[Also on this page: Book revew: Spelling fever, Beeman with foto, New York Sun.]

Spelling Bee 2006.

31 May 2006. SSS & ALC Press release.

Bee Man demonstrates at Grand Hyatt.

4th Annual Picket of English Spelling at National Spelling Bee in Washington DC Washington, DC (5/31/06) - With hundreds of finalists from around the world, and on the heels of Bee Season and Akeelah and the Bee, the 79th Scripps National Spelling Bee, the first to be televised on prime time network TV, will be the biggest and most widely watched ever.

It is also the time and place - May 31 at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC - for a fun picket by BeeMan for the purpose of highlighting the dysfunctional effect of English spelling on literacy rates in English speaking countries.

Bee Man loves the competition and tension of the Spelling Bee, but he's no friend of English spelling itself.

While admiring the ability of the finalists to deal with the foibles of English spelling, BeeMan aims to draw attention to the difficulties these defects place on children learning to read and write.

Not all learners are as gifted in memorizing the spelling of thousands of individual words which, by not always following the rules, make learning to read and write more difficult.

"We are not against spelling competence," says Elizabeth Kuizenga, spokesperson for BeeMan's campaign, which is co-sponsored by American Literacy Council and Simplified Spelling Society. "We are opposed to the spelling that fosters incompetence."

BeeMan hopes this message will be heeded by parents and other authorities having an interest in literacy progress, including educators, publishers, business people, and politicians in English-speaking countries, such as US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and the 'No Child Left Behind' program she administers and promotes.

Kuizenga adds that many spellings listed in Teddy Roosevelt's spelling-related Executive Order of 1906 - including anaemic, catalogue, colour, deposite, phantasy, manoeuvre & programme - are simpler now as a result of that order (anemic, catalog, color, deposit, fantasy, maneuver, program) and that others - including dialog, thru, donut and laff - have been simplified in more recent years. "The internet is speeding things up," says Kuizenga, "but an ocean of irregularity remains while millions of learners flail about and many finally fail. It is our hope that English will finally catch up with the many modern languages such as German, Dutch, Spanish, Russian and Czech, which have overhauled their spelling systems in the last century, and which have much higher literacy rates as a result."

Established in 1876 & 1908, respectively, the American Literacy Council and Simplified Spelling Society have been transatlantic partners in literacy activism at the National Spelling Bee since 2001.

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Elizabeth Kuizenga, spokesperson, is a teacher of Literacy and of English as a Second Language in San Francisco.



14 May 2006. New York Post. MAX GROSS.

SPELLING FEVER

American Bee: The National Spelling Bee and the Culture of Word Nerds,
By James Maguire. Rodale Books. 288 pages, $24.95.
In 2004, a protest was held outside the Grand Hyatt hotel in Washington, D.C. Demonstrators had flown across the Atlantic not to protest war or pollution, but to register their objections to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

They were from the British-based Simplified Spelling Society, and - carrying signs that read, "I'm thru with through" - their ambitious goal was nothing less than to rewrite the English language.

There were six of them.

"People say how nice it is in the word receipt that you've got the p there, which reminds you of reception," Professor John Wells, the president of the society, told James Maguire, author of the new book "American Bee." "But what about deceit? Where there is exactly the same relationship with deception, but we don't write a p in deceit. It's the inconsistency that's really so unnecessary." Wells has a point, but he also sounds a little kooky. Then again, almost everybody in "American Bee" is a little kooky. After all, Maguire is telling the story of spelling bees, which tend to attract the strange and the geeky.

The American spelling bee's roots stretch back into the 19th century (apparently there was a major fad in the 1870s) and every year 9 million school kids participate in local bees, getting winnowed down to the top 250, who go to Washington to compete on a national level.

And while this might seem like a supremely esoteric (and boring) exercise, anyone who has seen the documentary "Spellbound" or read Myla Goldberg's charming novel "Bee Season" knows just how serious and exciting these bees can be. (There is a feature film out last week called "Akeelah and the Bee," and there's even a Broadway musical called "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.")

Awkward and soft-spoken kids (some of whom have to stand on their tiptoes to reach the microphone) lean forward and spell polysyllabic words - the majority completely unknown to most adults - with dazzling accuracy. They are sometimes quaking with nervousness (one boy fainted in 2004), but their courage in the face of all the cameras and competition seems downright heroic.

Maguire treads a lot of familiar material here, while not quite achieving the drama of "Spellbound." All the kids in the movie had distinct personalities, and the situation was fresh and interesting.

"American Bee" is at its best when it delves into the purists of orthography, like Wells and Jacques Bailly (the 1980 champ is the bee's official announcer), who have made spelling their whole life.

But Maguire never quite answers the larger questions raised by spelling bees. Is Wells right? Is the English language an inconsistent mess? Should it be changed? Is it changing too much? These are valid questions, worthy of consideration but Maguire isn't interested in making any judgments.

If nothing else, you'll come away from "American Bee" knowing how to spell "Boeotian" and "sphygmomanometer."



31 May 2006. Syndicated account. Bill Theobald.

Only in Washington.

Have an event in this town and you're sure to have some sort of protest. Even at a spelling bee.

In what has become an annual ritual, members of the American Literacy Council are picketing outside the hotel. The group believes that English spelling should be simplified so more words are spelled phonetically. Donut, for example.

This year's contingent is small so far - one man, in fact. But he's hard to miss. A New York man identifying himself only as Bee Man or Bee Daddy stood outside in the humidity with a yellow and white vest on top of black slacks. A plastic black nose and glasses. Black cap with antenna and a little fabric wings.

Around his neck was a sign that read: "I luv spelling bees."

"We are just doing our part to agitate in a nice way," Bee Man said.

He said more people were planning to protest, but many were sick. Or should that be sic?

Beeman.



1 Jun 2006. New York Sun. MOLLIE ZIEGLER.

Verbiphages Vie For Glory Tonite.

Spelling bees, which have always been popular among logolepts and verbiphages, are a particularly hot cultural touchstone now. [ ... ]

Elizabeth Kuizenga, who is perhaps best known as the mother of supermodel and X-Men actress Rebecca Romijn, is also known in more esoteric circles as a prominent member of the Simplified Spelling Society, a group that advocates phonemic spelling. There is empirical evidence that children's confidence in their sense of logic is seriously undermined by English's illogical spellings, she says.

"Indeed, many children just give up on school altogether as a result. The prisons are full of people with literacy problems," says Ms. Kuizenga. (Did I mention that she is from Berkeley?)

Even if the idea sounded appealing, which regional pronunciation would be used? How would the word for the sister of your mother be spelled? And pronunciations change over time. Hangul, the Korean phonemic alphabet organized into syllabic blocks, is supposedly the best orthography in the world. Even it has become a slightly less good fit over the years. If the advocates of spelling reform had their way, spelling would have to change each time pronunciation changed.

What Ms. Kuizenga and her cohorts fail to understand, though, is that spelling bees are impressive precisely because English is so full of irregularities. And despite its various letter combinations and anomalies, spelling bees proudly stand for objective truth. Postmodernism may rule the day but when Dan Quayle encouraged a non-traditional spelling of the word potato, no one defended him by saying his version was valid because it was meaningful to him.

[ ... ] The anti-spellers claim that their simplified spelling would help immigrants. In fact, many spelling finalists are multilingual and second-generation Americans, born to parents from Asia or the Middle East.

See Spelling Bee 2005 and Spelling Bee 2004.

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