[Spelling Reform Anthology §7.1 pp109-111]
[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Fall 1980, pp10-12]
[Valerie Yule: see Book, Journals, Newsletters, Media, Personal View 10, Anthology, Bulletins, Web links.]

Anthology Section 7.

Ways of implementing Spelling Reform.

Since it is equally as important to find out how simplified spelling may or should be put into use, this section is devoted to such planning.

How to Implement Spelling Reform,

by Valerie Yule.

Presented at the Second International SSS Conference on Reading and Spelling held July 1979 at Nene College, Northampton.

Spelling reformers must consider the needs, attitudes, and abilities of the people who are to use reformed spelling. A theoretically perfect phonemic spelling might prove impractical for general and technological use even if public resistance to its introduction were overcome.

This paper looks at aspects of 'the psychology of spelling' - practical criteria to consider in designing a more efficient orthografy and planning its introduction, with techniques of consumer education and marketing.

Most of the ideas in this paper are not my own - they have come from meny colleagues in spelling reform - Kingsley Read, William Reed, Sir James Pitman, Axel Wijk, Newell Tune, Helen Bisgard, Arnold Rupert, Reg. Deans, Vic Paulsen, Harry Lindgren - and none of them may agree with all of it. It also brings in concepts from my own discipline of psychology and its concern for human communication.

The time for spelling reform is now riper than it has been for hundreds of years. The old snob arguments are ridiculed and empty, while the mass illiteracy problem is increasingly serious. The audiovisual media which threten to supplant print have their own advantages but cannot supply the dimension that reading and writing contribute to civilisation. The sacred cow of English spelling stands wobbling while all around the rest of the world is changing dramatically, faster and faster, and nowhere faster than in the field of communications. How can the drive for change, efficiency, economy, and logic be directed to spelling - this vital tool, - or idol?

How can the remaining impediments to spelling reform be tackled? The old arguments keep reappearing despite their continuing refutation, and reappear dressed in new words too, so that it would be worth while to devise one-page sheets that could be patiently, silently, handed out whenever someone glibly recites "Homophones!" or "Etymology" or "Dialects" or "Our English Heritage!" or "the beauty of funny spelling!" or "Chomsky!" or "Multi-Systematic Information Processing!" or "Finance!" or "Impossible!"

The basic argument behind these excuses is the vested interests agenst change of those who have learnt present spelling and imagine enything new would be just as tortuous agen as their original learning experiences. As people become less cultured, they either hang on to English spelling as the empty shell of their culture, or 'couldn't care less' for either maintenance or improvement of spelling. Yet the varying motives that impede reform could also in varying degrees be turned to its support, and the insights and techniques even if not the money, of commercial marketing can be directed towards the changing public's attitudes.

Public rejection of spelling reform has been helped by the public image for which spelling reformers have been responsible - a multitude of schemes which almost completely change the appearance of 'the word as we know it,' some seeming almost perverse in their determination to use the familiar in contrary ways. The immediate 'Ugh!' reaction prevents eny further enquiry or attention. While the neat new script of i.t.a. probably attracted as well as repelled support, its special type has prevented i.t.a. spelling from percolating into the word beyond school.

Spelling reform can only be achieved by looking at what is practicable, not at dogmatic idealism about what would be perfect; arguments must deal in evidence rather than in opinion. Public participation is crucial for reform - unless we become so generally illiterate that literacy has to be brought in agen like a new thing in the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire, or we are so socially disrupted that a dictatorship takes over, or big business discovers a spelling tecnology for its machines that will save millions. The latter is quite possible, in which case a sweeping change in the whole orthography could occur irrespective of human needs. Certainly no change in the alfabet itself has a chance unless it meets the needs of international electronic tecnology, and all spelling reformers interested in this area should develop communications expertise and the right contacts.

The need for facts and evidence.

I think Harry Lindgren is right in saying, "Let's get on with Spelling Reform 1, short e spelt e as in bet, and not get bogged down with excuses for research." But while we are getting on with it, concurrently we should be finding out facts and promoting experiments to ensure that the next steps are not based on armchair philosophising so that time is wasted on doctrinaire argument or in finding out too late that what is ideal in theory is bugged in practice.

It has been assumed that an essential criterion for English spelling reform is accurate sound-symbol correspondence. Experiments in initial teaching media prove that this makes English easier to learn to read and to write. But what makes one system eny better than another system? You can invent yourself in an afternoon a script that would be easier to learn to read and write than present spelling, e.g., Tolkien's Middle Earth script, which teenagers pick up quickly for their private communication. But what is a basis for comparison?

We need to find the reformed spelling that is the 'best fit' for a number of possibly competing requirements. We need re-analysis of the vast volumes on spelling research which have mostly focused on the problems of 'bad spellers' rather than the problems of 'bad spelling.' We should devise and publicise a list of 'research on spelling that needs to be done' not only in laboratories but in schools and the market-place, by teachers and the general public as well as by linguists, psychologists and educators. Every dogmatic statement by every expert needs to be tested, not quoted. To make English spelling an effective tool for human beings to use, we need to collate the evidence on the essential requirements for the following:

1. Easily mastered by the present literate population, and presented so well that they quickly discover how easy and beneficial it is. Without this, nothing can happen. This includes immediate 'face validity' and comprehension, rapid development of superior reading fluency, and easy stages to learn to write if necessary.

2. Easy to learn to read and write (not identical demands) by learners who are bright, dull, handicapped, adult failures, second language learners (agen, not identical demands).

3. Useful for modern tecnology - for machines, their human operators and human users, easy, efficient and economical for machine-processing, typing, and handwriting.

4. Easy and cheap to get started, "saving millions and costing next to nothing," and demonstrably saving millions.

5. For the present at least, resembling present spelling as sufficiently closely, to keep books currently in print accessible as Medieval English in the future, with its greater changes.

6. A composite standard English spelling that crosses dialects, and enables children and foreigners to pronounce the new vocabulary learnt thru reading. Action research can teach and can change attitudes and provide feedback for further change, in the very process of testing and experimentation on how and what changes can be made.

Psychological research on human abilities may prove more relevant than linguistic research. The human capacity to switch set is a crucial area to resolve arguments about spelling transition - whether co-existing alternatives would confuse, about homografs in context, and dialectal variations in vowel representation, and the possibility of 'bi-literate' books in learning, and spelling conventions that can represent a common 'speech' across wide dialectal variations. We alredy know how we adapt without conscious effort to reading regardless of typeface, handwriting or letter-case, and how practised spelling reformers can switch from their own to conventional spelling, reading both with equal ease, and how children and adults can switch the languages they speak according to the situation.

We need to be well-informed on the 'natural trends' of spelling today, as shown in common spelling mistakes, experiments in free choice of spelling, and commercial and tecnological trends. Can this 'organic' change be accelerated constructively? (See Appendix 3 for some of the questions that require answers from practically-oriented research.')

I would like to see the proposals of spelling reformers set out in a standard form for easier comparability and investigation (See the previous paper, Bulletin Fall 1980 p.8).

Some ideas that have been popular with individual reformers may fail on the practicability account, however ingenious. It would be better to develop 'better' new letters than to divert existing letters to other strange purposes, which would make it fiendishly impossible even for scholars to read old books. Schemes start off handicapped if they require new keyboards or complicate writing and typing, and diacritics, etc. need research about what happens to visual scanning fluency.

Experience shows that you cannot assume that a thoroly reformed system adopted in schools will spred to the community around them as the children grow up. The children have to adapt to the world of print around them, not vice versa.

Stages in spelling reform.

We are left with the example of other countries that have successfully reformed their spelling in stages. In the previous paper I describe the stages of a possible scheme and how it could operate from two directions - learning with a basically phonemic initial learning spelling in schools, and a first stage of reform that could be begun by enyone, everyone, enywhere at eny time, consistently or more likely, inconsistently, causing no more disruption to the appearance of print than the usual misprints in your favorite daily newspaper. I have taken Harry Lindgren's SR-1 as the starting point: spell short e with as in bet - because it is a reform that has alredy made a start, it operates as a logical principle, not a slippery list; it acclimatises the public gently to the idea of change as a good thing and how easily it could operate, and it is likely to be a part of almost eny eventual full reform. Even if it were not, switching the single spelling e would be easier with the cleaning up of the present tangle of ai, ea, ei, ie, oe, e, ay, and eu, ue.

My own hypothesis is that it is likely that learners will prove to have different needs than fluent users, as occurs in all fields of skill, from flying and motor-racing to sewing, and Learner Spelling will need to include steps that can be omitted and elided for greater fluency in skilled reading and writing.

Stages of spelling reform (e.g., the 4 stages I suggest) will inevitably be adopted unevenly thru the community, as even the government-sponsored switch to metrication has to percolate, with some areas changing faster than others and the few intransigents who will never take to it. For every group there are different incentives for change as well as resistance, and this is the encouraging thing to guide present action in attitude-changing and starting actual change. These stages could be:

1. Good for you if you can get the support of politicians, big business, millionaires, publishers and public figures who can promote Stage 1 as house-rules on a large scale, and promote research and initial learning media.

2. Educators who do not actually teach children (or are such superb teachers it doesn't matter what they teach) are often vested interests agenst change, just as the horse trade opposed motorcars. Teachers who are nearer the nits and grits, faced with educationally disadvantaged children or even their own spelling or teaching problems, commonly sigh for rescue in a hopeless sort of way. If they could be shown how to teach the underlying structure of English, so that they and the children could distinguish it from the ded wood and brambles, both teachers and children will become aware of how easy spelling reform could be, and how spelling could be changed. (Most adults today have had present spelling conditioned into them, without understanding it, and have an unspoken fear, "Don't touch it, it might explode.") There would be the spin-off and incentive too, that children would be more confident in successful criticising of conventional spelling. "That word is sensible, that word is silly, but I'm not silly," is far better than so meny children's present hopelessness, "I can't understand it, so I must be silly."

3. Marketing spelling reform to the public.

On initial presentation of an innovation, habit strength operate agenst it, but the more people are able to actually try it out, i.e., act positively, the more chance that negative habit strength is reduced and alien feelings change to personal identification, particularly if a band-wagon effect can develop.

Other aims of marketing are to strengthen the mental reach and change the set idea that there is only one proper way to spell, while the freedom of choice prevents the trigger-reaction to eny schemes with 'compulsion' whatever the public good may be. Public and expert contribution of ideas could be valuable when spelling reform is a fashionable subject for public discussion, play and even private experiment, insted of a sacred cow, paper tiger or tabu too horrible to touch. 'Bugs' in proposals can be weeded out. 'Democratic' spelling reform could become a painless fait accompli, that could be tidied up and ratified on an official basis or an improved system then introduced to a now more open-minded public.

Some marketing proposals.

a. Promote books for libraries, e.g., Godfrey Dewey, Pitman & St. John, Harry Lindgren. Light-hearted books of 'Spelling Games' and Penguin-type books for the general on the Psychology of Spelling, and Spelling and Society, are also desirable. A set of one-page Answers to Everything. A set of research topics for investigation, for tertiary institutions and students seeking useful topics.

b. Articles across as wide a spectrum of the media as possible, inviting public participation and comment-stimulating, amusing and informative, e.g.:

"Permissive spelling, how far would you go?"

"Your child and That Spelling"

"Your spellingscope".

"Shocking or Fascinating? Try your hand at spelling reform."

"Britain's Industrial Fossil." "Do you remember ... ? Readers recall spelling incidents in their childhood.

"How YOU can help in bringing about spelling reform."

c. TV documentary on Spelling. Includes colorful history, scenes of past and present teaching, audience participation in demonstration of some of the astonishing facts about how we read and spell, a procession of current reading-teaching equipment, interviews with boffins, children, social workers, remedial readers, adult illiterates, delinquents, in flash-scenes from all over the country.

d. Panel games for radio and TV. A weekly five minutes on radio could also follow the progress of children and foreners learning to read conventional spelling and a consistent spelling.

e. Radio playlets, comic and satirical, in which one character speaks exactly what he reads, e.g., "Onky upon a timmy," "The miggrant whoe spelt likky an angle," "The miggrant's traggedye,"

f. Word games and other party games, including ways to use spelling reform in games alredy on the market, e.g., Scrabl; A book of Party and Family Games.

g. Pop lyrics for pop groups, e.g., "Break the Spell," "As difficult as ABC," "Reading turns you on." Comic verses, e.g., "I get my kicks when I try to spell."

h. Cartoons and catchy cards for sale.

i. Materials, gifts, gajets and gimiks for Christmas, birthdays and Spelling Day. An angle for "the person who has everything." New items appear to keep up interest. Souvenirs of Spelling Reform. A Spelender Calender. Magic Spell wrapping paper, Weirdo writing kits, T-shirts, badges, stickers, spelling kits, the conservation and energy-saving angle, contributions to Small Planet and Responsible Living groups. A mascot doll, a logo for spelling reform with a catchy title, how-to-do-it pocket cards, posters and friezes, desk-stuff.

j. Stamps and stickers for correspondence, letterheds, envelopes, etc.

k. Try to get bi-literate reading books on trial, and 'spelling cribs' for learners' reading books. Trial runs of modified spelling for social services information, regulations, parent education, etc. for semi-literate groups.

l. Support by word and action every sign you see of improved spelling, e.g., SR-1 in journals, mor sensible spelling in ads, trademarks, work-manuals, etc. Whatever your profession, encourage your trade journal and local media to try SR-1 (with or without publicity, to see if enyone notices/objects). Write letters to newspapers. Be a lobbyist. Encourage organizations working for related issues, e.g., Better English, International Communication, etc. to make their English and communication better still. Bring spelling and spelling reform as a live issue into professional journals and conferences. Keep a supply of relevant literature yourself so you are 'always prepared,' with a handy publicity package and background facts. Keep your eyes open, in personal observation and personal experiments, and contribute your own findings to your spelling reform group records.

m. Obtain sponsorship for whatever you can.

n. Spelling Day, September 30. The idea of Australian Dr. Doug. Everingham, M.H.R., former Labor Government Minister for Helth (sic) was for SR-1 Day, so that every year there can be another wave of publicity and promotion, with the ideas alredy suggested. Press releases can be sent out and notices put up on the lines of "Appendix 2."

(The ideas in this paper follow from previous articles in Spelling Progress Bulletin:

"Some causes of illiteracy and recommendations for action," v. xv, n. 4, 3-10, 1975.

"Spelling reform: arguments pro and con," v. xvi, n. 1, 11- 20, 1976.

"Let us be practical about spelling reform," v. xix, n. 1, 7-9, 1979.


The third article contains some further essential detail not included here.)

Appendix 3: Some recommendations for research.

So meny researchers take trivial topics that at least we could publicise needed ones - experiments, surveys, questionnaires, observational analyses, for every relevant discipline in universities, teachers' colleges, etc. Background courses on orthografies at secondary level can enlighten Anglo-Saxons on what the rest of the world can do, and how it is done. Surveys can put ideas into the heds of participants, and make them think, if they did not before. (One such questionnaire by Barrie Smith appears in Spelling Progress Bulletin, v. xvi, n. 1, 19, 1976.)

The field is not just for linguists and reading academics, but requires working with communications engineers, teachers, publishers, psychologists, media boffins, learners, foreners.

What actual value in using spelling are semantic, morphemic, syntactic, lexical, etc. factors, above and beyond phonemic correspondences? Should English spelling be reformed to make at least consistent the benefits that linguistic supporters claim are reasons to maintain it as it is?

How meny of the complex factors in 'the reading process' would be superflous in a reliable, predictable spelling system? Are these factors those which most handicap poor learners at present? Are we handicapping the alredy handicapped for the sake of the verbally proficient who need additional help least?

How efficient a spelling would the trends of 'natural spelling change' develop enyway if custom slackend so that dictionaries caught up with current practices? Are people just a bit mystical about 'organic language change' when they call upon 'instinctive forces' rather than rational endevour?

(And see the complementary paper preceding this which puts forward specific details which require more objective evaluation than personal judgements, e.g., re: accuracy of phonemic representation, usefulness of phonics in conventional spelling, the value of economy of space, etc.)

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