[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 7, 1988/1 pp3,4]


UKRA Conference 1987.

From Sue Palmer, UKRA Information Officer and Newsletter Editor, Reading and Language Consultant, Truro, Cornwall:-

In his review of the 1987 UKRA Conference, Alun Bye suggests that I am a supporter of the notion of spelling reform. I don't know what I said to give that impression, but I must correct it. I am not, and never have been, a supporter of spelling reform, and I am sorry to have given a wrong impression. Perhaps Alun Bye mistook my interest in your Society's work, and my sympathy with your reasons for undertaking it, for support.

As someone who is deeply interested in language, I find the mechanics of Cut Spelling fascinating, and I must admit its a very seductive system - it wouldn't take long to learn and it really rather elegant. However as I've just contracted to write a series of spelling books for primary children, it would be biting the hand that feeds me to approve of it any further!

I relish the opportunity to discuss the merits of various spelling systems. And as a teacher I must admit to being very much moved by the argument that simplified spelling would help more pupils to attain high standards of literacy and to reap the benefits such standards imply. However, despite all this, I cannot support your Society's aims. My attachment to the English language, warts and all, is in the end greater than academic interest or professional (and, perhaps, political) sympathy.

I shall not attempt to present any linguistic or other academic arguments for retention of the written language in its present weird, wonderful and totally irrational form: I imagine you have heard such points debated many times before by people far better qualified than me. But underlying such arguments for those of us who oppose your aims there is, I think, and emotional attachment to our native language which runs very deep indeed. For me, English is more than a tool of communication or the raw for material one plays with in composition: it is the embodiment of my cultural heritage - it is part of me and I am part of what it represents. To some extent, the English language is interwoven with my identity, and that makes me very jealous of it.

Perhaps it seems petty to object to superficial changes in the spelling of the language (especially when there might be so many benefits to be gained from such changes), but I must object: those inconsistencies and irrelevancies you would wish to eliminate are part of 'English' - and the word can refer not only to the language but to the people who speak it. If, in our pursuit of an easier, tidier, more manageable future, we lose our closest ties with the past, then I fear that the loss will be a grievous one. Cosmetic surgery may seem to attend merely to the surface, but perhaps Michael Jackson could testify how greatly it affects the whole soul!

This I shall continue to concentrate my own efforts on helping children to overcome the difficulties our present spelling system presents. However, since I know we share many aims and interests, my very best wishes to the SSS. And though I disagree entirely with what you hope to do, I can't help being fascinated by how you wish to do it!

Readers may like to test their powers of persuasion in replying to this widely held view. - Ed.)

From Valerie Yule, Monash University, Victoria, Australia:-

[See Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, SPB articles and Personal View 10 by Valerie Yule.]

I enjoyed the account of the 1987 UKRA conference written with Alun Bye's inimitable touch. I was interested in his send-up of 'storying' as the latest fad - that is, letting children choose the storybooks they would like to learn to read rather than following a set reading scheme. I am particularly interested in details about how it is to be done, in view of UKRA's general view that phonics is not essential to the acquisition of literacy, as declared in a conference motion in, I think, 1986.

In 1985 1 described a teaching technique that does use children's own choices of reading books, but requires concurrent revelation of the structure of writing system, including the open secret that English spelling is silly. (Reading, 1980, 13.2.31-8, 'The COLA reading scheme'.) The label Consumer Oriented Library Acquisition was suggested by a colleague who thought a title like that might be needed to gain respect. It did not, at the time. A detailed case-study of its recent use is in press. ('I was a dyslexic bookworm: Success story 2.' - Australian Journal of Remedial Education.)

Using COLA techniques, a good teacher could improve reading teaching by using books that children chose, but an average teacher, or an anything-can-be-done-badly teacher would find that 'storying' without skilled phonics teaching resulted in more work or more trouble than the yellow-brick-road of a set reading scheme. The moral is that until English spelling is improved, only the brightest young learners are going to be able to read easily when they want to independently from almost the beginning.

No Spelling Reform, No Storying

Spelling Reform as a Theme for Students of Linguistics

From Hilary Nesi, Centre for English Language Teaching, University of Warwick:-

I am interested in the issue of spelling reform primarily because it provides a useful thematic link between topics on our new BEd Linguistics course. For example, with a group of students who already have a fair grounding in phonology, this term I have looked briefly at regional varieties of spoken English, and also at historical developments in the lexis and pronunciation of English. Next term we shall be looking at language variation in written texts. An end-of-term assignment concerning the consistencies and inconsistencies of English spelling seems like a good way to tie together the various strands, and it can be approached from a variety of angles according to individual taste.

Although I am (at present) non-partisan, I know that many of our overseas post-graduates are very strongly in favour of spelling reform, and I look forward to discussing with them some of the issues raised in your Journal.

Cut Spelling

From Roger Mitton, Birkbeck College, University of London,
[See Journal articles by Roger Mitton.]
who has recently written on Spelling Checkers Spelling Correctors and the Mis-spellings of Poor Spellers [in News 8]:-

I find it hard to say whether Cut Spelling would be easier or not from a computer's point of view. It all depends on what sort of mistakes people would make when using it. Since part of the purpose of CS is to remove many of the oddities in TO, and since it is the oddities that cause so many of the mistakes, I suppose there ought to be fewer mistakes to correct in the first place, so in that sense the task of correction would be easier. On the other hand, misspellings that are hard for a computer to correct are those where lots of words are plausible candidates, and it's not clear to me that CS would be any better than TO here. As you know from Information Theory, getting rid of redundancy is not necessarily a good thing - if someone omits a letter from a word with several 'unnecessary' letters in it, it may not matter since the result still looks like what was intended, but, if every letter counts, the omission of one is more serious.

The automatic conversion of (correct) CS into TO, and vice versa, ought to be fairly straightforward, the only real problems arising when TO distinguishes between words spelt thesame in CS (and perhaps vice versa).

From Jean Hutchins, (British Dyslexia Association), Redhill, Surrey:-
[See Journal and Newsletter articles by Jean Hutchins.]

I am trying to type directly in CS. It must be like this for a dyslexic - go slowly and think twice about evry word, and then go bak and corect som; and like dyslexies, ther wil be a lot of words that I do not realise ar rong! I shal probably find that, like a dyslexic, I avoid som intresting words because I can't spel them!
(That must be th tecniqe for beginrs, but th saving grace is th rule 'if in dout, dont leve out' - wich ensures that any 'mistakes' made ar closer to TO.- Ed.)

Two experts at th Dyslexia Centre ar of th opinion that CS gos too far, so that derivations ar lost, but wud like to see th most unreasnabi words chanjed, e.g. frend, garantee. Incidentaly, pupils rarely hav dificultis with two, but I hav nevr succeedd in teaching wen to use too.

Perhaps children cud hav and use macrons for long vowels.
(Macrons ar used like this in John Henry Martin's new IBM-sponsrd initial teaching orthografy Wnting to Read in th USA - Ed.)

A maths teacher once said to me, "Maths has to be exact, but English need only be approximate!" I disagreed strongly at th time, but now think he is ryt about english. In fact estimation is now an importnt part of maths, so he was rong ther. Aparently examinrs do not penalise rong spelings provided they ar readable except in english.

Yr first list of words in section 8 on p.10 of th jurnl (1987 No3) is blissful! Al my pupils hav pronounced every as evry, and speld it that way. They rite cum, sum, but that is too big a chanje.

Why hav u kept th <e> in ranje, exchanje? Surely it was ther to make <g>=<j>, not as a majic <e>, which rarely gos thru two letrs?
(It is tru majic <e> rarely relates to a vowl folod by two consnnts, but ther ar a few patrns like waste, table, chanje, wher majic <e> is needd to distinguish thm from last, rabl, flanj, etc. - Ed.)

From Roger Gleaves, Wandsworth, London:-

Having put Cut Spelling to the test I find a number of points that puzzle or irk me.

I know double consonants are not liked, but when both are pronounced, then should they not both be written (e.g. unnatural?)
(Maybe so - but even hyly litrat peple make mistakes over this now, riting openess for instance. Th idea is to make things as simpl as possbl. No dout this question wil need mor discussion. - Ed.)

Gret, brek etc. do not read as they are intended to be pronounced, and would confuse, I submit. Likewise qite.
(Certnly gret, brek ar not ideal, but they ar closer to th sound than great, break, which look like rhymes with beat, leak. Th only alternativ is actuly to chanje letrs, wich CS delibratly avoids as it afects th apearance of words too much. Regarding qite, a new refinement of CS is now to keep <u> aftr <q> wen it is pronounced, so we rite quite, but mosqito, tecniqe.-Ed.)

From Traugott Rohner, Winnetka Illinois:-
In your system, I would not use th for the even tho I think th a desirable change. Why? Simply because th will receive more resistance from English speaking people than the change would warrant. There are many arguments for changes (simplifications), but in my estimation it is desirable to make a minimum of them initially. I would like to have more examples of Cut Spelling than the few given in the Cut Spelling leaflet.

Japanese Learners

From Professor Th R Hofmann, Hokuriku University, Japan:-
[See Journal, Newsletter and SPB articles by Thomas Hofmann.]

The usual problem is not spelling - Japanese seldom mistake that, for they commonly learn (or appear to learn) the spelling of a word long before they hear it, & often enough with a pronunciation given in katakana, a phonetic writing system excellent for writing Japanese (& horrible for English - not distinguishing /b, v; r, 1; a:, ʌ; ɒ; ɔ/ and so on). So there are some predictable errors, & some more, but in pronunciation, not spelling. They do not seem to be distracted much by strange spellings, as
i. they are used to kanji, which often have unpredictable pronunciations, &
ii. they are seldom taught the correspondence between (vowel) letters & sounds. I am laying some emphasis on that (<ĭ>=[I], <ě>=[ɛ], <ī>=[ay], <ē>=[i:], etc) & a few Japanese professors are moving in that direction - after which (10-30 years from now) we might find spelling &/or pronunciation errors of the English kind. Unfortunately, most British (tho not US) dictionaries now use IPA for pronunciation, so it is an uphill battle. Perhaps you could advise?

(Does John Skelton's article on romaji [p.23] suggest some ideas? If the sound-symbol correspondences of romaji were applied to English, that would be some progress! - Ed.)

Homonyms in French

From Susan Baddeley, HESO, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, Paris, and AIROE:-
[See Journal articles by Susan Baddeley.]

I was very interested in the article about homonyms in the SSS Journal 1987/l. The question is rather more complex in French: whereas in English they tend to go by pairs, in French you often get whole series of them (like vin, vin, vingt, vint, vînt, vain or saint, sain, sein, seing). A lot of homophones rely on mute final letters rather than on, say, different ways of transcribing vowels, and the final mute letters are often lexical morphemes pronounced in the derivatives (such as saint/sainteté). A lot of our future Historical Dictionary is taken up with homophones: many of them were created in the 16th century, when, with the extensive use of etymological letters, it became possible to distinguish between pairs like conte and compte, and dessin and dessein which are of the same origin, and which were formerly spelt in the same way. As we stand at the present, we don't plan to simplify homophones.

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