[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1982 pp17-19]
[Emmett Betts: see Anthology, Bulletins.]

The Functions of the Special Interest Group,

by Emmett Albert Betts, Ph.D., LL.D.


The IRA Special Interest Group 18, "Reading: Orthography : and Word Perception," is officially concerned with the relationships between orthography (spellings) and word-perception, including phonics. This group evolved from the activities of the Phonemic Spelling Council (PSC) and other antecedent organizations. Beginning in 1968, the Phonemic Spelling Council co-sponsored sessions at the annual conventions of the International Reading Assoc. When this arrangement was terminated by PSC in 1979, IRA approved the organization of this special interest group to continue the very successful co-sponsored sessions during the annual IRA conventions: Hence, the organizational meeting of the group was conducted during the 1981 IRA convention in New Orleans. Official IRA approval was given February 1982. Furthermore, the PSC Corporation had been terminated as of December 31, 1981.

Antecedents to PSC include the Spelling Reform Assoc. founded in 1876, the Simplified Spelling Board founded in 1906, and the Simpler Spelling Assoc. founded in 1946 - which cooperated with the British Simplified Spelling Society founded in 1908.

Spelling Reform: Europe.

In his classic Writing (Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, 1962), David Diringer opines that semi-phonetic writing appeared in the Near East, 'probably in Palestine or Syria':
"... It was, historically, the last major form of writing to appear, and it in the most highly developed, the most convenient, and the most easily adaptable system of writing ever invented."

"... It moved on, that is, toward what has been called the 'triumph' or 'conquest' of the alphabet." (p. 19)
Diringer adds: "In phonetic writing we have, for the first time, the graphic counterpart of speech." (p.23) He continues, "... the enormous advantages implicit in using letters to represent single sounds are obvious." (p. 24) Diringer believes that "perhaps a more dramatic example of progress in the development of alphabetic writing." (p. 19) His comment on spelling reform - in this instance Japanese script - is relevant to present-day resistance to needed reform:

"What the outcome of this modern reforming impulse will be remains, at least for the moment, uncertain. The age seems past when changes of such magnitude in the ingrained cultural habits of a great nation could be enforced overnight by decree. It is one of the more ghastly paradoxes of modern times that it has become a simpler matter to exterminate a civilian population than to change its habits; and writing, in particular, has always exhibited a certain tenaciousness and a resistance to rapid change." (p. 89)

Spelling reform has intrigued many eminent scholars. More than 450 years ago, Ikelsamer is said to have originated "the phonic method" to relate spellings to speech sounds. In 1554 and 1570, John Hart is credited with initiating concern for spelling reform to remedy "the unreasonable writing of the English toung (tongue)" William Bullokar, in 1580, called attention to the need for compatibility between a reform spelling and the Roman alphabet, one, of the causes of the vagaries of English spellings. In 1848, A. J. Ellis made "A Plea for Phonetic Spelling." In 1878, Isaac Pitman (grandfather of Sir James Pitman) added "A Plea for Spelling Reform." Sir James Pitman co-authored "Phonetic Orthography" (1937) and later, in the 1960's, published his initial teaching alphabet (i.t.a.) for use with beginners in reading.

Two renowned Swedish scholars devised proposed orthographies:
R. E. Zachrisson, Anglica, an International Language, Almqvist, Upsala and Stockholm, 1932.
Axel Wijk, Regularized English. Almqvist, and Wiksell, Stockholm, 1959.
The publications of Zachrisson and Wijk merit careful study by both spelling reformers and members of I.R.A.

The previously mentioned and other British scholars kept alive the need for spelling reform - in general, and for beginners in reading:

Isaac Pitman, "Phonotypic Spellings, "The Phonotypic Journal, vol. 5, no. 54, 1846.

A. J. Ellis, collaborator with Isaac Pitman.

George Bernard Shaw. Androcles and the Lion. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1962. (Note: Shaw recommended a complete rejection of the Roman alphabet used for traditional spelling.)

Sir James Pitman and John St. John, Alphabets and Reading: The Initial Teaching Alphabet, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd., 1964.

Orthography and Reading U.S.A.

Paralleling the organized efforts of European scholars to improve the readability and learnability, of English orthography has been the work of giants in linguistics, psychology, and education in the United States.

Numbered among the linguists and orthographers:
Robert Hall, H. J. Ulhall, Charles Kenneth Thomas, H. A. Gleason, Noam Chomsky; Ruth Weir, Richard L. Venezky, Mario Pei, Harold B. Allen, W. Nelson Francis, Louis Foley, Charles Hockett, Ralph R. Lee, & many others,

Leonard Bloomfield's Language (Henry Holt & Co, 1933) placed him as a forerunner of a linguistic approach to spellings for beginning reading materials. One of his disciples, Charles Fries, made explicit the Bloomfield approach in his readable Linguistics and Reading (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1962). Although linguistics contributed significantly to an understanding of the linguistic basis of orthography, many of them lacked scholarship in orthography and in the psychological basis of word perception. Hence their efforts were minimized, to the detriment of reading instruction.

In recent years, considerable contributions have been made by competent psychologists - now called psycholinguists along with sociolinguists. In 1908, Edmund B. Huey published his classic treatise on The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading (Macmillan Co.L. In 1951, Geo. A. Miller's Language and Communication (McGraw Hill) became a standard textbook in graduate schools. Since that time Miller has contributed enormously to the literature on psycholinguistics. John B. Carroll has made substantial contributions to psycholinguistics, beginning with his Language and Thought (Prentice-Hall, 1964). These and many other notable scholars on the psychological basis of reading instruction are the architects of effective teaching and learning.

Many distinguished educators supported the need for spelling reform: Dr. Melville Dewey (father of Godfrey Dewey), a well-known librarian of Dewey Decimal System fame - not a linguist - sparked the movement in the United States. J. Hammond Trumbull, Yale Univ. and president of the Amer. Philological Assoc., was the first president of the Spelling Reform Assoc., founded in 1876. Later, Nicholas Murray Butler, one of the all-time great presidents of both Teachers College and Columbia Univ., accepted the chairmanship of the Simpler Spelling Board.

Dr. Frank C. Laubach has a special place is the history of and in the current literature on spelling reform. This notable educator devised alphabets for teaching illiterates in many countries around the world. His classic Let's Reform Spelling Now was published by the New Reader Press, Syracuse, N.Y., 1966.

Politicians have concerned themselves with the "atrocious" spelling system throughout the U.S. republic. In 1768, Benjamin Franklin published "A Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling:' He was joined by Noah Webster (1758-1843), author of a spelling book for teaching writing with a sale of 80 million copies. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt endorsed a list of 300 reformed spellings recommended by the American Simplified Spelling Board. These recommendations were not widely adopted, although supported by the National Education Education Assoc.

Phonic Rules: Application/ Exception.

Probably one of the most widely quoted studies during the last 60 years is the doctoral dissertation of the late Godfrey Dewey on Relativ (sic) Frequency of English Speech Sounds. (Harvard Univ. Press, 1923). More recently Teachers College Press issued 2 books based on Dewey's 1923 study: Relative Frequency of English Spellings (1970) and English Spelling: Roadblock to Reading. Dewey implemented his findings through an association publication on World English Spelling (WES), his World English Spelling (initial teaching medium), and World English Spelling (WES) Dictionary.

One of the meritorious scholars in elementary education was Ernest Horn. His spelling vocabulary studies led to concern with orthography. His "Phonetics and Spelling" (Elementary School Journal, LVII, May 1957, 424-432) was reprinted in Spelling Progress Bulletin (Oct. 1961, 12-13). He concluded: "When the evidence, on both the consistency and irregularities of English spelling, is critically and realistically assessed, little justification is found in the claim that pupils can arrive deductively at the spelling of words they can pronounce."

Relative to the validity, or lack of validity, of phonic rules (spelling patterns) are two studies which have served as forerunners of other studies:

Elsie Black, "A Study of the Consonant Situations in a Primary Reading Vocabulary," Education, LXXII, no. 9, (May 1952), 618-623.

Ruth E. Oaks, "A Study of the Vowel Situations in Primary Reading Vocabulary," Education, LXXII, no. 9 (May 1952), 604-615. Both reprinted in SPB, Summer 1981.

These investigations, based on the Betts Reading Vocabulary Studies, determined the application/ exception ratios for phonic rules. It is crucial to note that the findings effectively and devastatingly challenged the value of phonic rules as a basis for word perception. For inconsistent spellings of English orthography preclude the blind use of phonic rules perpetuated by phonics zealots.

Spelling Progress Bulletin.

S.P.B., edited and published by Newell Tune, is the official magazine for the IRA special Interest Group 18, "Reading: Orthography and Word Perception." Since 1968, the activities of the group and its antecedent, Phonemic spelling Council, have been published herein. Indexes to 19 preceding issues may be obtained from the editor (1961-1970, and 1971-1978, price 75¢ each).

Membership in the IRA special Interest Group is $3.00 per year; subscription to S.P.B. is $5.00 per year. Manuscripts relevant to "Reading: Orthography and Word Perception" are solicited. Two copies of each article should be sent to: IRA special Interest Group 18, Winter Haven, FL.


[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1982 pp19,1]

Objectives of the Special Interest Group 18,

by Emmett Albert Betts, Ph.D. LL.D.

This group was organized for classroom teachers and reading clinicians with the guidance of professors of reading. Three primary concerns are (1) orthography, including the spelling system, (2) reading as a special case of form perception, (3) the relationship between writing (graphemes, or spellings) and speech (phonemes). Basic to these concerns are administrative procedures for differentiating instruction.

Word perception is one facet, not an isolated segment, of learning, interrelated with motivation and cognition (comprehension). Hence, IRA special interest Group 18 assesses the relationships between orthography and word perception in :terms of reading processes (literal, critical, and creative) and specific learnings (skimming, rapid reading, and study-type reading).

Activities of members are furthered through demonstrations and presentations at national, regional, and local levels. But much of the progress is made through special committees. One of the crucial committees evaluates phonics and other word-perception methods in extant professional textbooks and learning materials. This committee also evaluates and reports on promising innovative procedures.

One committee of the Special Interest Group 18 focuses on needed research, as an aid to graduate students and other researchers. Their recommendations for short-term and long-term studies are published in Spelling Progress Bulletin.

Another committee spotlights the relationship between reading and vision. This committee focuses on visual skills required at book-distance, blackboard-distance, and intermediate points - on the psychological, physiological, and neurological factors for both reading achievers and the reading disabled.

More specifically, Special Interest Group 18, serves several professional needs:

1. To assess probable word-perception needs and hazards revealed by application/ exception studies of spelling patterns (phonic rules).

2. To DEMONSTRATE at international, national, regional and local meetings informal procedures for assessing learning needs and for preparation of instructional materials.

3. To DEMONSTRATE informal inventories for estimating achievement of word-perception skills and abilities, for diagnosing the causes of word-perception problems which interfere with comprehension.

4. To DEMONSTRATE the use of informal inventories of spelling achievement and for diagnosis of the causes of spelling errors.

5. To identify crucial factors - affective and cognitive - in word perception highly relevant to escalation of achievement in reading.

6. To explore different types of meanings crucial to cognitive closure in word perception; e.g., lexical, referential, systactic, emotive.

7. To understand the influence of readability factors on achievement with informal reading inventories; e.g., chunking pronounceable units as ca and at of cat, learner awareness of specific needs and of achievement, etc.

8. To improve teachers' perceptions of pupil behavior in reading situations as indexes to achievement and needs.

9. To develop competence in observing learner behavior in directed reading-study situations, as an individual inventory in a group situation.

10. To understand the values and limitations of criterion-based inventories and norm-based standardized tests.

11. To understand the crucial difference between "motivating" the learner and "capturing the learners' motivation" - as a basis for guiding thinking during an informal reading inventory or a directed reading-study activity.

12. To evaluate initial teaching alphabets and devices for easing the word-perception burdens of beginners in reading (e.g., how to use rational spellings for the commonest words: one (won), is (iz), are (at), have (hav), any (eny), many (meny), does (duz).

13. To evaluate proposed spelling reforms as a means for escalating phonics instruction via a closer fit. between speech sounds and letters.

14. To consider the pros and cons of pronounceable letter, phonograms (graphic units) as at, ca, and a of cat and syllable phonograms as in (look)ing and (fun)ny.

15. To call attention to function words which tend to be unstressed in word groups and, therefore, induce word-by-word reading when phonic rules for stressed syllables are applied; e.g., and /an, nd, n/ or /ər/, the /thə/, etc.

16. To demonstrate the need to use the dictionary respelling rather than the syllabicated (for writing) vocabulary entry as a basis for a phonics program.

17. To identify the phonemic basis of word perception i.e., the phoneme (speech sound)/grapheme writing relationships.

18. To identify the morphemic basis of word perception - i.e. the relationship between meaning units (e.g., boy and s of boys) and word perception.

19. To identify the values, limitations, and hazards of techniques for developing word-perception skills which contribute to comprehension:
a. Phonics countdown
b. substitution techniques
c. Kinesthetic techniques
d. Tactile techniques
e. Syllabication
20. To identify orthographic (spelling) cues to stressed vowel sounds in. words; e.g., gemination, or doubling of the consonant letter, to indicate a "short" vowel sound as in (litt)le, (letter)er, (happ)y, adding final e as in ride, place to signal a "long" vowel (and in place the /s/ sound of c), and other devices.

21. To identify fruitful procedures for helping a learner with unknown words during silent reading.

22. To reveal the hazards and inadequacies of so-called "sight-word" or "tell-the-child-the-word" procedures and to identify other procedures to cope with inconsistently spelled words.

23. To translate usable information regarding orthography and linguistics into classroom and clinical practice.

24. To promote research on orthography, perception, and regularized spellings.
a. Evaluation of more than 50 proposals for regularizing English spelling.
b. Evaluation of different types of respellings as self-help aids
25. To encourage studies of visual-motor skills which facilitate or interfere with word perception.

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