[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1987/3 p2 later designated J6.]
[Also on this page: Tribute to John Downing.]
[See Journal and Newsletter articles, Pamflet 15 and Cut Spelling by Chris Upward.]


Christopher Upward.


So much other important material has accumulated since the J5 1987/2 issue, and so little time was available since the Society's conference in July, that it was decided to postpone the publication of conference papers until 1988. However a brief report on the conference is given.

Since the spring a good deal has happened on the spelling front. Most sadly and most seriously, the Society has lost John Downing, our President for 15 years, whose work has given the cause of spelling reform a new kind of scientific credibility. We pay our tribute to him.

Then, the educational scene in Britain has been in turmoil, with a series of radical policy proposals from the government, among them the concept of a 'model' of English, spoken and written, for teaching in schools. The Society has submitted some very tentative ideas to the committee entrusted with fleshing out the concept (see our last editorial), and they can be found on pp.9-13. The hoped-for interview with the committee did not materialise, but the Society has been invited to submit further evidence, which should perhaps be more forthright than our original submission. On that point readers' views are sought.

On more specifically orthographical matters, our Secretary Laurie Fennelly presents an analysis of comments received from members on the changes proposed to the Society's long-standing (and over the decades repeatedly amended) New Spelling system for the total phonemicisation of written English. Edgar Gregersen makes out a rigorous case against the use of <oo> for any kind of /u/ sound in reformed spelling. And on the Editor contributes some findings on the kinds of error that written English is most liable to, and considers how far Cut Spelling might help avoid them. Error analysis as a method of diagnosing the ills of t.o. has of course significant lessons for any spelling reform proposal, as it tells us what the most troublesome features of t.o. are - in practice rather than in linguistic theory. Then Valerie Yule's article on Pidgin builds on a theme broached by John Downing and touched on by Robert Craig and David Stark in previous Journals - and gives further support to Edgar Gregersen's plea for <u>, not <oo>: the growing importance of international standards of sound-symbol correspondence, as opposed to the parochial equivalences the English-speaking world is prone to take for granted.


One striking aspect of the conference was the widespread publicity it attracted, with substantial articles in such papers as The Guardian and The Times, three radio broadcasts, and further TV, radio and press reverberations in Britain, Canada, the USA and New Zealand. What aroused such media interest was above all Cut Spelling: as John Downing predicted, the simple idea of removing useless and confusing letters proved to have an immediate appeal, where the traditional reform-strategy of imposing phonemic consistency bewilders the average adult. And this appeal was not confined to journalists, with their necessarily short- term view of what will create a stir in tomorrow's headlines. The media publicity triggered off numerous enquiries, especially from people with a professional interest: people in publishing, computing, but above all in education, primary school teachers, remedial teachers at secondary level, adult literacy tutors, and dyslexia specialists. And there were lay enquirers, delighted at the opportunity to unload the pent-up fury and frustration that t.o. has caused them over the years, among them non-native speakers who bring a more objective, though if anything even more critical, gaze to its unique absurdities. To those who have newly joined the Society we extend a hearty welcome; we hope that many of them will be keen to explore the potential of improving English spelling in their own professional spheres, and so link the Society with the outside world in which spelling reform will have to gain acceptance if it is to come about at all. The Society is steadily strengthening these outside links, both with other organisations having related interests, and through the exchange of publications.


As the conference showed, spelling reform is a multifaceted, multidisciplinary question, to which people bring insights from very different directions. Even outright opponents of reform often have worthwhile contributions to make. At the present stage of development the Society and its Journal are a forum where these insights can be aired, compared and debated. Some anxiety has been expressed that CS appears increasingly to dominate (witness the large postbag on the subject) and by no means all members of the Society or its committee are equally convinced of its potential. But CS is not an official policy of the Society, it is one candidate, and like all candidates it must face interrogation and criticism. So let a hundred flowers bloom, with the proviso that when contending views are competing for time and space, those that are thoroughly substantiated should take precedence.


Would readers who would like to report on any of the following (any length between 200-2,000 words) please contact the editor.

1. Robin Millar & Cynthia Klein Making Sense of Spelling, ILEA, Ebury Teachers' Centre, London;
2. Catherine Moorhouse Helping Adults to Spell, ALBSU;
3. K Perera Children's Writing and Reading, Blackwell 1984;
4. H Spencer The Visible Word, Lund Humphries 1968. Suggestions for reports on other relevant literature are always welcome.


The next two issues will chiefly carry papers from the conference. But it is hoped also to publish an article on Romaji, the romanised script for Japanese, whose sound-symbol correspondences are now so familiar world-wide.

[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1987/3 p6 later designated J6]
[See Journal, Anthology, SPB articles by John Downing.

Professor John Downing - a Tribute

This tribute has been compiled from papers, notes and reminiscences sent by Alun Bye, Chris Jolly, Ronald Threadgall, Valerie Yule and others.

Picture of John Downing John Downing, who succumbed to cancer after a hard struggle in the late spring, was one of the Society's great Presidents. He was in the line of founding president Walter Skeat, Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge (1908-11), Gilbert Murray, O.M., Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford (1911-46), Daniel Jones, Professor of Phonetics at University College London and author of classic works on the pronunciation of English (1946-1968), and Sir James Pitman, father of the i.t.a. (1968-72).

Each played a distinctive, valuable part in increasing our understanding of the need for and possibilities of English spelling reform, and John Downing carried out the crucial scientific research which not merely demonstrated how and why i.t.a. was educationally so superior to t.o., but also provided solid evidence to support the Society's message that the level of literacy would benefit from improvements in English spelling.

John Downing's career was based upon, and in a sense never forgot, his years as classroom teacher in elementary, secondary and special education schools between 1947-57: the mind of the learning child remained his fundamental concern. From 1960-69 he was Head of Reading Research at the University of London Institute of Education, and then Senior Lecturer in Psychology. In those years he led the investigation into the effectiveness of the Initial Teaching Alphabet as a teaching medium, culminating in his report Evaluating the Initial Teaching Alphabet, whose lessons remain central to the Simplified Spelling Society's case.

With his move to Canada in 1970, when he became Professor of Psychological Foundations in Education at Victoria University, British Columbia, John Downing's work expanded in two dimensions. One was the psychology of reading generally, with a succession of works such as Reading and reasoning, Language Awareness and learning to Read, Reading Readiness, and most recently the major survey Psychology of Reading. The other dimension was the international one, which is of great importance because it provides a basis of objective comparison with English. His main work here was Comparative Reading, a cross-national study of reading in 14 countries, but a further work, - Cognitive Psychology and Reading in the USSR, will appear posthumously. Altogether he published some 300 articles. His work and especially his research took him to many parts of the world, including Australia, Finland, France, the People's Republic of China, Japan, Papua New Guinea, the USA and the USSR. As a psychologist and a scientist he knew the importance of evidence and empirical investigation. He conducted no open missionary campaigns for spelling reform, but it followed logically from what he taught. He made a permanent contribution to literacy and education and established a world-wide network that will serve others in the future.

Though his association with i.t.a. inevitably involved him in controversy, which he did not relish, he was also deeply respected and honoured in professional bodies. As well as being president of the Simplified Spelling Society for 15 years, he was the first president of the United Kingdom Reading Association, and was elected to the Board of Directors of the International Reading Association, three of whose subcommittees he chaired. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and of both the American and Canadian Psychological Associations. He was awarded the higher doctoral degree of D.Lit. by the University of London, and the International Citation of Merit by the International Reading Association.

Personal recollections from members of the Society are exceedingly warm. He was quick to give recognition and assistance to others, and had a multitude of friends. His perpetually cheery face radiated friendliness and good will, aided in no small way by his habit of wearing loud check jackets and a bootlace badge tie, characteristics which seemed not so much to contrast with as to complement his otherwise quiet manner. The honour we held him in was all the greater for having known and learned from one of the kindliest and most scholarly academics in the field of literacy. He became a personal friend of almost everyone he met, remembering their first names, where they lived and worked, and it was never too much trouble to send some useful literature from the other side of the globe. Both UKRA and the Society are much the poorer for having lost the services and congenial support of an elegant, erudite, charming and gentlemanly friend and colleague with international stature. At his last meeting with the Society, in the autumn of 1986, he was able to reinforce our understanding of those aspects of reading psychology most relevant to the future advocacy of spelling reform, in particular highlighting the potential of Cut Spelling.

We offer our sympathy to Marianne, his widow from their close marriage (she attended some of the Society's meetings), and to their now adult children.

Though we have lost John Downing as a person, we have not lost his work, which it is our task to build on. When one day the spelling of English is modernised, his will be one of the names to which most credit is due.

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