Let other people worry about war and recession. Rulon Williams has his mind on vowels and consonants, and the unreliable relationship between the two.
Take any word, says Williams. Or, as he would prefer, Taek ene werd. What peeves him is that the spelling of English words is so inconsistent, inefficient, and illogical, so rigidly locked into archaic configurations.Rulon Williams is 71, an age when he could get away with being rigid himself. But Williams has an inventor's way of looking at the obvious and coming up with something new. In 1957 he started inventing a new kind of tire. Last year he started inventing a new language.
"The English language has been changing, evoluting I guess they call it, every 45 or 50 years," he argues. So why shouldn't spelling keep up with the times? Why, for example, should the structure connecting two river banks be spelled bridge when brij would be more to the point?
Williams, a retired railroad steno clerk, has been leading his spelling crusade from his basement in Magna. This summer he published "Tha Amaerkan Dikshunaere," a venture that cost him $6,500.
"I eliminate 99 percent, well, more than that, you could almost make it that famous 99.9 percent, of the spelling and pronunciation problems in English," Williams boasts.
But when he went to get his business license and wrote down "Tha Amaerkan Dikshunaere," the secretary told him "You have to write it in English."
"I said, `It is in English.' But they spelled it their way."
So far he has sold 10 copies of his book. He sold the very first copy to a fellow guest at the Thunderbird Motel in Aberdeen, Wash., and the second to a forest ranger in Crater Lake whom he met while asking directions.
"I offered to buy both books back," Williams explains.
Eventually, he predicts, his phonetic spelling will catch on. Schoolchildren could use it to learn to read on a third-grade level in kindergarten, he says. And don't forget all those foreign tourists, and those new Americans for whom English is a second, and baffling, language.
Williams didn't originally set out to reform his native tongue. What he had in mind was a game, similar to Scrabble, that he would call Sqobel. In his game, players could spell words either the standard way or phonetically. But in order to have a standard by which they could measure their answers, he thought he'd better come up with a dictionary.
The book contains over 8,000 words, from abaents (a staet ov sispenshun) to zuoli-je (tha sients ov animal lief). The basic rule of what he calls "tha Amaerkan langwej," he says, can be summed up by the acronym Silis Silis - which stands for "spel it liek it sounds; sound it liek its speld." Williams sometimes doesn't hold to the usual punctuation rules, either.
He has added a 27th letter to the alphabet, an undotted i, pronounced "ih," which is used as a connective vowel between two syllables. Because Williams could not afford to create an undotted i for his book, he uses, instead, a regular i and a hyphen, as in ki-mueni-kaet.
Williams wrote his preface in Amaerkan langwej. It's very irritating at first, but by about the third paragraph you get into tha rithem of it and bi-gin to reed tha werds faerle eesi-le.
Here's a sample: "Bi seing tha werds in reiting, wun be-kums mor noleji-bel and self-ashurd in tha pri-nunsi-aeshun ov werds and thus is mor equipt or aebel tu ori-le ki-mueni-kaet with uthers."
Out in his garage, Williams has 80 boxes of "Tha Amaerkan Dikshunaere." Under the boxes is a mold for Williams' second passion - a self-cooling, non-pneumatic tire. According to Williams, his tire would last for the life of the car, would never need balancing and would never need to be filled with air.
Williams has a filing cabinet filled with correspondence about this tire. He has obtained patents from Brazil, Canada and England, but was turned down by the U.S. Patent Office. He has also had no luck interesting billionaire Ross Perot, the U.S. Army and major tire manufacturers. In 1983 he sent his tire prototype - his only copy - to a tire company in Belgium that had expressed an interest. He never got the tire back.
"I've had tough luck all my life," decides Williams. But he still feels confident. He has begun a new letter-writing campaign, hoping to persuade someone to take a look at the tire. He is willing to give his secrets away free, he says, even though he has invested $10,000.
"I only have a limited time to live. I wouldn't want the money."
Sometimes he thinks about a man who used to wander the streets of his hometown, Shelley, Idaho.
"He used to light matches in the street," Williams remembers. "People used to say his inventions made him crazy."