[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, 1988/2, p17-19 later designated J8]
[Chris Jolly: see Book, Journals, Newsletters, Media, Bulletins, Web links.]

The Marketability of Spelling Reform.

C J H Jolly.

Chris Jolly has been Chairman of the Simplified Spelling Society since 1982 and has extensive professional experience in marketing. He has started a company developing learning products which is publishing and marketing innovatory reading materials. The following paper was presented at the Society's Fifth International Conference in July 1987.

The Survey.

For spelling reform to take place it must be what people want. If not, it will simply be rejected. To find out what people want we must ask them, and this paper reports on some research that was carried out with that in mind. It set out to find if spelling reform could appeal to a majority of the population, and if so on what basis.

The survey took the form of street interviews using a questionnaire. (The questionnaire, showing the exact wording used, is given at the end of this article.) It represents only the views of 50 people in one London suburb (Loughton) on a day in July 1987. With such a small sample, the results should be taken only as a useful guide rather than any kind of definitive assessment.

However the results were both encouraging and had some surprises. Important among the findings was that:

The Respondents.

Among the 50 people interviewed a high proportion was younger, female and in clerical/administrative work, all of which may have biased the results against spelling reform.

The Respondents
(figures in %)
 Sex Men32 Women68
 
 Age 16-25
36-45
56-65
24
20
10
26-35
46-55
66+
20
22
4
 
 Class AB
C1
C2
DE
26
34
30
10
Management/Professional
Clerical/Administrative
Skilled Manual
Semi-skilled/Unskilled

The Results.

Most people considered themselves average spellers, but with more women than men claiming to be good spellers:

Self-assessment of spelling proficiency
(figures in %)
  Good spellers
Average spellers
Poor spellers
Total
22
60
18
Men
6
75
19
Women
29
53
18

However most people thought it was very important to spell correctly. If anything, such views were held more strongly by women and those over 45:

Importance attached to correct spelling
(figures in %)
  Very important
Quite important
Not important
Total
60
36
4
Men
56
38
6
Women
62
35
3
16-45
56
38
6
46+
67
33
-

Both good spellers and average spellers saw correct spelling as important in the same proportion. Only poor spellers were inclined to see it as not important.

Most people (68%) had seen spellings that were deliberately different. The most common were advertising and product names (32%) and American spellings (30%).

Surprisingly perhaps, most people did not think that spelling should never be changed:

Should spelling ever be changed?
(figures in %)
 
Should never be changed
Could be changed in certain circumstances
Total
40
60
Men
31
69
Women
47
53

Men were more prepared to see change than women. Those who were good spellers were just as ready to see change as those who were average or poor spellers. Similarly, those who thought correct spelling was very important were just as ready to see change as those who thought correct spelling was only quite important or not important.

Surprisingly it was the younger people who were the most resistant to change. Similarly it was the higher socio-economic classes, particularly as we shall see later the clerical and administrative Cl class, that did not wish to have spelling changed:

Should spelling ever be changed?
(figures in %)
  By age
Should never be changed
Could be changed in certain circumstances
Total
40
60
16-25
58
42
26-35
40
60
36-45
38
62
56+
14
86
 
 By class
Should never be changed
Could be changed in certain circumstances
Total
40
60
AB
46
54
C1
47
53
C2
33
67
DE
20
80

When asked why they did not want to see change, there was no simple answer. Indeed a questionnaire of this sort is not the best way of exploring this point. However there was an overriding fear of confusion, a belief that different schemes would cause chaos, nobody would know where they were and everything would get very complicated. Above all, while they would be prepared to change their spelling to help children and immigrants it would have to be a change they were part of. They did not wish to have different spellings for different people.

Respondents were prepared to see spellings that were deliberately different, more so in personal letters or notes than in, say, reading schemes for children:

Deliberately different spellings acceptable
(figures in %)
  In advertisements
In a letter from a friend
In notes a friend makes for himself
52
52
70
 
 In special reading schemes for children
In an ordinary novel
38
18

One of the objections to different spelling in advertisements was that it would encourage children to spelling incorrectly. The figures suggest that spelling reform might be most readily accepted for use in personal notes.

Asked whether it would be a good idea to reform illogical spellings, only half the people thought so:

Changing illogical spellings desirable
(figures in %)
  By sex & age
Yes
No
Total
52
48
Men
56
44
Women
50
50
16-25
42
58
26-35
60
40
36-45
48
52
56+
72
28
 By class
Yes
No
Total
52
48
AB
54
46
C1
24
76
C2
73
27
DE
80
20

Again it is the younger, and particularly the clerical C1 class, that is not in favour of change.

However respondents' view of people who set out to reform English spelling was mostly favourable when asked whether they were:

Spelling reformers
(figures in %)
  Misguided
On the right lines
42
58

It was put to respondents that decimalisation had come and that metrication was well under way. Against this background most thought there would be some change in spelling in their lifetime, though not very much:

Spelling reform in our lifetime?
  (figures in %)
Not at all
Possibly a few words
Some significant changes
A wholesale reform
Total
18
64
18
-
Men
31
50
19
-
Women
12
70
18
-

Women were more prepared to believe that there will be some change than men (despite the fact they would welcome it less).

Those who were good spellers, and those who believed correct spelling to be very important, thought that spelling reform was only likely to stretch to 'possibly a few words'. It was the average/poor spellers, and those who saw correct spelling as quite important/not important, who thought that spelling reform was likely to include 'some significant changes'. In other words it was those who were less happy with spelling who expected greatest change:

Spelling reform in our lifetime?
(figures in %)
  By spelling proficiency
Not at all
Possibly a few words
Some significant changes
A wholesale reform
By importance attached to correct spelling
Not at all
Possibly a few words
Some significant changes
A wholesale reform
Total
18
64
18
-
Total
18
64
18
-
Good
18
73
9
-
V.important
20
70
10
-
Average/poor
18
62
20
-
Quite/not important
15
55
30
-

Some of the potential benefits of spelling reform were welcomed much more than others. We have already seen than reforming illogical spelling was thought to be a good idea by 52%.

Conditions for welcoming spelling reform
(figures in %)
 If words needed fewer letters
If words were spelt more like they sound
If some of the confusing spellings were made less confusing
32
64
74

So a system based simply on reducing the number of letters (an abbreviation system) would not have the same support as one based on more phonetic spelling. Note again that the avoidance of confusion appears the strongest motivator.

However it should be noted that these replies were from street interviews with people who did not have much time to think it through, and no examples to work with. The results should be considered only as an outline guide and one that could help in future research.

With these reservations in mind, consider the figures more closely. The welcome for spelling reform is maintained, at much the same level, even among those who had least support for spelling reform:

Conditions for welcoming spelling reform
By various indicators (figures in %)


If words needed fewer letters
If words were spelt more like they sound
If confusing spellings less confusing
Total

32
64
74
Women

26
59
74
Age
16-25
33
58
83
Class
C1
6
47
59
Good
spellers
9
55
73
Correctness
v.important
43
67
77

It is in the clerical, C1 class that there are fewest people who would welcome spelling reform. However even in this group a majority would welcome reforms that would make confusing spellings less confusing.

Earlier in the questionnaire, many respondents thought spelling 'should never be changed'. Even so, a surprising number of them would welcome some of the possible benefits of spelling reform when it was put to them later on:

Welcoming but not expecting spelling reform
Of those who thought spelling would never be changed,
 reform would be:
If words needed fewer letters
If words were spelt more like they sound
If some of the confusing spellings
were made less confusing
welcomed by
30
55
44
not welcomed by
70
45
45

Conclusion.

Some of the results of spelling reform would attract a wide level of support, others less so. These preferences have only been broadly indicated in this research but should be taken into account in the development and promotion of spelling reform schemes.

QUESTIONNAIRE

Could I ask you some questions about spelling?
Q.1Do you consider yourself a  
  Good speller A
  Average spellerB
  Poor spellerC
Q.2How important do you think it is to spell correctly?  
  Very importantD
  Quite importantE
  Not importantF
Q.3Forgetting for a moment the mistakes that children or the newspapers make,
have you ever seen words deliberately spelt in a different way?
 
  YesY
  NoN
 If Yes, where? 
  In advertisementsG
  In product namesH
  In books teaching children to read I
  Used to help show the pronunciation J
Q.4In general, and do you think that spellings:  
  Should never be changedK
   Could be changed in certain circumstancesL
Q.5If never, why? 
  Like it as it isM
  Spoils the languageN
   Taken so long to learn no wish to changeO
  OtherP
Q.6Would you be prepared to see spellings that are deliberately different: 
  In advertisementsQ
  In a letter from a friend R
  In the notes a friend makes for himself S
   In special reading schemes for childrenT
  In an ordinary novelU
Q.7 Do you think it is a good idea to reform
some of the more illogical English spellings?
 
  YesY
  NoN
Q.8What is your view of people who set out to reform English spelling? Are they: 
  MisguidedA
  On the right linesB
Q.9 Now that decimalization has come, and metrication is well under way,
how much do you think spelling will be reformed in your lifetime?
 
  Not at allC
  Possibly a few wordsD
  Some significant changesE
  A wholesale reformF
Q.10  Would you welcome spelling reform if, as a result, 
  Words would be written with fewer letters Y/N
  Words were spelt more like they sound Y/N
  Some of the confusing spellings were made less confusingY/N

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