[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J30, 2002/1 pp34-36]
Also on this paje: Revew by Judy Gilbert, Letters.

[See Journal and Bulletin articles by Donald Scragg.]

Donald Scragg Review.

English Spelling and the Norman Conquest.

Many of the complexities that are encountered in present-day English spelling are the result of English having a longer continuous written history than any other European language. Although the earliest examples of English are recorded in manuscripts dating from the eighth century, texts become much more numerous from the time of King Alfred. Alfred ruled England south of the Thames from 871 to 899. His successors in the tenth century, who gradually extended their rule over England were as committed to educational reform. As a consequence, from the 960s on increasing numbers of books were produced in England.

Literacy was largely a faculty enjoyed by the higher aristocracy and by members of the religious orders. Book production was a slow and expensive business. Books in the early period were made of parchment, usually the skins of sheep, which had to be prepared by cleaning, scraping and dipping, and writing was by hand. Paper production and the printing press arrived much later in the middle ages.

Nonetheless, when an elaborate school system was in place in the monasteries during the eleventh century, English book production was at a height. Many hundreds of books, most of them of considerable size, survive from this period, as well as thousands of documents, and what survives is presumably only the tip of a large iceberg. Though much of this writing was in Latin, the universal language of the church, a great deal was in English. In the tenth and eleventh centuries it may truly be said that the foundation of the English spelling system was laid.

Scholars have long been aware that by the end of the tenth century, control of the major monastic houses was maintained from Winchester, the seat of royal government. Not only were Winchester monks trained to write in a particular way but they in turn trained monks in other centres to write in the same way. In the many vernacular writings of the period, there is little reflection of the spoken dialects of different regions. Documents from as far apart as York, Canterbury and Worcester were written in the language of Winchester. England effectively had a standard uniform written language, the first European vernacular to have one. But by the twelfth century this had all gone, and it was not to re-emerge until the sixteenth century. It has often been said that the breakup of the standard language was in part if not wholly the result of the Norman Conquest. But the thesis has never been tested.

In May 2001 I was given a grant of almost £270,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Board of the Great Britain to undertake a three-year investigation into eleventh-century English at the Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies at the University of Manchester. We will examine the handwriting of dated documents and manuscripts, to establish a chronology of writing types. At tile same time, another group of researchers will be looking at the spelling forms in those dated documents for signs of any departures from tile accepted norms of the standard. If we can correlate changes in spelling during the eleventh century with developments in script, then we will be well on our way to understanding when, and perhaps where, the standard first began to disintegrate, and that is the first step towards understanding why it did so.


Judy B. Gilbert: Review and Commentary.

Illegal Alphabets and Adult Biliteracy:
Latino Migrants Crossing the Linguistic Border,

Kalmer, Thomás Mario. [2001] Lawrence Edbaum Assoc., N.J.
EVRI BARI GUANTS TULEM INGLIS - spelling English with Spanish letter sound correspondences

JUDY B. GILBERT has an M.A. in linguistics from the University of California at Davis, and teaching credentials in bi-lingual education. She taught pronunciation for many years and now concentrates on teacher training. Her interests include the relationship between pronunciation and listening comprehension. She is the author of Clear Speech (1993, 2nd ad.) and co-author of Speaking Clearly (1999, British edition), CUP.

This book, which was originally a dissertation, is a provocative account of the efforts of a group of poorly educated Mexican illegal workers in the U.S. to work out a hybrid alphabet together in 1980.

The purpose was not to learn to read English, but to have a written guide to help themselves learn the spoken language - an informal pronouncing dictionary. The members of the group listened repeatedly to native English speaking volunteers (with different regional accents), learned the sound of it by heart, then voted on various solutions to the problem of using Spanish letter-sound correspondences as a way to write spoken English.

In part, the system used doubled vowels to suggest length, as in yuu for /ju:/, and letters were assigned by following their phonological restrictions in Spanish: sometimes to suggest the stress pattern, sometimes to represent non-allowed sound placement, sometimes to use actual Spanish alphabetic-sound correspondence, as in ll for /zh/.

Following are a few examples:
jullulib? (Where d'you live?)
Evri bari guants tulem. (Everybody wants to learn)
nou bari. (nobody) llnou juer (nowhere)
samdel (some day)
enai wan to du rait. (and I want you to do right)
ai ou yuu. (I owe you) to loon. (the law)
This system was complicated by the fact that the workers were bilingual in Spanish and Tarascan. Kalmar says that a hybrid Tarascan /tə'raas kən / alphabet had been devised in 1939 by Swadesh, Lathrop, and Pike, as part of the Tarascan Project. (p.108) "The Tarascan Project became the showpiece of adult biliteracy campaigns ... elevated [by UNESCO, 1948] to paradigmatic status as a model for how to conduct adult biliteracy campaigns in third world countries .... The Tarascan Project established once and for all that indios - illiterate indigenous monolingual adults - could learn to read and write both their own language and the metropolitan language in less than a month or two - provided both languages were systematically coded in a single alphabet deliberately designed to be as hybrid as possible, on the principle of one letter, one hybrid phoneme."

Kalmar, who first heard English in Australia when he entered first grade, comments that he did not see Tarascan in written form until 1982 and this complicated his understanding of the alphabet he was reporting about. He wrote (p. 111) "Spanish is my first language, but I am more literate in English than in Spanish. I never seemed able to shake my mind sufficiently free of English literacy to hear English from the outside - the way it sounds to Spanish (let along Tarascan) ears innocent of English spelling. I was never able to predict which of various possible transcriptions they would choose as the best. Except for some simple monosyllables such as frend or mach [much], I was surprised by the strings of letters that the authors of [these] texts actually chose." . Nonetheless, the author, a trained linguist, then analyzed these solutions and concluded that they were systematic and practical.

COMMENT: The book provides an interesting presentation of the efforts of Mexican migrant workers to render spoken English. While I don't really see how it could help them learn to READ English, I do, indeed see how it could help them SPEAK it, by providing them a usable prompt to oral memory.


Letters.

Letters are welcomed on any matters raised by items appearing In the JSSS, or on a spelling related discussion group, or on any observations relating to spelling that readers may wish to report.

Toward a "house style" Steve writes, and I agree:
1 would like to see the society endorse one mild reform notation. This way we could start writing our own publications in this notation. We currently have about four candidates The forth notation has received little attention. It similar to the one that Valerie endorses. One that spells the same vowel sound up to four different ways. Laubach used such a system. We know that we can correctly write about 80% of the words in English with a little over 100 rules. If we accept 20 high frequency sight words and 40 rules we can probably correctly spell 85% of the words in three tries. One of the purposes of a new writing system is to identify the words most in need of respelling.

I rather like that idea - but I like even better the last approach that Steve suggests: ...
starting with phonetic English and deconstructing it by the addition of exception rules. What this suggests is that a person can quickly write phonetic English or by the application of the exception rules write something closer to traditional English.

Yes - I think that the public (including teachers) could and would accept this: a sort of "Quick-Start Written English" (analogous to the "quick-start" introductory pages at the beginning of computer-manuals: enough to get you started as a user, so that you can do some important things and then you can go on to learn the remainder of the material as your needs demand and as your time permits.) This sort of thing seems (to me) easier to sell (to a dubious and tradition-minded public) than anything which looks to them like simply changing/getting rid of the familiar ABC or the familiar (if stupid) ways in which we have come to use it. People would accept it, (particularly teachers), 1 think, because we could portray this system as a firm, orderly "bridge" for sure progress over difficulties (People fear a "new spelling" in large part because they imagine this must mean chaos. So show how it means ordered progress.) How I would like to see all this portrayed to the public and especially to teachers/ administrators:

BRIDGES INTO LITERACY. Where bridges stands for "Beginners' Road Into Directly Grasping English Spelling")

Beginning on a Step by step, Mastering the spellings of sure, solid foundation - rule by rule....

Have a drawing of a bridge, with happy people crossing/standing on it, and words floating in the air above the various parts of the bridge - phonemically spelled words on the left, conventionally spelled words on the right, and various intermediate versions in between. I do not think that a reform system that respells over 15% of the words in the language can be effectively sold to the public. The precise threshold probably needs to be investigated.

We could (and should) investigate this by posting a web-page survey: [see freespel.com] NOT (for this purpose) a word-by-word checklist such as RITE's, but a one-question survey that presents the matter as a little "story problem" or hypothetical experiment ... try something like this: All of the notations mentioned can be read almost as fast as the traditional notation. I would tend to endorse the notation which was the easiest to teach.

Kate Gladstone, Albany, N. Y.



What words should be respelled if 10% were the maximum?

I fiend it hard to beleev that English can be simplified without respelling mor than 40% of the words in the dictionary no matter what system wun chooses.

From your poynt of vew, is "come" a candidate for respeling? How wuhd you spel "borough"? "ignition"? Pete B.

SB: 100% Phonemic English would require 60% of the words to be respelled. Most phonemic systems respell more. Just check out Merriam-Webster dictionary and you will have most of my preferred spellings.
Come = kəm = cam 1 cumm
borough = 'bərO = burro
borrow = borrO / baaro = bärO = baaro/borro
ignition = ig'niSən = ignishan

None of these words require respelling in order to be pronounced alphabetically and understood. Since "come" rhymes with "Roma", they could use some simplification: e.g., Com, boro.

Phonemic spelling [cam burro - in Spanglish] might obscure the traditional "eye rhyme"


What can we do to make written English more accessible?

At his inauguration on May 20th Xanana Gusmao, the new president of East Timor, historically a Portuguese colony and now a poverty-stricken island in the South Pacific, said in perfect English: "Today with humility - and before the international community - we take upon ourselves the obligations toward our people. We wanted to be ourselves, we wanted to take pride in being ourselves - a people and a nation. Today, with your assistance, we are effectively what we have striven to be." Imagine what it must have taken for an East Timorean to speak English with no significant accent. We can be arrogant about it and say, "Of course he wants to speak English." Or we could be humble. We could consider the healing power of a common language - a lingua franca - in a dangerously divided world. We might even ask ourselves what we could do to make our written ]anguage more readily acquired by the billions who long for the opportunities in store for those who read, write, and speak English.

-Ed Rondthaler

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