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Standardised lingua franca needed

Roughly a quarter of the world's population is fluent or marginally competent in English, and this figure is growing via the Internet. English has official or special status in at least 75 countries, but its archaic, totally flawed, overcomplicated structure and unnecessarily contrived exceptions have proven resistant to change for more than 400 years.



Globally, of all students with learning disabilities, 70-80 per cent have deficits in reading and writing (literacy) as their primary problem. Why? More than half of the words most commonly used to facilitate English-language communication have irregular spellings. Regularising the reading code would require attitude adjustment and bureaucratic commitment, eliminating thousands of irregular spellings in favour of a straightforward letter-to-sound approach. English has 91 spelling rules to be memorised. More than 70 per cent of these offer exceptions. In Bahasa Asean, however, a phoneme is written and expressed only one way. If English is to hold its own as a global language, it must become easier to achieve communicative competence, following simple rules so that words are spelled the same way they are spoken.

The main point is that it's going to take a lot longer to learn to read (and spell) English basics (at least four years) than it takes savvy foreign learners to adequately decode Bahasa Asean (approximately one year). The simplicity and predictability of Bahasa spelling creates much less need for remedial effort and reduces failure.

Everyone would benefit if Asean adopted a progressive spelling system that is modernised and regularised, making interaction simpler and more logical. Using digital information technology, comprehensive reform should be easier to facilitate. Re-coding would demand only one syllable per sound, rather than having variants in the sound of "o", as in "on", "once", "only", "other", "tomb", "woman" and "women". If a child is taught how to sound out a word, he can then decode and spell it correctly. A "four in one" policy is advocated, designating a streamlined Malaysian-Indonesian Bahasa as the lingua franca, with Mandarin Chinese, Thai and mid-Atlantic English as shared regional options. Languages constantly change phonetically. The Chinese, whose language is anything but phonetic, have adopted a Romanised phonetic transcription, Pinyin, to make cross-cultural multi-lingualism easier and more efficient.

Charles Frederickson

Bangkok


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