* = Paywall
“With regard to the Reform, the world is divided into several groups…”
“English spelling sucks… The only solution to the dilemma is a complete overhaul of the American writing system in the manner presented with my lovely tables.”
“…But no, this won’t do for the members of that spelling society who have emerged blinking into the light flying a ragged flag for Traditional Spelling Revised, which wants to do away with silent letters such as the “w” in wrong. If the TSR folks (or should that be “foaks”?) get their way about a fifth of the words in our alphabet would be changed…”
“‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the feelds and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surender…’
“This is how Churchill’s famous speech should be spelt, according to reformers who have voted on a new system after deliberating for nearly three years.”
“A proposed new system of spelling, called Traditional Spelling Revised (TSR), makes changes to up to 18 per cent of words in the English language. The system has the support of The English Spelling Society and the American Literacy Council. TSR aims to make spelling more consistent and predictable: among many other changes, the word love would be spelt luv, and educate would be edducate.”
“Shakespeare and Jane Austen were relaxed about spelling variants. We should be too.”
“The English Spelling Society is using lines from Hamlet to demonstrate six spelling systems.
“And the public, particularly parents who have been trying to teach their children during lockdown, are invited to vote for a winner, to be promoted as the society’s official alternative to traditional English spelling.”
“Spelling is not a springboard to an advanced course on etymology.”
“Noah Webster’s spelling reforms turned “centre” into ‘center’ and ‘labour’ into ‘labor’. Some people are pushing for wider adoption of simpler versions of English spellings.”
“Contrary to [the] common view, a fundamental design feature of English spellings is to represent meaning (through morphology), and spellings are highly consistent once this is appreciated. Indeed, the linguists Chomsky and Halle called English spellings ‘near optimal’.”
“In the unruly Wild West of modern languages, English is indisputably the baddest outlaw around. Estimated to be three times more complex than German and 40 times worse than Spanish, English spelling is notorious for its irregularity—teeming with improbably silent letters, head-scratching homographs, and the mysteriously sometimes-y.
“Despite the spelling system’s infamy for inefficiency, a 1968 assertion from Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle’s The Sound Pattern of English argues that English orthography, or spelling, is “close to optimal”—a claim generally dismissed by linguists ever since, though never scientifically disproved.”
“…while English spellings were finally fixed in the 18th century, pronunciation has since changed considerably – so much so that today English spellings are remote from their pronunciation.
“Our English spelling is stupidly conservative…… It’s the worst spelling system that I know of.”
“Substantial reforms would require centralised authority and a critical mass of collective, coherent will – neither of which seems likely. For many people the discontinuities would be an unacceptable price for the practical gain, to say nothing of the political and logistical obstacles to reforming so mutable, diverse and global a language.”
“Where English spelling is concerned, the imperfect is our paradise. That’s why we always resist the efforts to reform it. We may as well resign ourselves to knowing that students a century from now are still going to be wrestling with a dozen or so ways to spell the sound “ay.” But we can take consolation in knowing that the conservatism that deters us from trying to improve things also prevents us from changing them for the worse.”
“We take for granted that English is filled with weird spellings —’b’s that are silent, ‘gh’ and ‘ph’ that sounds like ‘f,’ ‘i’s and ‘e’s that switch inexplicably, and more — making it complicated for native speakers and one of the hardest languages to learn.
“What if it didn’t have to be this way?”Believe it or not, America almost fixed the English language many years ago, with some very smart and powerful people on board. Although the campaign fizzled out, we think, in the era of texting and emoji, it deserves another look.”
Over the centuries, advocates of language reformers have offered solutions to the quagmire that is English spelling. However, only a handful of these alternate spellings ever really caught on.
“Altho it may come as a surprize, many people are unhappy with current English spelling rules. They’ve addresst the issue by proposing we thoroly consider changing how some words are spelt.
Think spellings like those above could never be mainstream? Think again.”
“For adult learners and school pupils alike, mastering English spelling can be a daunting task. Silent letters, alternative spellings, and words that simply don’t follow the rules; it’s no wonder that many people struggle.
The English Spelling Society is hoping to change this.Working alongside the American Literacy Council, this weekend the group announced plans to host the first International Spelling Congress.
The event, set to take place in late 2015, will aim to draw up a list of proposals for an improved English spelling system, which delegates will then vote on.”
“The Guardian’s recent style change in adopting American spellings when referring to specific American placenames such as One World Trade Center excited much debate among the members of the English Spelling Society: some wondered if this was at long last a first step towards reforming English spelling – one of the most difficult orthographies in the world…
“…If human beings have any remaining competitive advantage over the machines, it is not our skill at crossing i’s and dotting t’s.
“English spelling reform is a perennial favorite subject for the more harmless variety of cranks. Many proposals to change English spellings have been ventured from the sixteenth century to the present. Thankfully, none of them have made significant headway.
“Sure, learning to read English takes longer than most languages, and its spelling is indeed a hindrance. Yet this was the language of the world’s largest-ever empire, and now of its leading superpower. And it has become the first global language […] Some hindrance.
“With growing evidence of the economic and social costs attributed to our irregular spelling system, perhaps the time is now right for renewed interest in the issue.”
“Adopting standards to fit the natural evolution of language is always preferable to overhauling everything in one fell swoop.”
“The English Spelling Society campaigns for the reform of English orthography. It’s a difficult issue to campaign on, because there’s nobody specific to campaign to: English, unlike some other languages, doesn’t have a language council that could approve an ‘official’ spelling reform or use its resources to promote it.
“[…]While the Spelling Society has campaigned for over a hundred years for English spelling reform without success, though, there does seem to be some chance that change could happen if the right people started to proselytize it.
“In the meanwhile, perhaps the best route for the rest of us is just to promote small individual rationalizations, especially where they’re already used (but perhaps rare), like publically for publicly and -ize for -ise and so on. In the long run we’re unlikely to achieve any significant progress towards unified spelling conventions by that route, but it might get people to consider the spellings they use and the possibility of large-scale reform, so as a small step to improving English spelling, it’s a fine way to begin.”
“It’s not that we don’t care about spelling. We do, but we leave it up to software that usually nose better than we do. Rite?”
“Altho the [Chicago] Tribune in the last six years, has changed ownership, filed for bankruptcy, and is now only a fantom of the operation it once was, its influence on spelling can still be seen in newspaper headlines, as well as neon signs. And as ur now seeing on the Internet, social media are taking yet another toll on common English spelling.”
David Crystal in conversation with Stephen Fry, The evolution of spelling, BBC Radio 4, September 2013
“Bottom-up rather than top-down. That’s been the problem with spelling reformers. They’ve tried to introduce a top-down system – a personal system –, which is to be imposed on the language. Make a law about it, or something like that. That has never worked and is never likely to work. Bottom-up spelling reform has a possible future.
“Because English spelling has not been modernised for several centuries, it is now exceptionally irregular and there is great scope for improving it. Even deciding what to change first and how much, is not immediately obvious. To make English spelling as regular as Finnish, for example, would necessitate considerable change and would be challenging for currently proficient readers and writers, although this would clearly benefit new learners most of all. There is a middle way: a small number of well-chosen changes could reduce the time currently needed for learning to read and write very considerably, without causing problems for current users.”
“One commentator observed that it was ‘brilliantly peculiar’ that ‘labour is spelt labour in Australia, but the party is the Labor Party’.
“Horobin horrified the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts in England recently by suggesting English spelling is evolving and English speakers should let it.”
“For Horobin, spelling matters – and, more to the point, our existing spelling matters. Spelling is commonly treated as if it is a tool, a technology which, at its best, creates a one-to-one correspondence between sounds and letters. But really it is a cultural achievement and a record of the language’s history.”
“Jabbour’s idea is an innovative one, but I think SaypU would be better parlayed into a software or app to help learners with pronunciation, not a large-scale change to the written word.”
“This book is a sane, authoritative and comprehensive lesson in why we spell the way we do and why, in order to preserve the richness, subtlety and history of our language, it is right that we keep doing so.”
“Experts often liken language to a river which flows onwards regardless of efforts to control it. Jabbour says he’s not trying to stop the river but to ‘redirect’ it.
“‘It’s a futile aim,’ says Hitchings.”‘Utopian language projects, in which an artificial system is put forward as an alternative to what’s developed naturally, tend to fail. People are strongly attached to the distinctiveness and idiosyncrasies of whatever language they use.'”
“Finnish spelling is very regular. That is, the correspondence between letters and phonemes is tight: in general, one phoneme corresponds to one letter, and one letter to one phoneme. Thus, a Finn who hears an unknown word knows how to spell it, and a Finn who reads an unknown word knows how to pronounce it. There are only a few exceptions .
“[…] It is clear that, everything else being equal, regular spelling helps: schoolchildren don’t have to spend as much of their curriculum to learn how to read and write.
“There are, however, other aspects of the language which help.”
“The use of the Initial Teaching Alphabet had shown that with more regular spellings children can learn to read and write English much faster, but using it for just the first year of learning to read and write could not obviate the need for reform. Perversely, it helped to promulgate the view that spelling change cannot improve literacy. To the few people who have heard of i.t.a., it represents a failed experiment with reformed spellings. It dealt a very serious blow to the idea of making learning to read and write English easier by means of spelling reform.”
“I have to note that the perplexing idiosyncrasies of English stem from the turbulent history of the little island where the language came from. We have the many invasions that occurred over the centuries to thank for all of the spelling inconsistencies. And we have colonial imperialism to thank for spreading English all over the world, where its many different pronunciations defy any kind of attempt to adopt a universal spelling system. So, what do we do?”
“The irregularity of the English spelling system is part of folklore now. You have countless poems and articles and whatnots, all trying to hammer in the fact that English pronunciation is the work of the Devil.”
“To this day I’m not a very fast reader, I think such a pure phonetic approach to reading encourages ‘hearing’ every word rather than seeing it and quickly moving on. It slowed me down quite a bit.
“You can’t ignore the nuts and bolts of English orthography. A root-and-branch overhaul is long overdue. That it has not happened is due mainly to a lack of political will…
“In a piece in Wired Magazine, writer Anne Trubek argues that our fixation on correct spelling is outdated. Trubek thinks we should abandon spelling rules and ‘let luce.’ Wired copy editor Lee Simmons fired back arguing that these standards make communication possible […]”
“Yeah, English spelling is a bitch to learn. It could probably do with some rationalizing reforms, as French and German have benefited from. But once you master the core vocabulary, as most us do in high school, it’s pretty much automatic. For those perennial toughies, there’s always the dictionary. You’re not going to fire up your Merriam-Webster app to send a quick text message, and that’s fine. But when what you’re writing actually matters; when you want to earn the reader’s trust by signaling that you’ve put real care into your blog post; and ultimately, when you care more about the reader’s experience than your own in writing it, you’ll make that small extra effort.
“Standardized spelling enables readers to understand writing, to aid communication and ensure clarity. Period. There is no additional reason, other than snobbery, for spelling rules. Computers, smartphones, and tablets are speeding the adoption of more casual forms of communication—texting is closer to speech than letter writing. But the distinction between the oral and the written is only going to become more blurry, and the future isn’t autocorrect, it’s Siri. We need a new set of tools that recognize more variations instead of rigidly enforcing outdated dogma. Let’s make our own rules. It’s not like the English language has many good ones anyway.”
“As an avid reader and a longtime Anglophile, I’ll admit that I’m fond of English’s odd spellings — and that words like nite and thru make me wince. But watching my son and his kindergarten classmates labor to learn English’s many idiosyncrasies, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for them to fall by the wayside. We might have fewer cases of dyslexia and illiteracy. Students could spend their time thinking about the meanings of words instead of their treacherous spellings. And during dinner at my house, a ka-nife could be just a nife.”
“Supporters of reform have pointed out the many inconsistencies and irregularities of English spelling. Mismatches between spelling and pronunciation of words make English a difficult language to learn. Arguments against reform include the difficulties of instituting great changes to a language that is used worldwide, the variety of regional accents which make standardized pronunciation impossible, and resistance to losing the etymological roots of words from other languages.”
“Just as you now have to learn thousands of irregular spellings to learn English, English-speakers would have to unlearn thousands of them if the language were regularised. There might be rules of thumb for transforming grieve to greev, for instance, but given the number of reform proposals that exist, the rules would probably not be perfectly consistent, so in effect every new word would have to be learned afresh. Even if the current system has heavy fixed costs, the one-time barrier to moving to a new one may just be too great to overcome.”
“Those reforms were orders of magnitude simpler and less ambitious than what would be required to turn English truly phonetic.
“[…] The only wide-ranging and successful language reforms I know of in the modern period were introduced by dictatorships […]
“English spelling, too, has its costs. The problem is that those costs are diffuse and baked into the system; they have a great deal of vested interest behind them. Anyone with the power to introduce a new system has already learned the old one; anyone it might benefit is probably under the age of five right now, or is foreign, and either way cannot vote. The costs of a reform would be both optional and sudden, and are too easily postponed until all the world’s other ills are taken care of.
“In other words, as sensible as a reform might be, I don’t see it happening.”
“Mrs Bell, author of the books Learning to Read and Rules and Exceptions of English Spelling, said English was unique in the way in which ‘identical letters make different sounds.’
“‘It is difficult to learn any subject, or even to train for a trade nowadays, without learning to read and write first, but roughly 20 per cent of all speakers of English leave school with very poor literacy skills,’ she said.“‘The antique, inconsistent spelling system of English is probably the main reason why the UK has a far longer tail of educational underachievement than any other European country, why more of our young people are Neets (Not in Education Employment or Training), why many end up in jail, and why improving their chances of re-offending while in prison is much more difficult too.’”
“Four peaceful protesters, some dressed in full-length black and yellow bee costumes, represented the American Literacy Council and the London-based Spelling Society and stood outside the Grand Hyatt on Thursday, where the Scripps National Spelling Bee is being held. Their message was short: Simplify the way we spell words.
“Roberta Mahoney, 81, a former Fairfax County, Va. elementary school principal, said the current language obstructs 40 percent of the population from learning how to read, write and spell.“‘Our alphabet has 425-plus ways of putting words together in illogical ways,’ Mahoney said.
“The protesting cohort distributed pins to willing passers-by with their logo, ‘Enuf is enuf. Enough is too much.’”
“English spelling is very irregular compared with most languages. The Spelling Society report that 3,500 English words are spelled/spelt irregularly, with there being only 400 in Italian and 800 in German […]
“Would spelling reform improve literacy? The history of the (Simplified) Spelling Society is littered with the wrecks of schemes to avoid the horrors of people misspelling occurrence, separate or miniature. In the mid-1980s, Cut Spelling was a contender. This system left out unnecessary letters, so that tealeaves became teleavs; whiskey or whisky became wisky, beauty buty; whose hos; abdomen abdmn; and aye, rather surprisingly, y. Prose written in this convention looks like the work of Daisy Ashford. ‘Th nearr u liv to an africn elefnt, th less atractiv that butiful beast becoms.’ Previous schemes included World English Spelling, Nue Speling, Advanced English Orthografy, Unifon, Fonotypy, Economy Spelling, Regularized English, Semiregularized English, Fonetik crthqgrafi, Anglic, and Sound Speling [sic].
“The one great advantage of the complexity of English spelling is that it allows at least four out of every 10 people to feel good about themselves. In my experience, there is nothing keen spellers enjoy more than complaining about a spelling mistake.
“Seeing the headline ‘Thousands die in earthquayke’, they will be infinitely more shocked by the unwanted ‘y’ than by the news that thousands have died.“Not long ago, Tony Blair spelt the word ‘tomorrow’ wrong three times in the course of a single letter to a by-election candidate. And poor spelling crosses party boundaries: the prompt-note for Margaret Thatcher’s famous 1979 victory speech in which she quoted St Francis of Assisi shows that she misspelled despair ‘dispair’.
“[…] It may be reassuring to know that the politicians of yesteryear were just as inept. Lord Palmerston once dictated a sentence to his Cabinet. It went like this: ‘It is disagreeable to witness the embarrassment of a harassed pedlar gauging the symmetry of a peeled potato.’ Not a single one of them managed to spell it correctly.”
“I still wince at the uncaring construction of words: arguements, dimond, jelous, pshychatic, accusitions, audiance, critizizm. One commenter, invoking the First Amendment, noted that everyone ‘has a write to his opinion.’ Another, referring to vampire lore, wrote about driving ‘a steak through the heart.’
“The moral of the story, then, I suppose, is this: In the writing system of English lies an important part of its cultural heritage. Altering it would cause that heritage to be lost, possibly irrevocably. That does not mean, however, that our writing system is just fine. It must be understood that our writing system does not reflect the language we speak today, and that it cannot be presented and taught as if it did. It’s like trying to teach a blind child to figure out what color something is by feeling it: It’s literally impossible. It’s time to stop pretending that “right” reflects some sort of pronunciation and to realize that it’s nothing more than a symbol that must be memorized, like the flashing red hand of a crosswalk, or the period at the end of a sentence.”
“The multitude of efforts to simplify English spelling, some by solitary cranks, others by societies of notables, have gone nowhere, and probably never will. Imposition of reform from above simply does not work […]
“Not everyone will be pleased, which is to be expected. People have been complaining about English falling into corruption since the Tudors were on the throne, and we will have people harping on that string as long as we have viewers-with-alarm and things-were-better-when-I-was-a-boy grouches.“For the rest of us interested in language, English is a mighty river, and we are lucky to be able to navigate it to see the channels into which it flows.”
“George Bernard Shaw was a passionate advocate of total spelling reform and left his entire estate to be devoted to this project.
“Systems for extreme changes of spelling, however rational, do not seem to gain much ground in the English speaking world, probably because updating the spelling to match pronunciation would make older documents unintelligible for those learning only the new system, as well as giving trouble as to how to take account of variations in pronunciation. Another objection is that historically-oriented people (admittedly, a minority) would not like to see the history of words containing fossil traces of earlier forms (i.e. antiquated spellings) erased by updating to modern rational spellings.“The existing system has now gone on so long that it is difficult to turn the clock back too much at once, but only by doing so can the proponents gain their objective of an entirely rational correspondence between letters and sounds.
“Some other European nations make small orthographic adjustments every generation or so, and thus keep their spelling gradually evolving along with (or actually a little bit behind) the pronunciation. The Scandinavian languages are well-known for this strategy. There was a spelling reform in Germany in 1989 or so, but it was not a drastic one, although portrayed as dire by some. Recently major national newspapers have declared their intention to go back to the old system, leaving language users in confusion about which standard to adopt.”
“The spelling reforms have been agreed by Portuguese-speaking nations, but the language seems set to have different written forms for some time to come.
“Spelling reform is a culturally important quarrel. It raises hackles. The arguments for and against can be summarised as follows:
[…]”Myself, I’m relaxed on the subject, as, I suspect, most of us are, though we can see the force of both the traditionalists and the reformists. I think there is a case for a bit more Websterisation. And a strong case (are you listening, Independent?) for an English newspaper to follow its American counterparts and sponsor a National Spelling Bee. They’re fun.”
“For as long as there has been an English language, there have been people complaining about it. Most other languages are essentially phonetic: if you can say El zorro marrón rápido salta sobre el perro perezoso in Spanish, for instance, you can probably spell it. Contrast that with the English original: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The sentence is a classic pangram, using each letter in the English alphabet. It also embodies the Anglo-Norman-Latin-Everything-else magpie that is English, for it contains three separate and distinct o sounds (brown, fox, over) and two u sounds (quick, jumps). English contains upward of forty sounds and a meager twenty-six letters to express them, with many letters performing double, triple, and quadruple duty—and all in a manner riddled with inconsistencies. Given the fluidity of the pangram’s letters, for instance, the whole thing could also just as easily be written as Thu kwik braan foks jumpz over thu layzee dawg, or Tha cwyc braun focs jamps owfer tha lasie daug.”
“The trouble is that [the Spelling Society] is an anti-spelling society. It used to be called the Simplified Spelling Society, but it simplified the name, rather misleadingly.
“While it is slightly unfair to characterise members of this society as the kind of people who recoil at a lamb chop, shudder at beer and insist on wearing wool next to the skin, one should remember that a stalwart of their cause was George Bernard Shaw – never happier than when sitting in his Jaeger underwear in an ABC café, toying with a nut fritter and a glass of milk.“Shaw it was who came up with the tired joke of spelling fish as ‘ghoti’ (gh as in laugh; o as in women; ti as in motion). He left money in his will to fund spelling reform, which caused endless squabbling between rival beneficiaries.
“There is no difficulty in devising an alphabet that reflects English pronunciation. The 40 or 50 symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet do a tolerable job. It would expand the minds of schoolchildren to learn it. But that is entirely beside the point.
“To limit education by using only reformed spelling would be a great betrayal because it would cut off children, later adults, from reading old books. They’d soon tire of trying to make out the words, just as Germans today puzzle over books printed in their old gothic type.
“A new elite would be born. In the same way as the knowledge of Latin used to distinguish the educated, so in future anyone who knew only reformed spelling would be stigmatised as being educated to a rudimentary level.
“Quite apart from this fatal flaw in spelling reform, the spelling single-issue mob completely misunderstand the function of spelling in English society. It is a pons asinorum, a donkeys’ bridge that anyone who learns to read or write must cross. On it depends all future employment.
“Learning to spell may be dull at times, but anyone who can learn to speak English and read it should be expected to get it right.
“What Thomas Gaisford, the Dean of Christ Church, once said in a sermon about the study of Greek, applies today to accurate spelling: ‘It not only elevates above the vulgar herd, but leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument’.”
“If ur a stikkla 4 good spelling, u may not wish to read on.
“A leading academic has said we should stop worrying that ‘textmessage speak’ is creeping into general usage.“John Wells, president of the Spelling Society, which campaigns for spelling reform, claimed that the informal language of texts, emails and chat rooms is the ‘way forward’.”
“In their most effective initiative to date, reformers organize a protest every year outside the Scripps National Spelling Bee…
“Still, no one is particularly optimistic……”But hope spring eternal. ‘People think we’re suggesting a major change in the English language,’ says Ms. Kuizenga. ‘We don’t even think that’s possible, and we certainly don’t see any point to it. We’re all people who love the English language just as much as anyone, if not more. We just want to make it a little easier to spell.'”
“Today a reformer called Richard Wade is campaigning for the widespread adoption of what he calls ‘freespeling’, whereby writers are at liberty to adapt spellings of difficult words so they are more phonetically based.
“[…] However, as Dr John Gledhill, membership secretary of the Simplified Spelling Society, points out, not only is there opposition to reform on the grounds of tradition, there are also practical difficulties. ‘Given that English is a global language with a huge variety in the way words are pronounced, it’s impossible to develop a fully phonetic system that would reflect this,’ he says.“‘Our society has existed for a century and no one has yet come up with a truly workable solution. At the moment our main focus is to publicise the need for reform. For many children, learning to spell is a laborious exercise that takes up time that could be better spent on other things. We need to start by getting rid of some of the dead wood of spelling, the silent letters and irregularities, so that we can see a way forward.’
“[…] Did you know?
* The English language has 44 separate sounds, but more than 1,000 ways of spelling them
* It takes 2.5 years on average for children working in English to master basic literacy, while children in most other countries achieve this within a year of starting school
* A multi-stranded approach, combining emphasis on the sounds of words with the visual aspect and practising handwriting, can speed up learning
* The gap between proficient spellers and those who are struggling widens when children reach Year 7. But many secondary staff lack experience in teaching basic literacy skills such as spelling rules”
“Text of a speech given by Mark Twain at a dinner for Andrew Carnegie at the dedication of the New York Engineers’ Club, 9 December, 1907.
[……] It’s a rotten alphabet. I appoint Mr. Carnegie to get after it, and leave simplified spelling alone.Simplified spelling brought about sun-spots, the San Francisco earthquake, and the recent business depression, which we would never have had if spelling had been left all alone.
Now, I hope I have soothed Mr. Carnegie and made him more comfortable than he would have been had he received only compliment after compliment, and I wish to say to him that simplified spelling is all right, but, like chastity, you can carry it too far.
“Postscript on the Spelling Reform Movement
“Eventually, after donating more than $280,000 to the doomed cause of spelling reform, Carnegie gave up. In 1915 he told the editor of The Times of London, ‘Amended spellings can only be submitted for general acceptance. It is the people who decide what is to be adopted or rejected.’
“And a century later, of course, the 26 letters in that ‘rotten alphabet’ remain unchanged.”
“Masha Bell, a member of the [Simplified Spelling Society] and author of Understanding English Spelling, believes that reform of the spelling of the English language could help children learn to read and make life easier for some adults too.
“Prof Vivian Cook, a linguist, expert in second language learning and author of Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary, believes changing spellings would be unnecessary, expensive and could harm children’s ability to read.“We pitched the two, spelling reformer and spelling traditionalist, into a battle to persuade the other. Here they debate the merits of spelling systems, in the form of short e-mails.
“Some of Ms Bell’s entries are partly-written in simplified spelling.”
“In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t believe that this sort of wholesale spelling reform would be a workable proposition, but I’m so sick of watching Aunt Sally reform proposals being pelted with ridiculously inadequate arguments that I thought it would make a nice change if I wrote something equally biassed and unfair in the other direction… So don’t expect me to provide a Mailbox like the one on my anti‐Esperanto page! The flaws of the standard orthography are indefensible – but it has an extensive Installed User Base, and can thus afford to ignore criticism in exactly the same manner as Fahrenheit thermometers, QWERTY keyboards, and certain software packages, which can all rely on conformism, short‐termism, and sheer laziness for their continued survival.”
“A pioneer of ‘thru,’ ‘tho’ and much more, The Chicago Tribune adopted phonetic spelling for 80 words in 1934 and added to the list in 1949.
“Setting out to correct ‘an unspeakable offense to common sense,’ the paper introduced readers to words such as ‘hocky’ instead of hockey, ‘burocrat,’ ‘reherse,’ ‘missil’ and ‘tarif.’
“Editors acted in the spirit of Joseph Medill, Tribune editor in the late 1800s, who denounced spelling as ‘monster cruelty … that fill(s) our schoolhouses with misery.’
“The paper reverted to traditional spelling of some of the simplified words in 1955, noting that its campaign had not caught on and was causing confusion in schools, but held out on the bulk of them until 1975. By then, a few had gained common usage – ‘analog,’ ‘catalog’ and ‘glamor’ among them.
“‘From now on, Webster’s Third will be our guide, first variants preferred,’ an article explained on Sept. 29, 1975. ‘Sanity some day may come to spelling, but we 5do not want to make any more trouble between Johnny and his teacher.’”
“‘Any spelling system that has a B on the end of dumb has to be dumb itself,’ says Campbell, who has been interested in spelling since 1947 as a proof-reader on the Otago Daily Times.
“‘I’m a good speller and I found that I often had to go to the dictionary to find words that I should know – was it [spelt] EA or was it EE? – I couldn’t remember.’“Fifty years later he joined the UK-based Simplified Spelling Society and later became convener of the New Zealand branch, Spell 4 Literacy.
“‘It was then that I found out that changing spelling, far from being just a fanciful wish that didn’t really have any significance in the real world, did have significance in the real world, because [conventional spelling] held back children and foreigners learning to read and write in English.
“‘Our spelling needs to be updated to suit our rules. One of the beauties of the English language is the richness that it gets from all the words that it takes from all different languages. This is one of the glories of it.
“‘But the trouble is when they come into our language they tend to stay as they were in their original language, which has different rules to ours. We don’t anglicise them.
“‘We need to make our words fit our own rules so that a child can learn the rules and then, if they come across a strange word, they just think of the rule and they know what it is.’
“Campbell has lobbied New Zealand governments for an inquiry into the place of spelling in the teaching of reading and writing.”
“In September 1961 young children starting school in twenty selected primary schools in the Midlands found themselves the unwitting subjects of a controversial educational and typographical experiment. These were the first children to be taught their letters via the Initial Teaching Alphabet: an elegant set of 44 lower-case characters designed to ease the route into the complexities of printed English.
“[…] An extraordinary amount of dedication went into the development of I.T.A., yet despite its early success it was not adopted wholesale as a teaching method and, from a lack of resources and from changes in educational fashion, it gradually fell into disuse in English schools. In Australia, it was introduced in 1963 in the state school in Warnambool, Victoria. An Australian I.T.A. Association was established in 1974, but dissolved in the mid-1990s. In the US, the remaining I.T.A. Foundation still enthusiastically promotes the benefits of the system in remedial teaching for dyslexic children.
“Remarkably beautiful in print, the alphabet remains a testament to an idealistic period when English speakers attempted, in the context of primary education, not only to reform their eccentric spelling but to modify the very symbols with which the language is represented on the page.”
“When my Hungarian cousin Zsuzsi was learning English at school in Budapest she used to complain that you had to learn each word three times: first its meaning, then how to pronounce it, then how to spell it.
“As English reaches an unassailable hegemony as the international language, the lovable lunacies of English spelling are taxing millions of brains across the world. Not that that deters anyone. When the Iron Curtain fell, Zsuzsi and her friends dropped Russian (until then compulsory in Hungarian schools) and took up English.“[…] It is difficult to imagine a spelling bee in Hungary, or any other country where orthography was reformed in the 19th century and nearly all spellings are phonetically consistent. There wouldn’t be any problems for the contestants to grapple with.
“[…] The trouble is that the reason English spelling is so annoying is also among the reasons it is so rich and poetic.
“[…] Does spelling matter? If you only want to use language as a tool for the communication of facts, then perhaps not as much as pedants like me would like to think.
“[…] But if you care about the language as a beautiful object and a medium of poetry, you may cherish its absurdities and dread the day when the forms of its words no longer carry the imprint of their origins.
“In any case, that day is unlikely to come. Spell-checkers are in their infancy. When they are as advanced and universal as calculators are today, knowing how to spell words will be as important as knowing how to do long division.”
“German newspapers give much attention to the decision by the country’s two most influential news publishers to ditch a spelling reform agreed on only eight years ago.
“The Axel-Springer and Spiegel-Verlag publishing houses, which between them cater for 60% of the German population, said on Friday that the new rules had created a ‘state-ordered dyslexia’.“They announced they would immediately return to the old style of spelling in their publications.”
“In March 1909, the New York Sun carried an editorial headed “Spelling Reform” and consisting of just one word: ‘Thru.’
“Over the next several decades the spellingreform movement lost most of its steam, gravely weakened by Carnegie’s death and the end of his funding. But the movement never died out completely. A system of simplified spelling called Anglic was developed in 1930 by the Swedish philologist R. E. Zachrisson, who, recognizing that English was becoming the preeminent international language, felt the need to make its spelling easier for those learning English as a second language. Spelling, a magazine published jointly by Dewey’s Spelling Reform Association and a British sister organization, the Simplified Spelling Society, printed in its June 1931 issue the Gettysburg Address in Anglic, beginning: ‘Forskor and sevn yeerz agoe our faathers braut forth on this kontinent a nue naeshun, konseevd in liberty, and dedikaeted to the propozishon that aul men ar kreaeted eequel.’ Zachrisson published his proposal in book form in 1932, but whatever enthusiasm there may have been for Anglic did not survive World War II.“Nevertheless, the spelling-reform movement lives on to this day—and is now reaching a greatly expanded audience through the Internet. On the websites of the American Literacy Council and of the Simplified Spelling Society (UK) one can read about such systems as New Spelling (developed in 1948 by British phonetician Daniel Jones and dialectologist Harold Orton) and Cut Spelling (developed in the 1970s by Australian psychologist Valerie Yule, who recommends simply removing superfluous letters). In Cut Spelling, ‘numerus variant patrns for th same sounds ar reduced to ther comn letrs,’ and ‘som comn words wich confuse lernrs ar regulrized, so that ar parallels bar, not bare; wer parallels her, not here; and tuch ceses to resembl pouch.’
“A sample of New Spelling, which never enjoyed anything even remotely like the fad of the New Math, informs us: ‘We rekwier dhe langgwej as an instrooment; we mae aulsoe study its history. Dhe presens ov unpronounst leterz, three or for diferent waez ov reprezenting dhe saem sound, three or for uesez ov dhe saem leter: aul dhis detrakts from dhe value ov a langgwej as an instrooment.’
“What will come of it all? Hu noez?”
“In my strange and wonderful book collection I have a third edition of Pollards Advanced Speller by Rebecca S Pollard, originator of the synthetic method of teaching reading. Copyrighted in 1897, the title plate is followed by this page:
The American Philological Association has recommended the following ‘Rules for New Spellings’:
1. Drop the ue at the end of words like dialogue, catalogue, etc., where the preceding vowel is short. Thus spell demagog, epilog, synagog, etc.
2. Drop the final e in such words as definite, infinite, favorite, etc., where the preceding vowel is short. Thus spell opposit, preterit, hypocrit, requisit, etc.
3. Drop the final te in words like quartette, coquette, cigarette, etc. Thus spell cigaret, roset, epaulet, vedet, gazet, etc.
4. Drop the final me in words like programme. Thus spell program, orifiam, gram, etc.
5. Change ph to f in words like phantom, telegraph, phase, etc. Thus spell alfabet, paragraf, filosefy, fonetic, fotograf, etc.
6. Substitute e for dipthongs æ and œ . Thus spell Colian, asthetic, diarrhea, subpena, asofagus, atheneum, etc.
“I was intrigued. I had never heard of Spelling Reform or the American Philological Association and had to find out more. What I found was more interesting than I expected and I share it now with you…”
“What do you suppose the above sentence says? Chances are that you will only be able to decipher it if you are a child of the 1960s who went to a progressive school.
“[…] The thinking went that as children became fluent in ITA, they would become aware of conventional spelling and move seamlessly into the normal alphabet.”Did it work? Opinions vary, but the system was never successfully made mainstream.
“[…] ‘As a child my family moved from London to Newcastle where my new ITA school forbade me from using the ordinary alphabet. My parents (one Scot, one Geordie) were baffled when I informed them that people wrote in a different language up North.'”
“Despite being the world’s lingua franca, English is the most difficult European language to learn to read. Children learning other languages master the basic elements of literacy within a year, but British kids take two-and-a-half years to reach the same point.”
“What I hope to have shown […] is that beneath all the pitfalls, there’s a rather clever and fairly regular mechanism at work, and one which still gets the vast majority of words pretty much correct. It’s not to modern tastes, but by no means as broken as people think.”