Solar Spell Specification

Solar Spell Version: 0.7 (draft)
Last updated: 1 Dec 2022

This is the technical Solar Spell specification. For a lightweight intro go here instead.

Foundational Principles

  1. Spell only the sounds in the word
  2. Spell each unique sound one unique way

Together these principles restore strength and meaning to the alphabet and liberates consistency. Beginning readers can trust that each letter says what it should. This speeds acquisition of literacy and changes the chore of learning to read to the joy of reading and learning. Beginning readers find Solar Spell natural to learn because the visual letter sequence matches the auditory sequence of spoken words they already know. Existing Legacy Spelling readers, as will be the case with any change to spelling, will face negative emotions ranging from annoyance to disdain from their pattern recognizer. [Discuss Foundational Principles]

Secondary Principles

  1. Keep the good roots of Legacy Spelling and retain as much familiarity as possible without violating the Foundational Principles
  2. Regularly update spelling patterns to maintain consistency with spoken language.

Legacy Spelling has good roots that, sadly, have been weakened by centuries of neglect. Solar Spell returns to those roots and strengthens them. No new letters are added and the graphemes retain their root sound. And secondly, spelling can't be set it and forget it because spoken language is alive, organic and evolving. Spelling is the shadow of spoken language and as spoken words change, spelling must adapt with regular updates. [Discuss Secondary Principles]

sounds-chart-full

Remaining Sounds

Breathy /wh/ as heard in what, when and where. This sound, heard in some English accents, lacks enough distinctiveness to warrant its own digraph. Spell these with w. wut, wen, wair.

/o(r)/ sound as heard in for, door, core. This sound maps to ōr and doesn't need its own digraph. Spell these fōr, dōr, kōr.

/u(r)/ sound as heard in first, fern, work, heard. The /u(r)/ sound is identical to the /r/ sound and in Legacy Spelling is spelled 19 different ways. Solar Spell's second foundational principle, "spell each unique sound one unique way" means /u(r)/ is spelled the same as /r/: with an r as in red. This creates vowel-less words such as frst, frn, wrk and hrd. These letter patterns are likely to unsettle a Legacy reader's pattern recognizer.

Schwa is an unstressed vowel sound that is weaker or softer than its stressed counterpart as heard in balloon, problem, bottom. Schwa is functionally identical to short u, so Solar Spell writes these as buloon, problum, botum. In some accents the schwa is heard at the ends of words such as under pronounced as un-duh. Generally, accent-specific spelling shouldn't be favored over consistency. Under should be spelled undr. See the discussion on accents for more. [Discuss Remaining Sounds]

3 New Graphemes

Solar Spell introduces 3 new graphemes (letter combinations that represent a sound) to fill gaps in Legacy Spelling.

  • thh - In Legacy Spelling, th represents two different sounds. Both are formed with the same mouth and tongue position, but one activates the voice box while the other does not. The voiced sound is heard in this and feather, while the unvoiced or whispered sound is heard in thong and moth. This creates learning friction which can be felt by trying to pronounce these words with the opposite sound. In Solar Spell each unique sound is spelled one unique way. th retains the voiced sound while thh is introduced as the unvoiced sound: thhong and mothh.
  • uu - the /oul/ sound as heard in should and put is often spelled with oo as in book, cook, good, wood. This conflicts with the /oo/ sound as heard in moon and broom. In Solar Spell, oo expresses the /oo/ sound in moon and uu expresses the /oul/ sound in should: shuud, puut, buuk, kuuk, guud, wuud.
  • zh - Legacy Spelling lacks a root spelling for the /zh/ sound as heard in vision and variously spells it with z, s, ti, ge and others. zh fills this gap. In Solar Spell vision, pleasure and brazier become vizhun, plezhr, and brāzhr.

[Discuss New Graphemes]

C and Qu Deprecated

  • C - The third letter of the alphabet is not associated with any English sound. It impersonates s, k and sh as heard in Pacific Ocean or is silent as in sick. Since this serves only to add friction to literacy, Solar Spell eliminates C as a standalone letter.
  • Qu - Similarly qu is a stand-in for the sound combination /kw/. Since readers must already learn /k/ and /w/ individually, learning qu is redundant and adds unnecessary friction to learning. quick becomes kwik.

[Discuss C and Qu Deprecated]

Macron

The weakness of Legacy Spelling is evident as it struggles to express the 5 long vowel sounds. To communicate these 5 sounds, Legacy Spelling uses:

  • 8 graphemes (single letter)
  • 49 digraphs (2 letters)
  • 12 trigraphs (3 letters)
  • 4 quadgraphs (4 letters)
  • 8 split digraphs (ex: ae split as in cave)
  • 14 split trigraphs
  • 1 split quadgraph

That adds up to nearly one hundred different attempts to spell 5 sounds. Solar Spell returns strength and clarity to long vowels with a line over the letter (called macron— ancient greek for long). The short vowels are unadorned a, e, i, o, u and the long vowels are denoted with a macron: ā, ē, ī, ō, ū. Legacy-trained pattern recognizers may struggle here as pal / pāl both map to pal instead of pal and pail. Retraining through exposure is required for Legacy readers to "see" macrons. [Discuss Macrons]

Eliminate Apostrophes for Ownership and Contractions

Apostrophes violate the spirit of consistency that underpins Solar Spell because the symbol has multiple meanings: it indicates both contraction and possession. Apostrophes add friction to spelling without contributing significantly to readability. Observe that even when misused as in 2 Orange's for $1 or Its time for dinner or Steves house readability is unaffected. This is because context carries more meaning than spelling. Context explored more in the next section on homophones. In short we don't speak in apostrophes, nor should we write in them. [Discuss Eliminating Apostrophes]

Homophones and Homographs

Homophone

SAME Pronunciation
DIFFERENT Spellings
DIFFERENT Meanings

here / hear

Homograph

DIFFERENT Pronunciation
SAME Spellings
DIFFERENT Meanings

lead / lead

Homophones are well-meaning attempts to convey meaning through spelling. However every homophone adds spelling overhead and friction for learners. But ultimately homophones are impractical because so many words have multiple meanings. Joe gave his date, a dried date to eat on their most recent date. That date was Oct 4 and now they no longer date. A homophoned version of this might read: Joe gave his daight, a dried date to eat on their most recent dayt. That dait was Oct 4 and now they no longer deyte. This is writing and reading overhead for no gain because context carries far more meaning than spelling. "I bank at the bank on the river bank" is perfectly understandable without resorting to homophones. Since Solar Spell letter patterns mimic spoken English voice patterns, homophones are no more. mī dēr frend fed 3 dēr.

Homographs are the opposite of Homophones. These are words spelled the same but pronounced differently and have different meanings. While homophones convey meaning through spelling, homographs obscure meaning through spelling. "He took a bow before he shot his bow." They serve no purpose other than to complicate reading. hē tuuk u bow bēfōr hē shot hiz bō. [Discuss Homophones and Homographs]

No "Vowel per Syllable" Rule

Legacy Spelling has the convention that each syllable contains a vowel. However Solar Spell's first foundational princple (spell only the sounds in the word) means placeholder/silent vowels are eliminated. Elminate the silent e in vowel and it becomes vowl which may look odd at first to Legacy Spellers, but it's no different than howl or fowl. [Discuss the No Vowel-per-syllable Rule]

English Accents

Solar Spell’s first foundational principle is to “spell only the sounds in the word”. This means Solar Spell has its foundation in the spoken word, and yet written words are not spoken words. Written words are composed of unfeeling symbols while spoken words are full of richness, texture, connotation, cadence and inflection. Spoken words can be whispered or shouted or purred or sung. The same word may be said harshly in one breath and lovingly in another. Spoken words are as different from written words as a movie is from a photograph.

Accents add a sort of musical texture to spoken language. Accents are beautiful and we are fortunate for the diversity of English accents heard throughout the world. To return to the movie analogy, accents are like a movie’s soundtrack. And just as it makes little sense to add a movie soundtrack to a photograph, it makes little sense to express accents with spelling.

But now we've reached an apparent conflict. On the one hand, accents have no business in the written word. And on the other, Solar Spell’s foundational principle to "spell the sounds" means accent can't be separated from spelling.

We solve this by identifying an official source of pronunciation. Fortunately the skilled linguists behind English dictionaries have already done this work and provide a pronunciation key for each word. This will be the sound source of Solar Spell. In cases where multiple pronunciations are equally valid, one official pronunciation will be chosen, preferably the one believed to have the longest longevity.

The Solar Spell that appears on this site and in the novel Worlds Apart is based on the pronunciations found on dictionary.com.

While this means Solar Spell is generally derived from the General American accent, it does not impose that accent on anyone. If one’s native accent pronounces certain Rs softer or long-Is with a hint of /oy/, they are expected and encouraged to continue pronouncing those syllables as they always have. No accent is inherently more correct or proper than any other. [Discuss English Accents]

Proper Names

Anyone with a uniquely spelled name can attest to the frequent corrections required. "It's Candi with an I", "It's Wynter with a Y". In Solar Spell all are invited, but not required, to upgrade the spelling of their proper names. [Discuss Proper Names]

ED vs D

Past tense verbs sometimes pronounce the e in ed as heard in busted or the e is silent as in spied. Solar Spell only spells the sounds in the word, so the above examples are spelled: busted and spīd. [Discuss ED vs D]

Sometimes Y

In Legacy Spelling the vowels are A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y. Here again the weakness of Legacy Spelling is seen. How effective is a sometimes letter? Probably about as effective as a sometimes golfer or sometimes magician. In Solar Spell there are no sometimes letters. Each grapheme has one job and does it perfectly every time. [Discuss Sometimes Y]

Comparisons

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.
(97 characters)

jak and jil went up thu hil too fetch u pāl uv wotr. jak fel down and brōk hiz krown and jil kām tumbling aftr.
(87 characters, 10% less)

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
(136 characters)

I hav u drēm that mī fōr children wil wun dā liv in u nāshun wair thā wil not bē jujd bī thu kulr uv thair skin, but bī thu kontent uv thair kairiktr.
(117 characters, 14% less)

Here’s to the crazy ones!
The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you cannot do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.
While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they
can change the world, are the ones who do.”
(472 characters)

Hērz too thu krāzē wunz!
Thu misfits. Thu reblz. Thu trublmākrz.
Thu rownd pegz in thu skwair hōlz.
Thu wunz hoo sē thhingz difrentlē.
Thair not fond uv roolz.
And thā hav nō rēspekt fōr thu status kwō.
Ū kan prāz them, disugrē withh them, kwōt them, disbilēv them, glōrifī ōr vilifī them.
Ubowt thu ōnlē thhing ū kannot doo iz ignōr them.
Bēkuz thā chānj thhingz.
Thā puush thu hūmun rās fōrwrd.
Wīl sum sē them az thu krāzē wunz, wē sē jēnyus.
"Bēkuz thu pēpl hoo ar krāzē ēnuf too thhink thā kan chānj thu wrld, ar thu wunz hoo doo."
(434 characters, 8% less)

As you read Solar Spell, did your pattern recognizer throw off any emotions? [Discuss Solar Spell vs Legacy Comparisons]