[Articles in the Anthology that were not in the Spelling Progress Bulletins.]

[Spelling Reform Anthology §1.1 p1]

Section 1.

A brief history of Spelling Reform.

If the reader of this book needs a more extensive account of the history of spelling reform, the following references should be consulted:

Pitman, Sir James, and St. John, John: Alphabets & Reading. Chapter 6, (40 pages).

Mencken, H.L.: The American Language. vol. 1, Chapter VIII, (36 pages) and Supplement II, pp 273-331.

Tauber, Abraham: (unpub. thesis), Spelling Reform in the United States, Colombia Univ. 1958. pp. 311.

From Some Arguments for & Against Spelling Reform*

*A Report prepared for the Canadian Conference on Education by a Committee representing the Canadian Linguistic Association and the Association of Canadian University Teachers of English, Kingston, Ontario, 1962.

1. When Christian missionaries came to England in the sixth and seven centuries, they brought with them the Latin alphabet. Using this alphabet, they attempted to write down the English language that they heard about them. Broadly speaking, the principle that they followed was the phonetic one, that is, each letter had for them an accepted sound value (in Latin) so that when they heard the same or similar sound in English, they represented it by the letter associated with that sound in Latin. English spelling was at first roughly phonetic with a straightforward correspondence of one symbol for one sound.

2. After the Norman Conquest, French scribal habits influenced English orthography and the earlier Anglo-Saxon writing patterns were modified. It is from this time, for example, that the modern o in son (from OE sunu) and the modern qu in queen (from OE cwēn) derive. But throughout the whole of the middle ages, English documents were more or less phonetically written. W. W. Skeat says of the manuscripts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: "Many manuscripts are carefully spelt on true phonetic principles, so that it is often perfectly easy to read them rightly."

3. In the fifteenth century widespread changes in the pronunciation of the language took place, but these were not, on the whole, reflected by corresponding changes in spelling. This was the century when the written and the spoken languages began to drift apart. This separation was positively, though not deliberately, hastened in the sixteenth century through the adoption of the notion by the classically-minded scholars of the day that a word ought to be spelt according to its derivation and not its sound. To make matters worse, the derivations assigned were frequently wrong and as a result a spelling was adopted that was neither phonetic not etymological. Thus to cite but two examples, the form sisoures found in Chaucer and derived from a OF cisoires "shears" from the Latin past participle -ciss-(um) from -cidere "to cut" and caes- from cadere (compare the word caesura) was changed to scissors on the supposed derivation from Latin sciss-(um) from scindere "to cleave", while English det from French dette became debt under the influence of Latin debitum.

4. However up to about the year 1600 there was a great deal of elasticity in English spelling. The present fixed spelling is largely a product of the first half of the seventeenth century. During those fifty years writers and printers, and probably the printers more than the writers, were gradually reducing to uniformity the varied orthography of the sixteenth century. With the printer, the tendency toward uniformity had no doubt in some degree a physical reason; with continuous practice, it became more and more natural for the compositor's hand to go to the same compartment of his case in setting up the same words, instead of hesitating between two or three alternatives.

5. In 1755 Dr. Johnson published his dictionary. "It would be an exaggeration to say, as often been said, that Dr. Johnson's Dictionary fixed English spelling, for it was already by his time well on the way to fixation. But his dictionary was the first to receive universal acceptance as the arbiter of usage and spelling." The spelling used by Dr. Johnson is largely the spelling that is used in England today.

6. In the U.S.A., however, things have followed a somewhat different course. Largely on nationalistic grounds, to emphasize the separation of his country from its former ruler, England, Noah Webster advocated reforming English spelling. He expanded his principles in 1789 in Dissertation on the English Language but he did not put his principles into practice until he published his dictionary in 1806. His innovations were considered too radical to win great support and each succeeding edition of his dictionary has seen a further watering down of his proposals. Thus spellings such as hed "head", relam "realm", masheen "machine" and, thum "thumb" are no longer found. His influence however, was great and H. L. Mencken sums it up thus: "he left the ending in -or triumphant over the ending in -our, he shook up the security of the ending in -re, he rid American spelling of a great many doubled consonants, he established the s in words of the defense group, and he gave currency to many characteristic American spellings, notably jail, wagon, plow, mold, and ax." Many of these American spellings are now current elsewhere and the likelihood is that the tendency to adopt American spellings will spread. This process is already well under way in the newspapers of Canada, though the accepted standard is that of Britain.

One result of Webster's work was the popularity of the spelling bee which played an influential role in American educational history. The bees exerted considerable influence in building an awesome regard for orthographical rectitude, and thus to prevent spelling reform. The school drill and other expedients were used to maintain a wholesome respect for English spelling as it was. The spelling bees also played a considerable role.


[Spelling Reform Anthology §2.9 pp30-34]
[Altho there are numbers for references or notes, there were none.]

The Case For and Against Spelling Reform

From Some Arguments For and Against Spelling Reform by the Canadian Linguistic Assoc. & the Canadian Univ. Teachers.

The Case For Spelling Reform.

1. Although specific reasons can be brought forward to justify the reforming of English spelling, beneath them all is perhaps the sub-conscious resentment that most people have against its illogical nature. Man is a rational creature and the greater part of his search for knowledge consists of perceiving order in apparent disorder. The very arbitrariness of English spelling immediately calls forth the oposition of man's logical faculties. Knowing that read rhymes with bead and that both words rhyme with seed, reason rebels when it then must accept the rhyming of head and bread with bed, Equally reason cannot easily accept the fact that the letter a has one value in bat, another in bake, yet another in father, yet another in any, and seemingly no independent value at all in caught.

2. People make their first serious contact with English spelling when they learn to read in school. For this reason we might take first those arguments that concern the child at school. Learning to read and write is the major activity of the child's early schooldays. Anything that will speed success in this task and perhaps also make it more interesting is to be welcomed.

3. In this context the first argument for spelling reform is that it will save school time. For example, Henry Bradley says: "The waste to time caused by the want of a consistent relation between the written and the spoken word is a serious evil, which urgently calls for a remedy." In a debate in the English House of Commons on March 11, 1949, Mr. Follick, who was speaking in favour of reforming English spelling, said that in his opinion the saving of time would be as much as two years of a child's life at school. [2] The saving of time was not put so high by another advocate of reform, William Archer, but he claimed that a year's school time would be saved by this step. [3] It must be admitted, however, that for the most part statements of this sort made by advocates of spelling reform reflect personal opinions and nothing more. None of them is based upon properly conducted tests in which control classes were used, but see in this connection the experiments described as Pitman's Augment Alphabet Tests.

4. The next point taken up by advocates of spelling reform is the drudgery in learning to spell, the ceaseless trial and error until finally the correct arbitrary pattern is remembered. Thus Mr. Follick argues: "In the first place, in school, nobody ever learns spelling. They waste time at it. It is a horrible drudgery. But they never learn it." [4] But it is worth noticing here that this is a subjective argument and that what one person finds drudgery, another will even enjoy. In the same debate there were speakers who disagreed with Mr. Follick. For example, Mr. Tomlinson said: "I do not believe that children go through untold hours of drudgery in trying to learn how to spell. It is true that some of them fail to learn how to spell, but they would fail under any system. [5] Sir Alan Herbert even justified a mild degree of drudgery: "I want to say a word about this so-called drudgery. I think it is grossly exaggerated. I do not know of anything worth learning that can be learned without some drudgery, which means 'distasteful toil'. Think of the agonies of learning the piano." [6]

5. In a pamphlet entitled Spelling Reform and Our Schools, [7] W. J. Reed makes these points that bear on a child's early schooldays. He discusses first the relationship between word recognition and comprehension. He claims that a consistent spelling would reduce the time spent on recognition and increase that on comprehension. [8] From this he goes on to say that "spelling reform would thus give us not only better word recognition but also better comprehension."[9]

6. He then argues that a child's powers of written expression are hindered by the current spelling. He uses only words that he can spell whether they are the best words or not. With a more rational system of spelling, a child could write any word that he could say. [10]

7. Lastly [11] Mr. Reed claims that rational spelling would exercise a child's reasoning power. [12] His argument as it stands can hardly be justified. The purpose of teaching any spelling system is not to train a child's reasoning power but to enable it to read. Rather Mr. Reed ought to claim that a child can bring its reasoning ability to its aid in learning a rational system but not when learning the present irrational system and that for this reason a rational system should replace the present one. On the other hand it is arguable how far this would materially improve the learning of spelling. The failure rate in science and mathematics, both rational in nature, is high enough to prevent anyone thinking that the greater utilization of reasoning in teaching spelling would necessarily produce generations of better spellers.

8. Spelling reform has been advocates by others, not for what it will do for children in school in their early years, but for what it will prevent after school in later years. In the House of Commons debate referred to above, Commander Maitland suggested that our present spelling system was producing bad readers, that bad readers preferred books with many pictures, that this was often the sexy sadistic literature of the bookstalls and that the influence of this literature was a cause of criminal activities among the young. [13] Mr. Reed expressed the same idea. He says that the child, having seen the illogical nature of spelling "may only register a little disappointment with his elders for not playing quite fair; or he may, after many more such failures, form the opinion that his elders, either stupid or unkind to allow such illogical spelling to obstruct his educational process. This opinion has, of course, to be suppressed and so it becomes more dangerous to himself and everybody else. Apart from the intellectual loss then, there is the possibility of emotional and even delinquency troubles, which indeed have a high correlation with education failure." [14]

9. The next arguments urged in favour of spelling reform do not advocate it for its own sake but because it would lead indirectly to an overall betterment of the English language. Henry Bradley believes that many words in English, which have been derived from Latin and Greek are recognized by the classically educated more from the written form than from anything else. A phonetic spelling for English would break this recognition and would first drive many of these words out of the language. The result of this would be "to free our language from its unnatural bondage to the alien, to compel the developments of its native resources, and to revive its decayed power of composition and derivation." [15]

10. It has been suggested that rational spelling would be a guide to correct pronunciations of the language. Thus, for example, Mr. Follick, in the House of Commons debate claimed that he had heard the word tribunal pronounced "half dozen ways" [16] and that a reformed spelling would guide speakers as to which form to use. [17]

11. The last arguments put forward in favour of a reformed spelling concern the possibility of English becoming the world's "second" language. That to some extent English is this already will not be denied. Mr. Follick claimed that the language had reached this position b cause of certain intrinsic merits which it possesses, viz. short words, simple grammar and easy pronunciations. About pronunciation he said: "there is not a difficult sound in the English language:" [18] However, he believes that the irrational spelling of English prevents the language from being easily spoken and hence becoming the world's single "second" language. [19]

12. Summary of arguments in favour of spelling reform

(a) Reaction against the irrationality of English spelling

(b) Saving of teaching time in school

(c) Elimination of drudgery from learning to read

(d) Increase in a child's power of comprehending written English

(e) Increased fluency in a child's written work

(f) Reasoning powers can be used by a child in learning to read and write

(g) Reduction of delinquency and crime

(h) Elimination of many classically-derived words and the revival of native resources in word formation

(i) Provision for clearer guides to the pronunciation of the language

(j) Furtherance of English as the "second" language of the world.

The Case Against Spelling Reform.

1. All major attempts at implementing reform of English spelling have so far failed. This is not because the arguments against reform are crushingly strong - though they do have some validity - but because the public at large is apathetic about the proposal. Sir William Craigie suspects that the reading public would not "[having] learned the current spelling. . . willingly acquire a new one." Mr. John Parker in the English House of Commons was quite certain of his attitude. He said: "I have learned the existing system of spelling and therefore find myself reluctant to go to a great deal of trouble in learning another system." There can be no doubt that most people do not care one way or the other about spelling reform and of the few that have thought about it, the great majority are to lazy to act.

2. Allied with this apathy there is also prejudice against the idea of spelling reform. Sir William Craigie realized that a big objection to re-spelt forms would be that they would have a fair chance of suggesting "only ignorance and illiteracy." According to Sir Tomlinson, even George Bernard Shaw, a noted opponent of the current spelling of English, felt this prejudice against the reformed spellings. Sir Tomlinson quotes Shaw as follows: "I should strenuously object to have to read, much less write, my own works in a strange script, though I know I should get accustomed to it in a few weeks if I took the trouble." Rightly or wrongly, correct spelling is taken as indicating an educated person and equally an inability to spell is thought of as showing ignorance. This idea is a serious obstacle to any change in our spelling system.

3. Another objection, hardly an argument but more than a prejudice, is to be found behind the comment of Sir William Darling: "I am of the opinion that it [spelling reform] is an attempt to step down our education standard, because reading English is a little difficult in as much as it requires concentration and thought, and well-intentioned persons should not make it easier."Though hardly a valid argument in itself against spelling reform, Sir William's statement deserves attention as perhaps pointing to one facet of twentieth century educational practice and perhaps providing a suitable background against which to consider spelling reform.

4. When we turn to specific objections to spelling reform, we find that many of them derive from practical considerations. The first of these is that even supposing the majority of people were in favour of reform, what machinery and what authority exists to bring it about? A change of spelling would not just happen. An order saying that from a certain date such and such a spelling would be acceptable would be required and who would give this order and would their authority in the matter be accepted? Secondly, spelling reform has been a debated topic on both sides of the Atlantic all this century. A vast amount of money, of time and of labour has gone into the subject, and yet seemingly the vast mass of the people has not been affected by it at all. The task of persuading enough people to accept the reform in order to bring it about seems therefore so large that one may sceptically wonder if it could ever be done.

5. Spelling reform would probably not be welcomed by printers. Any change whatsoever would slow down their work and cause confusion until such time as typesetters had become entirely familiar with the new system. One may even wonder whether a skilled man who had worked in that trade for a number of years would ever make a complete adjustment and consequently have his efficiency impaired forever. Even more problems would arise if the new system that was adopted had new letters in it as so many of the projected reformed alphabets do. This would mean adaptations to existing printing machinery. It could even mean their complete replacement. What this would mean to the printers in time and expense can hardly be estimated but it would obviously be considerable. Even worse, however, all typewriters would equally become obsolete.

6. The changeover to a new orthography inevitably raises the question of what will happen to all the books that already exist. Some reprinting will be inevitable, if only of works that are arranged alphabetically. Whatever system of reformed spelling were adopted, it would be reasonable to assume that words such as know, knight, knot would no longer begin with k and that similarly photograph, physics and phonetics would not begin with ph but with f. The labour of resetting all thirteen volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary or all twenty-four volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, to take but two examples, would be immense but would have to be done. As for other books, it has been argued that they could be left unchanged since a few hours' practice will enable any mature person to read them as we read Shakespeare's First Folios today. On the other hand there may be more faith than conviction behind this statement. Throughout the world's libraries there are millions of books printed in the current spelling system. They represent a huge capital expenditure. The positive advantages of reforming English spelling would have to be very strong before a path could be taken that might make these libraries more difficult all access, or even close them to the public altogether.(!?)

7. One of the arguments for a reformed spelling is that by having a regular relationship between the written and the spoken language, a foreigner would learn to speak the language more easily in that having learnt the sound value attached to each letter he would then read a text aloud with some confidence of getting the correct pronunciation of each word. Against this, however, the present irregular spelling has in one respect a bigger advantage. Many English words derive ultimately from foreign languages. They were borrowed and assimilated into English, often retaining the spelling that they had in their parent language. Thus, for example, though a Frenchman may not understand the English words centre, certain, censure, calm when he hears them, he will at least have no difficulty in recognizing them when they are written down. But this aid in understanding goes when the above words appear in a rational phonetic form, perhaps in some such spelling as senter, surten, senser, and kaam. Loss and gain here have to be weighed against each other.

8. The rules of English grammar are few by comparison with most foreign languages and are easily learnt. This is a real advantage for a foreigner who is learning English. Thus the regular rule for making the plural of a noun is to add an s, thus: cap-caps, hat-hats, boy-boys, cab-cabs, nose-noses, bridge-bridges. But with a spelling system based upon the pronunciation of the language, cognisance would have to be taken of the differences in pronunciation in the above words. There would in fact be three plural endings, not one, viz: s as in kaps, bats, z as in boiz, kabz and iz as in nouziz and bridjiz. The same multiplication would occur in the endings of the third person singular of the verb in the present tense (he walks, he runs, he rushes), in the past tense (he walked, he yawned, he waded) and in the past participle (walked, yawned, waded).

9. Phonetic spelling would also do a disservice to scientists. Henry Bradley makes two points. New terms are coined largely from Latin and Greek elements. They are written forms and properly they have no pronunciation. An attempt at a phonetic spelling would be an artificial thing. It would obscure the meaning of the word by destroying the accustomed appearance of the constituent elements and would bring no compensatory advantage. Secondly, a "universal" spelling based on Latin and Greek usage is common in all technical words in all languages so that a foreign scientist is considerably helped in reading a work in English. It would hinder him to have to translate a phonetic spelling into the more traditional spelling first.

10. The points so far brought against spelling reform have dealt with public sentiment, practical obstacles, and the foreigner. All these deserve consideration, but so far no linguistic reasons have been urged against a reformed spelling. There are two arguments that have to be considered.

11. It is axiomatic that a language is not a static thing. Though the terms living language and dead language are not exact, they point to an essential truth, namely that as long as a language has speakers, it is changing just as a living organism is changing and that it never achieves a fixed form, such as Latin has, until it is no longer the daily speech of a nation. The language of King Alfred in the ninth century is different from that of Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth which in turn is not the language of William Shakespeare at the end of the sixteenth whilst English in the twentieth is different from all three. If reformed spelling were a once-and-for-all thing, it might be easy to accept, but in fact it would be a never ending process. Some authoritative body would have to be set up with instructions to revise spelling at intervals. Vallins quotes Dr. Johnson, a man usually criticized on this subject but who on this point at least saw more clearly than most. Dr. Johnson says: "Of these reformers some have endeavoured to accomodate orthography better to the pronunciation, without considering that this is a measure by a shadow, to take that for a model or standard which is changing while they apply it."

12. The major problem for advocates of spelling reform, who have as their goal a more phonetically based spelling, is the fact that English is not uniformly pronounced throughout the world. Mr. Hollis made this point in the House of Commons. He said: "I see a certain amount of common sense in the maxim that we should try to spell as we pronounce, but the difficulty is that people pronounce English entirely different from one another, and the reason why they understand it is only because they spell it the same." Actually no advocate of reform demands a rigorously phonetic system. For example, Daniel Jones suggests that no distinction be made between stressed and unstressed syllables in the word was in the following sentences: He thought he was wrong [wəz] and He thought he was [woz]. In the same way he would leave out stress marks, even though stress positioning is meaningful in words such as ińcrease (noun) and increáse (verb), torment (noun) and torment (verb).

13. When he considers the question of different dialects, however, Jones says: "It would be inconvenient and lead to difficulties both in reading and in writing, if any large number of common words were to be spelled in more than one way." No one would disagree with this statement but then comes the question which form of English is to be the model upon which the orthography is to be based. In England there is presumably no problem. There is a recognized standard speech and this would no doubt be the pattern for the orthography. Consequently the story of The Little Red Hen, told in southern Received Standard English, begins as follows in a reader prepared for the Simplified Spelling Society. "Wun dae dhe Litl Red Hen found a graen ov wheet." But how far will this orthography help the young North Yorkshire boy who speaks the local dialect? His pronunciation of one can best be written yan (jan]. For him red has the same vowel sound as wheat and both words might best be written reead and wheeat [riəd, wiət]. He would not use the standard form found but a pronunciation that would be indicated by the spelling fund [fvnd]. Is. he really any better off with this new system of spelling when it comes to equating sound with letter? And the situation will be repeated whenever the local speech differs to any real extent from Received Standard English, viz. Devon, Cornwall, the west country generally, Lancashire, the northwest, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, Scotland, and so on.

14. The problem becomes more complex when English is viewed on a world scale for then there is no recognized standard speech. This question is too big to be entered into here but one or two examples of the sort of problem that will arise can be given by comparing certain typical British and Canadian pronunciations. In Canada the words hat, cap, bath and pass have the same vowel sound and so might well appear in reformed spelling as hat, kap, bath and pas. On the other hand father and calm would perhaps be written faather and kaam. But in England the spellings to follow the pronunciations there, would have to be hat, kap, bath, paas, faather and kaam. In Canada the words cot and caught are pronounced alike and could be spelt in a reformed orthography kot. In England the two words are distinct and would be written kot and koot respectively, where oo indicates the long vowel sound in good.

15. There remain three objections to reformed spelling that are often brought forward. None seems to have any real validity and so can be dealt with briefly. First there is the aesthetic argument that reformed spelling is ugly and displeasing. William Archer points out quite correctly that there is no positive beauty in the current spelling. Indeed there can be no such thing and certainly no foreigner (who would not be distracted by the word's meaning and who should therefore presumably appreciate the beauty of the word forms more disinterestedly than an English speaker) ever feels that the appearance of English in print is beautiful. It is true that the sensation of ugliness for some people on seeing reformed spelling is real, but it is a sensation that comes from a "defect of expectation", not from an actual perceived ugliness. This feeling comes entirely from habit - a new habit would mitigate it and of course a new generation brought up on reformed spelling would never experience it.

16. The second of these arguments is the etymological argument, which is that a reformed spelling would obscure the etymology of most English words. Briefly the answer to this is that English spelling is at best today only haphazardly etymological - that the spelling of many words is actually misleading etymologically (for example doubt, which is property dout, coming from French douter, not directly from Latin dubitare, and scissors which should be sisors or the like from French cisoires and not as if it came from Latin scissor-(es) "carver" from scindere "to cleave") and that the number of people who are interested in the etymology of words is so small relative to the mass of English-speaking people that they cannot be allowed to stand selfishly in the way of reform.

17. The last argument is the homophone argument. At the present there are some words that are pronounced alike but which are spelt differently. If a phonetic basis of writing were to be introduced these words would then be spelt alike and it is claimed that ambiguity could be caused.

Henry Bradley created some examples:
Trafalgar Square is the finest sight (site) in London
the rights (rites) of the Church
Mr. So-and-so is a flower (flour) merchant.
In normal usage, however, these words would be rarely confused, the context almost certainly indicating which word was meant. Further, though a reformed spelling would bring together many homophones under one spelling, it would release many present homographs into different spellings, words such as bow (noun) and bow (verb). Perhaps the loss in one area would be balanced by the gain in the other.

18. Summary of arguments against spelling reform.
(a) Public apathy and prejudice
(b) Lowering of educational standards
(c) No machinery for bringing about reform
(d) Immense labour needed to persuade people to accept reform
(e) Objections from printers
(f) Reprinting of many books would be necessary and the use of others possibly made awkward
(g) Loss of easy recognition of many words by foreigners
(h) Complication of English grammatical rules
(i) Objections by scientists
(j) Continual need for revision of spelling.
(k) Differing forms of spoken English.


[Spelling Reform Anthology §2.10 p34]

The Case For and Against Spelling Reform

Editor's comments (on previous article):

This is the kind of biased report you can expect from a die-hard status quo advocate when he tries to write a paper giving both sides of a controversy. You will note that he could not refrain from presenting the arguments in favor of spelling reform without inserting negative comments at frequent intervals. And most of his comments against reform would not be applicable to a modest reform like SR-1 to SR-5. In his preconceived, determined opposition to reform, he overlooked this angle of the kind of reform and how it could be presented so as to not upset the literate adults who are satisfied with the status quo. Also he overlooked the fact that many words have two spellings - both of which are considered acceptable by our dictionaries. And that in the field of commerce new words coined are invariably spelled in a phonetic manner.

His paper is presented here mainly to show to what lengths the opponents of spelling reform will go to vindicate their prejudices. And he is ashamed of his many illogical arguments that he hides behind a cloak of anonymity of an "Association."

The fallacy of many of his statement against reform is not always obvious.

In #1, all attempts at changing anything appear to have failed - until our government actually authorizes the change. But it is true that most people are complacent - just as they were about the adoption of the Metric system, which is now becoming a reality.

In #2, this idea might have had some validity 3/4 of a century ago, but not now.

The falsity of statement #3 should be obvious. Spelling reform is a serious attempt at bettering our educational standards.

In another section of this book, it will be shown how to implement a reformed spelling. Suffice to say that there is for sure a legal and authoritative way - by government action and decree with government usage as a precedent.

His #5 has no validity. Printers and typesetters do not care if the text they have to work with is simple or difficult. They are paid by the hour. If it takes longer to set up an article on medicine, engineering or law, or any other technical jargon, the author or the publication pays for the difference - not the printer, most of whom don't even read what they print. What he says about adding new letters to the alfabet, however, is true.

In #6, no doubt some reprinting will be advisable, but the present literate population would not need to have books reprinted, nor would they forget how to read in the old spelling. Only such books as dictionaries or encyclopedias, wherein words starting with the eliminated silent letters, are relocated, would be affected. But these new editions would stimulate our economy with new sales.

In #7, the illogicality of this assertion should be easily seen. While the French word (or spelling) might help a Frenchman understand that particular word, it would not help a Greek, a German, a Swede, a Russian, or dozens - yea, hundreds of others. And the large amount of our words were not borrowed from foreign languages but derived from Latin and Greek, both of which are mutually incompatible.

For #8, we must weigh the advantages and disadvantages. Certainly it is more important to have a reliable system than our present unreliable system of making plurals and possessives.

#9 is false because the Greek alfabet is entirely diferent from ours. The Greek spelling does not have the digraph 'ph' in it. The Greek letter 'phi' (our T.O. name for it) does not indicate that it should be 'ph' but rather that should be 'f'. And all languages do not use the 'ph' digraph, viz, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish, Danish, and probably others use 'f' instead. And in Lord Gleichen's Alphabets of Foreign Nations, p. xiii, it says, "ph must not be used for this sound (f) in respelling foreign names."

No such artificial digraphs are used in Latin derived words, showing that such a digraph is unnecessary to indicate ancestry.

#11 may have been true 2 or more centuries ago, but the language has not changed even slightly in the last century and fixing the spelling along fonetic lines will tend to prevent changes in pronunciation. The reason why pronunciation did change centuries ago was because 99% of the population was illiterate and the spelling had already become an unreliable guide to pronunciation.

#12. The reason why there are differing dialects is because there is no standard fonetic spelling to be used as a guide to pronunciation. If there were, we would gradually follow the standard and eventually emerge with a standard speech. And he exaggerates the amount of differences between dialects. For instance, the dialectal differences between British and American speech amounts to only a few dozen words out of the 75,000 in the dictionary.

In #13, the specter of words being spelt in more than one way is held up as a deterent, yet he seems to be unaware that there are a lot of words which in our dictionaries have 2 acceptable spellings.- past & passed, color & colour, honor & honour, program & programme, catalog & catalogue, dialog & dialogue, prolog & prologue, thru & through, tho & though, altho & although, donut & doughnut, canceled & cancelled, embarass & embarrass, to name only a few. And there are 30 listed by Papailiou and Jason in their thesis (SPB, Spring, 1981 pdf).

In #14, Pitman's experience with his initial teaching alfabet indicates that this dialectal difficulty is only a minor issue and affects so few words as to be immaterial. What is more important? - that a few words do not indicate exactly the real pronunciation, or that most words (in T.O.) do not indicate pronunciation at all. Shall we reject something that is almost perfect in favor of something that is very unreliable?

#15 is disposed of by the author so no further comment is necessary.

As for the etymological argument, it was also challenged in our Section 5 by Yule and Downing.

The homophone argument is another "red herring" intended to obscure the real issue and has little merit, as shown by Ben Franklin and others. Some reformers even provide two means of portraying the same sound so as to provide means of differentiating the homophones. But he is right in saying that the gain in differentiating homographs will balance the loss of differentiation among homophones.


[Spelling Reform Anthology §7.6 pp118,122]

Notes on Implementation of Spelling Reform,

by a committee of the Canadian Linguistic Association.

1. The problems of implementing a reformed spelling are great, so much so that some of them have already been listed as positive arguments against spelling reform. The basic fact to be faced in implementing this reform is that the change envisioned is not the sort that will come about of itself with time, but one that must be imposed (or at least approved) by authority from the government. Consequently, the problem evolves itself into one of winning enough support from the general public that the various legislative bodies are compelled to bring about the desired reform.

2. It is not part of this report to go into the question of how to create this volume of public opinion in favour of spelling reform except to say that the task is essentially one for the individual and that the process must be the slow one of winning over individuals won by one. Obviously the more public discussion of the question by means of lectures, debates, and newspaper correspondence and so on that can be stimulated the better.

3. The bringing about of this kind of reform is further complicated by the fact that the English language is not confined to Canada, and that while it might be possible to change the spelling system in Canada alone, without regard to other countries, it would be unrealistic to do so.

4. Advocates of spelling reform usually think of reform coming about by means of legislation and the system coming into effect all at once. However there are other ways and one is a gradual introduction of the system over many years, a few spellings at a time. This was the programme of the Simplified Spelling Board. The strength of this method is the difficulty of maintaining a line of demarcation between simplified and unsimplified spellings. It may therefore be very difficult to apply in practice. A further weakness is that for many years its contribution to reducing the time spent in learning to read would be negligible.

5. Another approach is possible and that is to proceed via the Augmented Roman Alphabet by Pitman which has been put forward as a teaching medium for both children and illiterate adults. Although it is not intended to be a means of reforming spelling, perhaps after it has been in use for some years in schools, the advantages of retaining it later and later into the school programme and printing more and more advanced work in it will be appreciated until one day a generation completes all the school work in it. It will in this way become an alternative spelling system by the side of the current system and perhaps eventually even supersede it.

Back to the top.