Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The A to Bee of spelling

Spelling and spelling reform have hit the news recently, with arguments over the English spelling system in several newspapers. If you believe popular opinion, we're all getting much worse at spelling and this is probably down to rubbish teachers, teenage fecklessness, utter indolence and text messaging. But as with much "popular opinion" or "it's obvious innit" schools of "common sense", it's not that simple.

The English spelling system is a strange beast and one that reflects a lot about the history of our language - its origins in other languages, its changes over time, and the influences of technology and social change - and a lot about the ways we pronounce words, or used to. And it's this mish mash of different influences that makes it such a difficult system for many people to master. Not only that, but to say it's a system implies there's a logical structure to it, and that's not always the case.

John Sutherland, in this article in The Independent, looks at the issue of spelling reform - changing the way we spell words - and the debates over it. Elsewhere, the views of John Wells, the President of the Spelling Society (there is indeed such a thing), the man who kick started this current debate about spelling by arguing that we should relax spelling rules, are covered in this Times piece, this Daily Mail article and this Guardian article which is good if you're looking for the historical background to some of our spelling patterns.

In a slightly different way, this article in yesterday's Guardian - a profile of the top linguist David Crystal - makes the point that texting isn't really the true villain in all this, as some commentators are claiming, but just the latest technological advance to carry the can for making us communicate more inaccurately.

Useful for:
ENA5 - Language Change
ENGA3 - Language Explorations

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