[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1989/1 p.30 later designated J10]
[Also on this page: Review of Katherine Perera; Australian Style Council.]
[Chris Upward: see Journals, Newsletters, Leaflets, Media, Pamflet 15, Book, Papers.]
[Edward Rondthaler: see Journals, Newsletters, Personal View, Anthology, Bulletins, ALC web.]

Christopher Upward: English Spelling and Educational Progress.

Review by Edward Rondthaler.

Edward Rondthaler is President of the American Literacy Council. The work here reviewed is published by the Committee for Linguistics in Education of the British Association for Applied Linguistics and the Linguistics Association of Great Britain, as No.11 of their series of Working Papers. Edward Rondthaler also reviewed Working Paper No.10 in the series, The Synchronic Organization of English Spelling, edited by Michael Stubbs, in Journal 1988/2 J8 (p35)
Chris Upward's 'Working Paper No.11' published by the Committee for Linguistics in Education of the British Association for Applied Linguistics and the Linguistics Association of Great Britain should be required reading for all concerned with our enormous illiteracy problem, particularly for those scholarly linguists who feel that all is well with English orthography.

Upward has boiled down into a few meaty pages the mass of literature on English spelling - both pro and con.

What becomes clear is that it is possible to prove almost any theory supporting or condemning our spelling by picking the particular examples of regularity or irregularity that validate the proponent's thesis.

Researchers in spelling desperately need a yardstick (or, better, a meter stick) with which to measure their theories. In the present atmosphere there is little hope that such a tool for appraisal will be forthcoming. Like the tobacco industry's focus in its study of ill effects, most academic research on spelling has been aimed at justifying the status quo. The Chomskys, for example, point to certain instances such as nation: national where English spelling's failure to match pronunciation supposedly is an aid to reader understanding. Those who respect the Chomskys' position would do well to read Valerie Yule's rebuttal in the Winter 1978 issue of Spelling Progress Bulletin.

Most orthographic research, then, does not address the illogic in our spelling. It seeks, rather, to justify it. It is tragic that this position is welcomed by those who are presently literate. With few exceptions they show no willingness to consider any adjustment of our reading and writing patterns. They have a vested interest in the status quo and - like the tobacco industry - their self-interest blinds them to long-range social benefits. Historians will be put to it to explain why among the thousands of worthy 'remedial' efforts to reduce English illiteracy not one has done the obvious: seriously investigated the possibility of simplifying TO. And this in spite of clear evidence that in all levels of society literacy is acquired more rapidly where the language has close grapheme fit.

So successful have been the supporters of the status quo - so successful have they been in whitewashing the defects of English spelling - that not one penny of public money or foundation support is being expended on research aimed at correcting what can clearly be shown as the underlying cause of most of our English illiteracy.

As Upward points out, there is widespread public ignorance of the issue of spelling reform. He suggests that raising public awareness is a task to which the academic linguists could contribute much. Indeed they could. But will they? If past performance is any guide it is unlikely that educators, by and large, will rise to the challenge. With a few notable exceptions the academic mainstream has shown - consistently shown - a reluctance to consider the possibility of more logical spelling.

Not all readers may agree with the final two pages of the Working Paper, where Cut Spelling is proposed as the balm for our illness. Cut Spelling - certainly in the illustrations used in the paper - still does not take into account important irregularities in English spelling that stand in the way of phoneme-grapheme fit.

Even so it is a brilliant thesis of enormous value to the Cause. It could be written in less academic language and should be a best seller not only in homes where an otherwise keen-witted child is plagued with the illogic of our spelling, but also in discussion groups, book clubs, and circles when the future of the English language is on the agenda. It is more likely that the impetus for reform will come from these non-academic sources than vice-versa.

Back to the top.


[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1989/1 p.30 later designated J10]
[Chris Jolly: see Book, Journals, Newsletters, Media, Bulletins, Web links.]

Katherine Perera Children's Writing and Reading.

Review by Christopher Jolly.

Katherine Perera (Department of General Linguistics at the University of Manchester and a member of the Cox Committee on ENGLISH for ages 5 to 11): Children's Writing and Reading - Analysing Classroom Language, Basil Blackwell, 354pp.
This is a thorough and scholarly book about the development of grammar and exspression by children. Unfortunately it covers few aspects of direct relevance to spelling reform.

It would have been interesting if the book had analysed the kind of spelling mistakes that children make. Or even analysed their handwriting to show which letters they find most difficult to write. We might have learnt, for instance, whether <z> is found difficult in handwriting, so helping to understand its unpopularity, an unpopularity expressed in Shakespeare's words, "Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!"

Instead this is a book about children's progress in the use of grammatical structures and concepts, the age at which they start to use simple clauses (from age one-and-a-half), and the development of narrative writing (around 8 or 9). However there are interesting sections on some of the differences between speech and writing, and on accents, and the book is laced with examples of children's work. Overall it gives a solid, well-researched account of its subject.

Back to the top.


[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1989/1 p.31 later designated J10]
[Valerie Yule: see Book, Journals, Newsletters, Media, Anthology, Bulletins, Personal View 10, Web link.]

Style Council 1988 in Melbourne Australia.

Valerie Yule.

Valerie Yule is based at the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3168, Australia, and reviewed the Australian Style Council meeting of 1986 in Journal 1988/1, J7 p28-30.
In Novembr 1988 th 3rd Australian Style Council was held in Melbourne - th third meeting of Australian lexicografrs, educaters, publishrs, academics, editrs, and jurnalists, to discuss print Style in Australia. A revew of th Proceedings of th 1st Style Council was publishd in th Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society 1988/1 (p28-30). Proceedings of th 2nd Council wil be publishd jointly with th 3rd in 1989 by the Macquarie Dictionary Research Centre, edited by Mrs Pam Peters, School of English and Linguistics, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia 2109.

A 'Style Council' is not a prescriptiv body like th Académie Française, but its discussions and recommendations ar bound to be influential. Th motto of th sponsoring Macquarie University lexicografrs coud be 'Teach us to care and not to care' - that is, to distinguish between what is important and not important in ritn language. What is not important to preserv may wel be improved by change or omission. Th movement is to simplify, eradicate surplus, be consistent, and be lenient to alternativs. Developments of interest to spelling reformrs wer reported by Richard Tardif, Executiv Editr of th Macquarie Library and Valerie Yule of Monash University. Incidentaly, as an exampl of how 'blind economics' and developments of computer tecnology can force th pace, regardless of academic discussions, Australia Post had in th same week asumed th role of arbitr of punctuation, drivn by th needs of machines that now process letr adresses.

Nationwide, Australia Post advertisments ar telling th public they now shoud/must adress letrs punctuated as in
Mr B Right
66 Correct Street
SPEED VIC 3488

Valerie Yule was pressing th case for reserch and developrnent in th design of, spelling in information tecnology, ilustrated by an acount of current reserch on how adult readrs respond to Cut Spelling.

Richard Tardif described current surveys on public atitudes to spefic spelling changes, being conducted thru varius media, with th airn of posibl admission of altemativ spellings in Macquarie Dictionary publications. In a newspaper survey with 3,700 responses, there was an average of 57% aproval of spelling changes for 29 listed words. In rank order, aproval for suggested changes was (with 'Cut' spelling forms italicised by this reportr):

% of respondents aproving these forms.

81homeopath66 usable48signaling
80organise58 digestable47modeling
75medieval55 sizable46trialed
74civilise  likable chaneled
73pediatrician  reversable45ameba
 encyclopedia54 esophagus43totaled
71paleolithic50 esthetics42traveler
67archeology49 labor36invester
66lovable48 color34calculater

Comments on th survey.

a) On th lexicografrs' suggestions for change:-
1. 79% of th words listed by th Macquarie Dictionary wer shortnings.

2. Of th sevn categoris of changes listed, four wer shortnings: <e-> for <ae-> and <oe->; <-able> for <-eable>; <-or> for <-our>; <l> for <ll>. Th othr two wer consistent spelling with <-able> rathr than <-ible>, and <-er> endings for agentiv nouns containing current verbs.

3. A posibl future role of silent <e> as a consistent modifier for preceding long vowels was not taken into acount. This principl might cause confusion about th pronunciation of traveler, modeling, totaled, trialed.
b) Australian public's responses.
1. Evry change was aproved by at least a third of respondents. Yet th bias of such a survey woud be in favor of th mor literat in th comunity.

2. Changes wer most aproved when familiar thru American spellings, or th words with their present spelling wer less familiar in any case.
A telefone survey concentrated on choice between colour: color and programme: program - British and American spellings familiar to Australians today.

This sort of survey always invites a cautius response (th 'referendum negativ reflex' - keep what we hav!) but nevertheless aproval of th shortr spellings came from 27% of yung peple aged 10-25, 44% of adults aged 26-45, and 56% of adults older than 45.

There ar varius speculations why in this instance th yungr peple ar th mor conservativ (confirmd by Chris Jolly in his 1987 survey [JSSS, 1988/2 J8]). This riter's own theory is that th yungr respondents ar mor likely to hav been taut to read by 'look-and-say' and hav no idea of how words ar structured, and so find it hard to recognise surplus letrs.

Comments made by respondents coud be categorised as:
70% woud like standardisation and simplification
18% wer against 'artificial change', "keep it as I lernd it!".
18% had esthetic arguments e.g. "keep th language rich!".
18% regard spelling as a repository of knolege and a valuabl lerning disiplin.
15% wer oposed to Americanising.
Th importance of familiarity is shown in th fact that where these changes wer alredy familiar in newspapers and th press (in Victoria), 59% of respondents aproved them, contrasted with replys in th 40-49% range for othr Australian states where th press uses fewr American forms. But familiarity does not completely constrain. Interestingly, similar surveys hav found as many as 38% of Britons aproved th shortr spelling, which is not British, and only 84% of US respondents aproved th 'American' versions.

"The old ordr changes..." and it looks as if Cut Spellings ar running with th tide. It woud be interesting if th Australian Macquarie Dictionary found favor beyond Australia - altho its specificaly Australian vocabulary may not migrate as easily as its spelling changes coud.

Back to the top.