[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1988/1 pp28-30 later designated J7]
[Valerie Yule: see Book, Journals, Newsletters, Media, Anthology and Bulletins, Personal View 10 and web.]

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Style in Australia: current practices in spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, capitalisation, etc.
Review by Valerie Yule.

ed. P H Peters, Style in Australia: current practices in spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, capitalisation, etc.: proceedings of 'Style Council 86', edited for the Dictionary Research Centre, Macquarie University, N.S.W., Australia. 196pp. ISBN 0 85837 588 S. Valerie Yule is in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia.

The 1986 Australian Style Council,

"The cagy pediatrician favored overfed osculaters,
emphasising sizable, digestable funneling"

This represents a summary of some of the style preferences recommended at the end of the Style Council held at Macquarie University in New South Wales, 1986.

The 1986 Style Council was regarded as the first such gathering to be held in Australia, and possibly in the English speaking world, and received wide national publicity. It was a meeting of over a hundred people from the media, publishing, education, academia and government departments, and it was timely because a thoroughly revised second edition was being prepared for the Australian Macquarie Dictionary, the Australian Government Publishing Service was planning a re-edition of its Style Manual, various newspapers were revising house styles, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation also had questions for its Standing Committee on Spoken English. The topics of the Council covered spelling principles, pronunciation, foreign words, abbreviations, contractions and acronyms, punctuation, hyphenations and wordbreaks, formats for business correspondence, capital letters, sexism in language, colloquialisms, trademarks and technical language. This review focusses on content relevant to spelling and spelling change.

The general attitude of the Council was expressed by Arthur Delbridge, quoting Eliot's "teach us to care and not to care", in emphasising the need to agree on what to care about and what not to care about in language and language changes. The hope expressed by the editor of the Collins Australian Dictionary was that the Style Council could demythologise spelling issues by applying logic to them.

Principles recommended for Australian spelling.

1) Independence when change is desirable. Australians perforce use both American and English forms of spelling, although some schools and newspapers stick to one form and some to the other. But Australians are coming to the point of feeling that they "can and should make their own decisions about it". (And the point was made that Australians don't keep to the English pronunciations given in their dictionaries, anyway.)

"The spellings handed down to us by tradition are not necessarily the best for present purposes... We are certainly in a position to make decisions independently of both the British and American position," said Pam Peters, of Macquarie University Linguistics Department. Australians have already begun to do this - for example, the government Public Service Style Manual and all Australian newspapers endorse ise/isation endings for polysyllables, rather than American ize/ization or the mix of both found in Britain, she said. So that means that we do not have to bother with any special exceptions to the general rule.

2) Elimination of exceptions from general rules. Examples of recommendations are given below. Teachers commented on the extra expense and time which schools and migrant education service had to devote to teaching details of exceptions to learners.

3) Propositions for spelling change as new words become familiar.
i. There are dynamic elements in our spelling system
ii. We should expect the spellings of borrowed and newly formed words to change as they settle down, Arthur Delbridge proposed. "What is a useful spelling at an early stage of the word's history may be cumbersome later on," suggested Peters. Proposals for reform were aimed at streamlining orthography for ordinary communication and ensuring that people with a normal education could be confident of their ability to spell.
iii. Delbridge also suggested that where there is a choice of spelling variants, we should adopt the one which reflects aspects of meaning which are important for contemporary writers and readers, but the meeting, which gave a majority for his first two principles, was undecided about this third one.

Spelling trends.

So many new words have to have their spelling decided including new imports from other languages. "Presenting a clear visual identity for words is in fact one of the most important functions of our spelling," said Peters, who gave as an example, to check a cheque. The Malay word amok is given an additional Australian aspect of meaning when it is spelt amuck. "Words which have no close relatives in the language are difficult to use and spell, and spelling variants which improve their connections are likely to be popular." "When etymological detail is no longer meaningful we might as well accept the variants that are unencumbered with it" - for example, leukaemia comes from the Greek word haim meaning blood, but who recognises the connection in the spelling -aem today?

Longer spellings may help when the word is new, but later, for example, co-operate can become cooperate while mousey, mileage and smoke-o can become mousy, milage and smoko, on analogy with earlier words lousy, dosage and wino. (Milage is still used as in "what's the milage in kilometers to Newcastle?" and smoko can be a tea break.) Compounds often begin as two words, spaced, then they may be joined with hyphens, and then spliced, even at the expense of apparent phonology - such as foothold, uphill, shepherd. Often the sources of the words are forgotten, for example, how umpire came from the origin un-peer. And should spelling soon follow elisions that become universal in speech? - such as the way we now say /laibri/, /tempri/ and even /pli:s/, and may soon all be joining the high proportion of speakers who say /trifik/ and /bli:v/. (p.45)

Rationalisations recommended by the Council.

1) Rules for <-able, -ible>. Latin formations with <-ible> have been confused with the modern English ending <-able>. To take, <-able> as the single broader principle for the form would reduce spelling problems, and also help writers to be more aware of how such words are constituted.

2) <y, ie> <-ie> endings are often used for new words, which later take on the common ending of -y. For example, spellings cabbie/cabby, cookie/cooky, yabbie/yabby, often the <-ie> ending gives a colloquial and informal connotation that seems to be part of the words - for example, 'the rellie (relative) with the hottie (hot water bottle) and the kiddie with the trannie (transistor radio)' and prezzie for a present.

3) <-er> as a single principle, dropping <-or>. One is the English and the other is the Latin agentive ending, added to a verb to make a word for the doer of the action, but they mean the same. To understand the distinction, writers need to know language history and when particular words came into the language, in order to help spell them correctly. This is hardly worth it, so why not just -<-er>?

Some recommendations towards Cut Spelling.

Delbridge remarked that he had been told in China that Chairman Mao became keen on a drastically reduced list of simplified characters for general use in writing Chinese because he had bad memories of having to lug around, during very mobile warfare, the heavy field equipment needed to print the older character sets.

1) Junction device - double or single letters? Doubling <l> may be a good idea when the final syllable is stressed, eg. rebelling (cf. regretting), but why revelling, when we do not double letters for other consonants, such as in budgeting or fidgeting? The American practice of single <l> was recommended.

2) Replacing <-our> with <-or>. There are only about thirty words left which have the <-our> problem, because 18th century changes took <u> out of many other words, such as errour, governour, horrour and terrour. Spelling is not only shorter but easier if the surplus <u> is deleted, because then there are no confusing questions when suffixes are added - for example, reduction is required with words like humorous, vigorous, but there are contradictions such as humorist yet colourist, honorary and honorific yet honourable. With a single principle of <-or> the problems disappear. This form is taking over from <-our> in the Australian press. Pam Peters found that six of the quality press papers with a combined circulation of 1,500,000 in 1985 used <-or>, while five with a combined circulation of only 700,000 used <-our>. But they all varied in whether they would use American or British patterns of spelling in style guides for other words, and the decisions were made by individual editors, not by publishing houses.

3) Dropping <e> from a suffix except where it is needed to indicate soft <c> or <g> (junction devices p 27). Some words have retained <e> while the construction is relatively unfamiliar in the word, and then dropped it later, for example arguable, likable, unmistakable, usable. (This may shorten words, but for some words <e> can be a modifier for a preceding long vowel, and it might seem easier to have a general rule of just adding a suffix without modifying a root. And the alternative spellings of <s> and <j> for <c> and <g> would bear discussion.)

4) <ae> to <e>. Words like paediatrician could be spelt like pedagogy, as they come from the same Greek root.

5) Sulfur now replaces sulphur in technical spelling.

6) Some specific words discussed which are sometimes found in shortened spelling included dreamt, spelt, earnt, leant, burnt, chancy, homy, phony, signaled, tonsilitis, capuccino, frangipani, guerilla, rack (for wrack) and ruin.

Survey of Style Guides.

Pam Peters surveyed nine Australian newspapers, and where there were equal preferences for alternative forms, weighed in the Australian Government Public Service style manual (AGSM) and Macquarie Dictionary (MD) too. The survey shows there is more variation in the spelling principles used in Australian publications than one might expect. What follows is a selection from this survey, set out to show the ratio of preferences for shorter and longer spellings of words.

1) Shorter versions preferred: livable 3:1, encyclopedia 5: 1, hemoglobin 2: 1, medieval 2: 1, primeval 2:1, aborigine (n) 3:2, abridgment (AGSM + MD) 1: 1, amok 4:2, bullseye (not bull's eye; MD) 1:1, chaperon 3:1, draftsman 3: 1, guerilla 5:2, hoofs 3: 1, mementos (MD) 1:1, papaw 2:1 phony 3:2, program 6:1, rack (and ruin) 3: 1, salvos (MD) 1: 1, scarfs (MD) 1: 1, skiing (not ski-ing) 4:2, smoko OVID) 1: 1, tying 3: 1, veranda 4:2.

2) Equal preferences for versions: blamable/blameable.

3) Longer versions preferred: ageing 5:2, likeable (AGSM + MD), mileage 4:2, rateable (AGSM + MD) 1:1, saleable (AGSM + MD) 3:3, unshakeable (MD) 2:2, sizeable (AGSM + MD) 3:3, archaeology 2:1, haemorrhage (AGSM + MD) 3:2, leukaemia 3:2, annexe (n) 3:1, cappuccino (MD) 1:1, co-operate 4:1,frangipanni (MD) 1: 1, hara-kiri 3: 1, ju-jitsu 2: 1, liquorice (AGSM + MD) 1: 1, 3:3, sheikh 3: 1, tonsillitis 3: 1, wharves (MD) 2:2, yoghurt (AGSM +MD) 1: 1.

4) Preferred form closer to more common pattern: bale (out a boat) 3:2, caster (sugar) (MD) 1: 1, gaberdine 2: 1, gipsy 3:2, inquiry 5: 1, jail 6: 1, jibe (in sailing) (MD) 1: 1, miaow (MD) 1: 1, titbit (MD) 1: 1, tsar (MD) 2:2.

5) Not closer to possibly more rational pattern: flier not flyer 4: 1, gibe 2: 1, marijuana 3:2, marquis 2: 1.

(These examples show what inconsistencies exist - as well as current trends towards simplification.)

Survey of spelling practices.

The spelling practices were surveyed of over a hundred members of the conference - professionals in education, media, publishing and computing, concerned with style manuals, lexicography and the Australian language.

84% use <-able> in preventable but only 16% in deductable
72% use <e> in likeable but only 38% in usable
51% use <-er> in adviser but 16% in carburetter
26% use <e> in encyclopedia , etc.
15% use <-or> in honor etc.
13% use in <e> in fetus etc.
0% use single <l> in traveling etc.

Survey of spelling preferences.

If given a free choice
74% would use <-or> in honor, etc.
69% would reduce <x> to <e> in encylopedia, etc.
68% would reduce <oe> to <e> in fetus, etc.
54% would drop <e> before <-able> unless needed to protect soft <c> or <g>.
51 % would not double <1> in traveling etc.
32% would use <er> in all agentives with current verb except for <-at> types like calculator
31 % would use <er> in all agentives
27% would use <er> in all agentives containing a verb in current usage
10% would keep <er/or> status quo.

Preferences for omitting full stops:
97% in abbreviations consisting entirely of capitals, eg MP
94% in degrees awards etc, eg PhD
89% in NB
72% in eg, ie
66% in abbreviations consisting of lower case eg am, asap
43% in No = number

Some comments.

What an admirable and memorable Style Council! For those of us interested in spelling, there is much to learn.

One point that comes out clearly is how closely spelling is related to other aspects of language and the writing system. It's not just a matter of words - but of meaning and communication as well.

Some analogies might also be made from attitudes to the spelling of new and unfamiliar words to attitudes to spelling necessary for learners, for whom all written words are new and unfamiliar. For example, it is possible that spellings which are useful in learning to read may become actually cumbersome after the written words have become familiar - and we might look at the examples of some other countries, such as Israel and Japan, which give learners of reading more crutches than the literate adults require.

A second analogy is provided by transcribing Delbridge's remarks (p 45) about spoken language 'purists', to refer to spelling:
"No small group, however voluble, outraged - or self- righteous, no small group however committed to past forms because they are past forms, or to outmoded ideas of correctness, is likely to be able to impede... change... If the larger educated community, for its own unscrutable reasons takes it up and adopts this pattern, that is that. In time people in that grouping will find it unremarkable and hence acceptable and pleasing. People always find pleasing that which has a sufficiently high frequency of occurrence in the (spelling) type they elect to take on as their model, provided there are no disqualifying overtones of vulgarity, pertness or affectation."
(Nevertheless, our Australian pioneers still have a long way to come. In the last census in which Australians had to spell their religion, Presbyterian was spelt 383 different ways. I have the list.)

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