[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 24, 1998-2, pp31,32]
Also on this page, Review of David Graddol, The Future of English.
[See Journal and Newsletter articles, Pamflet 15, Cut Spelling and Papers by Chris Upward.]
A Quartr-Century of The Queen's English Society.
Chris Upward discusses Controversial Issues in English, the Proceedings of
the Queen's English Society Silver Jubilee Conference 18 Oct. 1997, ed. Joyce M
Morris, Queen's English Society, April 1998, xxxiv + 90pp, ISBN 0 99520037 3 2,
£10. Th articl is ritn in Cut Spelng.
1. The Queen's English Society.Membrs of th Simplified Spelling Society ar likely to know of th QES particulrly thru papers givn at SSS meetngs (later publishd in JSSS-se belo for refrnces) by Joyce Morris (1994) and Bernard Lamb (1998). Th SSS has from time to time also noted with intrest th publicity jenrated by th QES on poor spelng in english scools. Yet th SSS is at th same time concius of how its ajenda difrs from th QESs: th latr worris at how ofn presnt spelng conventions ar floutd in th UK, wile th SSS emfasizes ther inadequacy as a basis for litracy jenrly; and wile th QESs name implys a srictly british perspectiv (indeed its membrship is larjly suthrn english), th SSS encompasses th world (if on a very modest scale). A furthr limitation of th QESs apears in th publication here undr revew, wen it claims th QES comprises "all walks of life" (p xxiii), tho it admits (p ix) that most of its membrs ar sientists, doctrs, lawyrs, mathmaticians acountnts, rathr than directly involvd with litracy as teachrs, linguists, sycolojists, riters or publishrs.
2. Th Proceedings.Yet this imbalance is amply corectd by th publication here undr revew. In october 1997 th QES celebrated its silvr jubilee with a confrnce in London adresd by sevrl distinguishd speakrs, including Chris Woodhead, Chief Inspector for Schools at th Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), Prof. John Honey, author of the recent Language is Power, as well as Drs Morris and Lamb. Th proceedngs of th confrnce, editd by Joyce Morris, ar now publishd as a hevy A4 pamflet, and an intrestng volume it makes, meritng its atention-seekng title Controversial Issues in English. Readrs canot of corse expect many refrnces in it to spelng reform.
3 Contributions3.1 Joyce Morris.
QES Patron Dr Joyce M Morris focuses th colection with a majisterial introduction drawng on her lifetimes experience of th litracy-teachng sene. She delineates th chanjing ideas, policis and methodolojis in Britn from World War II in a paper that wil suit anyone wishng to undrstand th debates suroundng th issu in recent decades. She charts th ataks both in Britn and America from th erly 1950s onwrd on sientificly groundd fonics (cf, her paper Phonicsphobia, 1994 for a mor persnl acount) but concludes with th hope that mor rationl aproachs may now be adoptd. She finaly provides an anotated list of relevnt initiativs by th Conservtiv govrnmnt 1988-97, and by its Labor succesr, but warns that th batl for efectiv litracy teachng is not yet won, and urjs th QES to keep campainng for proven methods to be proprly implmntd.
3.2 Chris Woodhead
As Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead is a ke figr in setng educationl standrds. His paper reflects on wethr presnt standrds can be considrd satisfactry. On litracy, he concedes that not al inspectrs no enuf about teachng readng, but he is going to ensure that they fuly undrstand th principls of fonics. Howevr, ther is stil significnt oposition to fonics to be overcom. Too many pupils ar handicapd by poor tecnicl skils in riting, wich include spelng. (One has to remembr that Chris Woodhead was speakng in 1997, and som of his comnts may since hav been overtaken by events.)
3.3 Bernard Lamb.
Erlir surveys conductd by Bernard Lamb showd th poor english of undrgraduats (1992) and recruits to industry and comrce (1994) in th UK. He now reports on a 1995 survey of teachrs vews of english standrds at secndry levl. (Se pp11-17 abov for furthr reserch by Bernard Lamb.) Altho th survey is not statisticly rigrus (th replys wer self-selectng), th sheer numbr of responses (over 50% from 750) testifys to th brod validity of th vews expresd. Most teachrs considrd standrds poor by varius criteria, but few wantd systmatic gramr teachng, many havng a shaky grasp of it themselvs. Most teachrs corectd basic mispelngs (fewr in N Ireland). Finaly, 46 teachrs ar quoted to reveal a deeply unhappy profession, unsure of its subject nolej, harasd by authoritis (eg, inspectrs) with hom it ofn disagrees about sylabuses and methods, overloadd with paperwork, publicly vilifyd, undr-resorced, in short confused, demoralized and frustrated. Bernard Lambs recmendations for remedying metrs typicly involv reviving traditionl concepts of 'corect' languaj. He dos not ask wethr al those concepts make sense (eg, iregulr spelngs or th posessiv apostrofe).
3.4 Keith Davidson.
This speakr was introduced as a longterm oponent of th QESs aim to promote traditionl standrds of 'corectness' in education, and as a representativ of th National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE). He took his audience thru a bewildrng acount of 'gramr' and related fields, including such statemnts as "the phoneme is not alphabetic" (so th alfabet is not fonemic?) and "I shouldn't of is not a 'grammatical' error, but an obvious misspelling based on 'phonics'". If this seemd confusing, he then proceedd to sho how "confusion reigns" in oficial curiculr statemnts on gramr too. His recmendd solution was th NATE Position Paper, apendd on pp83-86; this, howevr, turns out to be couchd in such vacuus terms as "it is the role of the teacher to [provide] opportunities for pupils to study... grammar in use." Keith Davidsons adress, we ar told, "provoked a vociferous response".
3.5 Jennifer Chew.
See Journal article
Her paper givs a wel-informd, wel-argud acount of th need for 'phonics' for efectiv initial litracy teachng. One paragraf, tho, wil disturb spelng reformrs, wen it says: english spelng is "allegedly irregular" (ie, not realy), or "there may be a few more options for pronouncing... letters and spelling... sounds than... in Spanish, German or Italian" (how many hundred overal make "a few"?), or "knowledge of more advanced rules usually settles any uncertainty" (but by no means al, even for hyly educated readrs). Behind this dismisl of th problms of iregulr spelng, howevr, lies a real chalenj to spelng reformrs: th implication that, with fonics rigrusly taut from th outset, th iregularitis of english spelng may no longr constitute a suficiently serius obstacl to litracy for spelng reform to be worth undrtaking. Spelng reformrs, on th othr hand, may predict that rigrus fonics wil merely hylyt th dificltis causd by spelng iregularity, hos tru horr has been larjly disgised during th recent anti-fonics era. And then: wat about that majority of fonics-traind, non-nativ-english-speakng lernrs around th world, ho ar so dependnt on th spelng to tel them how to pronounce english words? They wud be left floundrng stil. Lastly, we may wondr how Jennifer Chews experiences in leafy Surrey may play in mor deprived comunitis.
3.6 Othr papers.
Thre othr papers, tho al worth readng, cal for less detaild comnt here. Susan Elkin describes th linguistic and stylistic constraints felt by jurnlists. John Honey denounces, over four pajes, th intlectul trends he spent 260 pajes demolishng in his book Language is Power. And Hamish Norbrook reflects on th futur of world english, rathr in th spirit of Graddol (se revew belo).
4. Confrnce discussion.Proceedngs closed with discussion, chiefly about how formly th english languaj can and shud be taut in scools. An implyd consensus was reachd that th forml structurs of english shud be taut mor than at presnt.
Graddol, David (1997) The Future of English, London: the British Council.
Honey, John (1997) Language is Power: the story of standard English and its enemies, London: Faber & Faber.
Lamb, Bernard (1992) A National Survey of UK Undergraduates' Standards of English, London: the Queen's English Society.
- (1994) A National Survey of Communication Skills of Young Entrants to Industry and Commerce, London: Queen's English Society.
- (1998) 'The Spelling Standards of Undergraduates, 1997-98' in Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J24 1998/2, pp19-25.
Morris, Joyce (1994) 'Phonicsphobia' in Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 94/2, pp3-12.
(Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 24, 1998-2, pp32 &34)
Global Visions, Spelng Blindspot.
Chris Upward discusses David Graddol (1997) The Future of English? London:
British Council, 64pp, ISBN 0-86355-356-7, £15.99 + P&P. Th articl is ritn
in Cut Spelng.
1. Slim but substantial.Th numbr of pajes (64 plus inside covrs) that make up this A4 brochure shud not mislead: it is a very substantial work indeed, pakd ful of stimulating ideas and up to date infrmation, al made redily accesbl by a host of typograficl devices such as buletd outlines, subhedngs, sumry-points, tables, charts, grafs, boxs, etc, etc, eithr in th jenrus marjns or set in th main dubl-colum text. Five chaptrs develop th theme as follos: 1. 'English Today' looks at th histry and dispersl of english round th world, its varid speakrs, and relations with othr languajs; 2. 'Forecasting' considrs wethr forcastng methods used in, eg, ecnomics cud be aplyd to languaj; 3. 'Global Trends' discusses chanjes in th worlds population, econmy and tecnolojy that may afect th futur of english, 4. 'Impacts on English' describes new patrns in work, education, th media and populr cultur that ar driving th expansion of english; 5. 'English in the Future' asks how english may chanje, how its developmnt myt be manajd, and wethr othr languajs may com to rival english. Each chaptr is subdivided into dubl-paje spreds covrng distinct topics. Most readrs wil com away feelng a good deal wiser, and perhaps even inspired by th vivid acount of th progress of english - tho any tendncy to triumflism is restraind by warnngs that its continud progress is not inevitbl.
2. Non-linguistic perspectivs.The Future of English? ofrs a global perspectiv focusng on th many non-linguistic forces that determn th historic rise (and fal) of languajs. Until World War II it was chiefly th militry and politicl powr of th British Empire that spred th languaj beyond th shors of Britn, but since then it has abov al been th USA that has givn english th status of a world languaj. Howevr, as th 20th century wanes, english apears to hav a momentm of its own, with cuntris aknolejng it as ther foren languaj of choice, or as a secnd (or even first) languaj for domestic use. Between contnnts, for politics and trade, it has no rival, tho within contnnts othr languajs may be preferd, eg, spanish in latn America, or chinese in the far east. And now th intrnet and othr global media ar furthr accelrating th process. How these trends wil develop thru th 21st century is hard to predict, but The Future of English? makes an impressiv atemt at doing so, aimng therby to help policy makers form ther long-term plans (tho it warns against relyng uncriticly on availbl statistics).
At th same time, it makes clear that its motivation is not (only) disintrestd sientific enquiry. It is sponsrd by th British Council to cater for british intrezts. So wile th world role of th USA is fuly recognized, th SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Oprtunitis, Threts) is orientd to british comercial, cultrl, educationl, linguistic and politicl concerns.
3. World standrds and stratejis.Th emfasis of The Future of English? is thus overwelmngly on socio-ecnomic factrs. Ther ar few refrnces to th natur of th languaj itself, and this revewr only noticed th word 'spelling' thre times in th hole publication, relating once to Middle English (p7), once to poor spelng as a symtm of poor sience (p38), and once to anglo-americn difrnces (p43). A subsection on 'Futurology' (pp16-17) discusses 'How does language change?' at som length, mentionng vocablry and gramr, but neithr pronunciation nor spelng. A paragraf on p31 discusses simplification, but again only semantic and syntactic, not orthografic.
At th same time, ther ar repeatd refrnces to english as a hybrid languaj taking many varid forms (anglo-americn spelng difrnces being one instnce), and Chaptr 5 considrs th implications of this for th futur. On pp56-57 th theme 'World English' is explord, emfasizing unifyng forces such as publishng, brodcastng, and teachng. Yet as new centrs for these activitis spring up, as in India or Singapor, so new varietis of english may aquire prestije and curency. Intrestngly, nativ british and americn speakrs ar not necesrily found th esiest to undrstand. Wil a world standrd emerj in th comng century, or wil presnt varietis becom mor and mor difrnt? Th final section, 'Managing the future' (pp62-63) asks wethr anything can be don to influence th futur of english, in particulr to promote (or defend) th british variety.
4. Th spelng question.For al its awareness of busness considrations, The Future of English? dos not adress th basic marketng question of th atractivness of th product. Compared with som potential competitrs identifyd (eg, spanish, malay-indonesian), english sufrs an enormus, yet quite avoidbl, disadvantaj: its riting systm. This not merely depresses litracy standrds in english-speakng cuntris, but deters non-nativ speakrs too. For non-nativ-speakrs tryng to aquire ther initial litracy skils in english, it is ofn an insuperabl barir (note how radicly difrnt is th spelng of pijns), wile those ho com to it alredy litrat in anothr languaj ar variusly apald, infuriated and frustrated by th unacountbl vagaris of traditionl english spelng. As wel as prolongng and complicateing th lernng process in jenrl, english lernt as a foren languaj entails a dificlty that nativ speakrs larjly escape: uncertnty as to how th ritn word shud be pronounced (an exasprated french student remarkd, "in english they spel it 'rubber', but pronounce it 'plastic'").
The publication of The Future of English? was not a one-off event, but desynd to jenrate an ongoing debate on th questions it rases. Th infrastructur for such a debate alredy exists, in th form of The English Company [UK] Ltd, ('Engco') asociated with th British Council, and a monthly intrnet discussion platform (GEN, 'Global English Newsletter'). A ke question askd (p62) is 'Can anything be done to influence the future of English'? Making th english riting systm mor user-frendly shud surely to be hy on th ajenda, to boost th atractivness of th product by simplifyng lernng and incresing confidnce in pronunciation. As yet th worldwide english languaj teachng fraternity apears only marjnly intrestd in th problms of english spelng. Engco must now be in an ideal position to follo up The Future of English? with, as a first step, a survey of vews on english spelling held in non-nativ-speakng cuntris.
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