SS4. On other pages: part 1, part 3.

simpl speling November 1997 part 2.


An opportunity to develop a 'house style'.

Robert Craig. England

Simpl Speling gives us an opportunity to develop a 'house style'. The problem with tackling orthography is that English is a mondial language and should have a mondial spelling.

Clearly, what is required is an orthography which would in, be suitable for all users of English, not one based on any particular national type.

What I suggest is to compile a list of spellings and to invite SSS members to approve them, perhaps by ballot. This could be opened up to the public thru the internet for comment.

Ergonomics has a lesson for spelling reformers.

Dan MacLeod. USA.

I am a consulting ergonomics engineer who earns a living designing workplace equipment that is easier to use, and I make money only when I make things work. I have no expertise in linguistics, but am an expert in designing simplified things and getting user acceptance.

Simplified spelling is the point where ergonomics and the English language intersect.

The major lesson of ergonomics to anyone designing anything is to consult the users. It is one thing to sit in an R&D lab and design a logical system. It is quite another to see if the system fits in with what users see as being better.

So, it seems to me some ergonomics techniques might offer value to spelling reform. For example, one method is called a usability lab, where researchers study how users make mistakes when trying to operate equipment. These mistakes provide insights into how users tend to intuitively want to operate it, and therefore how it ought to be designed.

I'm curious how much surveying of native English-speakers has been done on the various alternative-spelling systems. Are there any focus groups or experiments? Is there any analysis of how people make spelling mistakes that would provide answers?

Since joining the Society I have been more observant and noticed how Americans are already simplifying spelling. I'm struck by the widespread use here of nite, lite, tho, and thru, especially in advertisements and the names of companies and brands.

I think most Americans now write thru in handwritten notes, but through in formal letters or publications. If there were some way of giving 'permission' to use simpler forms, my guess is most Americans would eliminate every gh combination tomorrow.

The point is the population is telling us how they want to spell these words. Formulating a system to spell them throo or tait (tight) or whatever would run counter to a natural tendency and might be harder to achieve.

Dutch reform a model for English?

Anthony Maye. Belgium.

I discovered the Simplified Spelling Society whilst surfing the internet. I have been living in Belgium since 1984 and, tho not a linguist, I have learned the main languages, French and Dutch (Flemish).

I regularly analyze the differences and similarities between these languages and English, and feel the modernization of Dutch would form a model for the revision of English. It is of course much easier to bring about changes in a language spoken by 20m people living in neighboring societies but this is no excuse for not trying to modernize our own.

Various reforms have been introduced into Dutch since the 1950s aimed at removing redundant letters, simplifying genders, and standardizing spelling whilst retaining a link to the etymology. Dutch is now generally pronounced as it is written, meaning when I read Dutch I know directly how to pronounce it without knowing all of the words (getting my tongue round some sounds is another matter). Another advantage is if I hear a word, I have a good chance of finding it in the dictionary.

A good example of the uniformity of Dutch is the use of single and double consonants and vowels. Double vowels lengthen a syllable (cf, the English words reed/ red). Double consonants shorten the preceding vowel sound if it is not the final syllable (as in British English travel/travelling). I would be delighted to discuss in greater detail how Dutch spelling reform could be applied to English.

My main interest in the Society is to track down information on i.t.a. I vaguely remember being taught to read using this in my Lancashire school, have fond memories of the books and would love to get hold of some examples to show people who look at me blankly when I mention it. I remember having great pleasure 'in reading at infant school. The only negative aspect was I had already been taught to read at home, and my parents were upset at being told not to teach me any more as it would affect my progress in i.t.a., or was it because it would affect the experiment results?

[See Dutch spelling reform.]

Don't judge good spellers as wise; poor as ignorant.

Alan Mole. USA.

English spelling is an atrocity, but we all learn it and read a lot, so we often recognize a misspelled word even when we could not spell it ourselves. Because smart people master even spelling well, we judge good spellers as wise, and poor spellers as ignorant.

I urge that we change this. If English spelling is to be reformed, there will be an intermediate period with spellings from different systems and, as people learn the new systems, with spellings which are wrong in every system. We should recognize this and accept it.

As we understand what is happening, and that it is for the best, we should make a conscious decision not to judge a work on its spelling, but merely say "Oh! There's a different spelling. It's better (or worse) than my own, so I'll adopt it (or not)." And then move on.

This is a strange resolution but one we must make if we are ever to fix the horrible old system. Memorization of nonsense was never the mark of a genius, anyway.

[Alan Mole: see Newsletters, link to ALC web.]

Faster to read - but who needs speed?

(Dr) Peter Gilet. Indonesia.

The most powerful argument in favor of retaining the old spelling is that it has become in part ideographic, in the sense that we draw visual patterns using letters to differentiate various words, and do not just use those letters phonetically.

This means that thought has a strikingly different profile from other words that might occur about it. Tho looks like the and we would have to slow reading if we replace though by tho.

Basically, then, traditional spelling is faster to read. The answer to this is, I think, that very few of us really need to read that fast. If we want to do so, then there is no reason why such 'ideographic' spelling should not be taught as a special course in places where it might be of use, say at universities, where the classics could still be read in this way to retain the feel of the old writing, and for speed.

Another way is to go thru a form of cut spelling, where the abbreviations would in fact be just as ideographic as current spelling. This is no new thing. Records of medieval court proceedings, taken on the spot in legal Latin, often have the most enterprising cuts in their spelling; eg, R for rogatus, as, on doctors' prescriptions.

When U think of it, we are obliged to use a spelling system designed for the educated elite, who could profit from faster reading, and this is just not one of the priorities of the common reader today.

[Peter Gilet: see Newsletters.]

Partly accepted spellings.

Harry Cookson. Portugal.

I have seen tho, thru, thoro used in US books. They seem to be partly accepted spellings. I support them, but the first o in thoro may later have to be u. Also I support thro for throw. I find tho and thru as alternatives in Webster's New Pocket Dictionary.

[Harry Cookson: see Journal J21, Newsletters.]

Straight answer to Bizarre request.

[The Society has been asked for an update of an entry in The Bizarre Leisure Book. Chris Upward obliges.]

Dear Stephen Jarvis

I must admit to being rather taken aback that the simplification of spelling could have an entry in a work entitled The Bizarre Leisure Book But I suppose the campaigns for the abolition of slavery or for women's suffrage would have been similarly classified in times gone by, so for the sake of the publicity, I guess we should submit to inclusion in your new edition.

However, we have moved on significantly since the account in your present edition was researched - one of your references is 50 years old, several hark back decades, and one I have never heard of? No doubt some people still consider it bizarre to work for the removal of orthographic obstacles to literacy, but we would hope that your next edition will serve to enlighten them.

I enclose some information leaflets about our Society's current thinking, which I suggest you study in conjunction with relevant entries (eg, 'spelling reform') in the Oxford Companion to the English Language. I also enclose the latest issue of our Journal, from which I hope you will see that our work is not all that bizarre, nor particularly leisurely.

In answer to your specific questions:

You may give our membership secretary as point of contact: Jean Hutchins [address supplied].

We have links with similar bodies in France, Germany and Switzerland, and there are a couple of affiliated organizations in the USA; but by and large people concerned with the modernization of English spelling look to the SSS itself. Our membership extends to Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, the USA.

Please don't hesitate to get in touch again if we can be of further assistance in helping you prepare the new entry.

[Chris Upward: see Journals, Newsletters, Leaflets, Media, Pamflet, Book, Papers.]

If it's not this, it's that.

Jean Hutchins, England.

I am investigating voice activated software. One of my concerns about it for dyslexic users is proofreading - has it put in the words spoken to it?

I asked a dyslexic 14-year-old, Grant, if he could choose correctly between homophones or between a correctly spelt word and an incorrectly spelt word. When reading we look at words and read what is there. When spelling, we have to recall the letters in the word, out of thin air. It is a task between those two to choose the correct one of two or more options

Interestingly, Grant said that he usually knows one of the confusables and therefore the other word must be the other meaning! He has noticed that he has particular trouble with spelling whether but if he sees weather/whether he knows what the first one means, so the other one must be the other meaning. (It was really mean of me to introduce wether = sheep which he had not heard of.' Sorry, Grant.)

[Jean Hutchins: see Journals, Newsletters.]

A small number of Harry Lindgren's paperback Spelling Reform: A New Approach are available free to members.

Some comments from members.

Jean Hutchins, membership secretary, gets many comments with subscriptions. A selection:

- Tilly Friederich.

- Jean Shelley. [See Newsletter NS4.]

- Jessie Wilson. [See Letter N2.]

- Jennifer Chew. [See Journal J25, Newsletter SS9 .]

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