A great thing about the web, and search engines in particular, is that you can use tiny fragments of information from the dark recesses of your memory to recover substantial quantities of information. I’ve done this quite a lot, for example, with songs that I heard in my early childhood. For thirty-odd years I would hum fragments to myself in the shower but had no knowledge of whence they came, until one day it would occur to me to type the words into Google and discover that I had been sharing my shower with the Osmonds all these years, or some such embarassing revelation.
Anyway, the thing I typed this morning was ‘ITA’. In the sixties, the British government sponsored an experiment in the use of the ‘Initial Teaching Alphabet’, a 40-character phonetic alphabet designed by Sir James Pitman. The idea was that it’s tough enough for young children to learn the concepts of reading and writing without having to cope with the irregularities of English spelling and pronunciation. Italian and Spanish children, who have a much more phonetically -consistent language, progress much faster in the early years. The irregularities of normal English are best left until the ages of six or seven when the children are more confident about their abilities with the mechanics of reading and writing.
Well, that’s the way I learned, and it worked very well for me. Others, I gather, had different experiences, but my mother says that on one Very Important Day I went to school using ITA and came back using grown-up spelling, and never read an ITA book again. In fact, I had almost no memory of the alphabet I used for the first year or two of my education. Until this morning, that is, when I realised I could read all about it again.