Articles: 20th century

(In descending chronological order)


Thorstad, G, ‘The effect of orthography on the acquisition of literacy skills,’ British Journal of Psychology, 18 February 1991

“The effect of the regularity of orthography on the acquisition of literacy skills was studied by comparing the reading and spelling of 70 Italian children aged 6-11 years with that of 90 English children learning traditional orthography (t.o.) and 33 children aged 6-7 years learning the initial teaching alphabet (i.t.a.), using an Italian passage for adults which was also translated into English. The Italian children learned to read at an earlier age than the English t.o. children, but not than the English i.t.a. children. The English t.o. and i.t.a. children could read more words than they could spell, whereas the Italian children could spell most of the words they could read and even some they could not read.

[…T]he results suggest that, if the orthography is predictable and invariant, the children use a systematic, phonological strategy and learn to read and spell more quickly and accurately.”

Wells, J C, ‘English accents and their implications for spelling reform,’ edited version of a talk given to The Simplified Spelling Society, 25 January 1986

“What I hope I have done is to highlight the dangers of parochialism in designing a reformed orthography for English, of being unaware of the varying patterns of contrast in different accents. But even with this awareness, it is impossible to satisfy all of the speakers all of the time; the best that can be hoped is that a proposed reform will satisfy most of the speakers most of the time.”


Tweeddale, ‘Spelling reforms,’ letter, The Spectator, 2 November 1985

“Much though I am in sympathy with the drift of Mr Amis’s article (`Sod the public’, 19 October), I believe he is seriously wrong about spelling reform. The present system does not work perfectly well. Only the highly literate (and not all of them) are able to use it without falling into error.”


Amis, K, Spelling reform, in ‘Sod the public: a consumer’s guide,’ The Spectator, 18 October 1985

“SPELLING REFORM: No, not here yet but probably nearer than you think because it has everything required of a quarry for bureaucratic interference, viz:

1) The present system is long established and works perfectly well.

2) No rational person who has given five minutes’ thought to the matter wants a change.

3) It would be very expensive. (Transliterating all previous writings for a start.)

4) Any new system would be much worse than the present one. (In this case anything more than tinkering with words like centre and favour would be unworkable. An alphabet equally intelligible to an Aberdonian, a Chicagoan and a Hararean cannot be devised until we all speak English in exactly the same way. That is probably a little further off.)

5) The most irresistible attraction of the lot to the bureaucrat with a roving eye: the present system is full of illogicalities, inconsistencies, exceptions and things you just have to know, all crying out to be straightened and made uniform.”


Bell, R, ‘Spelling reform essay,’ University of Glasgow, School of Critical Studies, March 1982

“Perhaps we could put this to a referendum and let the people decide. It would be one more step forward for Britain into the European Community as countries like Italy and Germany already follow strict rules of pronunciation and spelling.”


‘Are we redy for SR[Spelling Reform]1? Spelling reform unlikely despite teachers’ backing’, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 February 1975

“Instead of advocating that everybody instantly begin writing phonetic gobbledegood, Mr Lindgren wants very gradual reform, using inconspicuous changes, for example – SR1. […] However, […] it seems very unlikely that either the ATF resolution or the Murwillumbah ‘example’ will herald a reform of English spelling in Australia.

“Whatever their future, one thing is certain. Those who will benefit most from the change – children and foreigners learning English – will have the least influence upon its future.”

J S, ‘Do we need a spelling reform,’ The Mount Ida Chronicle, 31 October 1913

“Why bow to old customs which cling like a leech?

Will no one arise a new method to teech –

A new-fashioned doctrine in spelling to preech.

For badly we need it –

A something quite easy and well within reech

That the humblest may reed it.”


‘Spelling reform,’ The San Pedro Times, 18 August 1908

“We have just heard of a schoolma’am introducing a new feature in her school. When one of the girls misses a word the boy who spells it gets permission to kiss her. The result is the girls are becoming poor spellers, while the boys are improving right along.”


Twain, M, Speech given at dedication of the New York Engineers’ Club, 9 December 1907

“If we had adequate, competent vowels, with a system of accents, giving to each vowel its own soul and value, so every shade of that vowel would be shown in its accent, there is not a word in any tongue that we could not spell accurately. That would be competent, adequate, simplified spelling, in contrast to the clipping, the hair punching, the carbuncles, and the cancers which go by the name of simplified spelling. If I ask you what b-o-w spells you can’t tell me unless you know which b-o-w I mean, and it is the same with r-o-w, b-o-r-e, and the whole family of words which were born out of lawful wedlock and don’t know their own origin.

“Now, if we had an alphabet that was adequate and competent, instead of inadequate and incompetent, things would be different. Spelling reform has only made it bald-headed and unsightly.”

‘Spelling reform victory,’ The Columbia Spectator, 13 November 1907

“Both the Trustees of the University and of the University Press have voted to adopt a standard of spelling which will bring into official use at Columbia at least two hundred and thirty of the three hundred reformed spellings proposed by Professor Brander Matthews, as chairman of the Reformed Spelling Board. Under this change, leaving out of account the past participles in which the Board recommends the ending “t,” eighty-one per cent, of Professor Maithews’ list will now be spelled in the reformed way in all publications of the University. This action of the Trustees means, in effect, a sigual victory for the cause of reformed spelling, for once in use by the University itself, it can not fail of adoption by all the departments. The authority which has been consulted in determining the standard for Columbia orthography is the Century Dictionary, which as Professor Matthews has pointed out, prefers about two hundred and thirty spellings identical with those in the list published a year and a half ago. Some of the more frequent words and the proper way to spell them hereafter at Columbia are; anesthetic, adz, apothem, bur, develop, envelop, eon, esthetic, gage, gazel, good-by, hiccup, molder, niter, ocher, phenix, paraffin, questor, rime, saber, simitar, whisky, It is noticeable that the words “though.” through” and “thorough” are not spelled in the abbreviated way.”


‘Revising the spelling book,’ The Manawatu Evening Standard, 19 October 1906

“President Roosevelt is not meeting with much success in his endeavour to reform the King’s English. In a matter of this kind the Britisher’s hereditary conservatism exhibits itself very conspicuously. It presents a front of triple armour plate.

“[…] And Mr Thomas Hardy says sarcastically that he is ‘struck with the advantage of having this reform of English spelling taken in hand by an eminent American of Dutch extraction’.”

Tallack, W, ‘Derivatives and spelling “reform”,’ letter, The Spectator, 22 September 1906

“It is to be hoped that the American and other alterations in the spelling of English words—changes which have already obtained the approval of President Roosevelt, Mr. Carnegie, and other influential persons—may not be pressed so far as to obscure the visible and literal connexion between derivatives and their original sources. For there is much interest and instruction in such connexion. And in many cases apparently needless or redundant letters are the chief, if not only, indications of the sources of derivation, as, for example, the unpronounced letter ” g ” in ” sign ” and “reign,” which indicates the derivation of these words from signum and regnum respectively.”


‘Spelling reform,’ The Taranaki Herald, 4 July 1906

“At a recent meeting of the British Academy Professor Skeat delivered an admirable discourse upon the history of English spelling, and its proposed reform.

“[…]The Professor poured scorn on one objection which is raised by so many persons, who ought to know better. They complain that the revised spelling is ‘ugly.’ Professor Skeat retorts by affirming that they are the slaves of idle habit, which causes them to judge by eye instead of by ear. It may be so; and yet, if one might venture a criticism of so great an authority it would be that words, as such, come to have a life and aspect all their own. It may be more convenient to cut their hair and trim their garments – but they are old friends, after all. We like them well as they are. It is weak, we know, – we acknowledge weakness.”

‘A step toward world-wide peace,’ The Saturday Evening Post, 28 January 1905

“And it is more than a question of illiteracy. The first step toward a world-wide era of peace and good will is mutual understanding among the nations; and if any language is fitted to become universal by its innate superiority and the might of those who speak it, it is English. Why can we not, like the Germans, the Italians, the Spanish and, to a great extent, the French, agree to write both wisely and well?”


Articles: 21st century • Articles: 19th century

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