Ben Franklin Tried to Change Our Alphabet

His phonetic approach never took off
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2013 8:55 AM CDT
Ben Franklin Tried to Change Our Alphabet
Ben Franklin wanted to lose six of our letters.   (Shutterstock)

If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, he'd probably be a dynamite texter. As Smithsonian explains, Franklin once designed a phonetic alphabet for the nation because he thought the one in place was too unwieldy. Alas, it never caught on. Some highlights of his "A Reformed Mode of Spelling," first developed in 1768:

  • Ditch the letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y because Franklin found them to be redundant or just plain confusing. Who needs a "C," for example, when the letters K and S can handle its hard and soft sounds.

  • Each letter should have only one sound, including vowels. To make long vowel sounds, double them up.
  • Franklin added six of his own letters to cover the sounds for a soft O, "ng," "sh," and "th" (actually two for that one); and one to replace the "un" and "um" combinations.
  • Franklin used his alphabet to write a letter to a friend. The sign-off "I am, my dear friend, yours affectionately" is "yi am, myi diir frind, iurs afekhynetli." (OK, that might seem unwieldy, too, but Franklin swore his system was more logical and would be adapted quickly once people got the hang of it.)
Franklin's idea intrigued dictionary maker Noah Webster, but never went much further. Another historical figure who dabbled unsuccessfully in changing the language? Isaac Newton. Click for that story. (More Benjamin Franklin stories.)

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