N5. 4pp. On another page: part 2.
[Bob Brown: see Journals, Newsletters, Personal View, Pamflet 13.]

Newsletter January 1993, part 1.

Issued by the Secretary, Bob Brown.


Officers 1992/3.

President: Dr Donald G Scragg.
Vice-Presidents: Prof D Abercrombie, Lord Simon of Glaisdale.
Chairman: Chris Jolly.
Vice-Chairman & Public Relations Officer: Leo Chapman.
Secretary: Bob Brown.
Treasurer: Alun Bye.
Editor-in-Chief: Chris Upward.
Research Adviser: Dr Gwenllian Thorstad.
Committee Members: Nick Atkinson, Mona Cross, Govind Deodhekar, Laurie Fennelly, Paul Fletcher, Ron Footer, Jean Hutchins, Frank Jones.
Trustees: Stanley Gibbs, Elsie Oakensen, Dr Donald Scragg.

Recognition at last?

SSS invited to make submission to National Curriculum Council.

Last autumn the Society was formally invited to make a submission on spelling to the team in the NCC working on revision of the English Order, in turn triggered by the Government's commitment to "return to basics" in literacy matters.

The invitation mentioned our "expertise in the field of spelling" - recognition at last? - so we naturally felt this to be an important milestone, and therefore treated the opportunity very seriously. After discussion by Committee, Chris Upward took on the task of producing a first draft. This was circulated for comment and revision to the rest of the Committee and finally polished by Chris. It was submitted in October. The text will be published in full in a forthcoming Journal.

The Society decided to offer pragmatic suggestions, in particular on encouraging the notion that gradual evolution towards better spellings - as opposed to a major leap straight to an ideal orthography - can be accomplished as a by-product of setting the teaching curriculum, by managing the natural process of change in the language. We hope that the NCC can be persuaded to become the official body to take responsibility for spelling guidance, as an extension of its responsibility for defining how the topic is to be taught and examined.

The method adopted by the submission is to start from concepts that are either self-evident or easily justified - the Ten Axioms detailed in a separate box - and to lead the argument on step by step. We are satisfied that the resulting case is therefore cumulatively persuasive that something must be done, and that it is feasible within the present remit of the NCC.

We hope that the intellectual rigour of the case will encourage the NCC to take the small but vital step of accepting responsibility for spelling management. Its proposals are due for submission to the Secretary of State in February.

Ten Axioms on English Spelling.

1. Alphabets provide the simplest way to write most languages.

2. The alphabet works by the principle that letters represent speech sounds.

3. Literacy is easily acquired if the spelling tells readers the pronunciation, and the pronunciation tells writers the spelling.

4. Pronunciation changes through time, undermining the match between spelling and sound.

5. Spelling systems need modernizing periodically to restore the sound-spelling match.

6. By not systematically modernizing over nearly 1,000 years, English spelling has lost touch with the alphabetic principle of spelling matching sound.

7. Neglect of the alphabetic principle makes English spelling exceptionally difficult.

8. The difficulty of English spelling wastes time and produces unacceptably low levels of literacy in English-speaking countries.

9. To improve literacy, English needs to modernise its spelling, as other languages do.

10 There are no quick or easy solutions. As a first step, the idea of "managing" English spelling, i.e. controlling it rather than letting it continue on its own arbitrary way, should be adopted.



Adult Literacy.

ALBSU heading


The Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit (ALBSU), a government-funded group concerned with literacy in the adult population, launched two videos last November. These are called Spell Well at Any Age and Punctuate Well & Write a Perfect Letter, and aim to help people improve their spelling, grammar and letter-writing skills.

To prove that people really do have trouble with our written language, ALBSU commissioned Gallup to conduct a small spelling survey on 1,000 over-16s, which was carried out in October. Those surveyed were asked to spell six common words known to have troublesome spellings. They could respond "out loud" or on paper, as they wished.

Chart for the spelling of six words.
The six words were: necessary, accommodation, sincerely, business, separate and height. Only 17% of the respondents could spell all six "correctly", that is, according to the conventions of our traditional orthography. One in ten of those surveyed could get none of them "right".

Women did better than men on all the words, and the older people slightly better than the younger, as you would expect after a lifetime of being picked up on their spelling!

Number of 'correct answers given'.
ALBSU have suggested that not too much should be read into the survey, as the sample was quite small. They feel it does, however, indicate one glaring fact - that many people have problems with traditional spelling. Despite this, "good spelling" is still reckoned to be a very important skill, to avoid losing marks in examinations, and to employers, many of whom reject job applicants with poor spelling.

Poorly spelt letters and forms continue to reflect negatively on the individual throughout life, whatever we may feel about the injustice of this when the spelling "system" is admitted by the educational authorities to be all-but unlearnable!

The headlines above reflect some of the press coverage that the survey provoked.



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