Notes on Venezky's English Spelling

Vivian Cook

Albrow's Systems

Note: the phonetic symbols may not appear correctly if you do not have the IPATIMES font installed.
R.L. Venezky (1999) The American Way of Spelling, Guilford
R.L. Venezky (1970) The Structure of English Orthography, Mouton

Venezky's General Principles


Variation is tolerated


Letter distribution is capriciously limited


Letters represent sounds and mark graphemic, phonological and morphemic features


Etymology is honoured


Regularity is based on more than phonology


Visual identity of meaningful word parts takes precedence over letter-sound simplicity


English orthography facilitates word recognition for the initiated speaker of the language, rather than being a phonetic alphabet for the non-speaker

R.L. Venezky (1970), The Structure of English Orthography, Mouton


(position is given as I (initial), M (Medial), F (final)

<letter>: /sound/: examples

For each letter the rules go from least inclusive to most inclusive, i.e. the defaults signalled by 'otherwise'. Note that the reference accent is American.

<b>: I, M, F (rare)
<b>: /ø/ : <bt> debt, <mb> bomb
<b>: /b/: otherwise: bet

<c>: I, M, F (mostly <ic>)
<c>: /t§/: cello, concerto
<c>: /ø/: victual, czar
<c>: /s/: before <i/y/e>: cell
<c>: /k/: otherwise: come

<ch>: I, M, F 
<ch>: /ø/: fuchsia, yacht
<ch>: /k/: before <l/n/r>: Christ; plus short list: ache, chorus, etc
<ch>: /§/ in short list: cache, moustache etc
<ch>: /t§/: otherwise: chart

<ck>: F: /k/: back

<d>: I, M, F 
<d>: /t/ after unvoiced C in -ed: looked
<d>: /ø/ between <n> and <C>: handkerchief
<d>: /dj/:  /dju:/ dune
<d>: /d/: otherwise deal

<dg>: F: /dZ/: ridge

<f>: I, M, F:
<f>: /v/: only example: of
<f>: /v/: morpheme-final before pl -s: calves
<f>: /f/: otherwise: fun

<g>: I, M, F (monosyllables)
<g>: /ø/: seraglio, intaglio
<g>: /½/: mirage etc
<g>: /g/ before <e, i, y> in short list: giddy, tiger, etc
<g>: /g/ in <-ger> eager
<g>: /d½/ otherwise before <e, i, y>: gesture 
<g>: /g/ otherwise: grammar

<gh>: I, F  
<gh>: /k/: hough    
<gh>: /f/: cough
<gh>: /g/ initial: ghost, aghast
<gh>: /g/ short list: spaghetti, sorghum
<gh>: /ø/ otherwise: thought

<h>: I, M, F (Post V) 
<h>: /ø/: heir, honest, etc
<h>: /ø/ before C and final post V: ohm, hurrah
<h>: /h/ otherwise initial: hit

<j>: I (+back V), M 
<j>: /d½/: jest etc
<j>: /Z/: bijou

<k>: I, M, F
<k>: /k/ regularly: kit
<k>: /ø/ a few words with <n>: knife, knight

<kh>: rare: /k/: khan. khaki

<l>: I, M, F
<l>: /r/: only example: colonel
<l>: /ø/: would, half, etc
<l>: /l/ otherwise: lad

<m>: I, M, F 
<m>: /n/ only example: comptroller
<m>: /ø/: <mn>: mnemonic
<m>: /m/ otherwise; time

<n>: I, M, F
<n>: /ø/: autumn, kiln (sic VC)
<n>: /N/ before /k/: sink
<n>: /n/ otherwise: nod, don, end

<ng>: F:/N/: ring

<p>: I, M, F
<p>:/ø/: corps, pneumonia etc
<p>: /p/ otherwise: super

<ph> I, M, F
<ph>: /f/ everywhere: seraph
<ph>: /v/: nephew

<pph>: M: /f/ two words: sapphire, Sappho

<q>: I, M (+<u>): /k/ queen

<r>: I, M, F
<r>: /r/: road [VC British English has /ø/ before C]

<rh>: I(+V), M, F rare: /r/ rheostat

<rrh>: rare: /r/: catarrh, diarrhea

<s>: I, M, F
<s>: /ø/: aisle, debris etc.
<s>: /s/: inflectional: fights
<s>: /z/: after voiced C and short list: leads, as, has
<s>: /s/: final and initial otherwise: son, us
<s>: /s/ in cluster: mistress
: /§/ short list: sure, sugar; voiceless medial, tissue
<s>: /½/: measure
<s>: /z/ otherwise: lose

<sch>: /§/: schnapps: British: schedule
<sch>: /sk/: scheme

<sh>: I, M, F: /§/: shrimp

<t>: I, M, F
<t>: /ø/: depot, mortgage, etc
<t>: /ø/: stressed -et: buffet
t>: /ø/: <-sten> fasten, listen
t>: /ø/: <-stle> bristle
<t>: /Z/: equation
<t>: /§/ t+V+V: nation          
<t>: /t/ otherwise: top

<tch> mostly F: /t§/: match, Tchaikovsky

<th> I, M, F   
<th>: /t/ short list: thyme, Thames
<th>: /ø/ short list: isthmus, asthma
<th>: // in function words: the, they etc
<th>: // medial in <-the(r)>: rather
<th>: /T/ otherwise: mouth, thank

<u>: after <q>
<u>: /ø/ in word endings: banquette
<u>: /ø/ in quay, queue etc
<u>: /w/ elsewhere: queen

<v> I, M  
<v>: /v/: vile, live, evil

<w>: I (Before V)   
<w>: /ø/: answer, two, sword, etc
<w>: /w/ otherwise: dwarf, swim

<wh> I
<wh>: /h/: who, whore, whole etc
<wh>: /hw/ 'in most American dialects': whopper [VC British English /w/ white]

<x>: I (rare), M, F
<x>: /ks/: mix
<x>: /z/: Xena, xenophobe

<y>: I (100 odd words) <y>: /j/: yes, yolk

<z> I, M, F (rare)  
<z>: /s/ in final <-tz>: Ritz
<z>: /z/ otherwise: zebra

Venezky Notes

aim: ‘to show the patterning which exists in the present orthography’ (p.11)

scope: 20,000 most frequent words of English

system: spelling-to-sound correspondences

what is a unit?
    functional spelling units, not individual graphemes
    system of markers; ‘ one or more graphemes whose primary function is to indicate the correspondence of relational units or to preserve a graphotactical or         
     morphological pattern’; <u> guest

sequence of application of rules from x to y
invariant: <f>=/f/ only exception of, almost <ck, m, y, z>
regular variants: <c>=/s/ before <e i y>, elsewhere /k/ =/k/ except before <n>
position alone <gh> initial versus final
morpheme boundaries <ph> shepherd no <h> uphill hothead
inflectional rules present tense s
markers: final <v> must have a vowel <e>
alternations: <i/y u/w> suade

base form phonemic
derived from morphemic