[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J18 1995/1, p32]
Also on this page: Everingham project, Prison & college literacy, end of RLP, a Ph.D. who cannot spell.
[See Newsletter letter and Bulletin articles by John Beech.]

Adaptation of Writing to Orthographic Change.

John R Beech.

We here reprint, with the permission of Dr Beech (Psychology Department, University of Leicester), the abstract of a report that was published in 1992 in The Journal of General Psychology (119[2], 169-179.

ABSTRACT. Research about regularizing English orthography (involving a change of 30% of the words in the text) has indicated that adults regain a normal reading speed after they have read 6,000 words of regularized text. The spelling changes mainly involved applying the most common rules of spelling consistently across all text. For instance, the silent-e rule was applied consistently on long vowel phonemes in the penultimate phoneme position (e.g., light became lite). In the present experiment, the effects of such spelling changes on writing performance were explored.

During an afternoon session, writing speed when converting text to the new orthography improved significantly, but was still slower than normal. The results for spelling accuracy were more equivocal; however, nearly one third of the subjects were spelling very accurately in the new orthography by the end of the session. Overall, orthographic change has a more substantial impact on writing speed than on reading speed.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society J18 1995/1 p41]
[See Journal and Newsletter articles by Robert Craig.]

Comments on the Everingham project.

Robert Craig.

In JSSS J17 1994/2 (pp25-26) Australian member Doug Everingham, who has long supported Harry Lindgren's proposal for spelling reform by stages (SR1, Phonetic A, Phonetic B), contributed an article entitled 'A Pidgin-like Bridge to English'. In it, he developed the concept of a form of English designed for international use and simplified in grammar and vocabulary as well as spelling.

Doug Everingham goes to the heart of the matter. We need to give up the pretence that spelling can be isolated. I know of no spelling reform which has not also involved a certain amount of language planning, and in many cases a great deal of language planning. English is peculiarly difficult. Over time most languages absorb foreign elements. These become adapted by way of pronunciation and spelling to the language in question. The trouble with English is that it is two languages - the original English, and French. Before these two languages were amalgamated, they each had their own written forms and separate spelling conventions. This original dilemma has never been completely resolved. As time has gone by, elements from other languages have been added. Since there was no proper standard to conform to, it has been the practice to leave them much as in their original forms. The whole mess was further compounded by the Great Vowel Shift of the late Middle Ages.

Then came the age of Empire, and English was carried worldwide. Up to the Second World War, Britain was the Mother Country. Even mighty America looked to Britain for Standard English. It was in that period of Empire that New Spelling was born. The way it represented vowels might be pretty eccentric, but the rest of the world could jolly well like it or lump it. Reform has more or less stuck at that point.

The world has moved on. Britain has reverted to being an island off the coast of Europe. American college students are not aware that English is spoken in England. If Great Britain were to sink beneath the waves tomorrow, English would still be the world's leading language. Any changes to English cannot be made in isolation. The spelling conventions of other languages have to be take into account. That was one of the points made by Doug Everingham.

Another of Doug Everingham's points was that the reformed English has to take in an enormous amount of variety. It must encompass everything from the language of Shakespeare to Tok Pisin, Taki-taki, Bislama, Krio, and the mushrooming pidgins of Africa. The current orthography goes a long way to doing just that, because it is so bad at representing anyone's speech.

The trick is going to be to bring order out of great complexity. That will take time. The kind of thinking behind New Spelling will not work. It is simply not possible to wave a magic wand and everything happens immediately (as would be the case with a national language). Norwegian has been 100 years in the planning. The problems of Norwegian are as nothing compared with English. The Norwegian government can actually indicate how it wishes the language to go (and the Norwegians get upset). If the British government tried to do the same, the world would not take the slightest notice. Any changes to English must be adopted worldwide, and they must have advantages for the whole world. The approach taken by Cut Spelling is perhaps a tentative step in the right direction. Planned changes will be introduced gradually, and other changes will follow from them as the language adjusts.

Where English was a language of northern Europe, Neo-English combined it with French to produce a language which in most respects is closest to Italian. Today the language is worldwide. In the past it has been important to preserve those parts of the language which come from Latin in something close to their original form. This represents a certain dilemma. While most of Europe relates to Latin as part of its shared culture, the rest of the world does not. To give an example: while Europe might prefer science, the rest of the world would rather see saiəns. This dilemma will not be easily resolved. It could keep the language planners busy for generations.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society J18 1995/1 p43]
[See Journal and Newsletter articles, Pamflet 15, Cut Spelling and Papers by Chris Upward.]

Christopher Upward revews

Litracy Standrds in English/Welsh Prisns & Colejs.

This revew is ritn in Cut Spelng

Adult Literacy & Basic Skills Unit (1993) Basic Skills Support in Colleges - Assessing the Need, 19pp.
Adult Literacy & Basic Skills Unit (1994) Basic Skills in Prisons - Assessing the Need, 16pp.

In its J15 1993/2 issu (p7), th Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society reportd th 1991 findngs of th british Prison Reform Trust that 43% of prisnrs lakd any educationl qualification, with erlir reserch from th mid-1980s shoing that over 6% of prisnrs had a readng aje of 8 or less, and a furthr 9% a readng aje of 10 or less. Th Home Office had estmated about half of prisnrs had functionl dificltis with litracy.

These findngs ar now reinforced by som mor detaild and up-to-date statistics from ALBSU, wich aplyd a cloze test in 16 varid prisns to asess th readng standrd of al new inmates wilng to undrgo th test (numeracy was also testd, but we ar not concernd with that here). In the event 416 inmates did so, and th results showd a much worse performnce than that of non-prisnrs. A 3-way comparisn was made, using results from tests administrd by ALBSU to a sampl of th adult population as a hole (se JSSS, J8 1988/2, p33) and to Furthr Education (FE) students, as reportd by ALBSU in its 1993 pamflet Basic Skills Support in Colleges - Assessing the Need.

Th results wer as folos: 14% of prisnrs performd at loer than foundation levl, compared with 6% of th adult population and 2% of FE students; 39% of prisnrs performd at foundation levl, compared with 10% and 3% in th othr categris; 17% of prisnrs performd at Levl 1, compared with 36% and 37%; and 31% of prisnrs performd at Levl 2, compared with 48% and 58%. These figrs suport th hypothesis that poor standrds of litracy corelate significntly with th amount of crime.

Th purpos of ALBSUs paralel publication, Basic Skills Support in Colleges - Assessing the Need (1993), was rathr difrnt. Here it was a matr of demnstrating to FE Colejs th need for aditionl lernng suport in both litracy and numeracy for a larj numbr of students (som suport is alredy provided by many colejs). Over 10,000 students in 12 colejs wer screend; they excluded students alredy foloing basic skils corse, students on Hyr Educaton corses, and adults taking non-vocationl corses. Th test involvd a cloze exrcise performd on almost th same text as used by th prisnrs, but with one aditionl sentnce and som difrnt omissions. Th text was as folos.

1. Safe as houses? (students)

We think of our home as a safe place to be, and are more worried when someone goes out of the house than when they stay at home. In fact, ----- people die from accidents in the ----- every year than are killed on ----- roads or at work. What ----- the causes of these accidents ----- the home? Many people may ----- of fire as the greatest danger, but in fact more people die ----- falling than from any ----- cause. Suffocation, electrocution, burns and scalds cause death or serious ----- every year. Tragic -----, some fatal, are caused by ----- and adults running, walking or falling ----- glass doors and windows. Poisoning --- also cause serious illness or death. This may be ----- medicines or from household substances, ----- as cleaning materials. Food poisoning is also a common danger.

2. Safe as houses? (inmates)

We think of our home as a safe place to be, and are more worried when someone goes out of the house than when they stay at home. In fact, ----- people die from accidents in ----- home every year than are ----- on roads or at work. ----- are the causes of these ----- in the home? Many people may ----- of fire as the greatest -----, but in fact more people ----- from falling than from any ----- cause. Tragic accidents, some fatal, --- caused by children and adults -----, walking or falling through glass ----- and windows. Poisoning can ----- illness or death. This may ----- from medicines or from household substances, ----- as cleaning materials. Food ----- is also a common danger.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J18 1995/1, p43]
[See Journal and Newsletter articles and web by Madhukar Gogate.]

Death of a Contemporary: RLP Dissolved.

Chris Upward.

Launched in 1984, the Bombay-based Roman Lipi Parishad set out to offer the languages of India a uniform writing system based on the Roman alphabet, to overcome the communication problems of today's many incompatible scripts. The movement's leading light and Executive Director, Madhukar N. Gogate, has over the years kept the Simplified Spelling Society informed of RLP's progress and publications, so enabling the JSSS to report at intervals to its readers.

For details see:
SSS Newsletter Spring J2 1986, pp18-19,
SSS Newsletter Summer J3 1986, pp14-15,
Journal of the SSS J6 1987/3, p12,
Journal of the SSS J11 1989/2, p18-20,
Journal of the SSS J15 1993/2, p12-14.

In January 1995 the SSS was sorry to learn of the imminent demise of RLP, which was suffering from the various kinds of exhaustion to which voluntary organizations are prone. It disappearance means the loss of one of the SSS's sister-organizations with which it maintains fruitful links around the world. However, RLP was aware of the importance of its work over the previous decade, and was anxious to ensure that a record of its achievements was preserved. It has accordingly donated to libraries and other interested bodies, including the SSS, a 122-page bound retrospective collection of its key documents.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J18 1995/1, p44]

Surviving the Storms Over Awful Spelling.

Clinton Trowbridge, Ph.D.

I am one of those people who cannot spell and often cannot find enough of a word in the dictionary to discover how to spell it. I've improved some, but I still see words misspelled in my mind. [See spel-bites.]

Oh yes, I say to myself, "'til' (instead of "till") and write it down. "Realy" looked right. The rules did help. But there aren't that many of them. And how a word sounds helps not at all. So I struggled. I memorized. But by the time I was about to be awarded my PhD (in English literature, of course) my spelling was still so bad that the English department decided it had to do something.

The first requirement was that I learn how to spell every entry on a list of the 650 most commonly misspelled words. That was bad enough, but the second requirement was impossible: learn to spell all the titles and authors in the 67-page index to Albert C. Baugh's "A Literary History of England." Not only Shelley, you understand, but "Halkyut" and "Tieck"; not only "Tristan and Isulet" but "Thyestes" and the "Mabinogion." I pleaded that these last were in foreign languages; that I would have no occasion to refer to most of the works; and finally that the requirement was simply unfair. There were plenty of other graduate students who spelled as poorly as I.

The professors were moved by my arguments. The index was edited. ("LaHa Rookh" was left in; William Maginn was left out). And the other graduate students in English were included.

It did no good to point out that many authors (F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example) were notoriously bad spellers and that Shakespeare spelled his name five different ways. The professors were adamant. For purposes of writing on the blackboard alone, they argued, an English professor should be able to spell. All right, they had a point. But how would we ever do it? They ran a special spelling class just for us.

Spelling classes consisted of going over the rules, which were sometimes confusingly permissive (the possessive of Keats being either "Keats's" or "Keats"'); drilling on tricky items such as the various forms the sound "there" might take ("their," "they're," and 'they're'); and engaging in spelling bees using words from the list as well as from Baugh's index.

Eight of us met once a week. There would be 10 words. The professor would dictate, we would write them down, he would spell them correctly, and we would grade our own papers. Passing was 70.

"Charlie?"our spelling coach would say, starting at his left.
"Only 50." And so it went. We permitted ourselves occasional smiles.

Finally the professor would get to Wayne, who almost always scored in the bottom third. On one particular day, his response passed into legend: "Just a little bit wrong in each one, Mr. Dimble."

Eventually, with the help of tutors and pockets full of slowly discarded spelling cards ("proceed" was among the last to go) I passed the final spelling test and received my PhD.

But of course I still couldn't really spell, and once the pressure was off, recidivism set in. It wasn't helped by reading sentences such as the following from a freshman student's book review. The Scarlet Letter was full of horro, subblty, and chuck."

I was out in the real world - grading papers, writing on the blackboard, and responding to class-room questions. So what did I do to avoid embarrassment and possible termination of employment? I kept my spelling aids handy. I developed illegible handwriting:

And just to play it safe, I always had students write my impromptu test questions on the blackboard.

Solving one problem created others, however. I had to read aloud to my students the illegible comments I'd written on their papers. Often I had trouble deciphering them myself. In the case of even more important written communications, such as making out checks, I was forced to print, which my hand did now only with the greatest of reluctance.

I typed personal letters and persuaded my wife to proofread. It was at Christmastime, however, that I suffered my greatest embarrassment. Carefully, I would rubber stamp our address onto each envelope. For the first few cards, I painfully printed my message of good cheer. But then I became more relaxed, and by the time I started to address the envelopes, my penmanship had deteriorated. Each year a third of my Christmas cards were marked "return to sender."

There are was one small benefit, however. Friends we hadn't seen in ages would call up. "You went to Istambul last summer?" After disabusing them of that, we would go on to have an extended chat about other things.

[Clinton Trowbridge's article first appeared in the Christian Science Monitor for Friday, April 7, 1995. It is used with his permission.]

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