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What is SaypYu?

The Spell As You Pronounce Universal alphabet project (SaypYu, pronounced Sipe-You) is a collaborative crowd-sourced experiment to build a list of words from all languages spelled phonetically using a simple and single alphabet. All of the letters of the SaypYu alphabet are taken from the standard Roman alphabet, with the exception of the letter schwa, which is represented using a reversed letter 'e’: 'ɘ' or an asterisk *, for the ease of typing using a standard keyboard.

If you learn the SaypYu alphabet, which is very simple and intuitive, you could easily, albeit approximately, pronounce words from other language as long as these words are written in the SaypYu alphabet. While the pronunciation might not be as accurate as that of native speakers, the objective is that the pronunciation would be understood by native speakers. This could be useful when pronouncing foreign names, travelling, learning a new language, or speaking with someone who doesn’t speak the same language using a dictionary/ a smartphone/ Google Glass...etc.

When combined with a machine translation tool, this website could be viewed as a universal and automated phrase book that uses a common and simple phonetic system.

We hope that over the long-term SaypYu could help improve the pronunciation of foreign words using our existing knowledge of the Roman alphabet.

Why cannot you just use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)?

The IPA is a very useful tool whose purpose is to accurately represent the large number of phonemes that humans can utter across different languages and even across different accents and dialects within the same language. This is why it has over 100 letters and over 50 diacritics. This in turn is the reason why most non-linguists are not familiar with it.

The purpose of the SaypYu alphabet is comprehension, rather than accuracy. This is the reason we can afford to have a fewer number of letters as it is easier to pass the test of comprehension than to pass the test of accuracy. In addition, because the IPA has such a large number of characters it is not practical for everyday use. Naturally, the level of accuracy and comprehension using SaypYu would vary from one language to another – it is highest for English and other Latin-based languages and lowest for certain Asian and tonal languages.

We view SaypYu as a standardised international approximation of the pronunciation of all languages using an internationally-consistent and phonetic orthography. Because it is standardised, if everyone applies it consistently over a long period of time, one day, the native speakers of various languages would get used to more easily understanding this 'standardised international accent' despite the fact that it might be very different in some instances to local accents.

In summary, we believe that there is room for another simplified phonetic alphabet with a smaller number of letters than the IPA, that could be easily typed on a standard keyboard or a mobile phone, and whose purpose is not accuracy but comprehension.

What SaypYu is not?

SaypYu is not Esperanto. Unlike Esperanto, SaypYu involves phonetics only and does not require the learning of new vocabulary. In addition, SaypYu intends to preserve various languages, protect our diversity and make our different cultures more accessible to everyone.

SaypYu does not aim at changing the spelling of English or any other language, unlike the attempt of George Bernard Shaw to reform English spelling and other spelling reform attempts. Instead, the idea behind SaypYu is to enable users, through the help of technology, to switch from one spelling system to another back and forth at the press of a button depending on what better suits them at a particular moment.

SaypYu does not aim at replacing the IPA. Instead, SaypYu aims at promoting phonetic reading, which could be seen as the first step to learning the IPA.

Why did you choose the name SaypYu for this project?

SaypYu is an acronym for Spell As You Pronounce Universally. It is actually a phonetic acronym in the sense that each letter in the word SaypYu is pronounced in the same way as it is pronounced in the words: Spell, As, You, Pronounce, Universally. This results in the pronunciation being ‘Sipe-You’ in the traditional English alphabet, or ‘SaypYu’ in the SaypYu alphabet.

In addition, this name was chosen to further illustrate the point that it would be clearer for every day communications if each letter represents one single sound only rather than a range of possible sounds.

What is the purpose of this website?

The website is designed to enable users who speak any language to contribute to this project by adding words that are not already in the database or by correcting and voting on the spelling of existing words. The website also offers users the possibility to debate and discuss the best ways to spell and transcribe phonemes and words from all languages.

In addition, the SaypYu website could be used to enable users to speak foreign languages. This requires two steps: (1) translating words from your native language to the foreign language, and (2) converting the spelling of words from the translated foreign language to SaypYu, which is easily pronounced.

What is the long-term dream?

We hope that one day we all be able to read and write using a simple and single universal alphabet along with our current alphabets, so that we can easily pronounce words in foreign languages using smartphones, Google Glass, augmented reality, online, on signs/boards…etc.

Many years from now, if a simple phonetic alphabet is used to write languages across the world in conjunction with existing alphabets, no one will have to ask anyone else how a word is pronounced or spelled in any language. You would be able to go anywhere in the world and pronounce the names of people, of cities, of streets, of food…etc and be understood by local people.

We hope that this would lead to better understanding and more openness between people who speak different languages and who come from different cultures. This might make our cosmopolitan world a more peaceful and harmonious place.

Can SaypYu help improving literacy rates?

The speakers and learners of English and other non-phonetic languages face difficulties or inconvenience because of the inconsistency that currently exists between how words are pronounced and how they are spelled in English and these other languages. By using a parallel and more phonetic spelling system to write and read words, there will be no inconsistency between the spelling and pronunciation of any word. This would hopefully help improving literacy rates given that the inconsistency between the pronunciation and spelling of words is one of the barriers to learning how to read and write.

How can I contribute?

Everyone can contribute to this project. All that you need to do is to learn the SaypYu alphabet and how it is used in spelling and pronouncing words. You can then enter words that you think would be useful for other people. Words with difficult pronunciation would be particularly interesting to add or correct in the database.

The main criteria in deciding how a word would be spelled in SaypYu is to make the word pronounceable as accurately as possible by someone who can read in SaypYu, but who is not familiar with the word or the language to which the word belongs. While it would be impossible to accurately represent every sound in every language using a phonetic alphabet with such a small number of letters, the purpose of SaypYu spelling is to have the pronunciation understood by native speakers, albeit not 100% accurate.

This project is called the Spell As You Pronounce, does it mean that there could be more than one spelling for each word in each language depending on the pronunciation of different people?

No, each word in each language will have one spelling only. For example, in English there are many different accents (i.e. American, British, Australian, regional ones…etc), the optimal SaypYu spelling is the one that would enable someone who doesn’t know anything about English but is familiar with the SaypYu alphabet to pronounce English words such that they are understood by the majority of people who speak English, regardless of what those people’s accents are.

Is SaypYu difficult to learn?

SaypYu is a very intuitive and simple alphabet. For example: ‘Kan yu riid dhis freyz?’. By reading this phrase, you have already learned around half of the basic sounds in SaypYu. You would have probably noticed that the letter ‘e’ is pronounced as in the word ‘pen’ and that if the same vowel is repeated it means a longer version of the vowel.

You can use this knowledge to pronounce other words in the same language or in other languages even if you had not heard these words before.

To learn more on how to use the SaypYu alphabet, please click here.

To learn how the SaypYu alphabet is different from the English alphabet, please click here.

What does ‘ɘ’ or ‘Ǝ’ mean?

‘ɘ’, which is the same as ‘Ǝ’ (in CAPITAL), represents the sound of ‘schwa’. This is the first sound in the words ‘ago’ and ‘about’. Because ɘ is not easy to type on a standard keyboard, the asterisk symbol * is used to represent it. For example, ‘about’ could be written in SaypYu as ‘ɘbawt’ or ‘*bawt’.

We chose the shape of a ‘reversed e’ for the sound of ‘schwa’ because the sound of ‘schwa’ is similar to the sound of ‘e’ (as in ‘pen’). Therefore, we thought that it is appropriate that they have similar shapes. We did not wish to use the traditional schwa character ‘ə’ because it looks very similar to ‘a’.

Why does the SaypYu alphabet not have the letters ‘c’, ‘q’ and ‘x’?

The SaypYu alphabet does not have the letter ‘c’ because the sound of the letter ‘c’ is similar to either the sound of the letter ‘k’, in which case it would be replaced by a ‘k’, or to the sound of the letter ‘s’, in which case it would be replaced by an ‘s’. In addition, the sound of the ‘ch’ would be represented using ‘tsh’.

Similarly, the letter ‘q’ will be replaced by ‘k’, except in Arabic and a few other languages where it assumes it is IPA's role. Furthermore, the letter ‘x’ will be replaced by ‘ks’ or by ‘gz’.

Would you consider adding other letters to make the SaypYu alphabet more phonetic?

Yes, we are considering increasing the number of letters in the alphabet to accommodate a larger number of sounds and to make the pronunciation more accurate. Furthermore, we are also considering adding diacritics to certain tonal languages. However, we need to balance the level of accuracy that we would like to achieve with the level of effort that users would be willing to put to learn the alphabet.

Why does the SaypYu alphabet use the English alphabet?

The shadow of the English alphabet appears in many, but not all, aspects of the SaypYu alphabet because English is the most widely spread language. In addition, English uses the Roman alphabet, which is the most widely known alphabet.

Furthermore, English is a relatively unphonetic language. Therefore, many non-native English speakers would benefit if there were a simple phonetic system for spelling English.

To learn how the SaypYu alphabet is different from the English alphabet, please click here.

I saw EngSMS as a language on the website, what does it have to do with this project?

We have received suggestions that sometimes people feel that reading text messages and tweets is not very easy because of the inconsistency of shortcuts that different people use when texting or tweeting. Given that we are anyway developing phonetic spelling for English words, it was easy for us to add to this website a preliminary spelling system with consistent shortcuts that could be used on Twitter or when writing an SMS. As with every other spelling of any word in this project, at this stage these are merely suggestions and we are grateful for everyone who added, corrected, commented and/or voted on the spelling available on this website.

I saw languages with the extension IPA on the website, why are these relevant to the SaypYu project?

For some languages, we added the International Phonetic Alphabet transcription to show how it compares with the spelling using SaypYu. This could be useful for users who are already familiar with the IPA or who would like to learn the IPA. Given that the IPA has a much larger number of letters than SaypYu, the pronunciation using IPA spelling would lead to a more accurate pronunciation than using SaypYu spelling.

Are you suggesting to get rid of all these beautiful non-Roman based alphabets?

Of course we are not. We believe that the distinctiveness of all languages and the diversity of all cultures should be treasured.

What we are suggesting is that, in conjunction with current alphabets, a simple and single universal phonetic alphabet could enable everyone to easily pronounce words from different languages. We believe that traditional phonetic alphabets – while very accurate - are too difficult to learn and use on a daily basis.

With the help of technology, it would be very easy to convert from traditional alphabets to SaypYu alphabet and vice versa. You can then use each alphabet when needed.

We actually believe that by making languages more easily accessible to non-native speakers, the SaypYu project would contribute to preserving endangered languages.

I found errors, have suggestions, want to make comments about the words, the alphabet, the pronunciation…etc, what shall I do?

As this is a collaborative project, there may well be errors, typos and inconsistencies. The spelling that is currently available on the website is merely a suggestion made by us and the native speakers of a few languages to illustrate the idea of the project – it is by no means accurate or final. It is not our role to determine how words should be spelled in any language. Our role is only to manage the project and encourage users to add, edit and vote on the spelling of various words.

Please let us know about any suggestions or comments you have about SaypYu, the project, the spelling of the words...etc asap. You can contact us, add or edit a word or vote & comment.