[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society 1987/1 p4 Later designated Journal 4]
[Also on this page: Review by Helen Bonnema Bisgard.
See Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, SPB articles, and Personal View by Edward Rondthaler.
Continuing Debate: Edward Rondthaler on
Dr Rondthaler has generously sent a copy of his new Dictionary of
AMERICAN SPELLING, a work of real substance whose appearance ranks as an
orthographical event comparable to (though as a dictionary also different from)
New Spelling (1948), Axel Wijk's Regularized English (1959), and
Harry Lindgren's Spelling Reform: a New Approach (1969). Dr Rondthaler
here responds to comments on the dictionary's advance prospectus carried in the
Summer 1986 Simplified Spelling Society Newsletter, pp.15-16.
American Alternative Spelling
When a theatregoer walks into a cinema showing 3-dimensional movies he sees nothing but clutter on the big screen. It is only when he wears the special polarized eyeglasses provided by the house that the meaningless clutter comes into focus as a clear 3-dimensional picture.
The SSS summer issue gives what it calls a "superficial first impression" of American spelling. It does not, however, give its readers the 'glasses' - the rules and notation key - to verify the impressions for themselves. With proper glasses the readers might find that spellings called "ambiguous", "confusion not resolved", "inconsistencies retained from NS" come into focus.
For example, the spelling <poeem> is not ambiguous when matched to the American rule "In a vowel string the syllable always ends after the first two vowels if they form a digraph". No exceptions.
What the critique forecasts as a foursome of vowels in its (incorrectly) assumed spelling <coeeeval> is, in American, spelled <co-eeval> in line with the rule "A hyphen may replace the final <e> of a stressed long vowel prefix (re-enter, di-urnal, co-author).".
American has made significant progress in resolving the <i, y> confusion of NS by (1) distinguishing clearly between <y> as a vowel and <y> as a consonant, and by (2) retaining the t.o. unstressed pairs <ia, io, iu> (editorial, champion, auditorium). This progress is summarily dismissed in the Newsletter in spite of the fact that the change overcomes a troublesome awkwardness of NS and increases visual compatibility with t.o.
The Newsletter critique goes on to say "Certain distinctions are kept that other orthographies have thought better to abandon, such as caam but half, and yot but baut." One need only consult the pronunciations given in any contemporary American dictionary and even in the British-oriented Oxford American Dictionary to find firm support for these spellings.
None of the foregoing should be taken to mean that American would not benefit from more fine tuning. One area, for example, that needs further consideration concerns syllabic consonants. The Newsletter asks why, in American, a vowel precedes the <1> in speshal but not in puzl. The answer (which may or may not ultimately prove viable) concerns suffixes. <zl> is satisfactory for puzl, puzling, puzlment and puzler. <shl> could be used for the 2-syllable speshl and 3-syllable speshlty but we desperately need the <a> in 5-syllable speshyality - unless we find enough Americans clamouring to follow the pronunciation of Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe.
American has sometimes been cited as not being significantly different from NS. That is correct. This cannot, however, be attributed to any neglect of homework. Respect for NS has come as a result of a 20,000-hour journey into the hinterland looking for greener pastures, but returning full circle - chastened and wiser - to rediscover that, by and large, the principles underlying NS do indeed chart the least hazardous course between point A and point Z. This conviction has been put to the test by a gruelling passage through the gauntlet of 45,000 words. One emerges from this gauntlet with a deep respect for the insight, scholarly integrity, and perseverence of Walter Ripman and his associates.
The real task of American as it focusses chiefly on the alarming spread of illiteracy in the US is (1) to adapt most of the NS basics to 'General American' - the pronunciation used by the greatest number; (2) to develop the idea of a respected alternative spelling on par with t.o. - a spelling related more closely to the sounds of speech and therefore more easily learned than t.o.; (3) to make the notation practical as a replacement for the pronunciation codes in US dictionaries; and (4) to circumvent opposition by shifting most of the burden of change and translation to computers.
The scholars' edition of the new 45,000-word 320-page American Spelling dictionary is now available at cost (£9 postpaid) from the publisher The American Language Academy, or from Edward Rondthaler. It is issued not as a fait accompli but as a call for carefully thought-out comments, and will be followed by a second edition benefitting therefrom.
[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society 1987/1 p26 Later designated Journal 4]
[See Anthology and SPB articles by Helen Bonnema Bisgard.
John Henry Martin Writing to Read.
Review by Helen Bisgard.Writing to Read. A Parents' Guide to the New Early Learning Program for Young Children, by John Henry Martin and Ardy Friedberg. Warner Books, Inc., New York NY. ($17.95) 1986. 205pp. (See also letter from Edward Rondthaler in the Simplified Spelling Society Newsletter Summer 1986, p.4.)
A recent morning spent with six-year olds who were working at computers was a novel experience for me. It was at a nearby school where a kindergarten class is combining the use of International Business Machine (IBM) computers with IBM Selectric typewriters, pencils, crayons, clay, sand, earphones plugged into tape recordings, letter cards, wooden block-letters, magnetic letters, and many other materials.
Writing to Read exemplifies the psychological and philosophical principles which educationists have found to be potent. If I were again in the active teaching profession I would consider it a privilege and joy to start beginners with this system. I am pleased with the prospect of having two great-grandsons attend a school where this method is employed.
The classroom is divided into six learning stations. Individuals work at each station for about 12 minutes and then move to another. The computer station is the first. The others are Writing-Typing, Work Journal, Listening Library, Multisensory materials, and Make Words.
In a series of thirty lessons requiring varying amounts of time, depending on the child involved, the computer introduces 42 phonemes represented by 30 symbols. The symbols are in alphabetical order at the top and bottom of the computer screen, and dance out to take their place as required in the current word being learned.
a c d f g i o t sh
b d n p s u
l r th ē
k m v ā
h j w
y ī ar oo
z ō aw er
ou ur air ch
wh oi o
The beginners' alphabet of 30 symbols is intended to be a very temporary and transient tool to gently lead children. The kindly encouragement of such a system avoids the confusion which arises when beginners are confronted at the outset with mastering the extreme abnormalities of English spelling.
Having expressed my commendation of the system when used for introducing the writing of English as it is spelled today, I must admit that the spelling reformer in me is disappointed. A few years ago, when I first heard Dr Martin's proposal to use reformed spelling in his system, I hoped it would persuade parents of the necessity for changing the present orthography. We have long wished that phonics used in hundreds of school primers might open the eyes of the public to the insurmountable difficulties of standard spelling, and encourage action to bring about a change. But little has happened, and it is doubtful that Writing to Read will be any more influential in bringing about a change than were other systems.
The Listening Library station provides recordings of classic stories which have been correlated with printed versions in traditional orthography (t.o.). Children are encouraged to pay attention to the way words are spelled in these books. At other stations, altho they are completely free to write using their own spelling, they soon try to write "the book way".
Dr Martin explains to parents that only a very short period is devoted to phonemic spellings. His intention is to allay the qualms of those who fear that their children will become poor spellers.
We who have watched the progress of Pitman's Initial Teaching Alphabet for twenty years expected that parents' antagonism toward new spellings would be removed as pupils evidenced great success in reading skills. When widespread change of attitude did not take place, some proponents of i.t.a. felt that the strange-looking symbols, rather than the simpler spellings, were the obstructions. No such negative factor deters acceptance of Writing to Read, for the spellings are familiar because of common use in dictionaries. But like Sir James Pitman who when introducing his alphabet declared that it was not intended as forerunner of spelling reform, so also John Henry Martin makes clear that he has only initial learning goals in mind.
Nevertheless, I cling to the hope that even the short exposure to the simpler spellings of Writing to Read may expand tolerance toward simpler forms just as the computer has today caused an unconscious acceptance in today's business circles of odd-looking abbreviations and acronyms such as: DOS, ASCII, REM, TRON, WEND.
Some day the SSS New Spelling may reach widespread use as a second and prestigious code for use as a parallel to the traditional. To achieve this position it should be a well-defined system and not a collection of patches and improvements tacked on to standard spelling. After some years, the "second" system, New Spelling would gradually achieve first place while the t.o. of today would be relegated to the position of "Old English". Perhaps Writing to Read will have a part in preparing the way.
Helen Bonnema Bisgard, Ed.D., professor emeritus University of Denver, was formerly a primary school teacher, remedial reading specialist, elementary school principal, assistant editor of Spelling Progress Bulletin, and secretary of the Phonemic Spelling Council.