19 April 2007

Spelling Bee Be Gone?

I heard on the radio yesterday that the Simplified Spelling Society is celebrating its 99th anniversary. I didn't even know that the Society existed, but apparently, its goal is to simplify the spelling of the English language in an attempt to improve literacy among English-speaking people.

According to the Society, "Like all languages with phonetic writing systems, a reform would do away with those wasteful spelling classes for children learning English. The effects of dyslexia are made worse by the chaotic English spelling. The Spelling Bee is unknown in countries with phonetic (or should that not be "fonetic"?) spelling. The updating of English spelling would be of benefit to many more than just the Anglo-Saxon world, but also the world of TEFL where other languages are spoken in addition to English.

"Phonetics is seen as the key to improving literacy and spelling. Learning a phonetic system is easier and allows the children of today to be more productive than we could ever be, releasing them to learn other essential skills in a fast moving world. There would be no more difficult words."

Hmmm... I'm not sure what to think about this. I understand that this is
definitely not a new idea. After all, the Society is almost 100 years old. And after further research, I learned that Benjamin Franklin proposed a phonetic spelling system in 1779. So, given the duration and attention this topic has achieved, I suppose we cannot disregard it as irrelevant. But to me it sounds a lot like, "If the test is too hard, make it easier!" Isn't the path to improving literacy one of education? I find it hard to believe that no child ever benefited from all those "wasteful spelling classes". I know that some things will and have changed (i.e.: colour to color), but it's hard to fathom a completely phonetic English language system. I think I'd miss our ph's and nonsensical ough's. Admittedly, I am a native English speaker to whom many of these subtleties have come naturally.

Anyone have any thoughts?

Until we get this all sorted out, here's a comical piece by Mark Twain entitled "A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling":

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.

Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x" -- bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez -- tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivli.

Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.


Sarah said...

An interesting discussion and one in which I wish Lukas McKnight could participate. I am more of a traditionalist when it comes to these matters...sentences shouldn't end with prepositions, subjet and verb agreement, and so on. But I suppose so were those who wanted to stop computer databases from replacing card catalogs.

In my head the question then becomes what purpose do American English conventions in spelling serve our nation, culture, and posterity? Do we uphold traditional rules and ways of doing things for tradition and history's sake, or do we adapt and alter them to change an ever "diversing" society? (I made that word up.) Is the language as it is a devise that widens the divide between the rich and the poor, the educated and the illiterate, the privileged and the disadvantaged? It all depends on what our goals are I guess. Perhaps in making English simpler society at large would benefit from the growing knowledge of those who therefore beomce literate.

The British most likely thought early Americans were polluting their native tongue and American English was looked down upon, as are Ebonics, Pidgin, and other deviations from standard English today.

Perhaps in 20 years (or sooner), Americans will stop speaking English all together and just opt to speak Spanish, as it seems to be phonetic and the majority of Americans will speak it as a first language....to which I would give a hearty "¡√Āndale!"

Hauna said...

Perhaps you will find this quote applicable..."We need make no doubt but that the best forms of speech will, in time, establish themselves by their own superior excellence: and in all controversies, it is better to wait the decisions of time, which are slow and sure, than to take those of synods, which are often hasty and injudicious" --Joseph Priestly. Granted this is about spoken languge rather than written, but isn't it all in the same ball of yarn? My opinion: language (spoken and written) should be determined by popular usage rather than dicated by committees.

Anonymous said...

Frome wone whom es an xsellant spellar (and gramasistist i wood ad) ... i dont under stand wha all the hoop la are aboot. Speelling is so easie!!!

Gess whom????