Friday, October 31, 2008

Spelling Reform

A prof from Portland State visited the Scripps National Spelling Bee and covered the passionate spelling reform advocates who tried to draw attention to their cause. Fascinating piece. Paul Collins, Buzzkill, The Believer, Sept. 2008. (Scott Simon intervieweds Collin on Weekend Edition Sept. 6.)

I'm a member of the elite -- the highly educated people who can read English fluently and spell nearly everything easily. I wince when I see misplaced apostrophes ("Breakfast special: pancake's and egg's") and misspellings. But I really understand how nutty our language is, and I'm reminded each week when I tutor kids at YTP. Wouldn't it be great if we could make it easier for children and immigrants to learn English and experience all the rewards of literacy?

But in the meantime, I want to have the kids learn every fussy rule so that people who read what they write will see that they are intelligent and their work is worth reading.


steve said...

Mary Whisner wrote: "Wouldn't it be great if we could make it easier for children and immigrants to learn English and experience all the rewards of literacy?"

You can certainly decipher and understand "invented" English as long as it follows a high frequency spelling pattern.

Spell checkers will correct 85% of such spellings. With better programming, they could decipher 95%. Spell checkers usually do not recognize *supeena as a spelling for *subpoena. If you add the silent *b, the correct spelling will be found in the list of possible correct spellings.

Writing that is published will be respelled according to the house style enforced by the publication.

Sometime after 1800, "bad" spelling became associated with low educational attainment.

Before 1755, people did their best to spell as they spoke and felt that this was good *enuf.

If you have been following the articles in the London Times, there are two UK professors who advocate allowing high frequency misspellings in student papers and recognizing such spellings are legitimate variants.

Good spelling is a courtesy to speed readers who have memorized the conventional word-sign.

There is some research that suggests that spellings that have been shortened by removing surplus letters are read as fast as or faster than conventionally spelled words.

e.g., *hav giv embarrasd desicate instead of *have give embarrassed and desiccate.

Surplus cut spelling is not always "phonetic" or dictionary key spelling

hæv gIv Im'bær@st 'des@keIt

Sometimes the most popular Internet spellings are not the preferred spelling in the dictionary. e.g., 2 invented spellings are more popular than *accommodate.

You do not need to learn "every fussy rule" for your invented spellings to be quickly read and understood. *desicate is close *enuf.

Allanstr said...

Good points, Steve.
It was interesting that when the winner of the 2007 Scripps Bee final was asked about his three competencies, he lauded math and music, but described spelling as 'a bunch of memorizations'.
It obviously did not impress him.