N10. On other pages: part 1, part 2.
[Bob Brown: see Journals, Newsletters, Personal View, Pamflet 13.]
[Web addresses have been omitted, as they are unlikely to be valid now.]

Newsletter April 1996 part 3.

Simplified spelling on the Internet.

Bob Brown goes surfing

IF ALL THIS BUSINESS in the press about the Internet, the World Wide Web, cyberspace, surfing the information superhighway, and a host of other metaphors - mixed or otherwise - remains a mystery to you, then I hope this column may shed a little light, to risk metaphor - overload by introducing yet another one. My aim is to explain simply for the novice what some of this means, and then move on to tell you where to find spelling-related items on the 'Net. First, what is the Internet and how can you gain access to it?

Making a start.

The Internet is a huge collection of computers all around the world, connected into a network. No-one owns the Internet, and there is no central authority controlling it, although there are several organisations responsible for registering new computers. These computers are servers - each stores information and makes it available, with varying degrees of interaction, to anyone who has its address. Servers are sponsored by many kinds of organisations: universities, government or other public agencies, companies, clubs, private individuals, anyone. A subset of the servers comprising the Internet react to users in a friendly way, often with images and illustrations, and is known as the World Wide Web, or just the Web for short. The jargon for a particular organisation's presence on the Web is a site, and a new visitor usually arrives at its home page. The Simplified Spelling Society's Web site actually resides on a server at Aston University. We have a home page (address at the head of the article), from which anyone viewing can branch to see various other pages of information by clicking on high-lit text and prompts. So how can you get at this?

Most computers sold for home use and billed as 'multi-media' have the built-in capability to connect to the Internet. An effective one will cost between one and two thousand pounds in the UK. Although there are some technicalities involved, basically you only have to connect the modem of the computer to a telephone socket, dial one of many competing companies called Internet Service Providers, and sign up as a subscriber. With many of them, you can do this on-the-spot by credit card. It typically costs a £10-20 initial fee and about 10 per month thereafter.

You can then download a browser - software that is your 'window' into the Internet - and you then have access to any Internet site anywhere for the cost of a local telephone call while you are connected. You tap in the address of a home page you want to visit, and a few seconds later it appears, irrespective whether its server is physically near you or on the other side of the world. Most Web pages have many links to others. You click on one of them and off you go! Your browser allows you to retrace your steps, and to note sites that you may want to return to directly later. This process is know in the puerile jargon as surfing the Internet, although I prefer 'paddling' as you rarely experience the surge of adrenalin associated with surfing because - be warned! - the Web is often S-L-O-W.

If you just want to have a browse around the Web without the commitment of your own computer, there are various alternatives in Britain that I imagine are available in other countries too. Some of the more forward-looking public libraries are beginning to offer Web access facilities, naturally for a fee. Then there are so-called 'cyber-cafés' which are coffee-shops with computers and staff to help. Again for a fee, you can take a look around. If you are in London, Dillons bookshop in Gower Street has a basement bank of Internet computers which you can use for £3 for half-an-hour.

To find anything on the Internet, you need a starting point, meaning a site address. These usually take the form 'http://' and then a string of letters and symbols. Some spelling-related home pages - including ours - are reviewed below to get you started, or you can use a search engine. This is simply a Web site that lets you enter one or more keywords for a search that it will then undertake on your behalf. It will return in a few seconds with a list of sites, with some description of each, and you simply click on one you wish to visit. If it turns out to be irrelevant or uninteresting, you just back up to the search results and try another. There is one site that even acts as a common front for over 200 search engines. Find it and enter your keywords into Alta Vista, Lycos, Yahoo, InfoSeek or others of the search engines offered.

Experiment, and I hope you enjoy. It can be exciting to be viewing information from the USA one moment, from Australia a few seconds later, then on to Germany or Japan ...

Electronic mail.

Electronic mail, or 'e-mail' - the opposite of which is 'snail-mail' of course - is the ability to send messages to others, usually nowadays across the Internet. Most people with Internet access also have an electronic mailbox. That's the string of letters with an @ in the middle. You can reach Bob Brown and Chris Upward for example. We find we increasingly correspond with members in North America and Australasia through e-mail messages rather than letters.

Spelling on the 'Net.

The Simplified Spelling Society home page can be found. It gives the contact addresses and allows the visitor to branch to read the text of some of our introductory material. Also provided are contents lists for recent Journals. There is one forward link, to the German spelling planning organisation. The list of links will be extended as other relevant organisations gain a Web presence.

The Riggs Institute has an interesting and extensive web-site describing its work over 60 years in encouraging phonic-plus-traditional methods of literacy teaching. I have had an interesting e-mail dialogue with its director, Myrna McCulloch.

Given that Andrew Carnegie's generosity was instrumental in founding this Society, you may like to read an interesting paper from Purdue University at Indianapolis entitled "Andrew Carnegie and his gospel of philanthropy: A study in the ethics of responsibility".

Relevant British government Web sites, are the Department for Education, the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the inspectors at the Office for Standards in Education. Each provides a wide selection of information and there is a good word-search engine to help you find specific items.

For some reason, there are a lot of Mark Twain's bon mots about the English language and spelling on the 'Net. Any search engine will link you to several. And you can even get web-sites spell-checked free of charge - American style t,o. naturally!

If your surfing uncovers any other interesting sites, please let Bob Brown know for mention in later Newsletters. A less extensive "Internet Corner" is likely to be a regular feature. We would particularly like to know of more North American sites, or of members' surfing experiences.

Cut Spelling Handbook.

Chris Upward, Simplified Spelling Society, April 1966, 339pp, ISBN 0 9506391 5 X.

The first edition of the Cut Spelling Handbook has been out of print for over two years. After much work by Chris Upward, we now have a new, improved edition - a 340-page paperback, produced to the highest standards.

The Society's policy is that members should automatically receive a copy of all new publications, but - in view of the cost of producing such a substantial book - on this occasion we plan to restrict free availability of the new edition to newer members who have never had opportunity to own the book. Naturally, those who received the first edition will be very welcome to buy a copy of the second.

Pricing is: UK/EU £10 including postage; Rest of world £10 surface mail, £15 airmail.

OECD continues to focus on literacy standards in developed economies.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Paris based club of developed economies, recently published another major report on adult literacy levels in seven countries. Entitled Literacy, Economy and Society (OECD, Paris ISBN 92-64-14655-5, E31.95 in UK), its compilation was a co-operative effort by the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland. Ireland had participated in the study as the eighth country, but its results could not be included due to the untimely death of a key official. Irish data will be published separately later.

About 3,000 adults were given extensive tests, in their homes, in each country. The report describes in great detail the tests and the scoring levels- all carefully-designed to work across borders and cultures - and fascinating reading it is. The results are presented in fine detail, but summarised with clarity and elegance by the Canadian editorial team. The broad conclusions, sounding a little trite in high level summary but revealing in detail, are:

It is understood that major surveys are under way at present, intended to extend this work to other countries, including Britain. The British report should be published in Spring 1997. The Society awaits the results with interest.

The Times of London and spelling.

An unlikely ally seems to have emerged for us in recent weeks in the form of The Times.

Under the headline "Young spellers fall at the first fens", it first reported on 25 March 1996 that a third of seven-year old children recently tested in British schools had considerable problems with spelling.

It noted that long vowels caused the most difficulty, with only one child in five spelling scream according to traditional standards. "Most errors in all areas," it went on, "could be traced back to the misapplication of genuine spelling rules, such as bred for bread or fens for fence." (No comment, except that I know who I think is right. Ed.)

The newspaper went on to point out a howler committed by Department for Education officials in Hampshire, who had announced that "the Isle of White has been chosen as a site for a new literacy centre." (For readers unfamiliar with British geography, should be Isle of Wight.)

But The Times gave front-page prominence on 8 April to "a significant slide in teenagers' writing skills since 1980," as revealed in a comparative study of O-Level (junior high school) examination scripts.

The study was undertaken by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. It concluded that students in 1994 were three times worse at spelling than their 1980 counterparts, and had a narrower range of vocabulary. There was a sixfold increase in the use of non-standard English, and the proportion of error-free sentences fell from 73 percent in 1980 to 47 percent in 1994. Punctuation appears not to be a strong point either - the colon was used three times in 1980, twice correctly, but no-one attempted to use one in 1994. The study was based on a sample of just 60 examination scripts. (No comment. Ed.)


Subscription time again. Members who have not already paid will find a slip enclosed with this Newsletter reminding that subscriptions for 1996 are now due, at a rate of £10 or US$20. Please send your cheque/check or bank draft to the Secretary at the address below as soon as possible. If sending a non-sterling cheque/check, please remember to enclose a generous amount for bank handling charges.

Paul Fletcher, media star!

Committee-member Paul Fletcher appeared on national radio in New Zealand, and was interviewed for the Christchurch Press, while visiting on holiday recently. Our active members Allan Campbell and Ian Ascott deserve thanks for arranging this useful 'exposure'.

Professor Scragg.

We are pleased to announce that our President, Donald Scragg, was elevated in December to a full professorship (of Anglo-Saxon Studies) at Manchester University. Congratulations, Don.

Mark O'Connor in India.

Mark is an Australian member - and a renowned poet - and was interviewed at length about his views on spelling in the Times of India on 28 November last, thanks to the energy of our friend Mr Gogate. He deserves thanks for achieving a thorough mention of the Society in an article headlined "Dictionaries must encourage spelling reform, says poet". Hear, hear!

Finding us.

One member wrote that she had difficulty finding how to contact the Society. We are in the London area business telephone book, so a directory enquiry from anywhere should find us. We are listed under both 'Spelling ...' and 'Simplified Spelling ...' We also appear in many listings, including the Directory of Associations which seems widely held by libraries. Basic details are on the front page of this Newsletter, and on our Internet home-page.

Bill Lee, OBE. An obituary.

We are sad to note the death of a Vice-President, Dr W R Lee.

Dr W R Lee, otherwise Bill, was widely recognised as the doyen of the profession of teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) - as an adviser, consultant, examiner, author and editor. Sadly, he died on 5 February 1996, aged 84.

He wrote on all aspects of language pedagogy, and put his own principles into practice with a range of textbooks. His authority was based, in part, on impressive academic credentials, but what made him influential was the way he could turn ideas to practical account. It also informed the policy of the English Language Teaching Journal which he edited from 1961-8 1. In 1967 he founded the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, the premier professional body for what has grown into a large industry.

Earlier in his career, Bill was involved in work that paved the way for 'the i.t.a. experiment'. While at the University of London Institute of Education, he led a major four-year experiment and study (1953-57) "at the request of the Simplified Spelling Society" and partly financed by it. Our then chairman, James (later Sir James) Pitman, had just agreed to withdraw his Spelling Reform Bill in Parliament in return for some official co-operation or backing for a large-scale trial of simplified spelling in schools. Bill Lee's study paved the way for what became the initial teaching alphabet.

The results of the study were published by the National Foundation for Educational Research, in association with the Institute, as Spelling Irregularity and Reading Difficulty in English in June 1957. A summary of its findings - by no means unequivocally supportive of simplified spelling - must await a later article on the beginnings of i.t.a. and other Pitman projects.

Bill Lee truly made a life-long contribution to the cause of English language and literacy, and he will be sorely missed.

Partly extracted from The Guardian obituary by H G Widdowson of 29 February 1996, and extended, by Bob Brown.

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On other pages: part 1, part 2.