On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 3.
[Allan Campbell: see Journals, Newsletters, Media, Spell 4 Literacy NZ.]
simpl speling November 1999 part 4. members' supplement.
Editor: Allan Campbell.
Reports from July committee meeting.
- An Australian member,
Mark O'Connor, told the meeting he is trying to patent a facility which can offer
choices of writing systems for reading text on computers, altho for legal reasons he
could give no details.
He believed that in Australia the idea English spelling is unnecessarily difficult may slowly be gaining acceptance. In a recently published book, Right Words, the eminent authority on Australian English, Steven Murray-Smith, dwells on spelling problems at some length.
- The Society had 146 members, but 29 had still not paid their 1999 subscriptions.
Eight had joined since April. Since summaries of membership as at December 31,
1998, had been distributed by membership secretary Jean Hutchins, she had received
a request for 18 addresses from one member. This led to concerns about
confidentiality, and her workload.
- Masha was asked to liaise with Chris Jolly and Nick Kerr on reviewing the
Society's investments, and perhaps to consult a financial adviser.
- The committee's two previous decisions that for the time being it lend no more
than moral support to the International Spelling Day, suggested by Valerie Yule,
was reaffirmed after receiving a request from Allan Campbell that it reconsider
its reluctance to sponsor the day.
- The Society now owned a volume containing four issues of its early newsletter,
The Pyoneer (March 1917 - February 1918).
Chris Upward was thanked for obtaining it.
- English Today was to publish a curtailed version of Chris Upward's
submission to the Langscape survey.
In its current issue an article by Keith Davidson slightly ridiculed the idea of
spelling reform. Chris intended to reply.
- Chris Upward was to be interviewed by BBC World Service about spelling.
- John Reilly is to help Chris edit JSSS, specifically with contributions from the
- Allan Campbell sought guidance on what he, as New Zealand representative of the Society, could and could not say on its behalf. He set out his ideas. These were acceptable to the committee. It was felt that every effort should be made to emfasize points of agreement among members and to minimize disagreements.
October meeting summaryDiscussed at the October committee meeting were the revision of the Society's aims and objectives in the light of the membership vote on strategy; Alan Mole's new website for teenagers; presentation of evidence to the British parliamentary select committee on early years education; Society funds; new guidelines for Personal Views. Expanded report in the next issue.
Upgrade for Society's website.
The SSS website has been updated. A pamflet by the late Bob Brown on types of spelling reform proposals for English and the late G N Deodhekar's Lojikon have been added.
Coming meeting dates January 29, 2000, and the AGM on May 6, 2000.
Members make suggestions on strategy.Members voting in the Society's recent strategy poll suggested:
- a need to have an overall plan, system;
- a need to take reactions into account;
- a need to educate people about the harm of TO.
A voters (16)(Single stage, 'Big bang')
First agree on a system. Initial stages to be part of single-stage reform. B acceptable if it followed a pre-ordained pattern.
ALC's Soundspell with TO of 20 short words minimizes opposition, avoids step-by-step pitfall (eg, mesure, mesuer, mezher). Start with Grade 1 in schools and progress yearly.
CS is simple, practical; does not need preliminary stage, tho individuals free to use one.
Drastic action, clarity needed. Small steps would confuse. Piecemeal reforms will still leave TO irregular. Later reforms might contradict earlier ones.
Use IPA - already in dictionaries, simple symbol-foneme correspondence, nothing to unlearn.
Any useful reform needs a better alfabet.
Fonetic spelling not suitable for English. A modified system, simpler for children but easy enuff for adults, is needed.
Vote issue not important. Concentrate on persuading important people about the harm of TO.
B1 voters (15)(staged, a few big steps)
Politicians are unlikely to buy A. A would meet with resistance from the Establishment.
B1 best compromise. Must not be too big or too small. B2 irksome, long, needs adjustments. Costly.
Stage 1, integrate US/Commonwealth spellings, consistent short vowels; 2, More consonant reform, cut silent letters, systematic vowel changes; 3, vowel reform.
Need for advance planning, clear objectives, intellectual foundations.
B2 voters (24)(staged, many small steps)
A would provoke maximum public resistance, bad reactions. Might be unreadable to many.
Only way forward; to overcome opposition. Softly, softly. Most likely to succeed. Sets a precedent to reassure public. Preserves continuity.
Publicize the trouble spelling causes for many. Need bigger stages as longer-term plan.
No more than 185 words (185 in Germany resisted). Steps about 50 words. Start with tho, thru, U, foto, -ize/-ise, -orl, -our.
All SSS members should use simplified spellings when writing to frends. Develop a house style that others might use. Need to establish a language commission.
B voters (2)(did not stipulate B1 or 132)
Removing redundant letters the main plank of a first stage.
One initial small step, then a few big steps.
C voters (8)(Other; includes one A+B1, one A+B2)
Devise a transcription scheme, use to generate lists, implement them incrementally.
Need a complete scheme for implementation in small steps.
Publish options, present all systems, evaluate scientifically. Reform is desperately needed for beginning readers. Include children's suggestions.
Big fast change except most common words.
Aim to create international auxiliary rather than improve TO.
Meanwhile, back at the office ...
[Masha Bell: see Journals, Newsletters, Leaflets, Media, Personal View.]
Compiling basic vocab list
My main preoccupation has still been trying to ascertain exactly what is wrong with TO. I presented the results of my analysis of the 3000 most frequent words from the Cobuild corpus in the last issue of this newsletter, but I gradually became dissatisfied with the size of this sample. For one, it contained rather too many derivatives (eg, act - acted, acting, acts).
I also started to compare it with other lists of common vocabulary like the 250 key words in reading produced by Murray and McNally, and the 500 most common word list of the American Literacy Council and found that many words on those were missing from my Cobuild list. When I compared it with a 2000-word children's dictionary I found very little overlap between the two.
I therefore set about to merge the various common vocabulary lists with the vocabulary from two basic lists for children. I tried to delete all plurals and inflected words at the same time, as well as compounds like backpack if their parts already appear separately. I now have BEV (a Basic English Vocabulary) with just over 4700 words. This may well reduce to about 4500 when I delete all the derivatives and duplications in compounds.
Working with the list makes me think that it contains quite a bit more than absolutely basic vocabulary. I have also found out that most pocket size dictionaries for foreign learners contain around 3000 words. So the size of BEV is probably big enuff for a comprehensive and definitive analysis of English spelling problems.
This latter task has suddenly become an urgent matter. As I was departing for my summer break at the end of July, I read en route to Dover that a UK committee of members of Parliament would be looking into why English children tend to lag about two years behind most of their continental counterparts in literacy and maths. Anyone would be free to submit
evidence to them in writing and might be invited to appear before them in person after January 2000. I have since spoken to a member of that committee and should soon receive details about its remit and guidelines for submissions to it, but together with Ze do Rock and Jean Hutchins I have already started to prepare the evidence. Some other members of our intemet discussion group occasionally help too. Contact me for more information.
In the first instance we are just trying to separate words with sound spellings from those with problems. I have felt for some time that as an aspiring reformer I should know pretty accurately what proportion of English words have spellings that can be reproduced by applying English fonics and how many have to be learned by heart.
Such an analysis might also put an end to the futile fonics versus whole-word debate that has been raging in educational academic circles for over half a century. When we have finished categorizing the words with spelling difficulties according to their different problems, we shall be able to show the memory loading that learning to spell English imposes.
I hope to publish this as a little booklet which could be very useful to teachers, pupils, and parents and also serve as a pronunciation guide to L2 learners. It will be particularly useful for sending to everyone who claims that mastering English spelling is not really such an onerous task or that poor literacy is just the result of bad teaching.
From a reform point of view it will show which words are in most dire need of repair, which ones have bearable faults, and which can be left as they are. I hope that this might provide a rational basis on which we can base recommendations for reform.
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On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 3.