Response to Langscape Questionnaire 6
from the Simplified Spelling Society
prepared by Christopher Upward, Editor-in-Chief of the Society,
in consultation with members around the world.


Following its response to Langscape Questionnaire 1, the Simplified Spelling Society now has pleasure in responding to the dilemmas of consonant doubling set out in Questionnaire 6 (English Today 58, April 1999, pp3-6). Our procedure has been broadly as for Questionnaire 1 (explained in English Today 55, p7, Para. 1), except that this time we are conveying a consensus of the c.60 emailing members of our Society whom we have consulted. We are distributing this paper along with the questionnaire to all our c. 140 members around the world, suggesting they complete and return the questionnaire individually, writing SIMPLIFIED SPELLING SOCIETY at the top, and explaining any points of disagreement with this response.

In general our response is less to recommend preferences for individual words than to establish patterns for parallel spellings, with reasons for recommending them. We hold that like syllables should have like spellings, and contrasting syllables should have contrasting spellings, and we hope that this approach may inform Langscape's own conclusions, as well as the future development of English spelling.

The problem of doubled consonants.

The introduction to Questionnaire 6 opens with a statement of the problem: "Double consonants are toil and trouble for many users of English", the reason being that "Double consonants are hardly ever sounded as geminates in modern English, i.e., so as to repeat the consonant sound." Indeed so.

The problem affects writers more than readers. When readers face doubled consonants in words whose pronunciation they are unsure of, they can be fairly confident that the preceding vowel has one of the 'short' values heard in pat, pet, pit, pot, put, putt, and can reckon with some probability that it will be stressed (contrast stressed ett in unforgettable with unstressed et in unmarketable). Exceptions to the 'short value' rule are few, typically involving L/LL or S/SS: they include long O in wholly versus short O in holly, long O in both grocer and gross (except in Scotland), several words rhyming with roll with long O (contrast short O in doll), long A in musical bass but Short A for the fish, and occasional rarer words such as camellia, tulle with long vowels before LL. Exceptions to the 'stressed' rule are more numerous, especially because the many Latin derivations with doubled consonants arising from assimilated prefixes have no fixed stress in English, as when acc- is stressed in accurate, but not in accommodate, and the stressed O in accommodate loses the stress in accommodation. Such exceptions and uncertainties easily mislead readers.

Writers on the other hand need to know the precise spelling of words, and are often confused by unpredictable consonant doubling. In fact, doubling single consonants and simplifying doubled consonants (eg, *dissapointment) is one of the three commonest types of misspelling in English (the others are silent letters and the vowels of unstressed syllables). Readers may guess the implications of doubled consonants for pronunciation, but writers find pronunciation a poor guide to when consonants are doubled, since short, stressed vowels by no means predictably imply a following doubled consonant. Anomalies are legion: compare afraid/ affray, copper/ proper, Finland/ Finnish/ finish/ final, polish/ Polish, very/ merry, study/ muddy. Doubled consonants mismatched with stress are a particular hazard for writers in words like battalion, parallel, satellite. Writers often even fail to observe the geminating effect of Germanic affixes, writing *mispel for mis+spell (cf, dispel), or *realy for real+ly (cf, freely), or *drunkeness for drunken+ness (cf, deaconess).

Many patterns of consonant doubling are determined by spellings inherited from Latin (or, less commonly, Greek), ie, they have an etymological basis, and are mostly treated as fixed in modern English. Other languages, however, simplify Greco-Latin doublings according to the rules of their own more regular orthographies. Thus Spanish and Portuguese accommodate acomodar to their non-doubling norms, and Italian doubles the Greco-Latin M of comedy in commedia but simplifies the Latin MM of communication in comunicazione according to its geminated or non-geminated pronunciation. When English takes such adapted forms from modern European languages, it is often uncertain whether to retain the spelling of the source language, or adapt it to the 'Latin' pattern prevalent in English; so we see Spanish aficionado sometimes written afficionado in English by analogy with affection, and incomunicado written incommunicado by analogy with communicate. We see this dilemma in the Langscape list in cannel(l)oni and cap(p)uccino from Italian, and gar(r)otte from French/Spanish, where English may simplify a consonant doubled in the source language.

If in such patterns we see English consonant-doubling influenced by the spelling of other languages, in the great majority of cases in the Langscape 6 list the variation results from the lack of firm rules governing the addition of native English suffixes to stem forms. It is in this area that we see a massive refutation of the Chomskyan claim that English spellings are 'morphophonemically stable', ie, that the stem forms of words do not change their spelling before suffixes. In fact it is a fairly regular feature of English spelling that the final consonant letter of a stressed syllable containing a short vowel spelt with a single letter is doubled before suffixes beginning with a vowel, thus regret has TT in regretted, regretting, regrettable but single T before a consonant in regrets, regretful. In view of the extreme complexity of this 'rule' (not only must the above four or five conditions be satisfied before it applies, but there are also numerous exceptions), it is hardly surprising that users find it hard to master.

Final doubled consonants also appear as lengtheners in monosyllabic words beginning with a vowel (thus: add, ebb, egg, err, inn, odd) that would otherwise be written with just two letters and so infringe the 'rule' that non-grammatical words have at least three letters in English. Final doubled consonants can also serve to distinguish homophones, as between but/ butt, in/ inn, net/ nett. Final L is also commonly doubled, thus contrast bell/ beg, tall/ tab, will/ win, etc. A few of the Langscape words show uncertainty about whether this LL applies in compound as well as simple forms.

Disordered ordering.

Questionnaire 6 lists 40 pairs of alternative spellings containing consonants written either single or double (eg, bused/ bussed). The list is ordered alphabetically, with the single-consonant spelling given first in 24 pairs (eg, T/TT in benefited/ benefitted) and the double-consonant spelling given first in 16 pairs (eg, TT/T in ballottable/ ballotable). Furthermore, no two consecutive words have the same ending (eg, enamel(l)ing is followed by equal(l)ed, not equal(l)ing), although most of the words could be represented by the same inflected form. The purpose of this arrangement is presumably to discourage respondents from thinking in terms of spelling regularity; that is to say, by not listing parallel forms together, respondents will be less likely to treat them consistently. Respondents may thus unthinkingly select, for instance, bussed with SS for item 5, but gases with single S for item 19, and an opportunity may be lost for discovering a preference for one kind of spelling regularity over another.

It is a pity that Langscape here seems more concerned with arbitrary variety of usage than with a potential for developing rules that could assist users. One wonders whether Langscape accepts the notion that "languages are rule-governed systems", and if so, what it thinks the implications might be for English spelling. In its response to Questionnaire 1 the Simplified Spelling Society remarked that it "has long considered lexicographers as potential agents for the modernization of English spelling, and hopes that Langscape's findings may induce movement in that direction". The SSS still hopes that, in utilizing its findings from Questionnaire 6, Langscape will take account of such factors as consistency, predictability and regularity in recommending forms using single or doubled consonants.

Skewed selection.

It is further noticeable that some spelling structures are heavily represented in Questionnaire 6, while others have few instances, or only one. English never doubles the consonants H, J, Q, W, X, Y, and doubles V only in a few colloquial terms (navvy, etc), so these are unrepresented; but the list contains no instances of B, D, F, K, M, Z either (admittedly few examples suggest themselves beside af(f)icionado, incom(m)unicado and whiz(z)). The list has only one instance of C/K (bivouac(k)ed), N (millen(n)ium) and R (gar(r)otte) and only two of G (reneg(g)ed, wag(g)on), but then 3 x P, 4 x T, 7 x S, and a full 21 x L. We also notice a skewed positional distribution: 4 of the letters occur word-finally (all ending in L/LL, discussed as Category 1 below), 5 medially (all in loanwords, discussed as Category 2), and a full 31 at morpheme boundaries (Category 3). Of the latter, single examples involve the suffixes -able, -er, -es, -ful, -ist, -ity and -ous, 4 involve -ing, and 20 involve -ed; none involves -en (eg, wool(I)en) or -or (eg, counsellor). While most are familiar alternatives (many arising from different British and American conventions), a few seem strange, namely ballottable, bivouaced, renegged (none of these was found in any of 5 dictionaries consulted), and ricochetted (the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary thinks the latter is probably obsolete), while the word pedal(I)er is hardly in common use (or was pedlar/peddler intended?).

Category 1: doubled word-final consonants.

The questionnaire includes four words with varying single/ doubled L in final position, namely chlorophyl(l), extol(l), fulfil(l), instil(l), to which we may add skil(l)ful as a case of varying word-final L in skil(l) (we might alternatively consider skil(l)ful a case of morpheme-boundary doubling, for which see Category 3 below).

Of these, chlorophyl(l) stands out for its first-syllable primary stress and its Franco-Greco-Latin origin. Etymology explains the spelling with LL, but syllabically parallel words like citadel, daffodil, parallel have only single L. The choice between chlorophyll/ chlorophyl is thus a choice between etymology, which gives LL, and analogy, which suggests L.

The pairs extol(l), instil(l) exemplify a larger group of words having the same variation, thus appal(l), distil(l), enrol(l), enthral(l), instal(l), with LL preferred in American and L in British usage. The same variation is seen in derived forms before consonants (eg, enrol(l)ment, instal(l)ment), though inflected forms always have LL before a vowel: extol(l)s but extolled, instil(l)s but instilling. This might seem an argument for keeping LL throughout (extoll, instills, installment), especially when monosyllables having the same form as the second syllable are always written with LL (pall, still, roll, toll). However, the writer then has to remember that many similar words only have L in the base form (never *compell, *controll, despite LL in compelling, controlling), and the reader is easily confused by the different patterns of stress, vowel value and L-doubling between extol(l)/ atoll, patrol/ petrol, pistil/ instil(l), Brazil/ civil/ civilian, counsel/ counsel(l)or, ability/ tranquil(l)ity/ tranquil(l)ize, chapel/ lapel, idyll/ idol, rebel (noun)/ rebel (verb)/ rebellious.

The pairs fulfil(l), skil(l)ful (likewise wil(l)ful) involve an additional complication: most monosyllables ending in L have it doubled, eg, all, well, fill, skill, till, full (exceptions are words outside the core vocabulary, such as pal, gel, nil, col), but some tend (optionally or compulsorily) to shed one L in common compounds such as always (though alright is controversial), welfare (despite well-being), fulfil(l), skil(l)ful, until, and frequent misspelling is the natural result, eg, *allways, *beautifull, *untill, *wellfare. Meanwhile, other compounds (eg, ballgame, millpond) never show such variation.


We recommend spelling chlorophyl(l) with single L to align with its structural analogies citadel, daffodil, parallel.

Taking extol(l), fulfil(l), instil(l), skil(l)ful in isolation, one might recommend consistent LL for the base form as well as for all inflected and derived forms. However, these four words represent but a small corner in a much larger area of confusion surrounding L-doubling in English, and until some inroads are made into that larger area, it might be better to leave the present options open (though for users in a British or American environment there may be no optional alternatives).

Reform solutions.

A regularized orthography would prefer single L in these words (doubtless also simplifying chlorophyl to clorofil or klorofil), and extend it to monosyllables such as toll, fill, still, skill, etc, and more widely across the language. For this process to be taken to its conclusion, preceding long/ short, stressed/ unstressed vowels would need to be distinguished, as between all/ at, pall/ pat, roll/ doll, filling/ filing, but such consequences cannot be explored here.

Category 2: loanwords.

Every language faces a dilemma in spelling words from other languages: should the foreign spelling be retained, or should it be adapted to the conventions of the borrowing language? Middle English tended to adopt the latter approach (eg, fisik for Greco-Latin physic), while modern English tends to the former. However, the adaptation process is unregulated, and modern loans quite often diverge from their sources, not least with regard to consonant doubling. This is seen in all 5 instances of medial doubling that constitute Category 2, where Langscape offers a variant with single L for Italian cannelloni (a word first attested in English in the 19th century), single P for Italian cappuccino (20th century; note single P in cognate Capuchin), single R for French garrotte (17th century; contrast American garrote from Spanish), single N for Latin-derived millennium, and GG for Dutch-derived wagon.

Millennium, incidentally, raises the question of where spelling variations end and misspellings begin, for while the single/ doubled consonants of cannelloni, cappuccino, garrotte do not conform to any familiar native English pattern (eg, the preceding vowel does not carry the primary stress), the NN of millennium does follow a stressed, short vowel (contrast proscenium with single N after a long vowel) and so may be considered a natural, native English spelling; yet it is frequently (mis-?)spelt millenium. Why, we therefore ask, should that form be rated a variant, when the popular reduction *accomodate with single M (possibly the commonest 'misspelling' in English) is stigmatized as a misspelling?

Unlike the above terms of Latinate origin, wag(g)on is a long-anglicized version of Dutch wagen (the native English equivalent, wain [cf, John Constable's painting The Haywain], lost the G from Old English wægn in early Middle English). Wag(g)on first appeared in the 16th century in such forms as wagan, waggen, waggin, and the modern O has replaced the Dutch vowel E no doubt to show that the preceding G/GG is not palatized as in wager or exaggerate (though E can also follow velar GG, as in dagger, swagger, etc). The GG of waggon is more common in British than American usage (French has borrowed wagon from English), and may seem to indicate the stressed, short value of the preceding vowel, as do doubled consonants in so many English words (cf, carrot from French carotte); but the single-consonant spelling wagon is symptomatic of the inconsistency with which such devices are applied in English. Full rhymes of wag(g)on are always written with single G, thus dragon, flagon, as is Greek-derived agony, but there are also some analogies with GG, eg, faggot, maggot. There are also contrasting parallels with other values of A before single G: thus we find polysyllabic 'Greek' forms such as hexagon, demagog(ue) and (highly anomalous with palatized G before the back vowel O) mortgagor, as well as disyllabic forms such as Lagos, Tobago with long A pronounced /ei/ and Otago, virago with it pronounced /a:/.


Since English has no standard procedure for anglicizing the spelling of loanwords, we see no reason to change the distinctively Italian forms cannelloni, cappuccino. An effect of simplifying consonants and writing canneloni, capuccino is to confuse both Italian learners of English and English learners of Italian.

The spelling of gar(r)ot(t)e on the other hand is less clearly marked by foreign (French, Spanish) conventions, and we therefore recommend the form that most clearly corresponds to its stress pattern in English, namely garotte (contrast the stressed first syllable of carrot, garret with RR but T).

For millen(n)ium we recommend millennium with NN to match its cognates biennial, centennial, annual (Latin annus 'year') and to indicate the preceding short stressed E (showing it does not rhyme with proscenium, etc). Millenary with single N arose by contrast as an adjectival derivative (cf, binary, tertiary) of mille 'thousand', and to distinguish it from millennium with NN, it would be better pronounced rhyming with centenary in the British manner with long E, which is less easily confused with centennial with short E and NN.

For its economy, currency in America and in French, rhyming parallels in dragon, flagon and lack of rhymes spelt -aggon, we recommend wagon with single G.

Reform solutions.

A moderately reformed spelling system might simplify all the doubled consonants in caneloni and capucino, and show the stress pattern with TT in garott and NN in milennium (or perhaps write milenium, if proscenium were spelt proseenium). If wagon were cut to wagn (reminiscent of Old English wægn), that spelling would unambiguously show the word to be pronounced with short stressed A and velar G, and that pronunciation could only be spelt with single G and syllabic N.

Category 3: consonant doubling at morpheme boundaries.

The remaining 30 alternatives listed in the questionnaire (31 if skil(l)ful is included) all arise at morpheme boundaries, where the final consonant of a base word may be optionally doubled before a suffix. Two thirds of the words have the suffix -ED (benefit(t)ed, bias(s)ed, bivouac(k)ed, bus(s)ed, chanel(l)ed, chorus(s)ed combat(t)ed, equal(l)ed, focus(s)ed, initial(l)ed, kidnap(p)ed, label(l)ed, nonplus(s)ed, reneg(g)ed, revel(l)ed, ricochet(t)ed, rival(l)ed, trial(l)ed, unravel(l)ed, worship(p)ed) and all but one of the others (ballot(t)able, canvas(s)ing, enamel(l)ing, gas(s)es, marvel(l)ous, medal(l)ist, panel(l)ing, pedal(l)er, total(l)ing) could equally well have been listed with -ED. The one exception is tranquil(l)ity, discussed separately below.

In general, suffixes in English are simply attached to the base word, thus look+ed gives looked, but this pattern varies somewhat according to the precise form of the base word. Common variations are loss of a final E (have/ having) and doubling of the final consonant, as in the patterns discussed here. When a monosyllabic word is spelt with a single vowel letter followed by a single consonant (eg, fit), the consonant is doubled before a suffix beginning with a vowel, thus fitted, fitting, fittable, but fits, fitful with single T before a consonant. When the final syllable of a polysyllabic word has that form and carries primary stress (eg, befit), the same doubling occurs, eg, befitted. When the final syllable does not carry primary stress (eg, visit), the final consonant is not normally doubled (visited, visiting), although this spelling appears to rhyme with united, uniting. Most of the 29 words we shall now consider have first-syllable stress and show the ambiguity of visited/ united when spelt with a single consonant, and the ambiguity of *visitted/ befitted when spelt with a doubled consonant.

Of the 29 base words, 14 end in L (chanel(l)ed, equal(l)ed, initial(l)ed, enamel(l)ing, label(l)ed, marvel(l)ous, medal(l)ist, panel(l)ing, pedal(l)er, revel(l)ed, rival(l)ed, unravel(l)ed, total(l)ing, trial(l)ed). A feature of these alternatives for words ending in an unstressed syllable followed by L is that American usage prefers single L (eg, chaneled) and British usage LL (eg, chanelled). When spelt with single L, these show ambiguity of vowel length (and stress) compared with a long-vowel word (contrast rivaled/ inhaled); and when spelled with LL, they show ambiguity of stress (contrast rivalled/ installed, channelled/ compelled). Unlike the -aled ending of rivaled, the ending -eled creates only notional ambiguity of vowel length, since modern English has no words spelt -eled rhyming with revealed (French-derived verbs ending in -el and pronounced with long E in Middle English were respelt with -eal around the 16th century, as when reveled became revealed; Modern English reveled/ revealed are therefore distinct).

The Anglo-American doubling distinction also applies, though less rigidly, to the two words ending in P (kidnap(p)ed, worship(p)ed), which when written with P can be mistaken for long-vowel words like escaped, pinstriped, and when written with PP can be mistaken for words with final syllable stress like unwrapped, equipped. The PP-forms may arise by analogy with monosyllabic forms such as napped, shipped, but this pattern is not adopted by other words ending in P (galloped, gossiped): these are never spelt with PP despite the analogy of monosyllabic lopped, sipped. Here we perhaps have to make an even subtler distinction: although worship(p)ed, gossiped, etc, both have short unstressed final vowels, kidnap(p)ed, worship(p)ed retain the full short value of the vowel, whereas gossiped, galloped tend to reduce it to the obscure vowel schwa; their final syllable might thus be described as 'hyper-unstressed'.

The list also contains four words with base forms ending in T (ballot(t)able, benefit(t)ed, combat(t)ed, ricochet(t)ed), to each of which different considerations apply. Ballot(t)able appears anomalous, spelling with TT suiting a word like allotted with second-syllable stress, but not words with first-syllable stress like balloted, bigoted (despite reading ambiguity vis-a-vis words like devoted). The verb to combat is pronounced more often with stressed first syllable in British and stressed second syllable in American usage, with different spellings implied, thus combated for first-syllable stress (despite ambiguity with debated, etc) and combatted for second-syllable stress. For benefit(t)ed, a clear advantage is hard to find, since the third syllable has secondary, not primary stress; a simple stress rule would therefore require benefitted, but a non-primary-stress rule would require benefited (despite ambiguity with extradited). Other trisyllabic words ending in -it (eg, inhibit) do not provide an exact analogy, since they have primary stress on the second, not the first syllable, and leave the final -it entirely unstressed (hence never *inhibitted); two words with other endings having similar syllable structures to benefit(t)ed give no clear guidance either, handicapped normally having PP, but paralleled only single L. The fourth T-word, ricochet(t)ed, reads uneasily with either spelling, the final T of the base word being silent (as in other French loans such as ballet), yet the reader is tempted to pronounce it before a vowel, as before -ed; if then the T is doubled, the temptation may be irresistible, which is indeed how dictionaries suggest the TT-form is (or was?) pronounced (the E perhaps with primary stress, and rhyming with abetted). Our conclusion here might be that the pronunciation should determine the spelling: if the T is silent in inflected forms, it must be single, and if the word is pronounced to rhyme with abetted, it must have TT.

A further 7 words in the list have a base form ending in single S (bias, bus, canvas, chorus, focus, gas, nonplus), though we may note that in British usage the form canvassing is used for 'seeking votes', and canvasingis a rarity. Otherwise, we may distinguish two patterns, words with a stressed vowel before the S (bus(s)ed, gas(s)es, nonplus(s)ed) and those with an unstressed vowel before it (bias(s)ed, canvas(s)ed, chorus(s)ed, focus(s)ed). In the first group, inflected spellings with SS (bussed, etc) clearly indicate a preceding short stressed vowel with voiceless pronunciation of the S, by analogy with such forms as fussed, massed, discussed; while the alternatives with single S misleadingly suggest rhymes with fused, phased, accused. However, when the second syllable is unstressed, as in focus(s)ed, no such clear advantage is found, as there are misleading analogies for spellings with both S and SS, focused paralleling accused, but focussed paralleling discussed.

Regarding the dubious alternatives bivouac(k)ed, reneg(g)ed, none of the dictionaries consulted allowed the spellings bivouaced or renegged, both of which misrepresent the pronunciation. The noun bivouac is taken from French, which, when using it as a verb, respells it as bivouaquer to preserve the velar value of the final consonant before the front vowel E; similarly, English must 'double' the C as CK to achieve the same effect, hence bivouacked, as also with picnic and other verbs ending in -IC (picnicked, etc). Nevertheless, there is sometimes uncertainty, as when dictionaries allow arced beside arcked from the verb to arc. As for renegged, GG normally marks a preceding short vowel (eg, beg/ begged), but although to renege varies both in spelling and pronunciation, it never has a short stressed E before GG (the form renegged may derive from the earlier alternative spelling of the base form as reneg). The spelling renege, with velar G before final E is equally problematic, appearing to rhyme with the more regular palatized G of allege (though not with the latter's anomalous short E), and it is to cure that anomaly that a velarizing U is inserted in the alternative renegue (not offered by Langscape); as for the vowel, another earlier spelling, reneague, allowed both the former pronunciation of EA as in great and the more usual modern pronunciation as in eat, both values today being heard in reneg(u)e; but nowhere in the 20th century version of this tangle does a spelling with GG arise.

Finally, a comment on tranquil(l)ity, with the familiar Anglo-American LL/L difference. In both Latin and French this stern has LL, but in English the adjective tranquil has only L. No difference of vowel length is entailed, but the syllable before LL in tranquillity is stressed (though not in tranquil(l)ize). Yet, in analogous endings, this ending always has single L, several dozen rhyming words (eg, ability, hostility) having L, but none LL.


Two spelling patterns and four individual words (14 words in total) among the 30 or so words in this Category offer a clear advantage to spelling either with a single or with a doubled consonant. Base words ending in -EL suggest no competing pronunciations when the L is written single in chaneled, enameling, labeled, marvelous, paneled, reveled, unraveled, nor do base words ending in -S following a stressed vowel when written with SS in bussed, gasses, nonplussed. Individual instances of clearcut advantage are ballotable, bivouacked, reneged (or better, renegued), tranquility.

In other patterns (14 words in total), both alternatives contain an element of ambiguity, and in 12 cases it is chiefly the greater transparency and economy of the single consonant spellings that tip the balance in favor of benefited, biased, canvasing (assuming the verb to canvas has single S), chorused, equaled, focused, initialed, medalist, pedaler (ignoring the peddler/ pedlar alternatives), rivaled, totaling, trialed; for kidnapped, worshipped the doubled consonants may be preferred, as indicating the full short value of the preceding vowel, even though it is unstressed.

In two cases pronunciation might be left to determine the spelling: writers who wish their readers to stress the first syllable of combated, ricocheted (with silent T) should spell them so, while writers who wish their readers to stress bat in combatted and ett (with sounded T) in ricochetted should double the consonants.

Reform solutions.

A radically regularized spelling system might choose to indicate all long vowels by digraphs (eg, inhail, not inhale) and stressed syllables by a diacritical mark (eg, kómbated or kombáted). In that case it would never be necessary to double consonants except in clear cases of gemination (eg, NN in meanness), and the dilemmas listed in Langscape Questionnaire 6 would not arise.

A less radical reform might double consonants systematically to show that a preceding vowel was pronounced short and carried the primary stress. In that case very few words (or even none at all) in Category 3 would need doubled consonants. However, complications arise if this procedure is applied generally, giving acommodate with MM, but acomodation with M.

A limited reform that concentrated on cutting redundant letters would also simplify most of the doubled consonants in Category 3. Forms such as chanld, revld, busd, focusd, kidnapd, pedlr (for pedaler, pedlar, peddler), rivald would remove nearly all the uncertainties of sound-symbol correspondence that lie at the heart of the questionnaire.


Although Langscape Questionnaire 6 targets variably doubled consonants, the above analysis shows this is not an isolated problem area of English spelling, but is bound up with wider issues of sound-symbol correspondence, especially stress and vowel quantity. The uncertainties listed in the questionnaire are symptomatic of the lack of transparent, reliable rules for spelling English words that, in different ways, afflicts both readers and writers. If the responses Langscape receives merely establish arbitrary spelling preferences for individual words, they will do no more than provide statistical confirmation for what was already known: that English spelling is "one of the world's most awesome messes". If on the other hand they are seen as a means to steer English, however gently, toward more predictable patterns of spelling, they will have served some useful purpose in reducing the hazards facing future learners, readers and writers of the language around the world. Yet for all that, they will have done no more than scratch the surface of a profoundly complex problem that, if literacy in the world's prime medium of communication is significantly to improve, needs altogether more comprehensive treatment.

Back to the top.