SS16. 8pp. On other pages: part 2, part 3, part 4 (Supplement).
[Allan Campbell: see Journals, Newsletters, Media, Spell 4 Literacy NZ.]

Founded 1908
Working for planned change in English spelling for the benefit of learners and users everywhere.

simpl speling November 2001 part 1.

Editor: Alan Campbell.

Acting locally.

Think globally, act locally. This call of conservationists has its place in our spelling campaign. In the past three months four members, in England, Australia, and New Zealand, have put the case locally in the media. Report in Members' Supplement.

Reading report seeks better decoding skills.

According to the media, teaching by fonics was the winner in the New Zealand Parliamentary Select Committee on Education and Science's unanimous report on the teaching of reading.

Spelling change was not.

The committee believed schools must give priority to achievement in literacy and numeracy in years 1 to 4: 'We must get it right in the initial years'.

Tho included in only a few of the 51 recommendations, fonics was the issue seized on by reporters, commentators, and editorial writers. The last-named were almost unanimous in welcoming what they saw as a return to basics, and an end to the 'reading wars'. Teachers responded that they were already using fonics.

The committee stressed the importance of fonetic word-level decoding skills in a balanced reading program. It asked for more emfasis on teaching by fonics, without undermining reading for meaning.

Committee members rejected the media's interpretation of its report, which it said focused on teachers' skills rather than the merits of different approaches.

The recommendations barely mentioned spelling (twice in one paragraf, and once listing the Society's submission) but they did ask that teacher education programs incorporate greater emfasis on understanding perceptual difficulties that might impede literacy learning.

They also asked the education ministry to adopt a warmer relationship with SPELD, the special learning disabilities group whose supporters wrote almost half of the 360 submissions.

The primary teachers' union said additional money should target 'the most-at-risk groups', rather than the whole system.

'Not averse to ... simplified spelling.'

Asked why the Society's submission had not affected its findings,
committee chair Liz Gordon wrote:

Thank you for your letter about the reading report. The committee did not dismiss your ideas but felt that a focus on the language itself, rather than reading, was beyond its brief.

The committee also felt that no planned change in the English language could commence in one of the smallest outposts of the English-speaking world.

While not averse to the notion of simplified spelling, it would be true to say that the committee members were united in the view that we are unable to recommend such a strategy to the Government.

I am sorry all that work, your dedication to the cause and your commitment have not led to a better outcome.

[See NZ submission.]

New secretary-treasurer.

David Stockton, a Society member from near Chester, England, has been appointed business secretary and treasurer of the Society. He will deal only with administrative matters and will be paid on an hourly basis. Time taken to deal with members' queries will be a charge on the Society.

Masha Bell, the previous secretary-treasurer, resigned in July. Jean Hutchins has been acting secretary until David's appointment. John Gledhill remains as membership secretary.

This 'n' that from here 'n' there.

Learning literacy slower in English.

A team of researchers from different European countries has found British children take up to two years more than their Continental counterparts to learn to read and write their language. Professor Philip Seymour, University of Dundee, Scotland, presented the team's findings to the British Festival of Science in Glasgow in September.

The team compared the literacy skills of children in 15 countries. Scottish children from an 'advantaged background' and reading very well for their age according to UK norms, represented English-speakers. There were three components to the study: letter sounds, reading aloud very familiar words, and reading aloud simple nonsense words.

Letter sound learning was approximately equivalent across the languages, tho speed was a little slower in the Scottish group.

There were large differences in reading familiar words. In most languages 90% were read correctly, but in English the score was 34% in primary 1 and 64% in primary 2. It was much the same for the nonsense words: 85%+ for the majority of languages; 29% (primary 1) and 64% (primary 2) in English.

The researchers put the better performance of the non-English-speakers to 'difficulties created by the complex syllable structure and inconsistent spelling system of English'. French, Portuguese, and Danish children also had problems, but not to the same extent as the British.

Professor Seymour was wary of suggesting spelling change. He said teaching methods could be important, but they probably needed to be different for 'shallow' and 'deep' orthografies.

Of commas, apostrofes, spelling.

Mid-year, New Zealand was agog with an employment court case in which Ms Christine Rankin, hi-profile CEO of the Department of Work and Income (previously Work and Income New Zealand - Winz), unsuccessfully sought $1.2m from the Government for its failure to renew her contract The Press (Christchurch) reporter Elinore Wellwood wrote of the proceedings:
Yesterday, as she lept to the defense of [Minister of Social Services] Mr Maharey, the worst behavior Ms Ruth Dyson [Associate Minister of Social Services] would admit to was telling off Winz staff for spelling mistakes and late reports.

Ms Dyson said she did not get angry, just forceful. 'I think I can be challenging to work with. I am not tolerant of poor work. I am very direct. I don't let things drop that could be challenging.'

Ms Rankin's lawyer, Michael Quigg QC, asked whether she accepted that Winz staff avoided using commas at all times because she was so pernickety and critical as to where they were placed, and that she would spend a quarter of an hour debating with them over the position of a comma.

'That may have been why I got so many even more poorly drafted letters, because they didn't have any commas at all.'

Ms Dyson said she had discussed commas with the National Commissioner, who asked why she worried about them when his child was no longer taught the use of apostrofes at school, but she had never debated the subject with Winz staff.

Up to 30 per cent of some reports contained spelling mistakes, she said.

'Abolish illiteracy altogether.'

Scotland has known for some time that something needed to be done [about illiteracy] and the news that the Executive is to give £22 million to local councils to combat the problem is to be welcomed.

But Executive largesse must yield clear results. Illiteracy is a much easier deficiency to remedy than most. In a country of five million it must be possible to abolish illiteracy altogether - but only if government money is not wasted in asking point-less questions rather than providing solutions.

It will not surprise many Scots, therefore, that nearly a century after compulsory basic education was introduced, a quarter of our number can neither read nor write properly.

- The Times

Archer 'a creative speller'.

Disgraced English author Jeffrey Archer is a creative speller.

Richard Cohen, editor of his manuscripts, said alterations often were as long as the original manuscript. Archer's spelling was erratic - surgeon became sergeon, bargain became bargin, and coarse, as in unrefined, became course, as in golf.

The Independent commented editorially: Mr Cohen missed an opportunity for an obvious wisecrack - that Jeffrey Archer couldn't spell the word truth, let alone understand its meaning.

Britain is the only European country not making foreign language lessons compulsory.

- The Independent

An idealist sees things in terms of how they must be rather than how they could be. [They have] decided their analysis of the problem is the correct one, and must now pursue the solution they have decided will fix it. Visionaries are not driven by how things must be, but inspired by how they could be. There is no right solution, but a range of possibilities.

- Philip McConkey, The Dominion (NZ).

[Ted Relton: see Newsletters.]

W hat one member has been doing.

Practising wot we preech.

Ted Relton, England.

It must be admitted from the start that Ted Relton and Rapid Transit Publications are one and the same entity, altho it is convenient to use 'we' in RTP's correspondence. I founded RTP as a publishing house but, as is often the way, it went off in other directions. The number of books published today it had been few, altho successful.

I have long believed that one way to achieve spelling reform is to use improved spellings oneself. Dictionaries record language and spelling usage: to their credit, their publishers do not set themselves up as arbiters of correct/ incorrect usage. The use of improved spellings in published books is therefore likely to be noticed in dictionaries in due course, and in that way they will become established.

The first author to submit a work for RTP to publish was a German, who happened to favor German spelling reform. He immediately accepted my suggestion that certain improved spellings be used in his books, which were actually three parts of a set of four (the publisher of the first part had declined to continue). There was not a lot of text in Part 2, so spelling questions hardly arose. In Part 3, thru was used, and this did not elicit any unfavourable comment. Part 4* covered North America, and contained a good deal of text. Numerous chances to use improved spellings arose, in particular, aline, alinement, altho, conjestion, gage, program, stait, tho, thoro, thoroly, thru, thruout.

I declined to use fotograf, although it is probably one of the words most in need of reform!

I needed to sound out the acceptability of publishing these spellings: there was no point publishing an expensive book and having it rubbished by reviewers because of them. I showed a visiting frend from Chicago some proof pages; he quickly spotted and objected to thru, saying it was all right to use it in timetables for brevity (e.g., Americans use the term 'Monday thru Friday'), but he did not consider it should be used in a serious book. And English frend I consulted, an author and editor, had just reviewed a book on Singapore, and included the criticism 'some words are regularly misspelled ... grit your teeth when you read them'. He was strongly opposed to any deviation from traditional spelling, however illogical and unhelpful it might be.

My next step was to put the idea to Chris Upward. Chris was immediately supportive, and responded with good reasons why some of these should be used. I was heartened by his advice that aline, alinement were the preferred spellings in the 1928 OED, and that align, alignment, altho already in use were corruptions, which have, unfortunately, since been accepted. Chris also made contacts for me in Britain and the USA, all of whom gave support and encouragement. The single note of caution came from Cornell Kimball, who did not favour conjestion. My reply was that this version was often used in Britain, many people believing it to be the correct spelling, and it had become acceptable.

Part 4, published in 1998, was widely reviewed in the transport press. There was not a single complaint or criticism of the modernised spellings. At this time, the New Oxford Dictionary of English was published. It aroused some controversy because of its inclusion of modern slang expressions. The introduction confirms it is the task of the compilers to record usage. It also includes this comment on spelling: 'Many idiosyncrasies and anomalies have been preserved'. Most of the improved spellings which RTP had used are not listed, but tho is given as informal, and thru is shown as US informal; gage is shown as US, and program is given as 'US, and for computers'.

I wrote to the chief editor, sending a copy of Part 4, pointing out the improved spellings used, and requesting these be recorded in future editions of the dictionary. He replied he would draw attention of the book and letter to his staff, but 'we would require more evidence that these spellings have become accepted more widely before we could make any alteration to the dictionary. We shall continue ... to monitor this aspect ... .'

A more recent opportunity to discuss thru with Oxford University press arose in December 2000 when that spelling was used in The Guardian, a broadsheet tending to be conservative in adopting modern forms. I wrote again to OUP about this, and received a more encouraging reply from the project editor, who wrote: 'One of the criteria for inclusion is that evidence should be seen in a range and variety of sources ... Use of thru does indeed appear to be on the increase in British English ... we shall be keeping an eye on it'.

This vindicates my view that the way to get improved spelling into dictionaries is to have them appear in published works: RTP's small step forward has been justified. All members who write for publication should not hesitate to use improved spellings in their work, and should insist that the publishers follow their wishes.

* World Gazetteer of Tram, Trolleybus, and Rapid Transit Systems: Part 4, North America. ISBN 0 948619 06 6. 1998. £14.50.

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On other pages: part 2, part 3, part 4 (Supplement).