N10 12pp. On other pages: part 2, part 3.
[Bob Brown: see Journals, Newsletters, Personal View, Pamflet 13.]

Founded 1908
Working for planned change in English spelling for the benefit of learners and users everywhere.

Newsletter April 1996, part 1.

Published by the Secretary, Bob Brown.


The Annual General Meeting of the Simplified Spelling Society will be held on Saturday May 11 1996, followed by a Committee meeting to which members, as always, are cordially invited.


Style guides as vehicles for spelling reform? Chris Upward presents an analysis of the style guides issued by newspaper and magazine publishers and reflects on their possibilities as a path towards reformed spelling.

The talk precedes the AGM.

Annual General Meeting - May 11 1996.

May 11 will involve a combined annual general meeting, which elects the coming year's Committee, and the first meeting of that Committee, which elects the Officers.

As usual, all members are very welcome to both. Start time is 10.45, with a preceding lecture. There will be a lunch break at some appropriate point. The venue has a reasonably-priced cafeteria.

AGM Agenda.

1. Minutes of last AGM
2. Matters arising, if any
3. Secretary's report
4. Treasurer's report and approval of Accounts
5. Appointment of auditor
6. Subscription for 1997
7. Editor-in-Chief's report
8. Research Director's report
9. Media Relations report
10. Chairman's round-up
11. Election of Committee
12. The Society's role and its funding into the future.
Bob Brown will lead a discussion on what kind of Society we want for the next millennium, and how it should be funded. Should we try to become a registered charity?
13. Any other business.

Committee Agenda.

1. Minutes of last meeting
2. Matters arising, if any
3. Co-options to Committee
4. Election of Officers
5. Meeting dates for next year
6. Speakers for future meetings
7. Any other business

INCOME AND EXPENDITURE ACCOUNT for the year ending 31 December 1995 [not included]

Should the SSS try to become a registered charity?

As the accounts show, this Society is not a registered charity, so pays tax like any other 'business'. We have sought tax-free status before - and failed. Should we try again?

Considering this question raises wider issues about both the role and style of the Society, and its finances. These will all be debated at the AGM on 11 May. The views of all members are actively sought, whether or not you can make it to the meeting. Bob Brown explains - and explains what he wants you to do.

AGM Key Topic.

What kind of Simplified Spelling Society for the next century? And how should we fund it?

The Secretary writes -

Your Committee has been considering for some time what to do about our legal status. The accounts show we pay tax on our income, which has amounted to over £l,000 a year in recent history. If we were to realise some of the latent profit in our investments (currently over £30,000) - for example, to fund some major initiative - then we would lose a substantial proportion to tax. The only way for voluntary organisations like us to obtain tax-exempt status under British law is to become a Registered Charity. That means satisfying a number of stringent conditions in an appeal to the Charity Commissioners. And that is not just a matter of filling out a form ...

There is a history at work also; let me explain at least some of it. The Society notoriously sued the Inland Revenue in the High Court in the 1940s over the tax status of the funds bequeathed by Sir George Hunter that still form most of our endowment. We lost. Hoping that the passage of 50 years might have healed the wounds, we applied afresh in 1991 to become a charity under current laws. We were rejected, principally on the grounds that campaigning organisations cannot be charitable. During 1992 we consulted a leading counsel on charity law for a legal opinion on the way forward (see box 1). This would involve making careful, legally-sound approaches to the Charity Commissioners, preferably through a specialised solicitor. Recently, we have consulted such a specialist, and her advice is that we would need to change the "objects" clause of our Constitution to be more educational and less reformist. The current clause appears in box 2 and the suggested re-draft in box 3. As the "simplified" epithet may prejudice impartiality, we may also need to change our name to something more neutral, as indeed our American colleagues did in becoming the American Literacy Council. They were originally the Simplified Spelling Board. We may also need to separate campaigning activities from those, such as research and publication, of a charitable nature.

In correspondence with a new member recently, I realised that we need to face up to the reality. The SSS has only a handful of ACTIVE members. Currently we have no-one willing and able to organise a membership drive, an international conference, publication sales ... Should we continue in this minimalist way, or should we really try to make an impact? If so, who's going to do the work?

The Committee is NOT suggesting a change to the Constitution at present, but seeks the opinion of all members on these issues. What should the Society be doing in future? How can we increase our funds, or make best use of them? To what extent should we be prepared to redefine ourselves to optimise our finances? Should we hire staff for duties that no-one appears to want to do voluntarily? Please come to the AGM and/or send your views to the Secretary before 11 May.

Box 1.

What Counsel said we need to show to be judged "charitable":

Box 2

Current Constitution:

A1. The name of the society is "The Simplified Spelling Society".

A2. Its aim is to bring about a reform of the spelling of English in the interests of ease of learning and economy in writing.

Box 3

Possible revision to Constitution:

A1. The name of the society is "The Simplified Spelling Society" [change desirable to something neutral].

A2. The object of the Society is to educate the public in the knowledge and appreciation of the role of spelling in the teaching and acquisition of literacy skills. In furtherance of the above object but not further or otherwise, the Society may:

(1)Promote or carry out, or assist in promoting and carrying out, research on the causes of literacy problems and possible solutions and on the role of spelling in literacy teaching and may make available the results of such research to its members and to the public at large.
(2)Arrange or provide for, or join in arranging and providing for, the holding of lectures, meetings and conferences on such topics open to the public and the Press.
(3)Respond to enquiries on spelling and literacy issues and provide information and materials by way of further clarification of the object of the Society.

[Harry Cookson, see Journal, Newsletters.]

How far can we go in English?

Harry Cookson.

SPELLING REFORM IN EUROPE has generally been based on the idea of making spelling agree with pronunciation. This has worked very well for the countries of Western Europe, where children learn to read and write much more quickly than children in English-speaking countries.

But English can follow the reformer-countries only to a limited extent. There is a problem. English has an exceptionally large number of homophones and this will create an exceptionally large number of homographs - words with different meanings that are spelt the same. This might make reading more difficult than it is now; even perhaps make spelling reform counter-productive.

A random count in over 20 books and newspapers showed that almost all of them had 7-11 percent of words that were homophones which would result in homographs. A few of the samples were in the 5-6 percent range, others as high as 18-25 percent. In this count, proper names were omitted, as was the very common word "to" as it has different pronunciations in different parts of the sentence. Also omitted were words such as "nor" and "gnaw" which are homophones in r-dropping counties but not in Scotland and North America.

This level of homographs after a reform would result in one or two words spelt the same but with two, three or four different meanings in every line in most books and in every couple of lines of a newspaper. This is only an average, of course. In practice there will be several lines with no homographs, then suddenly a line with three, four, or more. This will make gibberish of the sentence concerned.

When I try to persuade people to support spelling reform they are immediately put off by new homographs. To them "red" is a colour and they will not accept it as the past tense of the verb "to read". We must also remember that vast numbers of readers of English do not have English as their first language. English is taking the place that Latin had in the Middle Ages but on a world scale. Homographs are not helpful to such people. Also, we must not create spellings that are homographs with old ones (current spellings), such as "wander" becoming "wonder" and "wonder' becoming "wunder". This will cause misunderstanding. People read by habit and such words would cause a lot of misunderstanding and re-reading.

So what can we do about the homograph problem?

The present stage of the spelling reform movement is that of persuading people to adopt spelling reform. So we must not do anything that will put people off. This means that we must not introduce new homographs, as it is known to put people off reform.

When spelling reform has been accepted and put into practice for a few years, we can consider the possibility of introducing a few homographs that are different parts of speech, and thus may not cause confusion. But we must be careful. Now and for ever we must accept that we cannot go the whole phonic way. Our language will not permit it.

I shall be pleased to have opinions and advice on how the problem affects New Spelling 90, Cut Spelling and other suggested reform methods. Note that postage from the UK to Portugal is the same as first-class inland mail.

Harry Cookson.



Readers are invited to submit short topics for an airing on this 'soap-box' page. Please respond to the writer at the address given, or to the Secretary for possible publication in a response column.

A first reply.

Taking the editorial advantage of being able to get in first, I must say that I do not agree with Harry that homographs could be a 'show-stopper'.

We are all familiar with Homophones in speech and do not find them a problem, primarily because context makes clear the meaning: 'to', 'too', for example, where is the problem?

I will admit there is a transitional one - until people already literary become familiar with a reform spelling, of course they are going to moan about it looking strange, and complain of spurious 'confusion'. The 'argument of unfamiliarity' against spelling reform was effectively debunked by our predecessors in the society's 1909 pamphlet the anaesthetic argument. In general I don't care about putting off the already-literate - spelling reform isn't for them!

Bob Brown

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On other pages: part 2, part 3.