views updated

INITIAL TEACHING ALPHABET, short forms i.t.a., ita, I.T.A., ITA. A controversial adaptation of the Roman ALPHABET (sometimes called an augmented Roman alphabet) intended as an aid for children and adults learning to read and write English. It was devised in England in 1959 by Sir James PITMAN, based on the phonotypy of his grandfather, Sir Isaac Pitman, and on the Nue Spelling of the SIMPLIFIED SPELLING SOCIETY. It has 44 lower-case letters, each with one sound value: see extract. The additional letters are adaptations of forms already occurring in traditional orthography (t.o.), such as the digraphs au, ng, th. When the function of a capital is needed, an i.t.a. letter is written or printed larger. When learners become proficient in reading i.t.a. they are expected to transfer easily to t.o. Teachers who use it see this transfer as a progression and not a process of relearning. The alphabet was adopted on an experimental basis by some schools in the UK in 1960 and the US in 1963, and Pitman set up i.t.a. foundations in both countries to administer its use. The British foundation closed from lack of funds, its work taken up in 1978 by the Initial Teaching Alphabet Federation, a group of experienced and enthusiastic teachers.

The alphabet was tested for the U. of London by the researcher John Downing, whose report was favourable. His publications on the subject include The Initial Teaching Alphabet (Cassell, 1964), The i.t.a. reading experiment (Evans, 1964), Evaluating the Initial Teaching Alphabet (Cassell, 1967), Reading and Reasoning (Chambers, 1979). In 1975, the Bullock Report noted: ‘It would appear that the best way to learn to read in traditional orthography is to learn to read in the initial teaching alphabet.’ However, despite such conclusions and much initial interest, the mother-tongue English-teaching profession has since the 1970s massively ignored the alphabet, despite an increasing awareness of literacy problems in the English-using world. It continues, however, to be used on a modest scale in Australia, Canada, Malta, Nigeria, South Africa, Spain, the UK, and the US. Its advocates argue that it gives learners confidence and satisfaction, largely because of its consistency. Its opponents among spelling reformers consider it an unsatisfactory compromise through which the irregularities of t.o. are not removed but postponed. Its mainstream opponents see it as alien and confusing in appearance, expensive in terms of printing reading materials, uncertain in the ease with which transfer to t.o. occurs, and inconvenient in relation to the parallel process of teaching people to write. See SPELLING REFORM.