SS6. On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4.

simpl speling July 1998 part 3.

Thrown by the unexpected.

David Barnsdale.

I plan to put a motion at the Green Party of England and Wales conference. The real problem, however, is going to be getting enuf people interested so that it gets high enuf on the agenda to be discussed. That's why I attended the May meeting of the party's Educational Working Group. If I were to get these people on my side then any motion would have a real chance. If they turned out to be hostile then the motion was, in practise, dead.

They say generals always fight the last war, not the one they are actually involved in. Likewise I was fighting my last argument. In the past the antis have argued that English spelling preserves etymology. When someone tried this tack this time I was ready with my reply. Etymological spellings were only the result of a short term 16th century fad and of course there are words like scythe and anchor that are the result of mistaken etymologies. At that point my opponent threw in the towel.

What took the wind from my sails was, however, the argument that spelling was unimportant because everyand one can use spell checkers. This is not the counter-argument I'm used to because defenders of TO are usually fanatics about spelling.

That put the argument back on to whether spelling reform helped children to learn to read. I quickly found myself out of my depth. Most of the people there were teachers and so they had personal experience to fall back on. I on the other hand had to rely on what I've read and that's the sort of info that is tricky to access when you've never really needed it before.

The argument I was up against came down to fonics being almost irrelevant in reading. I was sure I could remember that the research supports fonics being clearly the best method of teaching children to read but at that moment I couldn't remember it clearly. Was it specifically reading as opposed to spelling that was helped? But why didn't I bring up ita, whose success was clearly based on helping children to learn?

The only way to get on top of an argument is to do it. Next time I'll have my answers ready. But I wonder if there is a way members can get up to speed more quickly. It would be nice to set aside space at the next AGM when members can take turns to play devil's advocate.

I didn't win that argument but they were a frendly bunch and gave me useful advice on wording my motion. Even if I don't succeed in getting it thru, by moving it I will still have raised the issue of spelling reform in some people's minds. So I'll keep on truckin'.

Jean Wilkinson, USA, writes:

Presenting H:

Chameleon of the alphabet
Catalyst par excellence
Team-player of the year
Oscar supporting award winner
'Daddy, when I read h in my book, what shall I say?'

'Oh, wow! U won't believe this. It all depends on whether it's in sh or th or ch or wh or ph or gh or rh. Or someplace else!

Take gh. Then U might say
i as in night,
f as in cough,
oo as in through,
o as in though,
aw as in caught,
ow as in bough,
or g as in ghost.
It helps the r in rhyme and rhythm and rheumatism, and it helps to make a in straight. It says ah in hurrah, as well as making its own private sound as in hair. And to be honest with U, sometimes it doesn't say anything!

'Hate to tell U this, but there's more. As ch it can say k as in stomach, sh as in chef, as well as ch in chuckle. Sometimes sch says sh as in schwa, sometimes it doesn't, as in school. Wh says one thing in whole, and another in whale. Ch says one thing in archangel, and another in archbishop. We know that th changes between there and three, and we know what ph says, except when it doesn't in haphazard.

'U know, honey, somebody ought learn to invent three new letters: one for sh, one for th, and one for ch. Then we could almost retire this poor overworked h and put him out to pasture. Why should he be stuck with doing everybody else's work? And as for other combinations, seems like we're spending an awful lot of manhours writing h's that really don't do anything at all. 'So what should U say when U see h in your book? Well, try one of these 25 possibilities. And - good luck.'


George Bernard Shaw

 a spelling reformer? Note these words from Kingsley Read (JSSS23, p4): '(GBS) sought a wholly new alphabet .... He would not consider tampering with orthodox English spelling or its traditional alphabet: these were to be left undisturbed - and unimproved.'

[Joe Little: see Journal, Newsletters, ALC Web link.]

Call to action.

Responding to findings of US report on literacy.

Joe Little, USA.

Someone famous once said all politics is local. The same can now officially be said of functional illiteracy: It's not just an international or national issue anymore.

That, in a nutshell, is the finding of the National Institute for Literacy's 221-page report The State of Literacy in America: Estimates at the local, state, and national levels, or SLA.

The report is a useful clarification or iteration of literacy rates in the cities, states and congressional districts of the US. For instance, we are reminded that adults in the lowest literacy level (of five) are not termed illiterate: they are able to sign their names and total a bank deposit entry, but cannot locate an intersection on a street map. Tho SLA doesn't provide a term for this segment of the population, we may: since these folks can't function at this basic literacy level we may call them 'functionally illiterate' - tho a kinder, gentler term might be 'marginally literate'.

At any rate, in Washington DC 37% of the adult population is marginally literate, as is 30% in Mississippi, 28% in Louisiana and 24% in California, New York, and Texas. Such illiteracy levels break the heart and numb the mind.

Then what happens? Some say fight. So says Marciene Mattleman of the National Institute for Literacy Advisory Board: 'Having reliable info on our national literacy problem can be a first step toward finding solutions.' Her 'solutions' almost surely mean more spending, more programs, and more networking with more communication tossed in for good measure. That is the normal tack taken in fights for social progress.

Others allude to the benefits of flight. For example, Andy Hartman, director of the National Institute for Literacy, says, 'This report is a useful tool for business ... and these data can help companies make informed decisions about where to relocate.' In other words, where to fly to - and away from - to avoid illiteracy's fallout. Those are short-term solutions, of course. We proponents of simpler spelling can use the SLA report (and others like it) for longer-term - and in this case, local - literacy progress.

Here is one way for SSS members in the US to use the free report: First, order it; second, get a free copy of the one-page Short List Of Random House Webster's Dictionary Variant Spellings; third, of the newspapers or magazines that U read on a regular basis, pick the one whose editor or publisher's sympathies - and editing practises - could best be influenced by the illiteracy rate of a specific city, county, or state; fourth, make a copy of the SLA page(s) that displays this specific literacy info; mail the list and a cover letter and a copy of the SLA page to the editor of your choice.

The body of your cover letter may be as short and sweet as the following prototype:

Dear Mr/Ms -------

I'm an avid reader of your publication. I'm also an avid fan of literacy. Your readership base, of course, is directly influenced by the literacy rate in this geographical area (see the enclosed page from The State of literacy in America).

To a much lesser degree, the literacy rate in this area is influenced by the editorial values and practises of people such as yourself. For better or worse, the editorial choices you make have some bearing on local literacy rates. Some literacy advocates suggest making texts simpler and plainer at the expense of accuracy. Not me. I ask that you consider a plain and simple idea that is also perfectly accurate and subtle: incorporate the authorized simpler spellings contained in the enclosed Random House Short List of Variant Spellings.

According to the editors at Random House, variant spellings are by definition nearly identical in frequency to their sister spellings. The American Literacy Council (of New York City) has simplified your task by underscoring the less complex of the two spellings, and publicizes the Short List in a variety of editorial venues.

I hope to hear back from you regarding your decision to influence literacy for the better - and simpler - in this area.

Very cordially,

¶ See also page 2. In view of similar findings in Britain, British readers might consider adapting this response to their circumstances. - Ed.

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