N10. On other pages: part 1, part 3.
[Chris Upward: see Journals, Newsletters, Leaflets, Media, Pamflet, Book, Papers.]

Newsletter April 1996 part 2.

Orthografic Ownrship:

an aproach to winng suport for spelng reform?

Christopher Upward.

This item is ritn in Cut Spelng.


Since World War II, orijnating in th USA but reachng its epitme in Japan, th concept of 'Quality' has aquired an almost lejndry reputation as th embodimnt of succesful, modrn manajmnt tecniqes. Altho first aplyd to industrial production, it is now seen to hav relevnce in many othr sferes of social orgnization. Promnnt among th ideas subsumed by 'Quality' is 'Ownrship', wich implys that, in ordr to motivate peple to embrace any particulr entrprise, they must be inspired by a sense that th entrprise is ther own and in ther intrests; for if they hav this sense, they wil natrly feel comitd to th success of th entrprise. Within a compny, one typ of ownrship is of corse financial, perhaps taking th form of share options, with shareholdrs legaly 'ownng' part of th compny. But th concept of ownrship as a motivating factr can also be syclojicl rathr than financial. [1] Wen peple can se that they hav contributed somthing of themselvs to a project, they develop a powrful sense of syclojicl ownrship and an emotionl stake in its success. Such sycolojicl ownrship can for instnce be seen to motivate th suportrs of a sports team in ther continuing loylty towards it, and it has much in comn with Tony Blairs concept of a 'stakeholdr society'.


Over th past 400 years and mor, inumerabl scemes hav been proposed for making th spelng of english mor ordrly. Yet watevr ther individul merits, almost al these scemes (Webster partialy exeptd) hav faild even to reach th threshold of implantation. They faild not necesrly because of ther inadequacis, but because they did not win over those ho had th powr to implmnt them. Such failur was thus a failur of persuasion, even tho, in som cases at least, th scemes marshld argumnts of irefutebl lojic in ther favor.

One of th issus, therfor, that spelng reformrs need to considr, if they ar to hav any prospect of eventul success, is how to persuade othrs, both th jenrl public and th relevnt policy-makers, to adopt ther recmendations. Yet in th past, specific scemes hav al too ofn not even persuaded othr spelng reformrs. Wile rejection by felo-reformrs comnly arises from perceptions of flaws in th scemes, one may surmise that th lak of any shared sense of ownrship has frequently also been an alienating factr. Spelng reformrs ar by ther natur likely to be individulists, since being able to se th defects of universly acceptd conventions is wat puts them on th reform trail in th first place; yet that very individulism may prevent them from anticipating and respondng efectivly to th reactions of those hos suport they need. Worse stil, reformrs may apear to th outside world to present ther argumnts "in an evangelistic manner, which many find unappealing", as David Crystal diplmaticly frased it. [2] In terms of ownrship, they ofn fail to giv even othr reformrs, let alone th jenrl public, a sense of havng a stake in ther proposed reformd spelngs. Few spelng reformrs hav indeed begun to brij th imajnativ and practicl gap between th initial devising of a reformd orthografy for english, and its intendd eventul adoption by th world.


How, then, myt th concept of ownrship be aplyd to asist th process of persuasion? At th outset it is probbly useful if a sceme can be presentd not as th momentry inspration of an individul, but in a brodr historicl and orthografic context. Futur scemes ar unlikely to contain many totaly new insyts wich wil persuade th public on ther own merits. Almost any new sceme is likely to hav antecedents: certn of its featurs may alredy be found in scemes proposed 100 or even 400 years ago. By aknolejng such antecedents, a new sceme can sho th public of today that english spelng reform, far from being just th fantastic brainchild of a wild-yd sience-fiction enthusiast of today, has in fact been a matr of ongoing concern for jenrations. Furthrmor, antecedents may also be found not in english at al, but in othr languajs, in wich case th concern to modrnize riting systms can be shown to be universl, and by no means confined to english. By placing a new sceme in such a perspective spelng reformrs can sujest that th ownrship of spelng reform scemes belongs to al peples at al times. In this way, they wil by implication be including th public in on th sceme, rathr than dousing them with it like a cold showr from without.

Colabration and consltation ar bound to play a ke role in th developmnt of a succesful sceme, and ar also ways of spredng its ownrship mor widely. Colabration wil be needd between spelng reformrs jenrly, in ordr to ensure a consensus among experts; and a consensus implys joint ownrship. Consltation with users wil be needd in ordr to maxmize public and intrnationl acceptbility. Each speakr of english has a uniqe perception of th languaj, dependng on his/her dialect, education and life experiences, and a modrn riting systm needs to be devised to suit as brod a spectrm of peple as posbl (including non-nativ speakrs). No singl orthografr or smal group of orthografrs can alone take acount of th imense variety of individul user-requiremnts in english worldwide, but intrnationl consltation can help cater for at least a representativ ranje. If potential users needs ar not caterd for, those users canot hav a sense of ownrship and wil not be esily persuaded to adopt a reformd orthografy.

If th contribution of colabrators and consltees is aknolejd in th publishd reform proposal, they therby aquire an explicit stake in its positiv public reception, wich they shud in turn be th mor motivated to promote.


So much for ownrship of th desyn process. Ownrship of th acceptnce and implantation of a sceme is a seprat matr. Certn categris of peple ar likely to be mor centrly involvd in th adoption of a new orthografy than othrs. Modrn experience of spelng reform in othr languajs sujests that th first recipients of reformd spelngs ar most likely to be initial lernrs in scools. Since it is initial lernrs ho ar most widely handicapd by th presnt spelng of english, ther needs wil presumably play a larj part, and perhaps even be paramount, in th desyn of simplifyd spelngs. Howevr, initial lernrs canot be directly consultd: ther needs wil hav to be deduced from reserch, perhaps especialy thru analysis of errs and problms caused by th presnt spelng. But, if th reformd spelngs ar suitbly presentd to initial lernrs, they can quikly be givn a sense of ownrship.

It can be explaind to them that they ar a privlejd jenration, lernng somthing betr, esir and mor modrn than ther unfortunat eldrs did, and that they can feel proud and lucky in consequence, indeed they wil themselvs be able to teach ther eldrs. Ther parents likewise can be treatd as privlejd, both thru th benefits ther children wil derive, and thru ther own asociation with a momentus inovation. In this way, they too can be givn a sense of ownrship.

Anothr kind of user ownrship arises thru th lernng process itself. Peple ho make an efrt to lern and mastr a skil typicly then feel a sense of ownrship: th nolej and skil aquired henceforth belong to them, and, especialy if they can se that they ar benefitng from it, they may even fiercely defend it. If initial lernrs ar taut simplifyd spelngs in a positiv spirit, as described abov, they wil natrly develop pride in its ownrship.

But anothr potential categry of lernr, adlts at presnt experiencing litracy dificltis, somtimes alredy express ther eagrness for reform ("Wen can I start?"). Such lernrs can be expectd positivly to seze ownrship of watevr apropriatly desynd simplifyd spelng systm is ofrd them: al they need is permission from som authority to use it. Anothr categry of lernr wud be litrat adlts ho ar intrestd for watevr motiv (eg, intlectul curiosity, enjoymnt of puzl solvng, desire to be seen inovating) in taklng th reformd spelng systm.

To win suport from this categry, th initial strugl to mastr th new spelngs wud hav to be not too arduus, and th rewards in terms of achevemnt soon gaind, at wich point a sense of ownrship wud be establishd.


So far we hav considrd categris of peple ho hav, or may be persuaded to hav, a direct intrest in simplifyd spelng: its desynrs and users. But strong tho ther motivation may be, they ar weak in th influence they can exert in society as a hole.

Spelng reformrs ar smal in numbr and mostly marjnl to th centrs of decision-making, wile th main group of users of th new spelngs, th initial lernrs, ar by defnition larjly disenfranchised, as ar adlts sufrng litracy dificltis. In th jenrl theory of syclojicl ownrship of projects, th categry of potential users of simplifyd spelngs may be likend to th end-consumers of a process of manufacturng and marketng: they can exert litl direct influence over th natur of th goods they ultmatly by. Simlrly, lernrs and users of riting systms usuly hav litl choice in th spelngs they adopt.

Conversly, ther ar othr categris ho exrcise considrbl powr, but ho ar likely to se litl advantaj for themselvs in th simplification of spelngs, and may indeed se actul disadvantajs. These categris may then be described as havng a negativ intrest in spelng reform, and they may even perceve an intrest in preventng it. At th hyest levl ar th politicians ho wud probbly hav to take th final decision as to wethr a spelng reform shud be introduced (and if so, wich one); but considrations of electrl popularity ar likely to act as a serius deterant, since spelng reform cals into question som of th electrats prejudices about ritn languaj, and can thus be expectd to jenrate controvrsy.

Behind th politicians stand th administrators, hos brief may include warnng politicians against politicl risk-taking, and for hom th implantation of reform may represent an unwelcm disruption of establishd rutines.

Tho politicians and administrators wield imediat, day-to-day powr, ultmat powr in a democracy lies with th electrat, and th likely atitude of voters to spelng reform is a major factr to be taken into acount. They may al too esily, unless proprly prepared, jump to rong conclusions, feeling that ther languaj, culture education and litracy skils ar undr thret, and opose th reform from th outset. Th decimlization of th british curency in th erly 1970s, and th subsequent introduction of metric weits and mesurs in som english-speakng cuntris, hav givn experience of how such chanjes may be sensitivly and efectivly (or not so sensitivly and not so efectivly) handld. Those chanjes wud repay study for wat they can tel us about how best to 'sel' spelng reform to th electrat.

A third categry of peple, th teachrs ho mor than anyone else wud hav to ensure that both they and ther pupils mastrd th new spelngs, perhaps hav mor powr to obstruct spelng reform than an intrest (at least as most of them probbly perceve th position at presnt) in promoting it. Howevr, ther position may prove to be rathr ambivlnt, for in fact they stand to gain significntly from th simplification of english spelng, wich wud enable ther pupils to aquire and exrcise ther litracy skils fastr and betr than befor. Yet many teachrs curently apear mistrustful, somtimes even hostl wen confrontd with th idea of any chanje to traditionl spelng. Th british govrnmnt has recently discovrd to its cost that educations reforms require th co-opration of teachrs if they ar to be implmntd, and th same wud natrly aply to spelng reform. Teachrs too wud need to be sensitivly prepared for chanje and givn a sense of ownrship in th process.


Wen aplyng th idea of ownrship to an inovation that is intendd to overcom an existng problm, an initial step in th process of persuasion may be to convince th target population first that they own, ie, sufr from, th problm. Here th educativ ajenda of th spelng reform movemnt coms into play. One explnation for th failur of past spelng reform scemes in english has been that th public has not apreciated th seriusness of th dificltis opresng them, and peple ho do not undrstand they hav a problm ar unlikely to be suseptbl to proposals for its solution.

Conditions today may be rathr difrnt from those in th past, and ar continuing to chanje. Concern with standrds of litracy is now gretr than it has evr been, thanks both to th education demands of tecnlojicly advanced societis and to modrn tecniqes for mesurng educationl standrds. These tecniqes ar now beginng not only to enable litracy standrds to be mesurd within english-speakng cuntris, but they ar alowng comparisns to be made with litracy aquisition in non-english speakng societis. Som of these comparisns ar shoing up severe deficiencis among english-speakrs, but much mor reserch of this kind is needd, in ordr to bild up an overwelmng case for removal of th obstacls to litracy rased by th presnt spelng of english. Anothr perspectiv arises from th shrinkaj of th world and th requiremnts of english as a world languaj, with th complaints of non-nativ-english speakrs about its spelng likely to gro. Al these factrs togethr may encuraj a new awareness on th part of lernrs, users, teachrs, and education authoritis that th way english is now spelt constitutes a serius problm cryng out for a solution. They wud then recognize ther ownrship of a problm, and be mor open to sujestions for its solution, hos ownrship they myt then be keen to claim.


To wat extent myt th abov target populations be won over by a calculated ofr of 'ownrship' in any proposed sceme? Th Simplified Spelng Societys curent messaj to th powrs that be in Britn is in this respect distinctivly difrnt from its erlir stance. Between th two world wars and again in 1950s th SSS presentd its New Spelling (NS) sceme, undr its banr of ownrship, to th british parlamnt and govrnmnt, ho wer urjd to impose it on th population. Apart from any jenuin practicl obstacls ther myt hav been to th oficial adoption of NS, syclojicl resistnce to it may now apear to hav been only natrl in th circmstnces. Th SSS seemd to be implyng it had monoply control over th One Tru Orthografic Path, wich it was trying to oblije th anthoritis to accept.

Today by contrast, as admbrated in its 1994 leaflet Modernizing English Spelling: Principles and Practicalities, th SSS has developd a quite difrnt aproach. It no longr claims ownrship of any particulr sceme, but insted presents a panoply of posbilitis and describes varius criteria by wich ther pros and cons may be asesd. By inviting th authoritis to make ther own choice, it ofrs them th oprtunity to claim ownrship of a givn reform stratejy , for themselvs. Wat th SSS dos stil insist on is its global historic and syclojicl vision of th chanjing requiremnts of a riting systm for english, because that is th fundmentl rationale that must undrite any reform in any languaj. Th SSS feels fre to ofr a wide choice of posbl scemes because it beleves that som ar self-evidntly less practicl than othrs, and that its criteria wil sutly gide th selectrs in mor or less th ryt direction. But how can th authoritis be persuaded that they need to adress th issu at al? Perhaps by confrontng them with two questions:
1) Ar we (note how th ownrship of th question itself is shared by use of th pronoun 'we') convinced that th presnt spelng of english, with al th problms it causes, is incapabl of improvemnt? (Expectd ansr, 'No!')

2) If th ansr is 'No', wat steps shud be taken to improve it?
If th authoritis can be enticed to folo th lojic of these two questions, a crucial prelimnry hurdl may hav been overcome and th authoritis may be wilng to considr th practicalitis of introducing chanje.


Cud th concept of ownrship also be helpful in persuading teachrs to embrace spelng reform? Som smal groups of teachrs hav alredy been invited to state wich simplifyd spelngs they wud find useful in th classroom, and th response has sujestd that this cud represent a positiv aproach that wud enable teachrs to claim ther ownrship of spelng reform at an erly staje in its desyn. Ther participation in err-analysis wud simlrly encuraj ther involvmnt. Clearly teachrs wud not by themselvs be able to define th details of a reform, but enabling them to contribute in such ways to th developmnt process cud be an importnt step towards ther acceptnce of watevr simplifications wer in du corse decided on.

A reform of english spelng myt need to apeal to difrnt categris of teachrs in difrnt ways. Teachrs impartng initial litracy skils to beginng lernrs ar one categry, and they wud experience a jenrl stream-lining of th lernng process: readng fluency wud com fastr, corect riting wud need less advice from th teachr, and ther wud be a jenrl rise in self-confidnce towards th levls enjoyd in othr languajs such as italian [3], and in articulacy, as mor sofisticated vocablry became mor accesbl. [4] A secnd categry wud be that of remedial teachrs (for children and adlts), ho alredy perhaps need least persuading of th benefits of spelng reform. A third categry wud be that of teachrs of english to non-nativ speakrs, for hom th most imediat gain wud be students improved acuracy in determnng th pronunciation of words from ther ritn forms. Spelng reformrs need repeatdly to demnstrate how these varius benefits wud acru to th difrnt categris of teachrs, and so arouse in them a sense of ownrship of th anticipated benefits.


An as yet scarcely explord aspect of spelng reform is its likely impact on publishng. If, howevr, we asume that reforms wud be introduced graduly from th levl of beginrs upwrds, then ther wud be no imediat, massiv impact on publishng jenrly. Initialy, only beginrs readng material in scool and for sale to th home wud necesrly be afectd, altho careful planng for extendng th reform to hyr levls of educationl material in subsequent years, and eventuly to non-educationl publications, wud be needd. One of th objections comnly rased to spelng reform is th cost of reprintng existng texts, but by th gradulist senario just described, litl aditionl expense wud be incurd. New editions of existng texts wud be issud as now, wen th demand arose, and computerized spelng conversion programs cud then be aplyd quite straitforwrdly to texts alredy in electronic form. Som resetng of shortnd text wud be required, but th cost wud be offset by th permnnt econmis acheved thru a mor eficient riting systrn. Spelng reformrs need to present these permnnt econmis as a benefit to publishrs, wich wud be an incentiv to ther claimng ownrship of th sceme.

Th specific case of dictionry publishng is mor complex, since dictionris today represent th only authority on matrs of 'corect' spelng. For a transitionl period at least they wud need to list alternativ spelngs for many hedwords, an undoutd complication to th lexicografic task. But here it must be remembrd that at presnt dictionris alredy list altemativ spelngs for many, especialy rarer, words: for instnce, yogrt may be listd at least as yogurt, yoghurt, yoghourt, and a brief examnation of one dictionry [5] shos that, on th 107 pajes listng words beginng with a, altemativ forms ar givn for 137 difrnt hedwords (this by a conservativ count, including each set of altemativs only once, and excluding numerus propr names). Thus th procedur of listng alternativ spelngs in english dictionris is nothing new, and cud presumably be extendd quite esily.

Wat atractions myt spelng reform ofr to dictionris? They cud ranje from th crudely monetary to th idealistic. Spelng reform wud instntly make al existng dictionris out of date, and oblije ther publishes to bring out new editions, for wich enormus sales cud be confidntly forcast. Spelng reform wud therfor be a hyly profitbl entrprise - but befor it is objectd that this wud reduce users to captiv victms of predatry publishrs, let it be pointd out that th purchas of new dictionris with simplifyd spelngs wud also be a useful longterm investmnt for users. In any case, th new electronic tecnolojis ar incresingly openng up th posbility of access to dictionry infrmation without necesrly incurng th expense of a traditionl printd volume. Indeed, if ther wer th prospect of a succession of minor spelng reforms over a relativly short period of years, electronic distribution of repeatdly updated orthografic infrmation myt becom positivly atractiv. Eithr way, dictionry publishrs ot to recognize th comercial oprtunitis ofrd by spelng reform, and leap to claim ownrship - for fear of being overtaken by ther competitrs, if for no othr reasn.

Yet watevr th motivating powr of competition and profit, ther compatbility with th idealistic aims of spelng reformrs may seem questionbl: th creation of a suitbl uniform orthografy for world english wich is as far as posbl based on consistnt sound-symbl, symbl-sound corespondnces, ie, th alfabetic principl wich is th foundation of th hy standrds of litracy th world needs. Such aims can only be acheved by worldwide co-ordnation of spelng chanjes, and, without excluding competition, dictionry publishrs cud wel play a leadng role in th process. Profit and disintrestd comitmnt to human progress need not conflict as far as spelng reform is concernd.

Th idea that dictionry publishrs cud actuly lead th way to spelng reform dos howevr conflict with anothr favord senario for reform: that of education authoritis initiating and implmntng chanje. We need not here proclaim eithr one or th othr to be th natrl vehicl of chanje. Nothing cud be betr than if th two wer to compete for th ownrship of a reformd orthografy for english. A posbl modl for this kind of developmnt may be seen in th australian Styl Councils, wich, as sujestd by Tom McArthur, editr of English Today, cud concevebly evolv at som futur date into a World English Style Council. [6]


We shud finaly considr a developmnt that som hav been predictng cud jenrate spelng reform thru a quite difrnt chanl than th traditionl ones discusd abov. It may be traced bak to th invention of th electric telegraf in th 19th century, but in recent years th tecnolojy has progresd by leaps and bounds, today leving th teleprintr behind and burjnng out into such concepts as th Infrmation Superhyway, Intrnet, E-mail, and th WWW (th World Wide Web). Wat facilitis these tecnolojis wil be able to ofr in 10 years time begrs th imajnation, but, far from making th ritn word redundnt, as was somtimes profesyd with th spred of video systms a few decades ago, they seem likely to ushr in new, undremt of oprtunitis for alfabetic comunication.

Even in ther erly days, th new tecnolojis subjectd conventionl english spelng to certn pressurs, as wen th limitd capacity of th telegraf forced users to condense ther text as much as posbl (hence th term 'telegrafese'). Th result was a certn semi-formlized vocablry of abreviated spelngs desynd specificly for telegrafic messajs. Much mor recently, th size of th videoscreen also imposed limits on th amount of text that cud be displayd. Conditions now ar difrnt again, with virtuly unlimitd telecomunications capacity availbl and therfor no systemic need to condense. But with th evr groing availbility and convenience of th new comunications media, novl orthografic practises ar evolvng. Wheras th maild letr of old (now dubd 'snailmail') always had a certn formality, requiring time and efrt to compose, send, receve, decyfr and stor, th new media fre users from many such constraints. Th speed with wich a messaj can reach its recipient is machd by its efemrality. Wile a letr riter traditionly took som care over th forml acuracy (gramr, spelng, etc) of wat was ritn, such care has now typicly yieldd to informality and spontaneity. One-to-one email messajs ar therfor frequently spatrd with misprints and mispelngs wich may be seen as representng a new orthografic cultur: th riter apears almost to exult in th fredm of not havng to chek or corect wat has been hastily keed into th termnl.

Yet new disiplins ar also emerjng. Alongside th facility for totaly informl one-to-one comunication, mor forml colectiv comunications networks ar apearng, with 'news groups' for th exchanje of infrmation among specialists in a givn field. Th ryt to post material to som news groups is controld by a 'modrator', hos task is both to prevent infrmation overload and to ensure that texts wich ar postd on th bord and so opend up to worldwide scrutiny, meet certn standrds. These standrds may include orthografic acuracy, in wich case authrs wil need to proofread or spelchek ther texts befor transmitng them.

Th efect such developmnts may hav on th prospect for spelng reform is as yet dificlt to asess, but they may ofr unprecedentd oprtunitis. To begin with, they enable ideas to be brodcast in quite new ways. For instnce, advocats of particulr spelng reform scemes ar alredy using them on th network, and so disemnating nolej of them to unown numbrs of peple in unown parts of th world. But it may also be that th new media, by creating a new orthografic environmnt, wil create a demand for new orthografic standrds, and so enable improved spelngs to be introduced thru electronic chanls befor they hav any direct impact on th educationl sene. Othr initiativs ar at presnt also undr considration, but ar not yet redy to be publicized.

As far as th idea of 'ownrship' is concernd, that too is in flux in this electronicized world. If one recmends a reformd spelng thru th network, anyone can pik it up and make wat they wil of it, so that it escapes entirely from th control of its orijnator. Th oprtunitis for spredng reformd spelngs may seem boundless, but ther is no garantee that they wil be put to propr use. Th danjer of orthografic caos, so long poo-pood by spelng reformrs, begins to seem mor real. At this staje one can only speculate on wat may hapn in th future and it is perhaps importnt to take a positiv vew. Oprtunitis ar ther to be sezed, rathr than feard.


This paper has presentd a wide variety of ideas for stimulating moves towards a simplifyd orthografy for english. Their comn theme, 'ownrship', is seen as a posbl motivating force, wherby th curent worldwide inertia that stands in th way of any reform, myt one day be overcome

[1] cf Mike Robson (1988) The Journey to Excellence, Wantage: MRA International, Ch8, pp56-60.

[2] David Crystal (1987) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, Cambridge University Press, p2l5.

[3] Gwenllian Thorstad (1991) The effects of orthography on the acquisition of literacy skills' in British Journal of Psychology, 82:527-37. [See link to pdf file.]

[4] David Moseley (1989) 'How Lack of Confidence in Spelling Affects Children's Written Expression' in Educational Psychology in practice, April 1989.

[5] Reader's Digest Universal Dictionary, London: The Reader's Digest Association Ltd., 1987.

[6] Tom McArthur, editorial of English Today 45, Vol. 12 No. 1, January 1996, p2.

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On other pages: part 1, part 3.