by Archibald B. Crumpet. Sunday, 1st April 2018
It was announced today that a new letter is to be added to the English alphabet. Major English-speaking countries, including the UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and India, have come to agreement, after long and complex negotiations, to add the new letter by 2020.
English has only five written vowels: a, e, i, o and u, or six if you count the semi-vowel y as well. However, spoken English has up to twenty vowel sounds, depending on the variety.
There have been many proposals to reform the spelling of English to make the language easy to read and write. Only some of the spelling changes proposed by Noah Webster in his dictionary have been widely accepted, and they are only used in North America. This is why Americans write color, check and theater while the British write colour, cheque and theatre. No other spelling reforms have been adopted.
The most common vowel sound in English is uh, a short, neutral vowel, or technically a mid central vowel. It's the sound of the a in about, or the e in the, i in pencil, o in memory, u in supper or y in sibyl. In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) it is represented by the symbol /ə/, which is known as a schwa, a word that comes from the Hebrew שְׁוָא (shva).
Having a single letter to represent the schwa sound could make English easier to read and write, and will make people more aware of the vowel sounds they use.
There were many different ideas for which letter to use to represent the schwa sound during the negotiations. Suggestions included ë, which is used in Albanian, ı, which is used in Turkish, ă which is used in Romanian, y, which is used in Welsh, or to use the IPA symbol ə.
In the end it was decided to create a completely new letter - see image on the right.
Here is an example of an English text featuring this new letter
Here is this text in the standard English alphabet:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
The new letter will be gradually phased in over the next two years. It will be added to fonts, and used in all official documents. People will be encouraged to use it through advertising campaigns.
In case you hadn't realised, this article is an April Fool. There are no plans to add an extra letter to the English alphabet, as far as I know.
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