[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J23, 1998-1, pp35,36]
On this page: Literature received.


Letters are welcomed on any matters raised by items appearing in JSSS, or on any observations or experiences relating to spelling that readers may wish to report.


I've just been thinking about RIDICULE. What I fear most as the death knell of any renewed effort to simplify spelling is ridicule. I'd rather face irate teachers of English who claim that we are destroying the beauty of the English language than I would David Letterman or Jay Leno taking a few deft potshots on their TV programs.

Obviously the more radical systems are wide open to derision. (I'm not saying we shouldn't explore and debate the pros and cons of the radical systems among ourselves. On the contrary, this is extremely valuable since it
[1] helps us work through the logic of every approach,
[2] serves as a method of brainstorming to make sure we have all the possible ideas available for consideration, and
[3] prepares us for having to make the hard decisions on how to address certain problematic spelling issues. I am saying, tho, that any proposals for radical systems will provide a field day for the stand-up comedians.)

But even some of the more modest proposals can be easily mocked. Some examples:

• Using K for all hard C-sounds makes simply-spelled English look like the German that is spoken on the old Hogan's Heroes TV comedies. I think it was all these K's that led to that joke about the EC using English as the official language only to have it turn into German. (And it's jokes like that which can kill the effort.)

• Cut Spelling starts to look an awful lot like the old American advertisement for a semi-phony system of shorthand that you saw in comic books and tabloids: "If u cn rd ths ..."

• Using -SHUN for -TION (informashun) looks like some illiterate writing with a crayon on a piece of wood. (Note that I am indicating the downside and opposite of what I promoted some months ago, ie, that we pay attenshun to how illiterates spell, since it gives us tips on what seems intuitive to people. Also be aware that I personally like -SHUN. I'm just saying that these are the kinds of things we need to watch out for, since they can be so easily mocked.)

Too many double vowels (OO, EE) make English look childlike somehow.

So Lesson Number One of RIDICULE is to evaluate from this perspective every change we might suggest, the better to head off an attack by comedians. For example, I think this speaks to putting a few vowels back in CS for the high volume words like the which don't cause problems anyway.

This brings us to Lesson Number Two. Ridicule is a weapon we can use, and Lord knows, English spelling is a sitting duck. I'm thinking of the ditties about wrongly spelled words that make it thru spell chequers, and the like. Or on another level, the classic ghoti for fish, using the GH from laugh, the O from women, and the TI from -TION.

Obviously, everyone has been doing this all along. All I'm promoting here is the explicit understanding that ridicule is a powerful tool that we can use to tremendous advantage.

I personally would like to get everyone's favorites of this type, and maybe we can make a more concerted effort to get our mockeries of TO on the web and in letters to the editors.

Now that I've been part of the simplified spelling network for a few months, I'm beginning to see ways of promoting a campaign. So stay tuned as I have a chance to write up some of my thoughts and share them. (Next installment: Getting Shakespeare on Our Side.)

Dan MacLeod, New Jersey, USA

Fine finish to Finland's Finnish.

When I was living in Finland I asked about literacy levels, and was told that all Finns could read and write unless they were mentally retarded. I don't know about dyslexia in Finland - perhaps they don't have any. I do not know the Finnish word for dyslexia; it is not in my English-Finnish dictionary either.

One Finn told me that he always thought the funniest question that he heard one Englishman ask another was, "How do you spell your name?" Fancy having to ask that sort of thing!

The Finnish word for to spell is officially tavata, but in my experience it is a word that no one uses because there is normally no need for it. Tavaus translates in my dictionary as "spelling (by syllables)", suggesting that there is no other way of spelling that a Finn might discuss or consider. One does not have to learn to spell Finnish words, any more than one has to learn the figures for a number that has never cropped up before. If one needs to put, eg, two thousand, two hundred and ninety seven point six into figures, even an Englishman knows what to put down, without someone having to teach him that particular number. There is no system like 6 before 3 except after 7 to consider.

I have a large dictionary for Finns about Finnish words with explanations in Finnish (Nykysuomensanakirja, 1966). I have looked up tavata in it. Tavata normally means to meet. It can mean to spell, but more in the sense of 'spelling out', as in using the Finnish equivalent of ABLE, BAKER, CHARLIE, DOG, EASY, FOX, etc, to give information over a crackly radio link. As the two final explanations of tavata in its spelling context, the dictionary says roughly:

1) In foreign, but especially English language situations it means: to enumerate from letter to letter how a word is written.

2) In England, foreigners in particular are often asked "How do you spell your name?"

In other words, the concept of spelling as we know it is not something that a Finn normally comes across, unless he is dealing with non-Finnish matters.

Colin Davies, Berkhamsted, UK

(Dr Davies is currently preparing an article on Finnish spelling for JSSS. J25 1999/1 pp11-15. - Ed.)

[See Journal and Newsletter articles by John Gledhill.]

Iberian oddities

Just back from a holiday in Andorra, where the normal language is Catalan (not to be confused with Spanish). Great to see such spellings as Xampu to wash your hair in, Xampanye to drink, and a Xef to do the cooking. Also to note that all vowels in Catalan are pronounced as a schwa when in unstressed position, irrespective of the spelling: it makes the words look like Spanish but sound like French.

I was also delighted to spot a hefty tome (c.200 pages) in a bookshop on "the most common errors in Spanish spelling" (original title in Spanish of course), for use in Spanish schools, totally disproving any arguments that Spanish spelling is fully consistent, phonemic, intuitive, and a role model for English. I'd bet you can find similar books for Italian, German and other alleged ideal systems; you certainly can for Dutch and Danish, not to mention French of course.

John Gledhill, Coventry, UK

[See Newsletter and Journal articles by Allan Campbell.]

SSS apprenticeship?

Kate Greenland suggests (JSSS 1997/2) - 'not seriously' - that preparing one's own scheme would be a useful qualification requirement for new members.

More seriously I suggest that expertise in marketing, or a career as a salesperson, or at least some experience in selling more than the odd unwanted bicycle or table lamp at a garage sale would be a more useful skill for the SSS at this stage.

We have had a plethora of schemes, many of them ingenious, but we have failed to change English spelling. We are fortunate to have many educators and academics in our ranks, but we seem desperately in need of members with an ability to market our product. Scheming without selling is training without playing.

Allan Campbell, Christchurch, New Zealand

[See Newsletter items by Nicholas Kerr.]

Cut spelchekng statistics.

A wile ago I receved a draft articl from Chris Upward in Cut Spelng.

I decided to use th oportunity to set up a Cut Spelng Custm Dictionry on my computer. I hav Microsoft's Word 97 set to corect spelng as I typ. Th program hylyts evry suspect word with a wigly red line. Moving my cursr from err to err, I clikd to se wat sujestions th program wud make for replacemnt of th CS 'mistakes'. Wat very quikly struk me was how frequently th spelchekr ofrd th corect TO form.

Belo ar a few lines of th articl with each 'corectd' word folod by an index. This shows th order of th sujestion, with 1 as th sujestion of first choice, 2 as th secnd, &c. X indicates that th spelchekr was unable to find a suitabl sujestion. Z indicates that th spechekr faild to recognize th CS form. Th figr 1 hides th numbr of times th corect sujestion is th only sujestion.

Here is a sampl of th output:

Th3 mature anglo-saxn1 spelng1 systm1 cudZ hav2 developd1 into a straitforwrdX modrn1 orthografy1 like jermn1 or swedish1. Howevr1, th3 normn1 conquest scochd2 that posbility1 by injectng1 contra-dictry1 spelng1 patrns2 from old french1, wich1 wer2 themselvs1 contradictd1 by later loans from latn1 and greek1. Then, around th3 15th century, major chanjes1 in pronunciation gave a jolt to th3 systm1 of letr1-sound corespond-nce1 from wich1 we hav2 stil1 not recovrd1.

Altogethr th articl containd 851 words using CS rules, of wich 527 had th same form as in TO, and 324 (38%) wer actuly cut. For th 324 cut forms, th spelchekr gave th TO equivlnt in a total of 303 (94%) instnces, with 197 (61%) as its 1st sujestion, 35 as its 2nd sujestion, 13 as its 3rd (plus 45 x th), 7 as its 4th, and 6 as its 5th (including 5 x ther). It faild to find a corect TO equivalent for only 21 (6%).

So it seems spelchekrs, like humans, find CS quite esy to 'read'.

Nicholas Kerr, Sidcup, Kent, UK,

Literature Received.

In the past 6 months JSSS has received the following publications:

1. American Literacy Council Highlights of 1997, received as email attachment.

2. Augst, Gerhard & Schaeder, Burkhard (1997) Rechtschreibreform: Eine Antwort an die Kritiker, Stuttgart: Ernst Klett Vlg, 49pp, ISBN 3-12-320690-4 (see pp20-23).

3. Basic Skills Agency (March1998) Survey of Adult Literacy and Numeracy Levels in every district and unitary authority in England, pack of sets of stapled information sheets (see pp31-32).

4. Carey, Siobhán, Low, Sampson, & Hansbro, Jacqui (1997, Office for National Statistics) Adult Literacy in Britain, London: The Stationery Office, 195pp, ISBN 0-11-620943-7, £30 (see pp31-32).

5. Chew, Jennifer (1990) Spelling Standards and Examination Results among Sixth Formers, 1984-1990, York: The Campaign for Real Education Pamphlet No.7, 23pp, ISBN 1 872953 06 9.

6. English, the Journal of the English Association, Autumn 1997.

7. English Association Newsletter, No.156, Autumn/Winter 1997.

8. English Today, No.53 January 1998, No.54 April 1998.

9. Graddol, David (1997) The Future of English: a guide to forecasting the popularity of the English language in the 21st century, The British Council (English 2000), ISBN 0 86355 356 7.

10. Language and Literacy News, Spring 1998, from UK Reading Association.

11. Smart, Patricia (1983) The Kingsley Read Alphabet Collection: a catalogue, The Library: Univ. of Reading, 253pp, ISBN 0 7049 0498 5. Copies may be obtained from the publisher for £5. (See also pp3-7.)

12. QUEST, the Journal of the Queen's English Society, No.67, November 1997.

13. Rechtschreibung, newsletter of the Bund für vereinfachte rechtschreibung (Federation for Simplified Spelling), Zürich, No.174, February 1998.

14. Sprachreport, from the Institut für deutsche Sprache, Mannheim, Germany, 4/97, 1/98.

Back to the top.