Reform English Spelng with BTRSPL!

Convert whole documents in moments to or from a rational spelling system with this free program!

On this page you can...


English spelling is a wretched mess that reflects centuries of neglect. Instead of a consistent system it is a hodge podge of foreign words in foreign spellings, letters that haven't been pronounced since Chaucer, and general lunacy. Efforts to reform it go back centuries too, but they have always been defeated by conservative editors and schoolmarms, and by the expense of printing a book using handset type. But now there are computers and BTRSPL (pronounced "Betterspell"), a program that converts electronic documents from standard spelling to one of the reformed systems, or vice versa. A report converts in seconds. A free novel from Project Gutenberg, downloaded in minutes from one of the great on-line libraries, converts at 90 pages a minute.

To read details click here , but better yet why not download a program and read the details in its readme.doc file -- and then try it out? It's easy, fun, and fascinating.

Click here to get your program. (Sorry, for now it's DOS only -- no Mac version yet.)

Linguist Groups interested in Spelling Reform

1. The Simplified Spelling Society, London, England.

2. The American Literacy Council

The ALC does a lot of reform work but you have to dig deep on their web page to find it.

There are dozens of other great sites as well, and here are two pages that list them beautifully!

Steve Bett's Page

The Spelling Ring (John Reilly)

Places to Find Electronic Literature

1. Link to Yahoo - Humanities - Literature - Electronic Literature

2. Link to the giant Carrie Electronic Library at the University of Kansas (Note: click on "Stacks" and search under your favorite authors.)

Get a Program!

There are three spelling reform systems available, and we solicit more. (We will help you prepare a dictionary and distribute it here for free.)

There are several packages, some large and others quite small. Please make your choice below. (Click anywhere in the highlighted area.)

1. The program plus all dictionaries (Cut Spelling, ALC-American, and Truespel) and instructions etc. A large file, 1.3 meg, and expands to 12 meg. Download times are six minutes at 28.8, twelve at 14.4 Kbps.

2. The program plus the Cut Spelling large dictionary, converts nearly every word in a document (the usual exceptions being made-up words like"Munchkins" in the Wizard of Oz.) It's 0.6 megs and expands to 5 megs. Three minutes at 28.8, six at 14.4.

3. A tiny version with only small dictionaries of 1024 words for Cut Spelling. About 90% of the words in a converted document come out as correct "Cut", which gives an excellent feel for what it's like to read in that system. A good starter version, downloads in thirty seconds, takes just 170,000 bytes, runs fast (240 pages a minute on a 120 mhz machine), runs even on old XT's and PC's -- pretty much anything but an abacus. If you like it, come back for the big dictionaries and other systems. (Full programs (with big dictionaries) need a 486 with 4 meg, or better, to run fast.)

4. The Windows version -- Now Available! This works just like the other Windows programs with which you may be familiar, and contains features not found in the DOS version. Due to the Windows overhead, it runs at only a third the speed of the DOS versions, taking fifteen minutes instead of five to convert a 400 page novel, and for now it works only with the Cut Spelling dictionary (more are planned soon.) The program, dictionary, and instructions etc. A large file, 2.5 meg, and expands to 5.3 meg. Download times are six minutes at 28.8, twelve at 14.4 Kbps.

5. Get the PKUNZIP program you need to decompress these files. This is a standard Internet utility you will use often. Expand this file by typing PKZ204G (Enter). (This is the full utility, and lets you compress files and re-expand them; very useful)

To unzip the files above type "PKUNZIP FILENAME", e.g. PKUNZIP ALLSPL.ZIP (Enter). After that, the standard drill is to look for needed information in a README file. e.g. from the DOS prompt type EDIT README.DOC (Enter).

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  • BTRSPL Details ( simply the Readme.doc file from the program)


    BTRSPL (from "Better Spelling") is a new program that lets you convert any digital document into any spelling system you want!

    Note: BTRSPL is an * easy * program -- you need not read these directions.

    Just type BTRSPL (Enter), and follow the menus.

    Contents (8 pages)

    Purpose & Uses
    Requirements & Directions
    How Fast? & How to Speed Up
    Copyright & Source Code
    Invitation to reformers
    About Spelling Reforms

    Purpose and Uses

    BTRSPL makes possible many things:

    From electronic libraries on the Internet, you can download thousands of classic novels for free. Then you can convert them (at 90 pages a minute!) into Reformed Spelling. Now you can read H.G. Wells, Jane Austen, or hundreds of other authors in a rational, shorter spelling system, for practice and to see how easy it is!

    You can convert your own letters and documents from traditional orthography ("TO") to Reformed Spelling ("RS"). Or you can write in the new and better way, with shorter words (thru not through) and logical phonics, and BTRSPL can convert your work in moments to the archaic obsolete form, as approved by fusty old correspondents, professors, bosses etc.

    Any document can be converted in either direction.

    Children learn to read and write much more easily in a rational spelling system -- including allowance for the later switch to TO. Even beginners can read big words and advanced material when consistent spellings match the sounds of the words. From the Net you can download hundreds of good children's stories, convert them, and use them to help beginners learn to read and love it. And a Jack London story or "The Wizard of Oz" beats "Dick and Jane" every time!

    BTRSPL Requirements

    BTRSPL requires a PC with 4-8 meg of RAM for good conversion speeds due to the size of the dictionary. Most 486's, 586's, and Pentiums have this much; so do half the 386's and some 286's. Otherwise, BTRSPL will run from your hard drive, but much more slowly. Alas, as of this writing (Aug 15, 1997) there is no Mac version.

    BTRSPL converts 90 pages a minute on a typical 1997 computer (586 120MHz.) On an old 386, 16MHz, 2 meg of RAM (inadequate) it runs at just two pages a minute. (But note that that's OK - you can still convert a report quickly, a short book over lunch hour, and an 800 page novel overnight. You can still use BTRSPL without buying a new computer -- it just takes some patience and planning.)


    BTRSPL is easy and intuitive; all you have to do is shown here -- and you can even skip this! Just start the program and follow the directions.

    1. From the DOS prompt of the directory where you have BTRSPL, type BTRSPL (Enter).

    2. Answer the questions as they appear. Do you want to watch on-screen as the conversion is done? (It's fun and impressive, but slows conversion from 90 pages/minute to 60.) Press Y (Enter) for Yes, N for No.

    3. What is the name of the ASCII file to converte? (Some word processor files MUST be saved in ASCII.) Type the filename and (Enter.) e.g. Oz.txt (Enter). For practice you can convert this very file, the material you are now reading,by typing : README.DOC (Enter) .

    4. What is the name of the output file? (Make up a new one every time, so you don't overwrite an old one.) e.g type README.RS (Enter).

    5. Convert from 1. Standard to reformed or 2. Reformed to Standard (If you have a regular text you want to read in Reformed choose 1. To change something you wrote in Reformed to Regular, choose 2.) Type 1 or 2 and (Enter).

    6. If you've converted to reformed, the program beeps when it's finished your output file. You then have the option of converting further to a new file where a single letter has been substituted for "th" and another for "ch". These represent further changes that have been suggested, and are interesting, though they are not standard for any reform (nor do the reform originators propose them for any current system.) Press Y for Yes, make the additional file, Or N for No, and (Enter).

    7. If you mean to publish the output or send it to someone important, then edit the output with a standard word processor. For Standard-Spelling output, run a spell check. For Reformed output, check for errors if you know the reformed system well enough to spot them. Look for slashes (e.g. red/read) and delete the unwanted spelling and the slash. e.g., in CUT: I red/read it then; he wil red/read it tomoro. (We automatically pronounce "read" both ways, depending on the time indicated.) Correct this (if you want) to "I red it then; he wil read it tomoro."

    That's all there is to it!

    TO CHANGE DICTIONARIES , e.g. to make BTRSPL convert to Truespel instead of Cut Spelling, run the DCHANGE program. (from the DOS prompt, type DCHANGE (Enter). DCHANGE prompts you as you go.Besides Cut Spelling there is AMERICAN, from the American Literacy Council. Cut is closer to regular spelling and easier to read; AMERICAN is more phonetic and easier to write but a little harder to read.

    There is also Truespel, meant to allow you to read any language written in it and pronounce it right immediately, and there will soon be ANJeL, written without descenders (for closed captioning) and meant to help foreigners learn to pronounce English more quickly. In the future there may be other methods proposed by smaller groups. BTRSPL lets you try them all and decide which YOU prefer.

    How fast does it go?

    On an old 20 MHz 386 without much RAM, 2 pages/min.

    On a typical 1997 computer (586 chip and 16 meg RAM, and set up right), 90 ppm; on a Pentium 200, probobly twice as fast.

    You can check performance on your computer by converting Sample.DOC, which is 10 pages and timing it. If it finishes in twenty seconds to one minute then it's working well so forget the rest of these instructions; if it takes 10 minutes and the computer clunks and whirs, read on.

    Requirements to run BTRSPL at full performance:

    BTRSPL may run too slowly to be practical unless you have a fairly new computer with enough memory, set up right. BTRSPL opens a big dicitonary file and leaves it open, reading it during conversions.

    On an old computer each word is looked up from the hard disk, which is very slow and makes the hard disk run continously. On a new computer the file is stored in RAM. The fast chip memory is used as a "pretend" hard drive, or RAMDISK, which is hundreds of times faster than the real hard drive, and BTRSPLB typically converts 90 pages a minute. Here's what you need:

    A computer with 8 meg of RAM (maybe 4 is enough), and some sort of RAMDISK program giving you at least a 2 meg DOS cache. Older versions of DOS used a program called RAMDISK -- look it up in your manual -- while DOS 6+ used SMARTDRV.

    Probably most 486-586-Pentium computers have SMARTDRV, and enough memory factory installed. To check, type SMARTDRV (Enter) from the DOS prompt. In response, on the screen you'll probably see:

    Microsoft SMARTDrive Disk Cache Version 4.0 Copyright 1991,1992 Microsoft Corp. Cache size: 2,097,152 etc,etc

    If it runs slowly:

    On an old computer the hard disk works continuously, but that's OK, it's designed to work that for hundreds of thousands of hours. You can still convert 4 page reports in a minute or two, and a novel if you let it run overnight.

    Or you may be able to make it run "right". See your DOS manual or local guru about installing SMARTDRV or a RAM disk.


    No guarantees! BTRSPL is free, so you can have your money back if you don't like it. It may not work, may not work right, and does mis-translate a few words -- so don't use it for critical documents like contracts!


    You may distribute the program, which is free, but you may not sell it or incorporate or its copyrighted principles in any commercial product (such as a word processor.), except by permission from Robert Alan Mole. For non-commercial purposes you may modify it as you wish.

    Source Code

    The program is written in Quick Basic. It's quite small and simple, and the source code is available. (In fact, the BTRSPLN.BAS file will be included in the zipped package we'll distribute -- i.e. you should have it already.)


    The dictionaries provided represent the main reform systems I know of, but there may be more and I will be happy to include others. BTRSPL will work with any dictionary, and dictionaries are easy to make. If you have a different system and want to make BTRSPL work with it, please contact me, Alan Mole ( for instructions and help. I can also design new characters to appear on-screen and print out, if needed.

    About Spelling Reforms

    Current spelling is a horrible inconsistent system that just happened by accident. In the classic nonsense sentence " Though the rough cough and hiccough plough me through, I ought to cross the lough. ", the letters "ough" are pronounced eight different ways! Phonetically, the sentence reads "Tho the ruff coff and hicup plow me thru, I aut to croos the lock. ". No one could guess this from the forms of the words. No learner can tell if "cough" should be spelled as it is or as "coff" or as "cof". Italian has a fairly consistent spelling, and learning to read and write take an Italian child a few weeks -- after which she can read practically anything, and write correctly (or nearly so) almost any word you can pronounce for her. In contrast, English children take years of gradual progress to learn to read and spell all the words commonly used in adult writing. Some marginal children never learn to read. All waste a year, overall in several grades, learning spelling that takes just weeks in a rational system. A wasted year that could be spent on useful things! And another one learning to read.

    This need not be. Germany and Norway have reformed their spelling during this century, and so could we.

    There are many kinds of reform proposed, each having pros and cons.

    Some reforms would make it easier for children to learn to read because they could look at a word and know exactly how it was pronounced. There would need to be about fifteen more letters for a perfect system of this kind. But these systems would not be self-reading; that is, people not trained in them could not make out the text well because of all the new letters.

    Reforms with single letters for common combinations of letters (e.g. one for "th") would cut the numbers of letters in a word by an average of 16%, letting us write faster and making books a sixth shorter and lighter, cheaper to make and using fewer trees for the paper. Also, we might be able to read a little faster. But again, introducing many new letters will confuse traditional readers.

    Spelling would be made easier if there were just one letter per sound. In our present system, the "k" sound can be written as k (king), qu (queen, could just as well be kween), or c (cat). Eliminating c and qu would improve things, but too many such changes would again make self reading harder, since we don't immediately recognize "Sirkus" as "Circus".

    The Cut Spelling system is a compromise that allows self reading, introduces no new letters, and is easy to learn. Yet it makes learning reading much easier, spelling much easier, and reduces word length by about 10%. It appears to many scholars who have studied the issue to be the most promising first step for spelling reform. It is enough of a change to have powerful advantages, yet not so radical as to require extensive relearning from the millions of people who spell conventionally. The Simplified Spelling Society believes that Cut Spelling, developed over many years of dedicated work, is our best hope to fix the current mess.

    AMERICAN, from the American Literacy Council (descended from American spelling reform societies) is a slightly different reform. It introduces no new letters, but instead uses pairs of letters in a consistent way to distinguish sounds; for example, the long vowels from the short. It is very consistent and easier for a child to learn to read and write in than CS, but it is slightly harder to read if you are already used to conventional English. It reduces average word length 7%.

    ("AMERICAN" indicates it is phonetic for American pronunciations; it is meant that BRITISH would use the same system for a British accent, AUSTRALIAN would be used for that accent and so on. Almost all words would be the same in all these systems. The name AMERICAN is emphatically NOT some chauvinistic boast that one side of the ocean is better than the other.)

    As to which system is best, I take a neutral stance, except to note that ALL reform methods would be improvements on the current "system".

    It would require a Labor of Hercules to come up with anything worse.

    More Radical Reforms

    The two most common letter combinations are "th" and "ch". Substituting one special letter for each reduces word length by 3% and .6% respectively. And computer keyboards have two little-used keys, the bracket keys - [{ and ]} - that can be programmed to produce two new characters easily. (Whereas for fifteen new characters there just aren't keys enough, unless people are willing to do a great deal of shifting and sacrifice @#^&* etc.) So I have added the TH and CH option, just to give you a feel for the possibilities in that direction.


    This vocabulary does not reform spelling, but it can save you a huge amount of typing time. It lets you type a single letter or two in place of a common word ("t" for "the") and then BTRSPL converts the short forms to the regular ones. The nice thing is you can learn just a few substitutions and save signifigant time, or more and save more. In half an hour you can learn most of the single letter substitutions and thereafter save one hour out of every eight you type. Forever.

    FASTYPE is included with all packages except #3, the tiny one.

    Where to Find Books on the Internet

    One good place is the Carrie electronic library of the University of Kansas: (click on "stacks" and look for favorite authors.)

    Or you can go to YAHOO ( Below the big search window are listed the tree-structure search options. Find "Humanities: architecture photography literature" at the upper left of this list, and click carefully on "literature". A menu of choices appears. Choose "Electronic Literature". On the next screen, "Publishers" are people who sell (often cheaply) or give away current literature, much of it self published. "On Line Libraries" are like Carrie. There are 16 listed as I write this, and more all the time. In a few years, if copyright issues can be resolved, every book available anywhere will be quickly available everywhere, and no one will have to travel to a distant library again.



    Time and time again intelligent and distinguished people have recognized the advantage of reforming spelling, yet the idea has never succeeded. Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and George Bernard Shaw all campaigned for it, and yet it has always failed.

    We genuinely want to know what you think. Please fill in as much or as little as you like of the form below, and mail it back to me. (Alan Mole, 1441 Mariposa Ave, Boulder, CO 80302, USA.) If you prefer, just send your thoughts by e-mail. ( If reform is ever to happen, we need feedback and we need ideas!

    Please don't think you have to be an "expert" - English spelling is a plague upon us all!




    Education (Current grade or maximum attained)

    Have you a special interest in spelling reform, and if so, what?


    E-mail address

    CS: Were you able to read CS easily after a few minutes?

    AMERICAN : Were you able to read American easily after a few minutes?

    Other (which one?): Were you able to read it easily after a few minutes?

    What did you like or dislike, and why?





    . BTRSPL:

    Which version did you try, DOS or Windows?

    How did you learn about it?

    Was it easy to use?






    . Comments: Improvements, results, wish lists, etc.






    . Ways to bring about spelling reform






    . Main obstacles to reform






    Suppose people wrote to correspondents, professors etc., who were open minded enough to accept it, papers in reformed spelling beginning with a message such as "I support spelling reform and hope you won't mind that the following is written in Cut Spelling, which drops unpronounced letters (no not know and unstressed vowels (talkng not talking). Do you think this might "spread the word"?

    Would you be willing to do this? And, if so, please let us know the reactions!

    If you are a teacher or executive, would you accept such reports from those you supervise?

    Can you think of other ways to spread the word?

    Any other comments:







    E-mail -- click below: