English) I suggest that is a short-sighted goal given the importance of a system that can be applied to all languages. I suggest also that IPA is already quite close to English orthography. The simple transcription for "bed" is [bɛd]; "forever" is [forɛvər] or the indecipherable [fərɛvər]. Not quite "unusable."


All quotes and examples are taken from either American Dialect Society LISTSERV postings or the truespel.com website.


  1. I just want you to know that I enjoy saying "like a banshee" way too much now. You have great influence (even if its unintentional).

    "I need to fill up the car like a banshee before we go."

    "Should we rent Duma like a banshee from Netflix?"

    "The other day I was eating lunch like a banshee when the phone rang."

    Oh, the joy!

  2. wow...that's a very interesting post...does this guy really think that people are going to want to switch to his system? That sounds a lot like saying people in the US are going to want to switch to the metric system...

    Obviously this guy doesn't have kids, or his kids have horrid teachers who don't use phonics!

    This guy sounds a little crazy...


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