[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J32, 2003, pp34-36]

Letters & Summaries of On-Line Discussions.

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.

Lies My Teacher Told Me,

by James Lowen, chronicles the textbooks on history get it wrong. Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian Institute surveying twelve leading high school textbooks of American History. What he found was an embarrassing amalgam of bland optimism, blind patriotism, and misinformation pure and simple, weighing in at an average of four-and-a-half pounds and 888 pages.

Similar lies exist in all textbooks if you look close enough. I am not too concerned about the half truths as long as they provide a way to get beyond them. You have to have a rough sketch of the terrain before you get interested in filling in the details. Myth plays an important role. It is what we organize our lives around. Debunkers are fine, but they are motivated by myths of their own.

Language Arts teachers have their own set of lies which deserve as much attention as historical lies. Kate Gladstone says:
I have seen a reading-tutor ask a child: "How many sounds do we hear in the word THROUGH?" - then tell the child "No, dear - think again and listen closer!" because the child said "three sounds" instead of "seven sounds" (according to the tutor: "if you'd listened properly, you would have heard that we have the T-sound, the H-sound, the R-sound, the O-sound, the U-sound, the G-sound, and the H-sound again - seven sounds.")
Another teacher (this one taught college-students in a school of education) taught her students (and expected them to teach *their* students) that "We have twenty-six letters in the English alphabet because there are only twenty-six sounds that the human mouth can say."

And ... at least three of my friends had college-English teachers (at differing colleges) who - in all seriousness - tried to instill "proper speech" by (e.g.) telling their classes: "When we say TH, we say first a T-sound and then an H-sound - repeat with me: FATHER, FAITHFUL,...

... although the teachers themselves did not do this in their own speech in the classroom or anywhere else (not even when giving the examples for the students to repeat). Unlike the teacher I suffered under, they pronounced things normally while believing that they (along with everyone else) pronounced things "properly, according to the spelling."

Phonics for teachers.

Mazurkiewicz, A.J. 1976. Teaching about Phonics. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Back in the 1970's, Dr. Albert Mazurkiewicz attempted to test first and second grade teachers on their knowledge of linguistics, Most of the teachers failed the test. What is worse, however, is that they thought they knew what they were talking about. They had no qualms about relaying their misconceptions to answer questions from their students.

L.C. Moats [Speech to Print, 2001] re-studied this in 2000 with similar results. Few schools of education provide much linguistics training for teachers. Even those who teach phonics may be quite deficient in their understanding.

The relationship between speech sounds and the alphabet is a continual cause of misunderstanding. This is nothing new, the concept of a letter was separated from the concept of a speech sound quite recently. ... meny neytiv spiekerz probably think dhey shvd pranauns mor laik dhe speling ... Worse yet - many native speakers actually think that they *do* pronounce like the spelling: I know quite a few people who feel sure (beyond my power to convince them otherwise) that "know" has twice as many sounds as "no" and that "rich" doesn't have as many sounds as "pitch."

Letters to politicians.

Allan Campbell continues to be active in writing members of parliament and educational officials. This one is a classic:

Dear Mr Hyde: I can sympathize with you in your 'cacophony' incident. [the official had pronounced it "cacko-phoney"] English spelling does not provide much of a guide to pronunciation. I remember thinking, until I was about 20, that Penelope was pronounced 'penny-loap' [as if it rhymed with envelope]. English-speaking foreigners tell me that they cannot be sure of the pronunciation of any English word until they've heard a native English speaker say it; nor can they be sure of a spelling of any English word that they've heard but not read. Our Society maintains that if English clarified and followed its spelling rules - it does have them! - these problems would not arise, or would occur much less frequently. For instance, if the spelling was 'cacoffony', where a doubled consonant showed an accented short vowel, would you have stumbled over it?

For more invented spellings and invented pronunciations, go to www.unifon.org/quayle-spel.html

We made a submission to the Select Committee on Education and Science in its recent inquiry into reading. We asked that, to make literacy learning easier for children, it begin the slow process of updating English spelling by asking the Government to call an international conference of English-speaking nations and organizations to look at the idea.

How much would such a conference cost? It could probably be pulled off with a $50,000 grant. It is worth looking into. -sb

Benefits of reform.

Other European nations keep their spelling up to date. This allows their children to master the code in less than 4 months and for the average student to jump ahead of his English speaking peer by two years by age 12. They spend less time on learning a simpler code and still attain a higher level of literacy.

While this lead has been documented in cross cultural studies of orthography and learning, it is not consistent with the PICO studies which shows that the attainment of Spanish and Italian 15 year olds are slightly lower than their peers in some English speaking countries. This discrepancy needs to be explained.

The code for Spanish and Italian is simpler by design. These countries have had spelling reforms about every 60 years or so to align spelling with changing pronunciation.

English has delayed reform so long that now less than half the words are pronounced as they are written and half of the words contain one or more irregularities.

News from New Zealand:

Ther's an item at http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/education/newsid_1496000/1496692.stm. In an asociated articl (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/education/newsid_1122000/112203 8.stm) which is dated 2001 janury 17, ther is th foloing paragraf:
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), which oversees the tests sat by some 600,000 pupils in their final year at primary school, says most problems were caused by words "where the letter pattems have to be remembered". The children did better where the spelling more closely followed the sound of the word.

Skipping the middle man.

I like the idea of "skipping the middle man" and using a pronunciation guide spelling. Webster also thought that the need for a pronunciation guide was unique to the English writing system. -sb

The problem with diacritics.

Pípl di'rýd dýrœ'kritiks az œpózd to nyu letœrz for gud rízn: ðats not hau ðœ rómœbet wûz di'zaind tœ wœrk. hwen ðœ rómnz in'kauntœrd œ nyu saund lýk SAMPA [y], ðe méd œ nyu letœr. in ðis kés it wûz <y>. ai þink dýœ'kritiks är kwýt œ gud ai'diœ kœmperd tu stiking wið ðœ wé tu limitœd QWERTY rénj. it mé not bi fízœbl tœ hav daiœ'kritiks ðo riœli as ði ðœ kibordz wud hav tœ bi cénjd. [one of many diacritic proposals]

Why? It takes 5 minutes to add an Icelandic keyboard and then diacritics are a keystroke away.

There are three problems with using diacritics:
1. They are not email friendly: the spl. characters do not always come thru,
2. They are more difficult for touch typists to produce, and
3. There is no standard code so those who use them run the chance that they may not communicate and will probably annoy their readers.

A diacritic is a marker. There are two markers available in ASCII: double letters and capital letters.

ENgliS is an example of a script that uses the cap diacritic to augment the number of phonograms so it matches the number of phonemes. -sb


by Doug Everingham, Australia.

1. SSS advocates aulternativ spellings, including sum now widely recgnized since thay became preferred forms in Noah Webster's dictionaries, which hav advantages over uther traditional spellings such as:
(a) better conformity with foneems, especially in accents favord by common US and UK pronouncing dictionaries (and riming dictionaries)

(b) avoidance of ambiguity, especially for persons literate in TS

(c) economy of letters consistent with the simplest widely recognized clear pronunciations.
2. SSS encourages dictionary publishers to recognize, tho not necessarily preferring, minority spellings that folio such simplifying principles.

3. SSS recognizes the need for different standards of spelling including:
(a) standards for possible initial teaching in the tradition of Pitman's i.t.a., while noting that the i.t.a. trials were not accompanied by good transitional teeching for thoze transferring subsequently to use of TS;

(b) informal abreeviated 'texting' as developing in cell fone/ mobile fone messaging, perhaps with some indication of mor preferd and less preferd aulternatives;

(c) formal spelling including TS aulternativ forms, with preferd forms tending toward abuv mentioned simplifications;

(d) sum or all of the abuv spelling sistems to be taut to teecers of English literacy so that students wil hav options to adopt eny or aul of the aulternativs as dezired or aproovd by education or publishing authorities.

Televised French Dictation:

Dictation TV holds French spellbound, from a report by Adam Sage, Paris, in the London Times. 1/27/2003.

IT is one of the longest-running television game shows in France, attracting millions of viewers and pages of coverage in the press. It has spawned a best-selling book and turned the presenter into a Gallic icon.

What is it? Televised dictation. Yesterday France 3 television channel threw out its usual Sunday afternoon sports programmes to screen Les Dicos d'Or, the final of the national dictation competition.

A less glitzy game show is hard to imagine. The presenter Bernard Pivot read a text containing grammatical traps and complex spellings to 176 finalists. The winners were those who made the fewest mistakes writing it down

"This is a French passion," said Le Monde. A total of 500,000 candidates entered the heats across France last year. The high sales of his book, Les Dictées de Bernard Pivot, reflect a deep-seated attachment to a dictation exercise that remains a central element of the French school curriculum.

Most six-year-olds undertake several such tests every week. In a country that has been largely impervious to the liberal educational ideas that swept through Britain and America, spelling and grammar continue to be seen as essential.

Claude Hagège, a linguist, said: "Spelling is a veritable institution in France and the dictation is a vehicle for this attachment to tradition for many French people. It is in fact truly a national political and social issue." If you cannot spell, you are almost a traitor.

He said that it was not just the middle classes who were interested in dictations. So, too, were working-class people, and particularly immigrants, because they saw it as a measure of social ascension. "Dictation is seen as a way of discriminating between the poor wretches who are no good at it, and the cultivated middle classes who are," he said. "That's why French people of modest origin are among the greatest purchasers of dictionaries. To them, being able to spell means that they have obtained the most elitist aspect of French culture.

The Times invites letters to the editor at debate@thetimes.co.uk.
Elizabeth K. wrote: Omigod, thair nutsier than english speekersl How auful.

The Times asked, "Could a spelling game catch on in an English speaking country?" A spelling game can and has caught on in the U.S. It is a variation of guess the hidden word or phrase with letter cues. It is a variation of "Hangman" called "Wheel of Fortune" on TV. It has held its own for over 10 years. However, compared to French dictation it is simplistic.

The spelling bee is not as popular as it once was but continues on under the sponsorship of the Scripts-Howard Newspaper chain. The spelling performance of the average student has declined over the years, but the gifted few are as good as ever at memorizing the dictionary.

Representing vowels In Semitic Writing systems.

Debbie K. McIntyre wrote:
I want to find out what the Egyptian language and Symbol is for the names Chad & Debbie? A Hieroglyphics to English phonogram chart is available at www.unifon.org/alfabet-abbr.html

Tack [loaf shape], Shallow Pool [rectangle], Avian [bird], Digits [hand].

Digits [hand], Boot [foot], lEAf [flowering papyrus].

The Egyptian writing system had no true vowels. They used semi-vowels in the vowel position, particularly in the initial and final position.

There are two "write your name in hieroglyphics" websites but they probably would not help much with these two names.

The indifference to vowels is characteristic of all Semitic writing system including Arabic that, unlike Hebrew, has a few vowel phonograms. What this means is that Semitic place names have a wide range of possible and acceptable pronunciations. QATAR for instance, can be stressed on the first or second syllable [or neither) and the A can be interpreted as A, A:, or @. The most common pronunciation on CNN and NBC is "cutter".

Phonics is not phonetics.

In English, the vowels are generalized place holders that restrict pronunciation but do not specify it. The writing system is a guide to the pronunciation that will be understood across dialect boundaries, it is not a guide to a particular dialect. Phonics is not phonetics. It is not a precise description of a pronunciation.

A as in want [wa:nt, w@nt, wont, waunt, waent?] W seems to take only long vowels and their sound alikes. [A/A:, Q/O/O: @]

O as in pot [pa:t, pAt, pawt, pQt, p@t] despot = desp@t

Meet the staff of the SSS.

Webmaster: John Maude.

John Maude started in computing in 1967, when he was employed as a programmer/analyst for Brooke Bond Liebig and then ICI. In 1981 he became a lecturer for Digital Equipment Corporation. Since 1991 he has supported himself by accepting contracts to teach advanced computer topics for local colleges, universities and industries.

From 1997-2002 he worked with Jean Hutchins to maintain and improve the British Dyslexia Association's website. For SSS web, John will work on 3-5 new files a week created by Jean, checking links and structural integrity of the pages, checking Jean's updated pages, uploading new and updated pages to the website and checking integrity of the website.

Secretary: David Stockton

David Stockton's career has covered laboratory and quality control management in many industrial and retail applications. He was the head of quality control at Littlewoods before becoming a consultant.

He became a project manager at the British Standards Institution just after the EU single market started, and has experience as secretary of several European (CEN) and International (ISO) committees and was involved in putting European standards together. He currently serves as support secretary for ISO committees based in Norway, Netherlands, New York and London and as business secretary and treasurer of the Simplified Spelling Society.

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