News Archive - 2014 (9)
You can’t tell the spelling from the pronunciation, and you can’t tell the pronunciation from the spelling. No wonder people find English difficult
English spelling was messed about with in the 15th century when it became reinstated as our official language. Foreign printers with imperfect knowledge of English compounded the felony during the Bible wars of the 16th century, and the early lexicographers made little attempt to match spellings consistently with the sounds they were supposed to represent. Not much has changed since then – which seems unbelievable when you consider what a forward-thinking and innovative nation we are.
English spelling is complicated, but it has its reasons for being that way. Given that it borrowed from other languages, pronunciation changes over time, and peculiarities in the evolution of printing standards all played a role in getting us to where we are today. The way a word is spelled tells a part of its history. But for a few words, the spelling gets the history totally wrong.
England and America are two countries separated by the same language
From time to time, Australians complain about the apparent encroachment of Americanisms in our language, and the Brits seem none too happy about it either.
Government’s phonics check sees 5% rise in number of five- and six-year-olds passing, with 74% of pupils in England reaching expected standard
The results of the government’s controversial phonics check – designed to test how children read and pronounce simple words and sounds – saw a 5% increase in the number of five- and six-year-olds passing the check, with 74% of state school pupils in England reaching the expected standard in 2014. In contrast, just 58% of pupils were able to correctly pronounce the expected number of words and sounds when the phonics check was first administered in state primary schools nationwide in 2012.
The scourge of spellers, silent letters are often a stumbling block when learning how to write in English. To the modern eye, it's unclear what these letters are doing in the words in question, and learners sometimes simply have to memorize them. But the silent letters are very often hidden remnants of how the words passed through different languages on their way to English. Here, from our friends at Vocabulary.com, are 15 words that prove that English spelling is far from rational.
Even in a world where we have easy access to spell check software on our computers and smartphones, the ability to spell is important. Some researchers consider spelling to be among the highest regarded skills of expressive writing and spelling is often considered to be an indication of education level or intelligence (Vaughn & Bos, 2009). Spelling is an important skill because it has a positive effect on reading and expressive writing outcomes (Kohnen, Nickels, & Coltheart, 2010; Sayeski, 2011; Wanzek et al., 2006).
Have you had enough (or enuf) trouble spelling to make you want to scream (or skreem?) You are not alone. Since the 17th century, scholars have been protesting the irregularities that occur in English spelling. Reform movements can boast such iconic English-speaking figures Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, and Theodore Roosevelt. English is currently the most widely-spoken language on the planet, yet it is the only language among the top ten most spoken that lacks an official regulatory academy to approve spelling.
Given the problems of mastering English spelling, perhaps the time is right to discuss the prospects for its improvement, says Stephen Linstead of the English Spelling Society
Compared with other languages, English has relatively simple grammar and punctuation, which can be mastered by learning the rules. However, English spelling is a different matter. The spelling of roughly 35 per cent of the commonest English words is, to a degree, irregular or ambiguous; meaning that the learner has to memorise these words.
[video] Anne Curzan is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English at the University of Michigan. As an expert in the history of the English language, Curzan describes herself as a fount of random linguistic information about how English works and how it got to be that way. Anne blogs about language for The Chronicle of Higher Education's Lingua Franca and appears every Sunday morning on Michigan Radio's "That What They Say."