[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J23, 1998-1, p18]
Also on this page: ALC report 1997.
[See journal articles by Susan Baddeley.]

Susan Baddeley pays tribute to NINA CATACH (1923-1997).

The untimely death in Paris on 25 October 1997 of Nina Catach has deprived the world of linguistics in general, and of spelling studies in particular, of one of its most brilliant and most active members. With the research team she founded at the French national research centre CNRS in 1973, she produced a stunning amount of work on all aspects of spelling, culminating in the huge Historical Spelling Dictionary. As president of AIROE (French equivalent of the SSS), she long campaigned for a simpler spelling of French, and was the main driving force behind the Rectifications de l'orthographe française which were approved by the Académie française and by linguists and lexicographers in 1990.

Nina was born in Cairo, which may help to explain her fascination for writing systems. She began her career as a teacher, then became a university lecturer, writing her thesis on French orthography in the 16th century (1968). Shortly after, she founded her research team at the CNRS with the name HESO (Histoire et Structure de l'Orthographe, which by a widening of scope, though with the same initials, later became Histoire des Écritures et Systèmes d'Orthographe). Influenced by the then dominant Structuralist models in linguistics, and by the works of the Soviet linguist V G Gak, she devised a conceptual model of French spelling, the plurisystème graphique, which served as a base for all her future research and that of her followers, whether in a historical, synchronic or pedagogical perspective. This model, which represents spelling as a complex, multi-faceted construction, whose various components can have different functions (phonological, morphological, logographic/distinctive) placed her on a middle ground between 'phoneticists' (who believe spelling should reflect pronunciation and nothing else) and 'ideographists' (who believe writing should be entirely independent of speech).

Although Nina was capable of fine theoretical reasoning, her work, unlike that of some French intellectuals, was never abstruse, and she never delighted in jargon for its own sake. A favourite rejoinder of hers, after reading many a scientific article, was "ce n'est pas clair, ça". But she loved debate, and was equally at home with the finest brains of the world and with ordinary people, whom she never failed to win over with her humour and her good sense.

Her main scientific achievement was the Historical Spelling Dictionary of the French Language (Larousse, 1995), which was her life's work. However, her curiosity and her insatiable appetite for work led her to supervise and to carry out many other projects: among others, a computerised phonetisation programme for French, a spellchecker, a database of historical spellings, and innumerable books and articles, many of them aimed at and accessible to the general public.

Nina's work and ideas will be carried on, no doubt, by her numerous followers and by the many teachers and scholars she trained and inspired over the years. But her loss as a human being will be harder to come to terms with: she was unique, and irreplaceable, and we will all miss her very much.


[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J23, 1998/1, p19]
[See Journal articles about ALC.]

American Literacy Council - Highlights of 1997.

edited by Chris Upward.

We here present a shortened version of the American Literacy Council's report of its activities in 1997. For details of the ALC's Spell-Well program [1], see JSSS J22, pp17-18.

Over 1997, the ALC focused on
1) equipping partner-ships arising from adoption of ALC's audiovisual literacy program, and
2) assisting members striving to increase the efficiency of English orthography.

1. Sing-Sing.

The Adult Basic Education (ABE) class at Sing-Sing Correctional Facility was one of ALC's most significant literacy partners in 1997. After being introduced to the Spell-Well [1] program by ALC president Edward Rondthaler, ABE teacher David Lally adopted it. Months later, he reported students (reading levels 3rd-5th grade) using the program regularly and that, by comparison, the progress of the control group was notably slower - indeed, it continued to dwindle as it heard of the more successful Spell-Well [1] group practicing reading skills while creating practical pieces of writing.

2. Literacy Partnership.

The good relationship forged in 1996 between ALC and Literacy Partners (Literacy Volunteers of New York City) again elicited praise in '97. Though the Sound-Spell [1] program had helped several adults there, Jean Fargo, set to take charge of LP's PC resource room, wanted to see it used elsewhere. She was taken to see Brooklyn's Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center, where she observed the program and heard positive feedback. Later, she received further positive feedback from her predecessor, who described her use of the program with a number of marginally literate adults. Fargo then went ahead with earlier LP plans to obtain copies for additional literacy students.

3. Random House.

After long negotiations by ALC, the Random House Corporation compiled a 'Random House Webster's College Dictionary Variants List' and then generously donated it to ALC. This list displays all 4,000 words with variant forms in the 1997 dictionary (such as theater/theatre). Random House tells us the variant spellings are nearly identical in frequency to the primary spellings, a dicey prospect for newly literate writers and readers. ALC will provide teachers and students with short lists of high frequency variant spellings, for use as appropriate. For a gratis copy, visit the ALC website. See Links.

4. Windows 95.

A generous, anonymous donation enabled ALC vice president (and resident PC wiz) Ed Lias to make substantial progress on a much requested Windows 95 version of ALC's literacy software, available in April 1998. Advance orders receive two for the price of one.

5. Salvation Army.

ALCs software and software-related work at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Brooklyn drew rave reviews, especially the efforts of ALC managing director Joe Little. According to Ruth Droz, ARC's Education Director, Sound-Spell [1] has been extremely helpful, especially with an "unreachable and belligerent" student who "took to the program quickly" and works with it still. Droz then recommended Sound-Spell [1] to other ARC education directors.

6. New York City.

Julie Har-el, Staff Development Director for New York City's Department of Youth & Community Development, farmed out ALC's literacy program to various community-based organizations for trials. One site has used it in a high level Basic English class to help pupils write compositions, and plans to involve more ESL pupils in early 1998. At a 2nd site, the program is used with lower level ESL students who have various levels of literacy in their native tongue. In the end, Har-el offered the ALC program to additional sites and recommended that DYCD invite other community-based groups to submit proposals describing how they would use the ALC program to advantage.

7. Gessler Publishing Company.

In a second annual display of generosity and goodwill, Gessler Publishing Company, distributor of ALC software (and 175,000 catalogs), agreed to provide a list of schools that have bought the program. ALC is glad to learn that clients benefiting include: Harrison School District (CO), Northwest Regional Literacy Resource Center (WA), International School (Indonesia), Sacramento County Office of Education (CA), University of South Florida (FL), Dingman/Delaware Middle Schools (DE), Wilson County Schools (NC). So ALC sees the program assisting students in far-flung settings. Indeed, in 1997 ALC contacted the Gessler clients from '96 and discovered various uses of (and questions concerning) the program. ALC hopes to offer schools and school districts similar service in '98.

8. Broadcasts.

In May, Joe Little featured on a nationally televised, 90-minute MS-NBC literacy panel discussion. He emphasized the irregularities of English spelling and examined the factors that perpetuate English illiteracy. Later, Little and company discussed a wide array of remedies & resources available to speakers of English, including ALC's own home-page on the Internet. See Links.

9. Webpage.

The ALC's webpage was accessed over 3750 times in 1997, surprisingly often for a newcomer to the WWW. While at the site, 135 visitors used a free downloadable demo of the software, dozens requested member packets & literature, and many others were searching for literacy or spelling information that ALC provided for them.

[1] The software was later renamed Sound-Write.