Musing musing musing…
I’m all for spelling reform and I would heartily embrace a movement to make English spelling perfectly regular, so that a given spelling could only be pronounced one way, and vice versa. I know the flaw’s the charm and all that, but srsly, it’s beyond a joke, sometimes.
Apart from all the other major impediments, the major impediment would be the Atlantic divide. Obviously there are a many dialect of English but we could roughly say the most important groups of dialects are a Southern England group and a big group covering most of the USA, excluding some parts in the south. Although there is variation within these groups, they for the most part would follow a common phonemic “map”. I’m sorry that I don’t know the proper terminology. What I mean is that although someone in Surrey sounds quite different to someone in Norfolk, the differences are in the phonetic expression of the various phonemes, NOT in the set of phonemes used for specific words.
I sense I’m not explaining myself well. An example: someone saying “poor” in Surrey sounds different from a Norfolk native saying “poor”, but they could both represent the word using pɔ. Pour, paw, pore, they would spell the same way. The same would not apply to Big Northern USA: you just can’t represent the vowels using the same set of phonemes as represent Big Southern England, and in any case “poor” and “paw” aren’t homophones. (In much of Scotland, “poor”, “pore” and “paw” are all pronounced differently but we can’t go making a special case for Scotland, now, can we.)
Similarly, although there are variations within Big Northern USA, they are (with some exceptions) basically “mappable” in the same way Norfolk is to Surrey. Canadian is also mappable to Big Northern USA, and Australian, South African and NZ are to Big Southern England.
But you can’t get around the Atlantic divide. Someone wanting to fully regularise English spelling would have a few options, it seems to me.
1/ Pick a winner
Choose one of these major streams, base the orthographic regularisation around that, and tell the other to suck it up. In the fair dinkum department, the stream chosen would have to be Big Northern USA just by sheer weight of numbers and international importance. Don’t weep too much for folks in England, Australia, NZ, RSA etc: the spelling wouldn’t match their pronunciation closely but it would probably be closer than it is now. Or maybe they could just get with the strength and start speaking BNUSA as well. Worse things happen at sea.
Like Danish and Norwegian, the two streams could formalise their de facto divorce by letting their spelling diverge as their pronunciation did centuries ago. Well, diverge even further than it has. England would have its pɔ and pɔ, USA would have its por and pa (or something), and in written form the two would have near complete mutual intelligibility.
Currently the fact that English pronunciation is only loosely tied to spelling has the merit that groups with very different pronunciations have a common written language. It is somewhat (though not fully) analogous to Chinese, in which dialects with low mutual intelligibility in the spoken form have almost identical written forms.
Musing musing musing…