[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Spring 1980 pp1,15]
Also on this page: Conference program.
See also: Abstracts, Brief report, Report, Proceedings.

Report on the 1979 SSS Conference,

by Kitty Furst.*

* NSW, Australia.

The writer enjoyed the Conference convened by the Simplified Spelling Society, which has been in existence for more than a half a century and is at present under the patronage of his Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh. The Conference was attended by about 40 persons, at Nene College, Moulton Park near Northampton, England. It was held from July 27 thru July 30, 1979. In view of the large number of papers presented, it was necessary to limit each speaker to 25 minutes, with 15 minutes for discussions which followed each paper.

Thruout the English-speaking world one hears complaints about the ever falling standard of literacy. It would be futile to put the blame on educators or on the young people's lack of desire to learn. It is the system of traditional orthography itself which is to blame, with its inconsistencies and vagaries. Where a language is phonetic, knowledge of the sounds of the alphabet is all that is needed to be literate, whereas in a language which is so constructed that sounds and letters do not agree, school-children have to learn the written form of each word individually, with the result that it takes years to master the basic skills of reading and writing-time which otherwise would be utilized in order to gain knowledge in other fields.

Whilst most of the speakers favoured a reform of English spelling, a fair hearing was given also to traditionalists, who presented information on the frequency of certain spelling errors found with school children, and showed means and ways to overcome the difficulties of the existing systems, some of them very ingenious. But the very fact that one has to resort to elaborate devices clearly demonstrates that only a thoro reform of the system of spelling itself can bring about the advantages enjoyed by speakers of phonetic languages. The Initial Teaching Alphabet, devised by Sir James Pitman, is in fact, one of those stepping stones towards literacy in traditional orthography. Experiments have shown that when students are first introduced to a system that is based on phonetic principles (even if it is not perfectly phonetic), the ability to read is acquired with such a speed that switching over to traditional orthography these students are better readers than those who learned to read in traditional orthography right from the beginning.

Among the different systems of reformed spelling presented at the conference, there are some that tend to avoid radical changes and merely aim at abolishing certain glaring absurdities. There are others that emphasize the acceptance factor and only aim at dropping silent letters. The objections to these suggestions is that with such trifling amendments one fails to get at the toot of the matter. The new set-up would still require memorizing the written forms of each word individually. It is, of course, possible to frame rules which cover a large proportion - possibly a majority - of words and earmark for change of spellings those words which do not comply with the rule. This task was carried out in a scholarly fashion by Prof. Axel Wijk. Unfortunately he died earlier in the month and his paper was read by his widow, Pia.

An entirely different approach is based on the phonetic principle. As there are some letters, the alphabet is deficient and needs to be augmented. New symbols can largely be avoided by using digraphs for certain sounds as we do now but consistently.

Elaborate rules are difficult for the school child to master, and going beyond the limits of the Latin alphabet would cut off English not only from its past, but also from the rest of Europe as well.

Between the two approaches - the cautious one and the radical one - there should be a compromise. Such a compromise should, on the one hand, create a situation in which it is always possible to deduce from the written form of a word an acceptable spoken form and likewise, in most instances, to deduce from the spoken form of a word, its written form; on the other hand it should avoid introducing new symbols or unusual combinations of letters and, generally speaking, be based upon current practices as far as this is compatible with the principle of phonetic accuracy. A system in which phonetic accuracy, modified by practical considerations, is achieved leads to a situation in which a foreigner who is ignorant of the language in general, but has been taught the pronunciation rules would be in a position to read an English text presented to him almost faultlessly - almost, not entirely, because some aspects of pronunciation, such as sentence stress, cannot be shown, with the result that the reading of such an imaginary foreigner would be slightly pedantic, tho fully intelligible.

Some of the papers presented at the Conference demonstrated that the lack of logic inherent in traditional orthography stifles the power of reasoning in children and adolescents; dyslexia and some aspects of juvenile delinquency can be attributed to this factor. One of the speakers was Prof. Abraham Citron who went so far as to assert that traditional orthography is psychic child abuse, since the fundamental law of consistency does not apply.

In recent years, money has been decimalised in Australia and in Great Britain, and gradually the Metric system of weights and measures, as well as the Celsius scale on the thermometer are being introduced in English speaking countries, doing away with complicated systems which were discarded in other countries long ago.

It appears appropriate to point out that just as money, weights and measures have been simplified, spelling, too, could and should be simplified.

In two years time there will be another conference on spelling reform - probably in Scotland. Supporters of spelling reform do not delude themselves into believing that spelling reform will come about quickly or easily. The public has to be educated in the merits of reform and the differences between the various schemes bridged. The hope, however, can be confidently expressed, that whatever emerges in the end will afford the maximum advantage to speakers of English as well as foreign learners, with the result that there will no longer be any cause for complaining about illiteracy or semi-literacy, since literacy will be within the reach of all, and no longer the prerogative of those who are endowed with a good mechanical or photographic memory.

Let us hope that the United Nations Education Council has the wisdom and foresight to endorse such a proposal because it should be right in the realm of their objectives.


[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Spring 1980 p2]

Program of the Second International Conference on Reading & Spelling,

held at Nene College, Northampton, England, July 27-30, 1979.

In order that our readers should be able to find and read papers presented at this Conference that are in the class of subject matter that interests them, the order of the papers presented out the Conference has been rearranged in three categories:

A. Present English spelling and its teaching.

1. Analogy in English Spelling, by Dr. D.G. Scragg, Univ. of Manchester, Eng. Pub. in SPB, Winter, 1979.

2. Research on Spelling Reform, by Dr. John Downing, Univ. of Victoria, B. C. Canada. Pub, SPB, Spring 1980.

3. Phonographic Relationships in English Spelling and their Implications, by Fergus McBride.

4. Implications of Spelling Reform for Certain Phonemes. Graphic R, by Dr. Emmett A. Betts, Research Prof, Univ. of Miami, Fla. Pub. SPB Winter, 1979.

5. Language, Orthography and the Schwa, by Dr. Katherine P. Betts. Pub. SPB, Summer, 1979.

6. A Pedagogical Purview of Orthography, by George O'Halloran former Education Officer, The Gambia, W. Af. H.M. Overseas Education Service. Pub. SPB, Spring, 1980.

7. Patterns in Pupils' Spelling Errors, by Dr. David Moseley, Univ. of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Eng.

8. In Defence of Conservatism in English Spelling, by Dr. Philip Smith, Projektgruppe fur Psycholinguistik, Nijmegen, Netherlands, Pub. SPB, Summer, 1980.

9. A Multisensory Approach to the Teaching and Learning of Spelling, by Alun Bye, Head, Remedial Teaching Service, Northamptonshire, Eng. Pub. SPB, Spring, 1980.

B. The Case for Reform.

10. The Cultural Impediments of English Orthography, by Vic. Paulsen, Publisher, San Francisco, Ca. Pub. SPB, Fall, 1980.

11. Traditional Orthography as Psychic Child Abuse, by Dr. Abraham F. Citron, Wayne State Univ, and Cloyzelle K. Jones, Univ. of Mich. Pub. SPB, Fall, 1978.

12. The Effects of a Simplified Spelling on Children's Readiness to Read, by Dr. Derek Thackray, Editor of Reading (UKRA). Pub. SPB, Spring, 1980.

13. Modern Technology and Spelling Reform, by Dr. Helen B. Bisgard, Pub. SPB, Winter, 1979.

C. Practical Aspects of Spelling Reform.

14. Is Spelling Reform Feasible? by Mrs. Elsie Oakensen, Head, Daventry Teachers Centre, Eng. Pub. SPB Summer, 1980.

15. Spelling Reform and The Psychological Reality of English Spelling Rules, by Dr. Robert Baker, Univ. of Southampton. Pub. SPB, Summer, 1980.

16. Principles of reform - some proposals:
a) The Right to Read, by Dr. Axel Wijk, formerly Stockholm Univ. Pub. SPB, Spring, 1980.
b) Some Proposed Principles for Simplifying English Orthography, by Dr. John R. Beech, New Univ. of Ulster, Coleraine, N. Ireland. Pub. SPB, Summer, 1980.
c) A Transitional Spelling Reform for Adults and Learners, by Valerie Yule, Child Psychologist. Aberdeen, Scotland. Pub. SPB, Fall, 1980.
d) On the Choice of the Right Symbol, by Dr. Walter Gassner, Translator, Randwick, Australia.
e) The Phonetic Representation of Speech, Ess Ess Ess Fonetik, by S. S. Eustace, Sec. Simplified Spelling Society. Pub. SPB, Fall, 1980.
f) Reading and Writing in English, by S. Bakowski.

17. Practical Aspects of Implementing a Simpler Spelling, by Valerie Yule, Child Psychologist, Aberdeen, Scotland. Pub. SPB, Fall, 1980.

18. Conclusion and Comments. Plans for the next conference in 1981, by Valerie Yule.

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