SS6. On other pages: part 1, part 3, part 4.

simpl speling July 1998 part 2.

[Valerie Yule: see Journals, Newsletters, Media, Personal View Anthology, Bulletins, Web links.]

What one member has been doing, and trying to do.

Three beliefs drive involvement in spelling reform.

Valerie Yule.

Three beliefs led to my concern with spelling reform:

Belief 1.

 The future is grim unless people can use their imagination to consider what may be possible, and to use their intelligence to work out how to make it possible. This belief inspires the project of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation, to encourage imaginative and practical thinking to solve social problems and improve quality of life, with its ACSION web site: clinical and educational work to prevent the handicaps of depression, ignorance and misfortune; long-term work on a manuscript on the Development of imagination; study of children's imagination in their stories and pictures; and political activism.

Belief 2.

 Literacy is essential to develop and inform the imagination and intelligence of the people. This belief underlies teaching literacy; research and writing on reforming English spelling; and innovative methods and materials for literacy, which could be vastly improved with a more consistent spelling system. This includes a half-hour Help yourself to read cartoon video giving an overview of how to learn to read, and an understanding of how the spelling system could be improved - a Keep-It-Simpl-Stupid project currently rejected by educationists on ideological grounds.

Belief 3.

 Literate people must also have what is worth reading. Amid the flood of print that is unhelpful and unpleasant, people must be able to find what is helpful and/or pleasant, to strengthen, inspire and inform them.

Improving English spelling.

When I found in my clinical and teaching work 25 years ago that often failing 'dyslexics' could read Spelling without Traps, I thought that the task, not the defeated learners, deserved blame and reform. My priority is a pragmatic reform for use now, that can lead into later reforms - much as I enjoy experimenting with ideal spelling and grammar reforms and new alphabets. (Everyone should design a reformed spelling for fun.)

I researched, read, taught, and corresponded internationally with reformers, cognitive psychologists, communications experts and linguists, exploring every type of proposal and testing arguments and assumptions of reformers and opponents. I learnt from Sir James Pitman's 'diaphonic' principle and other insights about a user-frendly spelling; Lindgren's 'start with something small'; Downing's practical expertise in children's learning, especially with the initial teaching alphabet (ita); experiences of George O'Halloran and others in designing new writing systems; writing system reforms in other countries; Helen Bisgard's Dictionary Kee, Rondthaler's computerized dictionary; J H Martin's initial lerning spelng, David Moseley's Aurally Coded Dictionary; John Beech's design for testing adaptation to spelling reform and Chris Upward's logical development of Cut Spelng. Other frends included Newell Tune, Axel Wijk, Vic Paulsen, Kingsley Read, Madhukar Gogate, Harvie Bernard. So much of what pioneers have already done should not be forgotten nor wheels invented again.

I have constantly been heartened, and as constantly disappointed. In 1982 the New Scientist published a spread on starting reform by dropping surplus letters, but it was rewritten, retitled and re-illustrated by a hostile copy-editor. In 1986 the Harvard Educational Review published my key contribution, The design of spelling to meet needs and abilities, showing the way to empirical research rather than argument - but it is unread. I have experimented in schools (risky!), in psychology and education labs, at conferences and on frends and relations.

As a PhD scholarship was the only way to finance research on the unacceptable topic of spelling reform, and to have access to university facilities, my thesis on Orthografy and reading: spelng and society was made to stretch the doctoral limits in its interdisciplinary range and variety of experiments, with emphasis on the cognitive psychology of reading and testing responses to reading text with surplus letters cut. (Copies are held by SSS and Manchester University.) The rewritten manuscript, however, is still unpublished.

It seems to me that a clean-up of English spelling is practicable now by three steps: cutting out surplus letters, using only consistent consonant spellings, and rationalizing vowel spellings to a smaller number of consistent patterns. People can take these steps as they can. Transition can be by fast international fashion changes, with alternative spellings coexisting with present spelling until they overtake it and are officially established. Then is the time when a proven ideal system can replace the immediately pragmatic.

I would like to pass on the motto: 'It's better to have tried and lost, than never to have tried at all.'

¶ A select bibliography is available from the author, from published articles in Spelling Progress Bulletin, Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, etc. and chapters in books.

¶ Valerie is a vice-president of the Society.

[Nelson Helm: see Newsletters.]

Selling spelling.

'The excellent but unlikely is killing the modest but less unlikely'.

Nelson Helm.

If I knew more about fonics I would love discussing the alternatives. But I know almost nothing of fonics. I enjoy email posts by other members and wish I knew what they know. But, I fear it's going nowhere, castles in the sky.

The excellent but unlikely is killing the modest but less unlikely.

I believe that most persons think of what they learned as small children as somehow both natural, like gravity, and right, like (your) religion. Most think they see the world as it is. Furthermore, peoples commonly identify nationally by language (eg, Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples), and bucking nationalism would mean swimming against a very strong current.

Altho we often use the same words, I suspect that most persons do not understand God as their parents or grandparents did; like the same music their parents or grandparents did; nor food, nor clothes, nor art, nor literature, nor houses. But, we still use the same words, and understand Shakespeare reasonably well. I know of no behavior that persons cling to more tenaciously than talking and writing as they learned as children.

So, I expect agreeing on how to reform will be much easier than convincing hundreds of millions of persons to reform.

We're still here.

Consider past efforts. Some first-rate minds - Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Pitman - have not made a dent. In the US, lexicographer Noah Webster changed centre to center, colour to color, gaol to jail, etc. Walt Whitman changed some cs to ks.

Nice, but ... we're still here. Have we made a dent?

The spelling changes I have observed came from the bottom up - inexpert persons uninterested in language talking and writing sloppily - thru, EZ, kwik - or ad agencies naming products fonetically, with no care about linguistic by-products, nor thought about a comprehensive integral system.

Ad agencies?! Persons who want to influence how others think and act, advertise. Advertisers use polls and focus groups to learn what those they hope to influence think and want; what they will accept; and what they think ridiculous. Then, the agency crafts ads appealing to their target market, and publishes in media likely to reach it.

Advertisers and agencies do not think things thru rigorously, anticipate cultural by-products, and balance competing interests to present elegant solutions in the social interest. Look at ads for razors, shoes, beer, cigarets, and leadership (election campaigns).

Man explaining spelling changes to a lady.

Small change first.

I expect the public will resist the first change most. Therefore, I suggest that we find some small, popular change, and sell it in isolation (not as part of a package).

What do we change first? Before deciding, look for a change which will make or save someone money. Poll and listen to focus groups to learn who will support us, and who will oppose. Then, select the change which enlists maximum support, minimum opposition, which you expect to require the least effort.

It will take years. Do it again. It will take years. And again. By then, I expect some will not feel so threatened by planned change. A new generation will be growing up with planning change as the normal status quo.

Only after we have succeeded in making a few changes, should we start talking publicly about broad, systemic change.

I hope we can propose a first change consistent with an integral, comprehensive scheme, but expect that to change anything, we must exploit our opportunities as we find them, perhaps abandoning the goal of a consistent integral scheme.

How can we move things along? Recruit an ad agency. I expect some copywriters, who make their living by writing very well, care about language, words, spelling. One might volunteer to help. Wouldn't 'Reformed English spelling worldwide' look good on a resume or a tombstone?

A sticker on an envelope sent by a member:


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