Morebites 4.

Further details of Spellbites 2 items.

28-29 Sep 2005. OECD-CERI report.

Countries with deep orthographies might possibly begin to consider
the political and societal feasibility of implementing orthographic reforms.


Shallow vs Non-shallow Orthographies and Learning to Read Workshop

St. John's College, Cambridge University, UK.
Co-hosted by The Centre for Neuroscience in Education, Cambridge University.
Report prepared by Cassandra Davis OECD, Learning Sciences and Brain Research Project.
[OECD = Organisation for economic co-operation and development.] [Excerpts]

Experts in the field were invited from different countries, such as Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, including several experienced practitioners in the field of teaching literacy.

The relationship between the gaining of orthographic and phonemic, morphological, and semantic2 awareness for reading development across different languages was discussed in depth.

A "shallow" orthography means that the correspondences between letters and sounds (graphemes/phonemes) in the writing system are close to one-to-one. Finnish provides a good example, with 23 associations that match the exact number of letters. This effectively means that a non-Finnish person, who is a fluent reader in his/her own language, would be capable of reading aloud a Finnish text and make it perfectly comprehensible to a Finnish listener.

Written Finnish stands in stark contrast to written English, which in every classification appears as the most inconsistent "deep" orthography in the world. In English the reader has first to be able to make orthographic segmentation of multi-letter and often inconsistent graphemes (thief - /th/ /ie/ /f/), where the knowledge of basic letter sounds does not suffice for being able to use the grapheme/phoneme (letter/sound) correspondences. In English, the reader also has to take contextual influences into consideration, and some irregular words completely elude phonemic assembly, e.g. "yacht".

A comparative study by Seymour et al., undertaken in 2003 ..., shows that after one year of instruction, English children show the lowest percentage of correct word reading on a scale in comparison to other European countries, with only 30-40% correct words compared to German, Greek and Finnish, with close to 100%. However, by around 12 years of age English children do catch up to their European peers, and these differences disappear. It has been recognised that English children apparently learn to read more slowly due to the nature of the inconsistent orthography.


Shallow vs non-shallow?
The studies so far undertaken in individual countries are building evidence for the hypothesis that shallow orthographies are a real advantage in terms of acquiring reading proficiency for both normal and dyslexic children. Countries with deep orthographies might possibly begin to consider the political and societal feasibility of implementing orthographic reforms.

19 Aug 2005. Western Catholic Reporter, Canada. [Excerpts.]

Spelling - from a child's perspective.

It's so easy when you spell words just like they sound. By LISA PETSCHE.

Alex's enthusiastically-produced works have provided me with particular enjoyment.

When she first started writing, she used an unintentional shorthand consisting primarily of consonants.

Often it was difficult to decipher, especially if any of the letters were incorrect. Eventually Alex began including vowels but went a little overboard at times.

For example, movie was "moovee" and evil was "eevul." And once she learned about silent e's, for a while almost every word she wrote ended with one.

One of her mid-year narratives concluded like this: "We stopd at McDonls for luch. I was stuft after that."

I prefer the way kids spell straightforwardly, just the way a word sounds in everyday usage. Their at-first-glance peculiar versions actually make perfect sense most of the time, once you get the hang of their methodology.

Some of my favourites from Alex's personal dictionary are: kotij (cottage), Gramu (Grandma), Crismus (Christmas), choklit (chocolate), tarabul (terrible), pickcher (picture) and sichuwashun (situation).

One day I found her preparing a suggested shopping list that included the following ingredients: koleflawr (cauliflower), karits (carrots) and selre (celery).

She didn't always keep it simple, though, once she learned that the rules of spelling vary considerably and can get complicated. She over-spelled some words, which led to such interesting variations as "parck" for park and "Momm" for Mom.

One of my favourites was the detailed, formal sign she posted on the bathroom door while some plumbing repairs were taking place: "Do not yuse sinck, tolit or tub. Out of order until gets ficksed. Thank you."

Such treasures have gone straight into our family's memory box.

19 Aug 2005. Bournemouth Echo online.

'Spelling should be easier' by Paula Tegerdine.

Masha Bell. [See Journals, Newsletters, Leaflets, Media, Personal View.]

Masha Bell.
SPELLING should be made easier. That is the view of a Wareham literacy expert who thinks the English-speaking world should follow Germany by trying to make its language easier to learn.

Masha Bell was invited to join in a discussion on Newsnight recently about whether there is a case for the English language undergoing a similar spelling reform to Germany's.

Ms Bell is author of Understanding English Spelling, and has experienced first-hand the difficulty of getting to grips with English.

She said: "They keep trying different teaching methods and spend masses of money on remedial work but it is because the English spelling system is so hard. There are so many exceptions from basic rules."

She points to the current debate about whether to make more use of the phonics of the language as a way of teaching.

"There are so many tricky words that kids have to learn by sight and so many kids don't cope because there are so many words that don't follow the rules.

"Most people think the way we spell now is really right. They have very little idea where it comes from, they just assume this is the way it has to be."

Thursday August 11, 2005. The Star, Malaysia. [Excerpts.]

The ouch in -ough.

By Ralph Berry.

If it's not the spelling, it's the pronunciation. Of words containing -ough, Burchfield remarks in his understated way that they "pose occasional problems even for native speakers". Indeed.

There is no clearer proof of a catastrophic problem area in English than these verses by Bennet Cerf, the American humorist:
The wind was rough
And cold and blough;
She kept her hands inside her mough.
It chilled her through
Her nose turned blough,
And still the squall the faster flough.
And yet although
There was no snough,
The weather was a cruel fough.
It made her cough
(Please do not scough);
She coughed until her hat blew ough"
Look at those devilish spellings/pronunciations:
Rough/ruff; blough/bluff; mough/muff.
Through/throo; blough/blue; flough/flew.
Although/althoe; snough/snow; fough/foe.
Cough/coff; scough/scoff; ough/off.
And of those twelve -ough words as cited by Cerf, four are correctly spelt there. Go on, check them out. Do you still want to move on to the next grade up of English language skill?

It gets worse. It has been said, on traditional authority, that there are only 36 words in English containing the letters "ough". There are nine ways of pronouncing them, all of which can be found in this rather obscure sentence:
Though a rough cough and hiccouphs ploughed through him, he houghed the horse with thorough thoughtfulness.
I can get by without "hough" ("hock"), an animal's joint. As a verb, it means "to hamstring." Not many of us need that verb. Alas, we do need the verb hock meaning "pawn" and leaving the one-time owner or possession "in hock". We probably still have a liking for hock, the German wine of the Rhineland.

"Hiccouph" is suspect, the Modern English Usage of 1965 declaring it to be a spelling mistake, "a perversion of popular etymology", which "should be abandoned as a mere error". Burchfield endorses this view.

Still, we are left with several real problems. Most words with ough are familiar. Dough rhymes with though, trough with cough, bought with ought, and borough with thorough. But there are some awkward, if rare, exceptions. Consider:

Brougham (type of carriage), pronounced 'broom'. We don't go around in broughams these days, but anyone reading Victorian/ Edwardian literature (and watching Sherlock Holmes dramatisations, say) needs to know.

Chough (bird) = 'chuff'. But chuffed, in colloquial English, means "very pleased". One also hears dechuffed, meaning the opposite, "downcast, displeased".

Clough (ravine) = 'cluff'. I seldom need a ravine, and never an alternative word.

Slough (swamp) = rhymes with "plough".

Slough (snake's skin, to shed snake's skin) = 'sluff'. Those who quote John Betjeman's wonderful line - "Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough" - should know that it rhymes with plough.

Sough (sound of wind) = usually rhymes with bough but can also rhyme with tough. MEU (1965) says that people, uncertain how to pronounce the word, are shy of using it. Perhaps they do not like to be thought referring to a sow.

And there's lough, the Irish form of loch, lake.

The giant, overall problem is that there is no close correspondence in English between spelling and pronunciation.

English is not alone in this. The French language has the same problem, and the French authorities have recently given up on the dictee. This, a traditional dictation exercise, was found to be too hard for today's generation of schoolchildren. Still, French can at least appeal to an ordered system of spellings, even if the sounds are varied and confusing.

English can appeal to nothing systematic. You just have to know the word.

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