SS6. 8pp. members' supplement 2pp. On other pages: part 2, part 3, part 4.
[Allan Campbell: see Journals, Newsletters, Media.]
Working for planned change in English spelling for the benefit of learners and users everywhere
simpl speling July 1998 part 1.
Editor: Allan Campbell.
Guest speaker at the SSS AGM was Dr Bernard Lamb, chairman of the London branch of the Queen's English Society. The society's aim is the defense of the English language and the promotion of good standards. To that end members have run a number of campaigns, the strategy and tactics for which might also help the SSS.
QES head offers campaigned tips.Speaking on How to run English-related campaigns, Dr Lamb told members that during the 1990s, enthusiastic individuals from QES ran five major campaigns, including a conference. A survey of students' usage of English became a book for the conference, and another book arose from the conference.
Dr Lamb revealed some methods of publicizing his society's work. One was to circulate newspaper education correspondents about the survey.
The society then met those who showed interest and who offered a fee. QES offered them an 'exclusive' six months before publication of the survey. It chose The Mail on Sunday, which gave good front-page coverage.
At the date of publication of the survey book (by which time the exclusive had been forgotten), QES sent a press release to the Press Association wire service, which circulates widely. Dr Lamb pointed out the need to allocate time for response to articles.
The society has more than 700 members, and active branches in London and Sussex. Its journal is Quest. It has inaugurated an annual modest (£100) but prestigious prize for excellent English. For the first contest last year, 23 entries were received. A press release will announce the 1998 award in August/September.
The next project for the society is a national language authority for English.
Dr Lamb showed examples of spelling errors, poor grammar, handwriting, punctuation, word confusions from the student survey, opinions of employers from an industrial survey, and opinions of teachers in secondary schools about the English standards of their pupils. For the opinions of the teachers he bought a set of school mailing lists, with 4500 address labels. He used a random selection of these.
Dr Lamb has co-authored How to Write for Biology (his subject is genetics), which includes spelling rules.
New appointment.Chairman Chris Jolly has announced the appointment of Marie (Masha) Bell, a new committee member, as paid administrative support for the Society.
This 'n that from here 'n' there.
Spreading the word on the inside.Among letters received by Jean Hutchins, membership secretary, is this from Tony, at Wayland Prison, England:
I would appreciate free SSS membership for a further year. All the literature the SSS send me is passed on to the head of education here; then to the lady who takes the remedials for English. So when U write to me U are contacting over 650 men. I also correspond with Inside Time, the Prison Phoenix Trust, and several other national bodies. I send relevant newspaper cuttings to Chris Upward quite often. So I do hope U will consider me an asset to the Society.
Fonics edict after dire illiteracy findings.Surveys and research continue to show literacy in a parlous state in the two major English-speaking nations.
According to a USA Today report in April a National Institute of Literacy study suggests about 40-44 million Americans struggle with literacy, with the District of Columbia and southern states having the greatest needs. Illiteracy is not defined as a total inability to read: adults can sign their name and total a bank deposit entry, but may have trouble locating an intersection on a street map.
In Britain it is a similar story. The Daily Mail reports up to eight million Britons are so poor at reading and writing they cannot cope with the demands of modern life, as revealed by research. A survey by the government funded Basic Skills Agency looked at the state of the three Rs in every district council in the country.
In the area with the best results, Hart, in Hampshire, 9% had low literacy levels, while in the London boro of Tower Hamlets 25% had difficulties with reading and writing.
Adults with problems with English and maths spent five times as long as others on the dole, were unemployed more often, and more likely to be living in poverty.
In an editorial Must try harder, the Mail said Education Secretary David Blunkett was being confronted with the scale of the task awaiting him.
In response to these kinds of results, and perhaps realizing the scale of the task, the new Labour Government has decreed 'the most fundamental change in primary education since the introduction of the national curriculum', according to the Daily Telegraph. It says the Government has sent a directive on the teaching of reading to 18,500 schools. It requires them to return to 'traditional, structured teaching' of fonics, a move which, says the Telegraph, 'represents an unprecedented intervention in classroom teaching methods by politicians.'
See Call to action. - Ed.
[George Anderson: see Journals, Newsletters.]
VIPs also can be poor spellers.
George Anderson, Scotland.So you think you're a poor speller? Well, you're not the only one. Michael Heseltine [ex-Deputy PM] is too. So is Susan Hampshire [actress] and Jackie Stewart [racing-car driver], and a host of other VIPs.
They suffer from dyslexia, 'a surprising, serious difficulty with literacy skills'. It affects between 2% and 20% of the population. Its severe form can be chronic. It can also be hereditary. But environmental factors can also play a part. That they, and we, have to cope with the numerous irregularities found in English spelling doesn't help matters. Of all modern languages, English has been described as 'chaotic'.
Our alphabet has 26 letters and 40-odd sounds but hundreds of possible spellings. We insert letters for no good reason like s in island. We vary the stem of words as in speak/ speech. We are inconsistent with word endings as in burglar/ actor/ acre/ teacher. We interfere with words borrowed from other languages. Correspondance in French becomes correspondence in English. We have unpredictable patterns in double lettering as in worshipped/gossiped. We drop letters in some words but not in others as in raging/ ageing. A word ending that looks as tho it might rime with another that is similar does not, as in undermine/ determine. And, of course, there are the numerous howlers like The tough coughs as he ploughs the dough! No other language tolerates such alphabetic chaos!
Over recent times some have attempted reform. Others have given time and money to simpler spelling systems (Andrew Carnegie, James Pitman, Theodore Roosevelt) but have made only limited inroads. In 19th-century America some changes appeared, l/ll (modeling), or/our (favor), sk/sc (skeptic) despite much resistance. This contrasts with languages elsewhere in the world where attempts have been made to modernize, as in Germany, France, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal, to mention a few.
And what of our children? Strange as it may seem to adults, children are rarely embarrassed by their bad spelling. They tend to put on paper 'the sound in the head' and often, if we adults will only admit it, their spellings demonstrate logical consistency. The school dictionary isn't much help either. Try looking up once under W (and why not?).
If we British don't like the idea of Reform can we please have some Modernization and Streamlining, some Regularizing and some Development of the present 'almighty mess'?
This is a slightly abridged version of an article George, an SSS member and retired teacher, wrote in the spring 1998 issue of Link, newsletter for the General Teaching Council for Scotland. He ended with a quote from Gerard Noist Trenite's poem The Chaos.
Can we seriously call this education?In 1997 the British School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) introduced an optional 50min test of grammar, spelling, and punctuation to be used alongside the statutory Key Stage 3 English tests. Section A was a 10min spelling test containing 14 spelling errors, in italics and underlined so they were clearly identified. The children were required to write the correct spelling for each.
Their first task was to identify the misspelled word from its spelling alone. Supervising teachers were told not to read the word aloud. Clearly the effectiveness of the test depended entirely on the ability of the children to correctly identify the misspelled word. If they succeeded in this, one has to ask in what sense is the word misspelled?
We have here the situation in which the nation's educational examiners wrote acomodate because it unambiguously spelled the word they wanted and then declared to the nation's children that it doesn't spell the word they wanted.
Can we seriously call this education?
If the spelling has identified the word to the reader then its job is done and it has been successful. It is nonsense to say it needs to be corrected. That would make success a prerequisite of failure! A spelling must be all right, must be successful, before it can be corrected. So what is the point of correcting it?
It is time we demanded something better for our children. We should stop calling things wrong that are not wrong. If you can identify test words like discoverys, diffrent, acomodation, receive and necesary then these spellings clearly do spell the intended words and it is dishonest and the antithesis of education to claim that they don't.
Frank Jones, England. [See Newsletters .]
Simpler spelling in progress.After coming from Flanders to Canada I realized no law tells me how to spell English words. Remembering Flemish simplification, I started writing some simpler spellings, on stationery headed 'Parsially simplified spelling: I use it'.
I thought I was the only one, but when told of what had already been done I wondered why no progress had been made.
My conclusion: All in favor of simplified spelling did not, could not, agree to accept one single word; they also wanted to present a complete new spelling to the public - the worst thing because it turns everyone off.
I noticed some words were simplified by people who, it is said, can't spell, eg, plow, draft, donuts - a natural process. When enuf* people spell it consistently a simpler spelling finds the dictionary. Let's help this process move faster, but not speed. I add an asterisk to simpler spellings, eg, tho*, thru*, enuf*, chek*, fone*, telefone *, with a footnote *simplified spelling'.
So-called American spelling is nothing but simpler spelling in progress. Some call it American because of no other defense against it.
A retired professor here insists a language cannot be simplified (he won't enter a store selling donuts). If the 'educated' want to stay behind, let 'the people' do it.
Joe Cober, Canada. [See Newsletters .]
Shorthand and spelling reform.I read the article One person's search for spelling reform organizations (SSSNewsletterJuly97) with great interest. I am also searching for some organizations. Altho machine-shorthand systems are widely used, few people today know about manual shorthand. It is considered to be out-of-date, but I believe it is still a useful tool for notetaking and, besides, it will remind us of the need for spelling reform. The inventor of the famous Pitman's Shorthand was much interested in spelling reform.
Will U please let me know of anyone or any organization interested in the use of manual shorthand systems? I hope someone may write in Simpl Speling about the relationship of spelling reform and shorthand.
It seems I am the only SSS member living in Japan. [U are. - Ed.]
Noriyuki Nakamura, Osaka University of Foreign Studies.
Favors use of best dictionary forms.I have been a supporter of spelling reform for many years, and I recently joined the Society. Your proposal to use the best forms from any dictionary appeals to me. I enclose a list of some simple words from Swan's Anglo-American Dictionary (1950). I would also favor thru, thruout, thoro, enuf, tuf, cof, etc, and omission of final e (giv, hav, etc).
Tom Lang, England. Linguo, internaciona IDO.
A list of simple spellings was enclosed. - Ed.
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On other pages: part 2, part 3, part 4.