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Lincoln author writes spelling ‘buk’

By: Cheri March The News Messenger
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Lincoln author Allan Kiisk considers himself an ekselent speller. Kiisk’s first book, “Simple Phonetic English Spelling,” will be released this month – and in it, he introduces Simpel-Fonetik, a spelling system he developed as a solution to the confusing and sometimes illogical rules of the English language. The idea was born out of empathy for English learners, himself included. Though Kiisk is most comfortable speaking English, his first language is his native Estonian and his second German, which he learned as a refugee during World War II. In a language such as Estonian, each letter makes one sound, he said. Once you know how to pronounce an Estonian word, you can write it. And vice versa. “In Estonia, they don’t even have spelling courses,” Kiisk said. “They don’t need them.” But when Kiisk applied the same reasoning to English, the letters didn’t make sense in many cases. Furthermore, many words are pronounced the same way but carry different meanings: “you” and “ewe,” for example. His own mother – a schoolteacher fluent in three languages – could not escape frustration with several English words, particularly colonel, which she pronounced as “colon-el” instead of “kernel,” Kiisk said. “My mother’s favorite saying was that in English, they spell ‘cat’ but say ‘dog,’” Kiisk said. For most, mastery of the English language is only possible with vast memorization and access to a dictionary. “I am personally concerned about young people having to learn English and put up with illogical, confusing spelling at the same time,” Kiisk said. “They are required to study science, engineering and computers where everything is logical … I feel that English speakers have a huge disadvantage because of spelling.” Kiisk’s wife, Karin, noted that American teens are already simplifying language through the slang they use to text. “I really think it would make learning English much, much easier,” she said of her husband’s book. As an electrical engineer – Kiisk worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and taught engineering at University of Redlands – his troubleshooting background motivated him to look for a solution. He began the book after he retired. Additionally, he was able to use his own linguistic experience – fluency in Estonian, German and English and familiarity with Latin, Spanish and Russian. Simpel-Fonetik drops four letters from the English language – C, Q, X and Y, which can be replaced by other letters or combinations of letters – and adds two new ones, Ä and Ö. Some words wouldn’t change at all – for example, dog, artist and lemon. But car would become kar, cat – cät, citrus – sitrus, sugar – shugar and intellect – intelekt. Of course, there would be many more complex changes. But by following the simple phonetic principle that each letter represents only one spoken sound, the language would be simplified. Aside from improving spelling, Kiisk sees potential for Simpel-Fonetik to help millions more easily learn English, which is increasingly becoming a global language. Simplifying the English language is nothing new, Kiisk said. Changes have been promoted by groups such as the American Literacy Council. Even Andrew Carnegie proposed “thru” to replace “through,” a spelling that made it into the dictionary, but is still considered informal. However, Kiisk admits native English speakers with a cultural attachment to the language might be hard to win over. “I’m realistic to know not everyone will jump at the idea,” he said. “Old habits are hard to break. We still use miles, not kilometers.” But another reality is that native English speakers are the minority. Three times as many people speak English as a second language than speak it natively, Kiisk said. More than one billion people have learned English as a second or third language. Kiisk hopes a foreign country or organization, such as the United Nations or European Union, will initiate change. He’d like to see his method spread throughout European countries, since it is intended especially for those just learning English. But he also hopes the system will slowly catch on in the United States and the United Kingdom. He’s already had success locally. Some of his friends have taken referring to his work as a “buk” rather than “book.” “A lot of people feel they have to learn English, but they curse the English language,” Kiisk said. “My thinking is, why not make it easier for them?” Simple Phonetic English Spelling will be carried on Amazon.com and in stores like Barnes and Noble by the end of July. For now, the book is available at www.tatepublishing.com, or by calling (888) 361-9473.