SS12. On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4 (Supplement).

simpl speling July 2000 part 3.

[Jean Wilkinson: see Newsletters .]

Jean Wilkinson, USA, writes

Watch your tongue.

Watch it grow - not longer, but older.

Thru the centuries we tried toung, tong, tonge, ah, and tunge. Yes, that's more like we say it now! The u is in the right place! How did we get it in the wrong place after it was once right?

In Latin it was lingua. With the u following the ng. Are we moving backward instead of forward?

There's another angle. Tongue in modern French is langue. French influence introduced catalogue and league into English spelling. Might it not have helped to get tongue's foot in the door?

We have not been entirely asleep. In the early 1900s the Simplified Spelling Board endorsed a list of words for simplification. It included dropping the u in colour, labour, and honour. Tongue was also on the list, to be adjusted to tung. But we slept thru that one. We can wake up any time we wish.

The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed, 1989) seems to agree. 'The natural modern English representation of OE tunge would be tung, as in lung, rung, sung.... The spelling tongue is ... neither etymological nor fonetic, and is only in a very small degree historical.'

Let's garbage it.

International Spelling Day.

October 9 2000.

This year's competition: or
Closing date June 1 2001.

Prizes for individual collections: Booklets of Spelling Games and Spelling Cartoon memo booklets.
Prize for the best school collection: A take-home Teach Yourself to Read and Spell video kit.

The usual competition rules apply, subject to a minimum of 10 entries in each section. Contributions without prior copyright may be included in publications in aid of literacy innovations, unless entrants express a negative preference.

Send your contribution to the International English Spelling Competition, Valerie Yule, Australia. [See Journals, Newsletters, Media, Personal View, Anthology, Bulletins, Web links.]

[Ken Spencer: see Journal, Media.]

Most illiterate children would succeed in other languages.

After extensive study Ken Spencer, England, a lecturer in educational technology and media at the University of Hull, believes many children who fail to become literate in English would succeed in other languages.

The complex code of English makes a simple skill difficult to learn, and prevents access to information and, hence, to power, he says. English spelling ensures higher rates of illiteracy than in many other languages. It also absorbs larger amounts of time than literacy teaching in other languages and so leaves less time for other subjects.
Ken, a Society member, was speaking at the Society's AGM on the topic Is English a Dyslexic Language? His lecture answered the question with a clear Yes.

According to McLuhan [1] (1964) the advantage of an alfabetic writing system over others, eg, pictografic or syllabic ones, was that it could be learned in a few hours, but this is clearly not the case with English.

Ken had devised a computer program which could teach children to read and write the 50 most common English words effectively. A boy with severe special needs took 6.4min per word for those in the program. When trying to master the next 40 most frequent words, he became much slower. For all 90 words he required 9.5min extra teaching time per word. He had mastered the first 50 words in a month, but needed two months more to master another 40.

When Ken tried to find a more efficient and effective computer program for teaching reading he discovered the main obstacles were the deficiencies of the language. He then started work on establishing deficiency ratings for individual words, predicting that the most deficient words would cause pupils to make most errors. He explored the extent to which word frequency, length and foneticity or foneticness had a bearing on deficiency.

Foneticity required calculating how frequently a particular foneme was represented by various grafemes. (eg, long O: o = 50% romantic, o+e = 21% note, ow = 16% snow, oa = 5% boat, ou = 3% soul, oe = 1% toe). To rate the foneticity of individual words, frequency values for each foneme in a word had to be determined, summed, and then divided by the number of fonemes. For example, the foneticity rating for because works out at a low 42.84% (since /b/ as b = 99.43%, /i/ as e = 24.80%, /k/ as c = 69.80%, short /o/ as au = 0.32%, /z/ as se 19.85%). The foneme with the lowest frequency value in a word can be said to represent the 'tricky' foneme in that word, ie, the au for short /o/ in because.

The correlation between the average foneticity of a word and the number of pupils spelling it correctly averaged 0.62. The less fonetic a word is, the more pupils misspell it.

With age and practise, pupils master increasing numbers of the unfonetic words, but about 40% of children cannot learn to spell the 'tricky' fonemes in the 150 most common English words.

Hard words absorb much extra teaching time, Ken noted. The really hard words require between 3 - 4 years of extra teaching, but for the least able children the really difficult words are virtually impossible to master.

Ken described research by Oney and Goldman [2] (1984) who compared ease of reading English with that of Turkish, which has almost perfect orthografic transparency. They found that Turkish first-grade children could read long words just as easily as third-grade children, whereas both American third graders and first graders coped less well than Turkish first graders.

Landerl, Wimmer, and Frith [3] studied recognition of low frequency words with groups of German and English dyslexics and normal controls. The German controls made errors with just 0.5% of words, German dyslexics misread 7%; the English controls 8% and English dyslexics 50%.

Ken believes that English spelling must change because it is inferior to the writing technologies used by most other countries.

[1] McLuhan, M (1964) Understanding Media. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

[2] Oney, B and Goldman, SR (1984) Decoding and comprehension skills in Turkish and English: effects of regularity of grapheme-phoneme correspondences, Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(4),557-568.

[3] Landerl, Vrimrner, and Frith (1997) The impact of orthographic consistency on dyslexia... Cognition, 63,315-334; Frith, Wimmer, and Landerl (1998) Differences in phonological recoding .. Scientific studies of reading, 2, 31-54.

[Steve Bett: see Journals, Newsletters, Personal View, Web links.]
[Web addresses have not been linked as they are unlikely to be valid now. Search engines may find the people or topics.]

Spelling on the net with Steve Bett.

Roman letter names?

The following was found on a new question and answer website.

Charles asked: What were the Roman names for individual letters (ie, Could they say 'Is Caesar spelled ae or ea?' in Latin?)? Steve answered: ae as in Caesar /SEE-zer/ is pronounced /ah-eh/, making the Latin pronunciation of Caesar close to the German Kaiser. The difthong ai is pronounced /ah-ee/ as in aisle or eye.

Check out Dr Wood's Latin course at

The Romans could certainly say 'Is Caesar spelled [ah eh] or [eh ah]?' It probably would never occur to them to ask such a question. Latin words are generally pronounced the way they are spelled and spelled the way they are pronounced. That is the way an alfabet is supposed to work.

English is almost the only language that has to have a pronunciation guide in the dictionary because there is almost always some ambiguity as to the relationship between spelling and pronunciation.

The problem is not with the language, it is with the illogical spelling system. If the English language were written in a Latin orthografy such as Spanglish, the ambiguity would just about disappear.

This lack of a consistent relationships between fonemes of speech and the grafemes of the traditional writing system is what makes English difficult. The English letter names, particularly vowels such as a = /ei/ and e = /i:/ are very misleading and confusing because they no longer correspond to the Latin letter-sound correspondences that almost everyone else in the world continues to use.

Instead the letter a corresponds to about six different sounds and the vowel blend /ei/ can be spelled a or ay or ey or a dozen other ways. When there are not enuff letters to represent all the vowels, it is not a good idea to have one of them represent a difthong.

See how many ways can you spell day.

Near enuff is good enuff.

Word spelling does not have to be any more precise than published pronunciation guides. Some of these guides are on the net:

The mother tongue is Slurvian, not English.

According to Bill Bryson, author of Mother Tongue, 'If there is one thing certain about English pronunciation it is that there is almost nothing certain about it.... We pronounce many words - perhaps most - in ways that are considerably at variance with the ways they are spelled, and often more so with the ways we think we are saying them.' He recalled the term Slurvian (coined by John Davenport in a 1949 New Yorker article).

If we speak Slurvian and not English, should this be reflected in our spelling? Perhaps Cut Spelling has the right idea: difference = difrnce; imagine = imajn. Context is everything in Slurvian because homofones are rampant.

A quick history of spelling.

English (Anglo-Saxon) was first written with Latin letters around AD 700. By the 10th century, West Saxon had a highly consistent orthografy based on an augmented Latin correspondence table not unlike the one adopted for Spanglish.

Over time, the pronunciation of words changed. But more than gradual change was involved in the evolution of English. There were a series of linguistic catastrofes following the Battle of Hastings. For a couple of hundred years, scribes spent most of the time writing in Norman French which unlike Saxon had an illogical spelling system. These scribes tended to write English in a French way. However, many of the old Saxon conventions survived, resulting in an unpredictable mix of three systems: Saxon, Latin, and French. For more on spelling history, and to see what English would look like if we restored the original old Saxon grafeme-foneme correspondence table check out

Source: D G Scragg, A History of English Spelling, Manchester, 1974.

How alfabetic or fonemic is traditional spelling?

Spell consistently and count the matches - this should answer the question.

'Forscor and seven yirz ago our fathers brot forth on this continent a nu nacion...' Using Spanglish notation 10 out of 15, or 66%, are regular in this passage. A 100% fonemic transcription would match only 40% of words in English.

A fuller version of this page can be found at


A Tauranga, NZ, helth shop can legally call itself a 'pharmasy', a district court judge has ruled. He threw out action taken by the Pharmaceutical Society, whose lawyer said the public could believe the shop was a legitimate chemist that dispensed drugs. The shop's lawyer said no one had been, or would be, duped into believing the Green Pharmasy was a chemist.

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On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4 (Supplement).