Monday, June 20, 2011

Free Games for the PlayStation 3: A Compendium

Gamers in the know will no doubt remember when, a few weeks back, Sony's servers were hacked, exposing their customers' credit card numbers and other precious booty to roving internet pirates.  It was an event of such magnitude that it has its own wikipedia page, under the name PlayStation Network Outrage.  Being an enormous, amoral corporation, Sony of course handled the crisis in the noblest way possible, by withholding embarrassing information as long as possible and completely shutting down service for three weeks.  As of last week's E3 press conference, they are reportedly very sorry.

Ever since Sony got pwnt by teh haxxors, it seems like every company in the industry has been on the receiving end of similar attacks.  To my knowledge, none of the other companies have garnered the same ill will from customers as a result.  In any case, Sony has offered its customers a generous compensation package as a result: free downloads for two PlayStation 3 games, two PSP games, and a thirty day membership to PlayStation Plus.

Now it took me a while to remember this, but I actually am a PlayStation 3 owner, and I happen to have a PlayStation Network account.  Thankfully, my credit card seems to be safe from the pirate menace, but I am nonetheless eligible for some of Sony's largesse.  With that in mind, I took them for all they were worth: downloading not only the two free PS3 games, but ALSO an extra three from my free PlayStation Plus account.  Here's some quick reviews of those games, should you also decide to take advantage of the deal:

Super Stardust HD
Developer: Housemarque

A bullet hell shooter that harkens back to the classic Asteroids, as well as the proud tradition of instantly making any game seem more fun by putting "Super" in the title.  The game allows you to channel your pent up rage through the bright and noisy destruction of inanimate objects, all the while risking your own bright and noisy destruction if you should crash into one.  This is distressingly easy to do, especially if you suck at this kind of games as badly as I do.  But playing a game like this isn't really about excelling, as much as it is about dancing with the devil and becoming constantly amazed at what you can get away with.

The globe-shaped playing area gives a sense of infinite motion through a relatively small space, and the Sci-Fi/pop soundtrack is a boon to attention deficient gamers everywhere.  Video arcades may be dead, but the quarter-popping spirit lives on with Super Stardust HD, trafficking in multicolored delights while breaking players' spirits with escalating difficulty and cheap deaths.  And I love every second of it.

There isn't really more to this game than that: it's candy, pure and simple.  It demands lightning-quick reflexes and a modicum of strategy, but with nothing at stake beyond unlocking new planets, you don't ever feel bad about playing poorly.  You just go as far as you can until you die in a glorious fireball, and then you do it again.

Here's a video from some enthusiastic fan:

Rating: You should totally get it, dude!

Dead Nation
Developer: Housemarque

There is a certain breed of gamer who loves nothing better than walking through a dark corridor, only to be assaulted by a flesh-reaving zombie.  Having absolutely lost my shit after only an hour of playing the Resident Evil remake on the Gamecube, I can assure you that I am not one of them.

Dead Nation is sort of a combination of the survival horror genre with the mechanics of a dungeon crawler like Gauntlet.  To that end, it sort of diffuses the visceral impact of the "horror," placing you far above any danger and leaving your tiny onscreen avatar to face the unspeakable terrors of the viral apocalypse.  That's all well and good for a sissy like me, but a horror game really ought to be scarier, shouldn't it?

The game is still pretty fun to play through, though I do have some complaints.  Since the setting is so dark, you have to rely on your character's pathetic little flashlight to see anything in the environment clearly.  I know that's really the point of this sort of game (how's the zombie supposed to get the jump on you if you can see him coming?), but it seems like a waste that video games in general are wasting the visual prowess of modern consoles on overly dark environments.  As far as mechanics goes, the lack of a lock-on function makes survival unnecessarily tough, particularly if you play like me, spraying bullets in wide arcs at every sudden movement.

In the end, it's basically a poor man's Left 4 Dead (it even has a co op mode), but the production values are still suitably high, particularly in the visuals.  There's a story, but it's a fairly generic zombie tale, and the voice acting is unimpressive.  The opening montage tells you pretty much all you need to know, with its live action footage of urban chaos and biological terror.  As for the sound, it basically boils down to gunshots and the grunts of the zombies as they shuffle through the night, looking for some innocent flesh to reave.  What else do you need?

Here's another fan's video:

Rating: It's pretty good!

Incidentally, I'd like to wag my finger at Google's spellchecker for not recognizing the legitimacy of the word "reave."  No, it is not interchangeable with "reeve." 

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers
Developer: Stainless Games

I'm a nerd: this is not up for debate.  I am reviewing five fairly obscure video games at once, after all.  Yet despite my ample nerd cred, I managed to grow up with minimal exposure to games like Magic or Dungeons and Dragons.  I'd have glimpses of that lifestyle from time to time (a few Pokemon cards, a friend's Warhammer guidebook), but the complicated rules and high cost of entry always put me off: video games were much easier for me to wrap my head around.  I probably wouldn't have downloaded this game if it weren't for my friends Mike and Bau, but I have, and now you're going to hear about it.

The kernel of this game is essentially playing Magic as you would in real life: the advantage of the video game is that you can play online, or a campaign mode against a series of AI players.  The music is mostly insubstantial, inconsequential, and safely in the background, but the visuals show off the intricate, fantastical art work that Magic cards are known for.  Since the game consists largely of looking at those same cards, this really goes without saying.

Lacking any meaningful experience, I opted for the AI campaign, beginning with the tutorial.  After the game held my hand to victory in my first ever match, I felt like I had a grasp on the basic mechanics of the game.  My first match without the training wheels, however, ended in complete and utter catastrophe.  You don't need a detailed understanding of Magic to understand why; when your opponent manages to take all twenty of your hit points, and you manage to knock off three of hers, you are clearly doing something very wrong.

Real live Magic seems like it would be a fairly good time for many people.  The mechanics are intimidating, but not absurdly complicated, and it's easy to see the appeal of the world behind the cards.  Beside the illustrations, the text on many cards hints at a world of colorful drama and humor.  There is a deep level of strategy to be seen at play in high-level games.  But unless your nerdy friends have all moved away and you're desperate to play online, it's hard for me to see what the special appeal of Duels of the Planeswalkers is.

Here's another player's video for illustrative purposes (that digital voice isn't a part of the game.  I guess this guy just doesn't like the sound of his own voice):

Rating: Don't pay for it.

Streets of Rage 2
Developer: Sega

This is the oldest game in our compendium, a classic brawler for the Genesis from waaay back in 1992.  Historians will note that in 1992, street gangs dressed like extras in hair metal music videos and roamed the streets with switchblades and katanas.  Or maybe that was just in Japan.

There's something very basic about a brawler like this, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Scott Pilgrim vs the World: The Game proved you can combine old school pixel-graphics with the classic brawler formula (fight guys, move right, fight more guys) for a modern, exciting experience that still holds that very basic appeal.  The Streets of Rage series is a mostly standard genre exercise, with a fairly quick pace of new enemies and environments to remind you that you're (apparently) in some rather serious business with whatever mohawk-based crime syndicate rules these streets.

Apart from a few sentimental favorites, however, I can't get too excited about most classic brawlers.  The game play has a tendency to be fun in sporadic bursts, when you deliver a dramatic beating to some bad guys, and then tedious as you try to move around without the ability to run.  I never understood why most brawlers don't allow you to move fast, and I still don't like it.  I also don't like the limited arsenal of fighting moves, particularly when it isn't very clear how I've executed them most of the time.

I've heard it called a classic, but it just doesn't make a very strong impression on me.  The music is unremarkable, the setting is quaint, and the game play is tedious, especially when you're playing by yourself.  Maybe I shouldn't be playing it by myself.

Here's another video:

Rating: Maybe get it if you really liked it back in the day.

The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character
Developer: Dakko Dakko

Video games are mainstream now, penetrating deep into society's iPhones and gobbling up free time like so many Pac-man pellets.  Hardcore gamers often resent this development, not to mention the games that represent it, for cheapening what was previously an exclusive experience.  Many of these games, however, deserve credit for reviving old styles that the current market, with its love for high technology, has mostly ignored.

Apart from its ridiculously wordy title, The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character has very little text.  The premise is very simple and is conveyed succinctly with a few pictures and some key words: rescue the baby octopuses and don't bump into anyone else.  The game presents a series of puzzles and platforming challenges to that effect, becoming progressively harder in classic fashion, while delivering bright and cheerful animations that look fine on screens of any size.

Rotating Octopus is a perfectly accessible game, so whether you like it or not will likely depend on your tolerance for cartoon whimsy and joy.  If you are entirely lacking in joy, you will probably find it off-putting, or seek more dramatic, visually overwhelming stimuli.  I just don't know what we'd have to talk about at that point.

Here's a whimsically joyful video:

Rating: Well, I like it.

In summation, Sony, thank you for this largely entertaining pack of free games.  But could you maybe try and work on your security a bit so I don't find that I've "paid for" these in some unpleasant way?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Taming the Tongue: Adventures in Spelling Reform

Warning: The following essay is extremely nerdy, and should be avoided by people who have absolutely no interest in experimental orthography, obsolete letters, and the obsessive splitting of figurative hairs.

The current system for writing the English language is a bizarre apparatus.  It is a strange contraption that promises simplicity, but delivers circumstances where words like rough, plough, and though do not rhyme, but newt, flute, and boot do.  You've heard this all before, of course: the self-evident justification for calls to reform our spelling.  We have a spelling that makes pronunciation only barely predictable: why not have something logical and straightforward?

Well, there's lots of very good reasons why not, but we're going to ignore them for a while, in pursuit of a Quixotic quest: the search for a workable phonetic alphabet for the English language, where every letter is pronounced the same way every single time.  We will establish a one-to-one correspondence between sound and symbol, and eliminate silent and unnecessary letters.  Together, we will dream the impossible dream.

The biggest difficulty in English spelling is usually the vowels, so I at first though that I might transform the language into an abjad.  An abjad is a system that depicts only the consonants of a language, and either leaves out the vowels entirely or marks them with special lines.  However, a brief period of research convinced me that this was foolhardy.  An abjad works for Hebrew and the like because in those languages, related words tend to have the same consonants, and it's clear from context and a few superscript markings what form is required.  This doesn't work in English: without vowels, we can't tell words like bait from bat or abut.  So we'll keep our vowels, but trust me when I say we'll regret it.

My new working alphabet is, actually, two alphabets.  Even though an abjad is an entirely inappropriate form for an English writing system, I've decided to keep vowels and consonants separate. The effect of this is to separate a very easy job from a very difficult one, as we will see.  Along the way, we'll have help from Wikipedia and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), a set of symbols designed to transcribe just about every possible noise the mouth can make.

Section One: Consonants

In this section:
  • The new list of consonants for our alphabet
  • An explanation of the sounds they make
  • An explanation of their order in the new alphabet
This section is likely to be the least interesting, because it is the most straightforward aspect of the process, but requires a lot of explanation.  English consonants are pretty much the same from dialect to dialect.  Occasionally they are articulated slightly differently, and sometimes dropped altogether (most often the "TH" consonants), but on the whole they all generally show up and can be counted upon to make more or less the same sound in all contexts.

To make our new alphabet more purely phonetic, I've decided to force each letter to carry only one sound value, and to eliminate digraphs: say goodbye to PH, SH, CH, and TH.  We don't need them!  In addition, I've called up some extra letters from the ranks of the International Phonetic Alphabet to fill in the gaps.  I'll be treating them in the text as if you can pronounce their names as easily as you might pronounce B or C, but in the list below, you can see the new letter's names spelled out.

(A quick note: I will occasionally use the words "voiced" and "unvoiced" to describe a consonant sound.  A voiced consonant is one that is pronounced with a full vibration of air in your throat, and an unvoiced consonant is pronounced without that vibration.  Compare the sounds of Z and S for the difference.)

B, b,
P, p,
M, m,
D, d,
T, t,
N, n, 
G, g,
K, k,
Ŋ, ŋ, (pronounced "eng")
V, v,
F, f
Ð, ð, (pronounced "eth," with the th pronounced as in "breathe")
Þ, þ, (pronounced "thorn")
Z, z,
S, s,
Ʒ, ʒ, (pronounced "ezh," with the sound of "regime")
Ʃ, ʃ, (pronounced "esh")
X, x,
H, h,
J, j,
C, c,
L, l,
R, r,
W, w
Y, y

Each of these letters now represents one, and only one, sound in the repertoire of English consonants.  For example, in our present system, the word of is spelled with an F, despite the fact that the consonant we hear is voiced; logic demands a V in its place, and the new alphabet is nothing if not logical.  Most of these letters are pronounced in the new alphabet as a seasoned English reader might expect, with a few exceptions.  G is now pronounced exclusively with a hard sound, as in gear, while C is now pronounced exclusively as "CH," as in the Italian word ciao.  All of the other familiar letters sound just like you learned in kindergarten.

As for the letter X, it is NOT pronounced like "KS," because that's silly and it's beyond silly that we have a letter for that.  Instead, we're taking our cues from the IPA and assigning it the role of depicting the "voiceless velar fricative."  This sound is not part of most English varieties, but it is essential for properly pronouncing words like loch and Chanukah.  In the interest of being inclusive to our Scottish and Jewish friends, we'll keep it around for special, inclusive occasions.

The new letters may look scary, but they are actually fairly simple to grasp.  Two of them, Ð and Þ (scroll up if you've forgotten their names), are actually old friends of ours, having been driven out of our alphabet centuries ago by the bizarre combination of T and H.  The sounds that initiate words like thy and thigh are, of course, different sounds (the first one is described as voiced, the second one is not), so it only makes sense that they should be written differently.  Medieval scribes mostly switched haphazardly between Ð and Þ, but we're going to follow the lead of the modern Icelandic language: Ð is for words like the and these and that, and Þ is for words like threat and thank and think.

Another new pair is Ʒ and Ʃ.  Ʒ looks like a strange number 3, but is actually a variant of Z, designed by Isaac Pitman for a phonetic shorthand alphabet.  The IPA uses it for a sound that English words almost never begin with (unless they're borrowed from French), but is found in the middle of several others: treasure, regime, and vision, for example.  Ʒ is another "voiced" consonant, and its voiceless companion is Ʃ.  Ʃ looks like the Greek letter Sigma, and it basically is, except that its lower case form, ʃ, is different.  In the IPA, Ʃ (or rather,ʃ) represents what we would usually write as "SH," if we were still interested in writing useless digraphs (and we aren't).

The last new letter, Ŋ, looks a little frilly and aristocratic at first glance.  However, it is a letter with a genuinely American heritage.  It was used by a genuine American, Mr. Benjamin Franklin, as part of his own quest to develop a phonetic alphabet that people would actually use.  Today, the IPA uses the lowercase form to represent the sound written with "NG" in words like sing and bang, just as Franklin intended.  The IPA also distinguishes between the sounds in singer and finger, noting that the latter has a hard G sound following Ŋ.  Since they show this by writing Ŋ followed by G, I don't see why we can't do the same.

Observant readers can see that the new list of consonants leaves one out from our old list: Q.  Why not Q?  Let me turn that around: why have Q in the first place?  It is totally equivalent to K, and its one special task can only be performed with the help of a vowel.  A vowel, ladies and gentlemen.  Given the choice between quit and kwit, the new alphabet clearly prefers the second.

Finally (yes, finally), a word about the order of the new alphabet.  We're all familiar with our ABCs, of course, and the idea of changing the time-honored order can seem arbitrary (or even like sacrilege).  However, there is still method in my madness.  Consonants are classified in two ways by linguists: the mode and place of articulation, or how and where the sound is produced in the mouth.  I've merely grouped the letters so that they fit together with the sounds they resemble.

The first nine letters, from B to Ŋ, are called stop consonants, which are easily divided into three groups: B P M, D T N, and K G Ŋ.  The three members of each group follow a pattern: the first and second are pronounced with air stopping in the mouth (and are distinguished by being voiced or unvoiced), while the third has the air stopped in the nose.  The first group is pronounced with the lips, the second with the tongue just behind the top teeth, and the third with the soft palate, so the order of the three groups seemed natural.

The next ten letters, from V to H, are known as fricatives.  The first eight of these occur in voiced and voiceless pairs, while X and H are both voiceless and have no voiced equivalents (well, X does, but it simply doesn't exist in any English dialect).  I have also arranged these pairs, more or less, in the order we meet them in the mouth, starting between the lips and teeth and retreating all the way back to the throat.

The next two letters in our new alphabet, J and C, represent another voiced and voiceless pair.  They are our language's only affricate consonants, so called because they begin like stops and then turn into fricatives.  With this in mind, they get their own special placement.

The last four consonants are known as approximants, and they behave in very strange ways: I like to call them the weird consonants, and their weirdness will cause trouble for us later.  The sounds represented by W and Y are known as semivowels, and the letters have traditionally been used as substitute vowels, but because we're devoted to the principle that one symbol can only stand for one sound, our new alphabet will allow their use only as consonants.  On that note, many words (such as cute) contain the Y sound, but rely on the letter U to convey it: that won't be the case in our new system. 

Section Two: Vowels

In this section:
  • A description of the types of full vowels found in English
  • A system for using the five vowel letters (A, E, I, O, and U) to consistently write these sounds.
  • A description of rhotic and reduced vowels.
Believe it or not, that was the easy part.  Assigning a single letter to every consonant sound in the English language was only a matter of forcing each letter to play only one role, and pilfering the IPA's list of symbols for letters to fill in the gaps. 

This approach, however, is massively insufficient with regard to vowels.  Having banished W and Y to the consonant side of the fence, we have only five letters to use for vowel sounds, and at least three times as many distinct sounds to convey with them.  The IPA is of little help: it mostly resorts to combining letters into awkward chains, or producing upside down or otherwise distorted versions of the letters we already have.  We've already introduced enough new consonant letters, so I see no need to make this any harder by bringing in nonsense like ɛ, ɒ, or ə.

The truth is, the biggest reason that people call for English spelling reform, the inconsistency of our vowel use, is the greatest challenge in producing a system for spelling English that makes any sense.  Vowels vary widely from dialect to dialect, and even within a dialect they tend to blend together at the edges.  English actually has three different kinds of vowel sounds, and each presents its own problems.

To begin, we have full vowels.  These are typically pronounced in fully stressed syllables and are the easiest to understand. Next come rhotic, or "R-Colored" vowels, which alter the properties of full vowels by mingling them with the sound of the consonant R (which belongs to our small class of weird consonants).  Finally, there are reduced consonants, which make their homes in unstressed syllables, defying our best efforts to pin them down.  We'll begin with the full vowels.

Checking the IPA's roll call of English sounds, I expected to find a list that I could appreciate as simply as the consonants.  What I found was illustrated with a series of lexical sets: a system devised by John C. Wells that represents the sorts of vowels found in English with a word that features that vowel.  The type words for each lexical set of the full vowels reads as follows:


It was then that I knew my quest was hopeless, because I had run up against the limits of my own Southern California dialect.  After pronouncing each word carefully, I found that I could not distinguish between the vowels of palm, lot, and thought: each one sounded like the same broad "a." 

The goal of my new alphabet is to have one symbol for every sound, but this produces a paradox when applied across multiple dialects.  My pronunciation requires only one symbol for the vowels of palm, lot, and thought; but a different speaker might expect two or three symbols, reflecting his or her style of pronunciation.  I didn't know how to resolve it at first.

Then I remembered, this was MY alphabet.  Other dialects would have to take one for the team.  I devised a system of single and paired letters to represent each of the thirteen full vowels that I distinguished.  All full, non-rhotic vowels would be pronounced with the following letters: A, AE, AI, AU, E, EE, I, II, OI, O, OU, UU, and U.  Using the consonant values I established in the previous section, the type words would now be spelled as follows:

Palm = Pam
Lot = Lat
Trap = Traep
Price = Prais
Mouth = Mauþ
Dress = Dres
Face = Fees
Kit = Kit
Fleece = Fliis
Thought =  Þat
Choice = Cois
Goat = Got
Foot = Fout
Goose = Guus
Strut = Strut

To reiterate, for example, any word that rhymed with trap would, under the new system, spell the rhyming vowel with the letters AE.  Any word that rhymed with foot would spell the rhyming vowel with OU, and so on and so forth.

For those of you who DO distinguish between  the vowels of palm, lot, and thought, you may use the letter OE for the vowel of lot and the letters OA for the vowel of thought (assuming those two sound different to you: I can't even imagine how).

The truth is, as consistent as this system is, it is a massive failure in its primary goal, to produce a phonetic spelling that every English reader can understand.  It's a contradiction in terms, not only because of the differences that already exist between dialects, but also because of changes that are still occurring.  Here on the west coast, I often hear people pronouncing pin and pen, or been and Ben, as though they had the same vowel.  This is maddening to me and I would do anything I could to stop it, but it simply cannot be stopped.

Continuing on with our difficulties, we encounter the rhotic, or R-Colored vowel.  R-Coloring is what its name implies: a change in the "color," or tone of a vowel when it is followed immediately by the letter R.  This sort of thing doesn't happen in most languages, but we're stuck with it.  It wouldn't be quite so bad, except for one problem: English dialects are broadly divided on rhotic accents.  Speakers of non-rhotic accents will simply drop the R unless it is followed directly by a vowel.  For example, the R in bears would not be pronounced, but the R in bury would be.

In some cases, non-rhotic speakers will even add an extra R to the end of words where it doesn't belong, if the next word begins with a vowel.  Consider the chorus of the Oasis song:

In a champagne supernova, champagne supernovaR in the sky...

Variations like this make rendering R-Colored vowels in a universal phonetic alphabet a serious pain.  But since we have to account for them, we may as well try. Every R-colored vowel has an ordinary vowel at its heart, so I propose that the logical thing to do is to simply add R to the most appropriate of the vowel combinations listed above.  Being the architect of this new alphabet, I declare that rhotic pronunciations will set the standard.

Finally, we have reduced vowels, which make their homes in the thin crevices of our languages, unstressed syllables.  While not every unstressed syllable has a reduced vowel, most of them do.  The most common one is the neutral vowel, known as schwa: it is actually the most common vowel in the language, and its sound can (under the current system) be expressed by any of the vowel letters (even y).  It's basically that "uh" sound you make when you aren't sure what to say.

Schwa can be R-Colored, and it can also be accompanied by L, M, and N in such a way that they seem to be making consonant noises by themselves (like rhythm).  Schwa has its own symbol, ə, but it lacks an accepted capital form, so it seems we can't use it.  The best alternative is, I think, to force U into double duty, because out of all the full vowels, Schwa most closely resembles the vowel in strut.  Of all our compromises in this section, this one seems pretty defensible (to me, at least)

Apart from Schwa, we also encounter reduced versions of I (the last vowel in roses), O (the first vowel in omission), U (the last vowel in beautiful) and even a long I (the last vowel in happy).  It seems the best thing to do, then, is to use those letters and rely on the stress to convey the fact that they are reduced.

And there we have it, or the theory at any rate.  It's time to put the whole thing into practice.

Section Three: Sample Text

I hope you're ready, because things are about to get freaky.  I'm going to take some text and re-spell all of the words according to my bold new system.  The spelling will reflect my own pronunciation, and so the system as a whole falls miserably short of our universal goals.  Even so, here's a taste of what phonetic spelling reform might look like...

For skor aend seven yiirz ugo aur faðers brat forþ an ðis kantinent u nuu neeʃun, kunsiivd in liburtii, aend dedikeetid tuu ðu praposiʃun ðaet al men ar kriieetid iikwal.

Nau wii ar engeejd in u greet sivil wor, testiiŋ weður ðaet neeʃun, or aenii neeʃun, so kunsiivd aend so dedikeetid, kaen laŋ enduur. Wii ar met an u greet batulfiild uv ðaet wor. Wii haev kum tuu dedikeet u porʃun uv ðaet fiild, aez ee fainul restiiŋ plees for ðoz huu hiir geev ðeer laivs ðaet ðaet neeʃun mait liv. It iz altuugeður fitiiŋ aend prapur ðaet wii ʃud duu ðis.

But, in ee larjur sens, wii kaen nat dedikeet, wii kaen nat kansikreet, wii kaen nat halo ðis graund. Ðu breev men, liviiŋ aend ded, huu struguld hiir, haev kansekreetid it, far ubuv aur puur pauur tuu aed or ditraekt. Ðu wurld wil litul not, nor laŋ riimembur wut wii see hiir, but it kaen nevur forget wut ðee did hiir. It iz for us ðu liviiŋ, raeður, tuu bii dedikeetid hiir tuu ðii unfiniʃt wurk wic ðee huu fat hiir haev ðus far so noblii aedvaenst. It iz raeður for us tuu bii hiir dedikeetid tuu ðu greet taesk riimeeniiŋ biifor us—ðaet frum thiiz anord ded wii teek inkriist devoʃun tuu ðaet caz for wic ðee geev ðu laest ful meʒur uv devoʃun—ðaet wii hiir hailii risalv ðaet ðiiz ded ʃael nat haev daid in veen—ðaet ðis neeʃun, undur Gad, ʃael haev ee nuu birþ uv friidum—aend ðaet guvurnment uv ðu piipul, bai ðu piipul, for ðu piipul, ʃael nat periʃ frum ðii urþ.


Dear God, what have I done?


Let's be honest: even I have trouble reading that.  If the Gettysburg Address weren't so well known, it would probably be difficult for anyone to follow the meaning, even after reading my description of the precise function of each letter.  It is a fairly accurate representation of the sounds of the English language (at least as I speak it)... but it isn't English.  At first glance, it looks more like Dutch.

I mentioned before that there are a number of good reasons not to have a logical English spelling, where every sound can be predicted from the letters.  I think the best reason has to do with etymology.  Consider the word nation, which I spelled out in the sample as neeʃunNation is a prime offender of the principle of one sound, one symbol: why should an "SH" sound be spelled with "TI?"  But it is a descendent of the Latin word nationem.  When spelled nation, the word carries with it a whole history of evolving usage, but when spelled neeʃun, it is only a sound.

There are practical reasons to avoid total reform as well.  The whole body of English literature, from the humblest scribbles to the greatest masterpieces, would become unreadable to future generations, unless an effort was made to re-transcribe them all.  And even if they did, what pronunciations would they base the spelling on?  A phonetic spelling can only have value to a single community of speakers, but English is a global language of great variety.  It's changed a great deal over the centuries, and it is going to change some more.

Now, there may be a case for some minor reforms.  The world didn't stop spinning when Americans took the U out of colour, or changed plough into plow.  I can't imagine that a serious proponent of spelling reform would even think of taking my mad schemes seriously.  But given the massive success of English literature, and the widespread literacy of English speaking people, I can't think of any compelling reason that English spelling demands a change.  Consistency is the only fair point, and we've seen where that road leads.

At its core, written English is a different language from spoken English, and we shouldn't treat it as the same thing.  As much fun as I had reordering the alphabet to fit my whims, I'm all too happy to put the blocks back in their box.