Phonetic spelling of English using Roman letters

This pages describes how the Roman alphabet can be used without diacritics (e.g. accents) to represent all the sounds of English.

Consonants which keep their present sounds

The following 15 consonants can retain their present sounds:
  • b
  • d
  • f
  • g (as in good)
  • h
  • k
  • l
  • m
  • n
  • p
  • r
  • s
  • t
  • v
  • z

Freeing up six consonants by using other letters to represent their sounds

This leaves six consonants whose sounds can be rendered using other letters thus:
ck or s
jdx (see below for why x is used here)
qku followed by another vowel
wu followed by another vowel
yi followed by another vowel
Now that c, j, q, w, x and y are spare, we can be re-use them thus:
cthe a in apart
jthe th in think
qthe th in the
wthe sh in short
xthe s in leisure
ythe ng in thing
The re-use of the six spare letters is confusing at first, but it should not take the average reader long to learn the new sounds. Some other phonetic alphabets require the reader to learn a much greater number of quite new characters.

Pure vowels

Pure vowels may be rendered thus:
The difficult pure vowels are:
  • ee for the vowel in putt
  • the former consonant c for the first vowel in apart (which is also the last vowel in butter)
  • cc for the vowel in pert.


Diphthongs may be rendered thus:

Strengths and weaknesses of this system

The Roman alphabet is not suited to English. However, this proposed system uses 15 of the 21 consonants in much the same way as they are used in other languages. The five short vowels are straightforward too (as in pat, pet and pit). Long vowels and diphthongs are less straightforward, but fairly easy for a reader to guess. The major problems are the six re-cycled consonants (c, j, q, w, x and y), whose present use gives few clues as to how we suggest they are re-used.

Here is an example of the new system in use:

auc faaqc huu aat in hevn: halcud bii qai neim. qai kiydcm keem. qai uil bii deen, on ccj az it iz in hevn. giv ees qis dei auc deilii bred and fc'giv cs auc trespcsiz az uee fc'giv qcuz huu trespcs c'genst ees, and liid ees not intuu temp'teiwcn beet dc'livc ees from iivcl.
There is no need for capital letters; there is actually is no need for them in normal writing! The example above uses apostrophes (for which there would otherwise be no need either) to show irregular stress. Polysyllabic words can be assumed to have the stress on the first syllable unless there is an apostrophe, which precedes the stressed syllable.

There is, of course, the problem of how to spell words whose pronunciation varies depending on where they are in a sentence. For example, the sound of the vowel in for in for example differs from that of the vowel in for in What is it for? Also, in the former case, while all speakers would pronounce the final r of for, many British speakers would not pronounce it in the latter case. It may be necessary to decide that words should be spelled as if spoken in isolation. The example above uses this convention.

This new use of the Roman alphabet is © Paul Danon, 1997, 1998.