MoreBites 3:

More Contexts of SpellBites 2.

10 Aug 2005. Turlock Journal, CA, USA. Ed Brault.

I never realized how insane English can be until I started teaching "English as a Second Language" for the Turlock Adult School.

Unlike Spanish, English spelling is often only remotely related to actual pronunciation. Who decided to spell "yacht" and "colonel" in such a bizarre manner? "Yawt" and "kernel" make more sense.

And who needs all those silent letters in such words as "know," "comb," "fight," "talk," "salmon," "calm" and "who."

"Ocean" should be spelled "oshun," and "sugar" should be spelled "shuger."

In the five Romance languages, the letter "a" is generally pronounced "ah." In English, this miserable vowel has at least five different sounds as in the words "cat," "late," "father," "ball," and "air." Yikes!

No wonder our kids have trouble spelling.

10 July 2005. Book review. The online monthly journal

by Valerie Yule [SSS member].

(The Book Guild, A$32.95HB). (The actual Australian price is $29.95, UK is £8.95)

When Valerie sent me her book for review I made the mistake of glancing at the blurb, the contents, the bibliography and Valerie's nice pic and then starting at page one and beginning to read it, as if it were a novel.

I soon found myself bogged down in detail, facts and figures about the way the English language is used and misused and then began to realise that I had a reference book in my hands. So I re-checked the contents and selected those chapters that initially appealed to me.

Like Chapter 3, the Sealed Sexion (always read the naughty bits first). This is where Valerie gets into her stride and launches into an exposé of the idiosyncrasies of spelling. Fortunately she has a wicked sense of humour and whereas you and I were probably taught grammar and spelling at school in a dry-as-dust manner and presented with constructions as if they were holy writ, Valerie explodes across the page like a fire-cracker. The way we spell is not set in concrete.

Yet no-one ever told us that it was possible to change the way we spell words.
As she says, English is about the only language in the world that has not made some major or minor reform of its writing system in the past 150 years) and if we want our kids to read widely and voraciously, we need to make it easier for them, not harder.

So Valerie has provided us with a treasure-chest full of glittering insights into the way we spell and misspell our language (never mind the regional variations of Australian, British, Canadian and US spellings, to name just a few) and pleads for some rational debate and genuine moves for reform. Full of wit and imagination, facts and erudition, If you love language, you'll buy this book.

8 July 2005. The Hindu, online edition. Extracts.

Try to conquer the spelling demon. Elizabeth Alexander.

Learning to spell is an active language skill, closely related to the skill of listening.

Pun on Shaw's spelling of 'fish'
A lady who had no children went to see a doctor about an imaginary ailment. After examination the doctor said, "Madam, what you need is sun and air." The lady replied, "Unfortunately, I don't have both." She meant 'son' and 'heir'.

What confused her are the sets of words in English known as homophones - words that have different spellings and meanings but the same sound.

Then there are the homonyms - words that are spelt and pronounced alike but mean different things according to the context in which they are used - words like hand, bill, bowl, cricket and so on.

Very irrational.

Added to this is the irrational and idiosyncratic nature of English spelling. It bears no logical relation to speech. The problem arises because the number of graphemes (written symbols) does not correlate with the number of phonemes (sounds) in the English language. The 26 letters of the alphabet cover 47 phonemes (according to COD). Sometimes one phoneme can be represented by more than one grapheme. Hence Bernard Shaw's famous analogy that the word 'fish' can be written as 'ghoti' and still be pronounced 'fish'! (For 'gh' in words like rough and laugh has the 'f' sound. The 'o' in women has the 'i' sound and the 'ti' in nation and ration has the 'sh' sound.)

Besides these inconsistencies there are the silent letters which complicate English spelling 'h' as in hour and honour, psychology and pneumonia, or debt and doubt, or calm and palm.

An excellent reader may be a poor speller. Gandhi was a poor speller and Churchill at Harrow made more blotches than structured words on his test paper.

18 June 2005. Telegraph Weekend. Education. Letters.

Q. My mildly dyslexic son has difficulty using a dictionary because he often doesn't know where to begin looking for a word. Any suggestions?

A. Christine Maxwell's 'Dictionary of Perfect Spelling'. It lists (but does not define) more then 20,000 common words, the least phonetic being printed phonetically in red next to the correct spelling in black. So: ither/either; loyer/lawyer; shud/should; xma/eczema. Published by Barrington Stoke, which specialises in books for reluctant readers, £12.99:; 0131 557 2020.

24 June 2005. The Times.

Purrfect spelling: A knew dictionary with opertunities for every ocassion.

Inglish orthograffy is a wierd cemetary of sibboleths. Foreigners are harrased by it. Natives to the maner borne are embarassed. So it is a releif for the beleagered batalions of mispellers that the Dictionary of Perfect Spelling is being relunched. This referance book annoints the 27 differant pronounciations of "-ough-", adambrates riming break with freak, persues the racket over racquets, and accomodates the jungle of miniscule diferances in the endings -ible and -able. But how will it help those who commit the commen errer of spelling "nollij", sick, to look it up? Spelling the unspellible is no longer seen as a moral virtue. Children have more relavent lessons than spelling B's. The high-tech solution is Spellcheck. But this is a false friend, unable to liase with poetry or the unexpected. The scholer's solutian is The Oxford English Dictionary. But this is definately unhelpful, since it lists the varient cacograffies. Radicles would call the hole mess off, and supercede it with fonetic spelling.

But who's fonetics should it accomodate? How can we alianate all previous litererture from Shakspeere to Jane Austin? Speling is the archeology of language. Our spelling of "wine" and "pillow" records that the Saxons had adopted these Latin words before they invaded Britton and inwented the letter V. Eschschol(t)zia, the yellow California poppie, is a compliment to a member of the Romanzoff expedition of 1821. And they spelt his name wrong, anyway. Fuschia, anyone?

More than two centuries of sub-editors are turning in there graves over this editoriel. Times readers, being wizzerd spellers, will have spoted all 56 mispellings. Or is it a round Hinds?

May 2005. McGraw Hill. Price: US$16.95/S$30.50.

by Adam Brown [SSS member]

The English spelling system is based on the alphabetic principle, that letters in the spelling represent individual consonant and vowel sounds in the pronunciation. However, for various reasons, many of them related to the history of the language, the English spelling system is perhaps the worst example of an alphabetic system in existence. As a result, transcription systems for representing the pronunciation of English in a one-to-one way have had to be devised.

Sounds, Symbols and Spellings explains the rationale for, and gives familiarisation practice in the symbols of the transcription system used in all good modern British English dictionaries. The book
Non-native learners of the English language as well as native speakers who need to be familiar with transcription, will find this book useful.

15 May 2005. The Sunday Telegraph. [Excerpts.]

Incorrect spelling will be not be penalised in English tests.

Curriculum authority instructs examiners to ignore mistakes by 14-year-olds as Government struggles to meet literacy targets in schools.

By Julie Henry Education Correspondent.

SKOOL xams definitly aint what they used to be. Concern about the nation's spelling abilities may have spawned a best-selling book and a television series, but for today's pupils, ignorance of "i before e except after c" is no barrier to success.

Examiners marking an English test taken by 600,000 14-year-olds have been told not to deduct marks for incorrect spelling on the main writing paper, worth nearly a third of the overall marks.

The rule, issued by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, means that pupils could spell every word wrongly in the most significant piece of writing that they are required to do and yet still receive full marks.

Ministers are particularly concerned about exam results this year, having failed to achieve their 2004 target of 75 per cent of 14-year-olds reaching the level expected in English. Just 71 per cent reached the standard, despite a multi-million pound Government strategy aimed at improving lessons in secondary schools.

The paper, called the "longer writing task", is part of the national curriculum English test taken in more than 3,000 secondary schools on May 6. The tests are regarded as a good indicator of GCSE achievement.

Examiners this year have to follow the QCA's mark scheme, which dictates how scores are allocated. In the longer writing paper, in which pupils were asked to write a piece on the design of a robot, 14 marks were given for composition and effect, eight were available for sentence structure and punctuation, and eight also for text structure and organisation. Spelling was not assessed at all.

A pupil's ability to spell is taken into account only in the "shorter writing task" where it is allocated a possible four marks out of 20. Across the English test as a whole, which includes two reading papers, spelling accounts for a total of just four marks out of 100.

In last year's test, pupils gained an average of two marks for spelling. Typical spelling mistakes included beautfull, basicly, rember, favorite and occationally. Prior to the current mark scheme, examiners were told to regard spelling as "integral to the performance" of pupils over the two writing papers. Since the change, the percentage of pupils reaching the expected standard in the English test has risen from 67 in 2002 to 71 in 2004. Over the same period, the QCA has lowered the pass mark in the test by an average of three marks.

A spokesman for the QCA said grammar and spelling were still an important part of the national assessment.

1 May 2005. Whurr. £21.99.

English words and their Spelling:
A history of phonological conflicts.
Elaine Miles, lately of the Dyslexia Unit,
University of North Wales, Bangor.

[Most of the book is about the origins of English words, in the hope that it will help teachers to make spelling lessons more interesting. Here are excerpts from pp111-114.]

"However, a priority must be to consider the children learning to read, and therefore to try changes to some of the spellings which cause problems in their first years."

The possibility of spelling reform.

The more we adapt to the sounds of new languages, the less chance there is of overall spelling reform, or so it seems. English, as a language to learn, has advantages in its lack of inflections and gender indications, but the disadvantage of an enormous number of different spellings. We have only recently realized that British children are, as a result, slower to master the early stages of reading than any others in Europe. This is a serious disadvantage, especially when the English/American language is learned by such a large proportion of the population of the world.

Some tidying-up in spelling could certainly be done at all levels:
These are modest improvements, and do not raise any difficulties of destroying important links with words from the same root. There is a genuine problem in omitting the 'g' in 'sign', for example; it would destroy the connection with 'signature' and other words with the same derivation, and would create homonyms. There are already homophones (i.e. words spelled differently, and with different meanings, but sounding the same) from way back in the seventeenth century: 'alter'/'altar', 'ascent'/'assent', 'bare'/'bear', 'pare'/'pair'/'pear', 'dear'/'deer', 'hair'/'hare' and 'lesson'/'lessen'. We would create other difficulties if we produced more ambiguities by adding homonyms! This is already a problem in our huge English vocabulary.

However, a priority must be to consider the children learning to read, and therefore to try changes to some of the spellings which cause problems in their first years. We could easily write skool, elefant or hous (in the last case, our Old English ancestors wrote simply hus or hors, so there is a precedent). We also could drop the initial unpronounced 'w' in 'write', 'wrap', etc., and the unpronounced 'k' in 'knife' and 'knit'. Finally we could simplify some of the early numbers, such as one, two and eight, to wun, too and ait.

[Elaine Miles goes on to discuss modern influences from America and technology, including acronyms and text messaging.]

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