[Simplified Spelling Society Newsletter Spring 1996/1. p22,23 Later designated Journal 2]

Spelling Reform 1 - And Nothing Else!

Garry F. Jimmieson.

[Garry Jimmieson is Secretary of the Australian Spelling Action Society, which advocates as a first stage spelling reform (SR1) that the phoneme /e/ should always be spelt E. This paper was submitted to the Simplified Spelling Society's Conference accompanied by an audio tape.]

Of late SR1 has increasingly been criticized from several quarters as:
a. not being an effective spelling reform on its own, due to it not being too conspicuous in day to day written articles;
b. not being effective enough in altering those difficult words encountered early on by children;
c. being a method of spelling reform which has tried but has achieved very little.

This paper addresses these very issues in a systematic and documented way with the aim of presenting the concept of SR1 - and nothing else as a viable proposition to be adopted by all.

A. Spelling Reform 1 is an effective stage reform by itself.

1. SR1 is a spelling reform which gains great strength in the fact that it can be taught in schools due chiefly to it being a reform based on a phonetic principle; that is, SR1 selects certain letter patterns in t.o. which contain irrelevant letters.

2. Studies by Peter Heggart, Lincoln Institute (Carlton, Victoria, Australia, 1978) resulted in these findings:

'Presentation of Data
This paper presents a list of what might be considered the 500 most commonly occurring content words in the English language - the 200 most commonly occurring nouns, the 200 most commonly occurring verbs and the 100 most common adjectives. The words were selected from amongst the most widely-used word lists available, word lists which included frequency counts, basal reader core vocabularies, spelling lists and spoken language corpora. The lists were considered to be representative of English-speaking populations and were chosen for their popularity, utility and representativeness, including both dated and recently compiled lists and those which have their origins in the language samples of British, Canadian, American and Australian populations. In all, twelve lists were consulted and from these a compilation was made of the 500 most commonly occurring content words in the English language.'
When applying the principles of SR1 to this list it is found that:
a. of the 200 most common nouns in the English language, 2% of these would be transformed;
b. of the 200 most common verbs in the English language, 1% of these would be transferred;
c. of the 100 most common adjectives in our language, 5% of these would be transformed.

3. Studies by Ves Thomas, University of Calgary (Canada 1977) resulted in these findings:


Comparative results as % of total word count

No.of Difrnt. WordsNew S. Wales (Gr.2-6) Alberta (Gr. 1-6)USA (Gr.1-8)

5044%48%40%
10054%58%60%
50075%78%82%
100082%83%89%
200090%89%95%


In general, the results shown continue to support the previous findings that a small core of words dominates children's writing. The 100 most frequently used words (and their repetitions) continue to account for over one half of all the writing which children produced whether this was in Australia, Canada or the United States of America. However, it must not be assumed that the same 100 words form the core for each study. Actually there is only about an 80% overlap between and among each of the three lists of 100 words. It is also worth noting that the first 2000 words in order of frequency of usage continue to account for approximately 90% of all the writing done by children in grades 1-6. It is this core of 2000 words which has for many years provided the basis for the core curriculum in spelling.

The major purpose of this study was to identify those 2000 words which form the core of the writing needs of primary school students in New South Wales. Although such a core of words was identified, the limited size of the total writing sample tends to reduce the validity and the reliability of those words which appear at the lower end of the frequency scale. With this concern in mind and using Rinsland's criterion for excluding words which have a frequency of less than three, a composite list of 1500 words has been prepared for publication. Furthermore, this list has been derived from an analysis of all writing samples without reference to grade. The words are presented in descending order of frequency.'

When applying the principles of SRI to die published list it is found that:
a. Of those words that account for 54% of all words written, 1% of these would be changed.
b. Of the remaining 1400 words which comprise another 36%, 1.7% of these would be changed.
c. Overall 1.6% of words in this list would be altered by implementing SRI.

4. As Peter Heggart claimed in 1978:
'Evidence has shown that the most commonly implemented word list used by teachers in Australian schools is the Dolch Basic Sight Vocabulary (Dolch 1941); American teachers prefer the Heritage List (Carroll et al, 1971); while children in the United Kingdom are usually exposed to the frequencies of the Ladybird Key Words (Murray, 1963).'
However when the Dolch Basic Sight List is viewed, we transgress from not only examining a child's core list but also we view an adult's core vocabulary list. For as Dolch explains as an introduction to this list:

'These words are so selected as to include those words which make up 95% or more of all the words written by the average person.'
When applying these principles of SR1 to this list, it is found that 1.7% of these words would be affected.

5. Obviously, each person's written vocabulary list is a highly individual one; however when one considers the written articles by the printed media, consideration of the core list concepts' must be made. As I have shown, the occurrence of SR1 words can be seen to vary somewhat between 1%-5%, depending on the information-source. In his book Spelling Reform A New Approach, Harry states that SR1 would affect '...only one word in 165' (p.128). He also believes that '... if a spelling reform does not get established in newspapers, it will never get established' (p.19). The importance of this last assertion cannot be overemphasized, when one considers that '90% of the Australian population read little outside newspapers and popular magazines' (Dr R McAvaney, Language Centre, University of Sydney, N.S.W., Australia, 1977). When Harry's word count for SR1 is considered in this context, as the Printed Media use such high frequency SR1 words as sed, many, helth, frend, etc., I would imagine that Harry's word count to be highly underestimated.

6. Thus I assert that by adopting SR1 alone, the number of words affected world wide is enough so that:
a. it is small enough to satisfy the principle of 'least disturbance';
b. it is large enough to change enough of the 'high frequency words';
c. it is a 'teachable reform' within the education system of eny country.

B. Spelling Reform 1 does affect those difficult words encountered early on in school by children.

1. In Queensland the Department of Education has divided the Spelling Program into 3 sections. When SR1 is applied to these separate lists, it is found that:
a. of the 100 words in the Basic Core Spelling List, 1% of words would be affected;
b. of the 2000 words in the Body of Content List (words to be taught to children in Years 2-6), 1.85% of words would be affected;
c. of the 100 words in the Words of Special Difficulty (Demons) List, 10% would be affected. Of these words, 5 are encountered in Year 2, 2 are encountered in Year 3, 2 are encountered in Year 4, 1 is encountered in Year 6.


WORDS OF SPECIAL DIFFICULTY (DEMONS)
acheherecouldreadtoo
againcountryhoarseready trouble
alwaysdearhoursaidtruly
amongdoctorinsteadsays Tuesday
answerdoesjustseemstwo
anydoneknowseparate used
beendon'tknewshoesvery
beginningearlylaidsincewear
believeeasyloosesomeWednesday
blueenoughlosestraightweek
breakeverymakingsugarwhere
builtFebruarymanysure whether
businessfortymeanttear which
busyfriendminutetheirwhole
buygrammarmuchtherewomen
can'tguessnonetheywon't
choosehalfoftenthoughwould
colourhavingoncethroughwrite
cominghearpiecetiredwriting
coughheardraisetonightwrote


2. 1 suspect that if other Word Frequency Lists were examined so as to determine the difficult words, SR1 words would feature as prominently as they have in this Queensland list. Hence I advocate that research in this area could only benefit the cause of spelling reform world wide.

C. Spelling Reform 1 is not ded: it is very much alive and kicking.

1. Harry Lindgren's Spelling Reform 1 has achieved:
a. as Valerie Yule has acknowledged, the concept of SRI broke out of the 'thought mould' about spelling reform in that a principle rather than a list of sweeping changes might be the best way to start;
b. might I be so bold to refer to SR1as the forerunner of the 'stage' or 'fase' concepts?
c. as Chris Jolly has commented, SR1 is probably the most accepted Spelling Reform today;
d. in its 'hedy days' around 1975, over 700 people Australia-wide were members of the Spelling Action Society - making it the largest spelling reform movement of its kind;
e. in 1975 the Australian Teachers' Federation adopted SR1 as a policy. As this body is changing to the Australian Teachers' Union, this commitment has yet to be reaffirmed,

2. There are moves afoot to decentralize the workings of the S.A.S, and thus giving it the potential to achieve its aim sooner.