No to simplified spelling

Today on the BBC website I came across an interesting debate on whether English spelling should be simplified - I personally agree with Vivian Cook who argues against simplification.

In addition to Vivian's points I'd like to say that when I taught English as a foreign language, my students struggled much more with English grammar (especially tenses), and with phrasal verbs, than they did with spelling. I hope that's not a reflection on my teaching...

Also, spellings often indicate a word's etymology - and by simplifying spellings, we would lose a lot of visual clues to the origin and history of words.

A third point I believe is not raised in the debate is that related words are often pronounced differently but spelled similarly, for example 'maniac' and 'maniacal'. If the spellings of these words were 'simplified', the connection between these words would no longer be so obvious in the spelling - which might actually hinder language learning.

Masha Bell, arguing in favour of simplification, says that irregular spellings penalise language learners with poor memories. Perhaps, but could it be that our idiosyncratic spelling actually helps all of us to develop our memories?

Finally, pronunciation of words changes over time, so if we moved to a more phonetic spelling system, would it be necessary to update certain spellings periodically? Who would be in charge of deciding when this happened and to what words? The Simplified Spelling Society, perhaps. But I like the fact that the spelling of the English language, or even of British English, isn't prescribed by any one body or organisation.

Any more thoughts?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here here

The worst example I can think is people confusing "there", "their" and "they're"....not rocket sciene but again it's people not understanding the origins (albeit simple) that causes it.

Why should we dumb down spellings for the new generation of dole-scrounger layabouts who can't be bothered to learn to spell things properly out of sheer laziness.

Man keeps thinking of ways to stop natural selection taking place, expanding the gene pool but decreasing IQs along the way.#

Not looking forward to the future!!

Gingerous Humerous Maximus said...

I don’t see the merit of this at all? Children have been learning the English language in this country successfully for hundreds of years. The ones that don’t want to learn aren’t going to learn whether we simplify it or not. I also think you will end up confusing more people than you help.

Neil said...

In a generation where most correspondance is electronic, people don't really need to spell anyway. BUT they need to have a vague appreciation of the word for the spell-checker to pick it up!

If we simplify the language people will still spell things wrong but the spell-checkers will take years to come up to speed

What a paradox for Microsoft!

JD said...

'Anonymous' makes a good point in that simplified spelling means we would no longer be able to use spelling to distinguish between homophones - 'there', 'their' and 'they're' would all be spelled the same ('ther' perhaps?).

I'm not sure how spelling encourages natural selection, but I like the idea! Seems a bit hard on dyslexics though...

Neil makes a good point too - we use spellcheckers here on our magazine but they are of limited use because often when you make a spelling mistake or typo you end up spelling one word like another word - you write 'work' instead of 'word' for example, and the spellchecker thinks that is what you meant. Damn them!