[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society 1987/2 p2 later designated J5.]
Also on this page: PS to The Chaos.


Chris Upward.


This issue features the psychology of reading, with contributions from our President, Professor John Downing, and from Valerie Yule. They are concerned first and foremost with spelling as a practical matter: with the need for us to take the functioning of the mind into account in designing spellings for real people in the real world.

And in that context John Downing records and reminds us of what must surely be the most significant development in English spelling since Johnson's dictionary: the Initial Teaching Alphabet (but watch for IBM-sponsored AMERICAN coming up fast). Whatever objections are raised to the i.t.a. (Haas listed its inconsistencies, its symbols were never popular with the public, and its use has seriously declined in recent years), John Downing's painstaking research 20-25 years ago showed its effectiveness for learners. We now know there can be no doubt about the value of a more regular spelling system in enabling children to achieve literacy faster, more easily, and to a higher level of proficiency; and there are intriguing suggestions that learning a logical system in itself enhances children's intellectual capacity more generally.

But i.t.a. is not only educationally effective. It also demonstrates that, given the will and the organization, a new generation can be taught an improved system-not just in one country, but across the English-speaking world. Referring to earlier experiments with regularized spelling, John Downing comments sadly: "Good ideas have not lasted, but have disappeared". We must not let the lessons of the i.t.a. experience be forgotten. Renewed contact between the SSS and the i.t.a. Federation would help.

Not forgetting the lessons of the past is also the reason for Richard Lung's article on Reginald Deans' Britic. No doubt the weakness of that orthography, and perhaps (as Harry Lindgren realized) the weakness of New Spelling and of all other total reform-schemes too, is that they do not address themselves to the immediate practical question of how people, or how society at large, can actually be persuaded to change the unquestioningly accepted spelling habits of centuries. As we see from the editor's article Cut Speling a Linguistic Universl?, compatibility between old and new seems to be a key factor. Yet the very name Britic, (pronounced British) surely epitomizes its fatal flaw of incompatibility: how can anyone used to the form critic suddenly accept Britic as the normal way of writing British? Unless spelling reformers consider how we move from t.o. to whatever system is proposed, that system will just be an academic exercise.


Enclosed with this issue is a leaflet outlining the case for Cut Spelling (CS) and its main features as a Stage I reform proposal [Not available]. The leaflet is subtitled A Report from the Society's Working Party 1984-1986, and as such it is by no means the sole outcome of the Working Party's deliberations. Discussions on a revised New Spelling as a final system, and on other possibilities, are also continuing. Readers may have noticed some variations in CS as presented over the past 18 months, from the first introduction in the Autumn 1985 Newsletter J1 (pp.18-24), through the transcription of The Chaos J3 (Summer 1986, pp.17-21.) with strictly no letter-changes but quite a few doubtful spellings, to the generally more conservative version on pp.17-25 of this Journal. Many readers have commented on CS over this period, and a great deal of lively correspondence has ensued. The new conservative version has thus been a collective effort, insofar as it has responded to readers' criticisms of some of the original CS features. The revision however only concerns points of detail, rather than any fundamental modification of the CS concept. Essentially, that concept is that omitting redundant letters is not just economically attractive, but overcomes many of the worst problems of t.o., while yet ensuring two-way compatibility with it. Readers' views on the new version are again keenly sought.


Education Secretary Kenneth Baker has set up a committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Kingman, Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University, to inquire into English Language Teaching in Britain (see House of Lords report on p.4). In some ways the enterprise is reminiscent of the Bullock inquiry, whose report, A Language for Life, appeared in 1975 and to which the Society (notably Sinclair Eustace, Stanley Gibbs, George O'Halloran and Bill Reed) made a submission on spelling. [See SPB Douglas Pigeon, Newell Tune, George O'Halloran, William Reed, John Downing.] Kingman is asked to "recommend a model of the English language" and consider what children ought to know about it. The idea of a "model" sounds like an invitation to the Society to make its views known, and it is planning to do so in May. Readers who wish to suggest points for the Society to make should let the Secretary know at once.


All those interested are welcome to attend the Society's meetings. The Secretary will be happy to send full details of time, place and items for discussion on request. All members receive papers for the AGM.

ANECDOTE (apocryphal no doubt).

A Frenchman came to England to improve his English. But on arriving the first thing he saw was the headline New Film Pronounced Success. "Ah, non!" he exclaimed in despair, and went straight back to France.


The 1987/3 J6 issue, to appear in the autumn, will be devoted to the proceedings of the Society's Fifth International Conference, but it is hoped also to feature a proposed revision of New Spelling.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1987/2 p29 later designated J5.]
[The author's family was later traced and the original version of The Chaos is in J17, with an introduction by Chris Upward.]

Postscript to The Chaos/

Chris Upward.

In the Summer 1986 J3 SSS Newsletter (pp.17-21) we published a 246-line rhymed compilation of eccentricities of English spelling, received indirectly from Germany with no indication of the author. Tom McArthur has now sent us a 156-line version published in Barcelona (Perfect your English, No.16), which is generally more polished in composition and consists largely of quatrains. The following further information is given as to its origin: The Chaos is "a poem which has been making its appearance - usually without its author's identity - in many parts of the world during the past fifty years or so. Copies were sent ... by readers in Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, and Turkey. You may find this hard to believe, but this little masterpiece was produced by a Dutchman, Dr Gerard Nolst Trenité, a linguist author, and world traveller."