SS5. On other pages, part 1, part 3.
[Allan Campbell: see Journals, Newsletters, Media.]

simpl speling March 1998 part 2.


Learning for the future.

This is the Society's 90th year!

It's a time to celebrate and take stock of our achievements, and to draw strength from them as we move to the centenary and the new millennium.

But wait! What achievements?

We have researched and published, held conferences, made representations. But how many spelling changes have been made thru our efforts? Few, at best!

We have constructed clever and logical designs for spelling systems; we have had spelling debated by politicians; we have spoken or made submissions to important people or groups.

But where's the beef?

Results, not Activity, measure success.

Our aim - simplification of English spelling - has not become, or shown signs of becoming, reality. To be blunt, we are failing.

But our failure is not irredeemable. The ultimate failure is not to learn from failure. What can we learn?

Being focused on orthography rather than people changes little. Devising spelling systems changes little. Cozy or heated discussion among ourselves, by whatever means, changes little. Button-holing politicians, educators, or other VIPs changes little. Each activity, of itself, does little to bring about change.

We have been working in an ad hoc, uncoordinated way and it is not bringing change. Do we continue this or do we adopt a game plan? If the former, well and good, but don't expect much to happen.

If the latter, what is the strategy? How do we formulate it? Where do we begin? What do we do? How do we do it? How do we discern what 'the traffic will allow'? How do we co-ordinate worldwide?

What resources do we need? What do we have? How do we make up the shortfall? How can U and I help? Do we want to?

It seems to me we are at the crossroads: a smooth ad hoc diversion or a ruf, hilly track ahead. Which? The committee has made a major change of direction by deciding to employ administrative help. With our support, maybe the Society will have reached a significant milestone by the time of its centenary.

- Allan Campbell.


A view from the chalk face.

As a retired primary teacher with 27 years' experience in Scotland and England (57 schools when supply work is included), I have seen the problems young children face with spelling.

On entering school many have acquired a considerable vocabulary, some fluent beyond their years. Speech communication is the first skill most master. Problems emerge with the written word, spelling proving to be particularly troublesome.

The attitude towards spelling errors matters to children. A page of red correction marks does nothing for confidence and leads to a 'switch-off'. Unlike adults, children's feelings of embarrassment are not obvious.

Directing them to desk dictionaries is not always the answer and can add to frustration: Try looking up once under W! Most take the short-cut and ask the teacher, even when the word poses no obvious difficulty, a sure sign confidence is damaged.

Sure, schools and individual teachers devise various, sometimes ingenious, strategies to improve spelling, even buying expensive material. But sooner or later these flounder, mainly because they fail to tackle the underlying chaos of the Spelling system in use.

The introduction of i.t.a. in the '60s was an attempt to overcome some of the difficulties. There were two negative responses I as a student, picked up in those days. Teachers saw it as an added chore and rarely felt confident using the alphabet, especially when they realized it would later be ditched further up the school. The positive side I saw was how quickly children took to it not only in reading but when writing, of ten months before this skill is usually acquired. I have no experience of teaching adult literacy but those who do tell me the problems are almost identical to those faced by children - plus a feeling of embarrassment. I was, therefore, disappointed after reading the BBC's booklet Spelling it out that there was no mention of the 'hotchpotch of contradictory mini-systems' that makes English spelling so difficult for some. The BBC's Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit booklet acknowledges its students may have 'problems' or may be 'unsure' of spelling but not to 'panic'. It offers some strategies to overcome their inadequacy, implying that the message is sound, pity about the messenger.

Until a modernized, simplified spelling system replaces the present antiquated model the same old problems will persist.

George Anderson. Scotland. [See Journal, Newsletters.]

Overcoming the big hurdle to reform.

Jean Wilkinson (SS4 Nov97) asked 25 people how they would prefer to spell five awkwardly spelled English words. Result: No consensus - she received between four and seven different spellings for each word.

That is a problem with Dan MacLeod's suggestion (ibid) that spelling reformers should 'consult the user' in seeking guidance for the most acceptable form of simplified spelling. There will be wide disagreement.

Whenever I have a chance I give a little simplified reading test to literate adults and teenagers. I explain, in about 30sec, that an e after a vowel gives that vowel its 'long' or 'name' pronunciation. Then I ask the person to read aloud a 500-word story written in the WES (World English Spelling) version of New Spelling developed by scholars years ago, and now updated. After the first line or two all readers, without exception, have read the rest of the story smoothly and with no significant difficulty.

What one learns from this is that literate people can easily read a logical, simplified spelling if it is not too bizarre. We do not need a better system than we now have in WES.

But ask those same people to write that simple spelling! They can't do it. Jean Wilkinson's experiment confirms that simpler spelling is seen quite differently by different people - perhaps as different as are the many invented spellings of children. The big hurdle is not the public's inability to read a logical spelling, but to write it. How can that be delt with?

Today's PC compatible computers hear the call and come to the rescue. When U type in TO, a properly programmed PC can now convert your TO into a simple, updated WES spelling - automatically. It wil sho U, on the screen, how your werds wuud luuk if U'd tiept them in a speling that uthers can reed. That aplies to all com-werds (werds that ar not proper nouns) in our langgwej, and that wil maek our speling as reguelar, lojical, and as eezy to lern as ar the spelings of uther langgwejes.

Yur tieping mae then be printed in eether TO or simplified.

PS: This American Literacy Council (New York) program, as it now stands, is a working tool for implementing spelling reform. It is fully operable on 286 and up DOS-based PCs with color screen. A sister program automatically transliterates manuscripts of articles or books. Both programs need funding for improvements such as proportional spacing, typographic niceties, voice, enlargement of corpus, conversion to Macintosh, etc. But the software's uncanny ability to overcome reform's great weakness gives us the tool for moving simpler spelling from dream to reality.

(Dr) Edward Rondthaler, USA. [See Journals, Newsletters, Personal View 8, Anthology, Bulletins, Web link to ALC.]

An alternative to Cut Spelling.

Three things make English texts difficult: symbols that represent more than one sound, symbols that represent the same sound as other symbols, and silent letters. Suggestions that we eliminate silent letters are therefore right on target. If we did this in English words, the change would make reading and writing significantly easier for everyone. We cannot, however, go forward with this blindly, for there are dangers that must be taken into account.

We can safely eliminate silent letters where they do not affect the pronunciations of words and where it will put an end to such aberrations as the bh, ck, dh, gh, kh, kn, lh, ll, mn, ph, ps symbols. We can also drop the c from the sc symbol as used in science, etc. There is, however, danger in eliminating the silent letters in doubled consonants that are mused to key the pronunciation of short vowel sounds, and we cannot afford to eliminate the silent letters in vowel digraphs until we have decided how we are going to represent the long and short vowel sounds.

Eliminating silent letters from doubled consonants could make the preceding vowel appear to be the long vowel, as changing spelling to speling does. This type of change should be avoided until such time as the vowel symbols can stand by themselves; ie, until such time as, for example, a, e, i, o, and u represent only the short vowel sounds, and other symbols, perhaps ae, ee, ie, oe, and ue represent the long vowel sounds.

The advantage of eliminating silent letters as a first step towards simplification is that it will not require changes in spelling rules, nor major alterations to the lexicon. While it will not eliminate the ambiguities of some symbols, or the redundancies of others, it will permit us to continue teaching the language we have been teaching, requiring very little change in the curricula.

In these respects, it is vastly superior to Cut Spelling, which departs significantly from current practise, and requires an entirely new set of spelling rules. It is therefore suggested that the committee the SSS recommend the elimination of silent letters as a positive step toward spelling simplification.

George Lahey, USA. [See Newsletters, Personal View.]

'Heyday is now' to modernize spelling.

In the Chicago Tribune's 150th anniversary edition in June 1997 columnist ERIC ZORN wrote of the newspaper's involvement with simplified spelling. Later he learned of the existence of the Society and had email correspondence with our editor-in-chief Chris Upward. He wrote this follow-up in December.

As we approach the conclusion of the Tribune's yearlong 150th anniversary observance, duty compels me to issue a clarification on a matter formerly of some importance to this newspaper.

The simplified spelling movement is not dead. Contrary to the impression I may have left in my contribution to the massive commemorative edition June 8, the Tribune's 41-year experiment in spelling reform did not kill the idea once and for all when it concluded in 1975.

Indeed the 'heyday is now' for efforts to modernize and otherwise make sense of English spelling, according to a leader of the 89-year-old Simplified Spelling Society, a language professor with the fittingly optimistic name of Christopher Upward.

Tho the society has only about 100 members world-wide, Upward, with whom I was in touch only after my article appeared, said new scholarship as well as the growth of English as a world language has made the cause particularly vital.

You can read a transcript of my lengthy email interview with Upward at my web site, It includes his description of the 'Cut Spelling' system with which he proposes publications experiment, perhaps just in one column once a week to start.

"With its famus histry of involvmnt in th speing reform question," he wrote, using the system, "th Chicago Tribune myt be th ideal paper to start th trend."

Myt be. But its the Sun-Tyms tern.

(The Sun-Times is another Chicago newspaper. - Ed.]

[Jean Wilkinson: see Newsletters .]

Jean Wilkinson, USA, writes:

We can help them now!

First the bad news. U may remember it yourself U were little, and U struggled to tell the difference between thought, though, and through. And they were bears to spell.

Now - multiply your frustration by the number of English-speaking children in the world. Plus the number who haven't gone to school yet, or been born yet, down the generations. Every literate English-speaking child must learn to differentiate between those 'three bears'. No child can avoid them, and still learn to read. 'How many child-hours are wasted in that one small struggle? Can U remember your own confusion, anger, discouragement, self-blame? I can.

Now the good news. We - U and I - can set the next generation free. How? By using solutions now available to us in the dictionary. Tho and thru are now being listed because enuf people are using them. But publishers haven't switched over yet, because the majority of us haven't switched yet.

Why switch? We've finally got two of those words strait!

If tho and thru were adopted by a majority of people, publishers would follow, children's books would follow, and the ough spellings would be presented to the students as alternative spellings somewhere in the middle grades. As it is, thought and through are active first-grade vocabulary. Now, that's cruel.

If we don't change, the spellings probably won't change (most haven't, for centuries).

And there's something in it for us. It's faster.

I'm changing, for the sake of the kids. Do U think it's worth it? Want to come along? Why perpetuate needless suffering on our kids? Would U do it to your dog?

Don't wait for George. He's waiting for U!

Harnessing Shakespeare to the cause.

In a post to the SSS-email-group Dan MacLeod suggested we quote the Bard when we hear, as an objection to change, 'I like the beauty of the language the way Shakespeare wrote it'. Examples from the First Folio:

From Hamlet
... to dye, to fleepe -
No more - and by a fleep to fay we end
'The heart-ake, and the thouf and Naturall shockes
That Flesh is heyre too!
From the Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet
Hift Romeo hift! 0 for a Falkners voice,
To lure this Taffell-gentle backe againe!
Bondage is hoarse, and may not fpeake aloud;
Else would I Teare the Caue wher Echo lies,
And make her ayrie more hoarse than mine.

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