SS7. On other pages: part 1, part 2, part 4 (Supplement).

simpl speling November 1998 part 3.


What can we learn from Esperanto?

Chris Gledhill, Scotland.

I have often been struck by comparisons between the Simplified Spelling Society and other organizations campaigning to reform language. How can spelling reformers learn from the experience of Esperanto, a movement for an international auxiliary language?

They share a number of characteristics:
To get a picture of where simplified spelling might go, let's look at how Esperanto's public image and strategy have slowly changed.

The clichéd perception of Esperanto is of a potentially great project that didn't really catch on. Altho there is no evidence to suggest so, many Esperantists were afraid of the language's perceived crankiness or left-wing ideology. The life work of Ivo Lapenna was to try to remove communist overtones. More recently Bernard Golden has attacked fellow Esperantists for their cranky looks and manners. Neither aspect is true of most Esperantists, so where does the public perception of failure originate?

First, once the public hears of an exciting project and then hears no more, they rightly or wrongly think the project has failed. Esperanto had almost instantaneous world coverage in the early 1900s. Then squabbling about the purity of the language, and the intervention of two world wars, effectively blew the wind out of its sails.

Second, the movement suffered from introversion. Because many Esperantists strove to create a rich 'world literature', Esperanto's critics focused on literary issues. This stifled debate about other aspects of auxiliary languages, such as learnability and flexibility. We can see the extent to which a movement can be led by its detractors.

Ironically, Esperanto's public image became fixed as a failure at a time when the movement's membership and other indicators (eg, book sales) were actually rising. The movement has responded by developing a more businesslike style. The recent Kampanjo 2000 strategy sets out two aspects of this which are of relevance to spelling:

First, after years of debate the criterion for success has been settled on: there isn't one! Instead of a link language, Kampanjo 2000 proposes Esperanto as a guarantor of language rights and diversity, an alternative to the dominant English culture. This amounts to an acceptance of the movement as a self-supporting community and as a set of ideas rather than a proposal for an absolutely rational, neutral language system.

The second element of Kampanjo 2000 is an attempt to open outwards by providing useful tools for translation, advising on technical terminology, or helping to train language teachers and learners. Elsewhere these services are expensive, so Esperantists hope by giving them free they will provide an incentive for people to at least come to Esperantists, if not to actually learn the language.

Like Esperantists, spelling reformers have skills and proposals that can be exploited in small-scale applications. They can help in schools, exploit or advise on computer programs, help with disputed issues in literacy. If the public can use these facilities on an ad hoc basis, the principles of spelling reform don't need to be published or argued but are simply integrated directly into the language system. It is a question of providing a service for outsiders to exploit and ultimately perhaps to appreciate.

To some extent, image and ideology are not as problematic for spelling reformers as for Esperantists, but even the image of failure is not necessarily all bad.

What is important is that there should be some presence in the public mind. Esperanto has succeeded in that the word itself is still accurately defined in dictionaries, but more importantly is used in the media as a synonym for a grand but ultimately doomed design. I am not unhappy with this.

One test of the success of an idea is the extent to which its main principles can be recalled by the public. For this, spelling reform will need to create a reasonably clear proposal that can be accepted or rejected. At least, as with Esperanto, it won't be forgotten.

Spelling reformers have skills and proposals that can be exploited in small-scale applications public.


Chris Gledhill, Fife, Scotland, is an SSS member. He is also a member of and has worked for the Universala Esperanto Asocio, Rotterdam. [See Journals.]


Net chat.

Excerpts from a few of the posts in the SSS internet discussion groups.
A pun on the word 'net'.

About one in five SSS members has email access. Others miss the many points made on the Society's chat group. For a small taste of what's posted, we reprint extracts from three items

Strong memory (July).

I think the worst feature of TO is that it demands not so much a high IQ, but a very strong visual memory - you have to remember the whole dictionary. As an example, I met a perfectly intelligent lady once, who read by sounding out the words, and when she could not identify a word, looked it up in the dictionary, and from the pronunciation guide was able to get it. Astonishingly, 2min later she might come across the same word, but had no recollection of it - it was as if it was the first time she had ever seen the word - and she looked it up again. She was very fast in leafing thru the dictionary. She explained to me - 'don't teach me how to read, I know how to read - you give me your memory - and then I'll read like you'. She had undergone remedial lessons over many years and had finally abandoned hope of any further improvement. For people like this, a much more regular spelling system is the difference between functional literacy and illiteracy. It is our struggle to help them.

Damian Bonsall, UK. [See Newsletters .]

Engineer's principle (July).

I have been studying Mandarin in a desultory fashion for about a year. The writing system is beautiful, and learning it is fascinating. There are all kinds of little tricks and helpful hints you pick up along the way. Persons of quite ordinary intelligence have been learning the system for thousands of years. This does not change the fact the system is demented. English spelling is not nearly as demented, but it still violates the engineer's principle that you should never make anything more complicated than it has to be.

John Reilly, US. [See Journals, Web links.]

No mor pachiz. Tiem tue reeppaev. (May).

Tue pach Eenglish speleeng just poots pachiz aan taap uv pachiz. If wee aar tue pach, then pach uggen, and uggen, at wut point due peepool get tieyerd uv lerneeng nue pachiz and sae eennuf iz eennuf. This wil never due. Wee need tue faes up tue thu fakt that thu roed needs reeppaeveeng. (Rittin in Truespel)

Taam (Tom) Zurinskas. USA. [See Journal, Web links.]



[Steve Bett: see Journals, Newsletters, Personal View, Web links.]
[Web addresses have been omitted as they are unlikely to be valid now. Search engines may find the people or topics.]

Spelling on the net with Steve Bett.

Upgrading graphics capabilities.

The web was built in 1994 to simplify the task of sending and receiving graphical information. Before this, it was possible to send graphics as attachments to one's email but this placed a burden on the receiver. Not only did the attachment have to be decoded, but also it could not be opened unless the receiving party had the appropriate software.

A brief study I conducted among 25 or so participants in the simplified spelling discussion group indicated most were still using old email software and could not receive or send graphics better than pre-1990 users.

Spelling reformers, amateur alphabeteers, and orthographers do need to exchange graphics files. Since the required software is freeware that can be downloaded from the Internet there is no reason for not having this compatibility.

If your email software is out of date or if you simply want to have an e-mail site that you can access when you are away from homebase, sign up for one of the free email services. Most of them are MIME compatible, which means they can send, receive, and display many graphics files without going through an encoding/decoding routine.

Free e-mail services include: .....

The total solution is provided by Netscape. With Netscape mail, U can upgrade your access to your local mail server. This does not require a configuration (U have to tell the software exactly where to find your email) but it is something that can be done in 5min.

When U download Netscape Communicator 4.0 or higher, U also get a built-in HTML editor for creating web pages that is as easy and straightforward as your word processing software.

With the NS Communicator, you can open your graphics files in the editor. Then U can simply 'drag and drop' the picture or any segment containing pictures, tables, and text into Netscape mail or 'cut and paste' into most modern email programs.

What is the cost of these modern solutions? About one hour of your time and the annoyance of having to view a 1x3in banner ad on your screen each time you access your mail. Free mail servers also add a two-line promotional message of the bottom of our e-mail message. Since Netscape Mail uses your existing mail server there is no advertising.

If your connection is thru an institutional computer check first with your network personnel. You may need helping configuring the preferences so the browser will properly access your mail server. Some institutions do not allow people to install Netscape Communicator because they believe it may compromise security.

Important URLs for spelling.

We have needed a place to go that would list the top ten spelling links. This is now closer to realization.

The informal simplified spelling mailing list is doing fine but it does not invite others to participate or allow them to subscribe and unsubscribe at will. A replacement for spelling@coollist has been found. This site will eventually contain an FAQ (list of frequently asked questions with answers) and a GLOSSARY. Currently, it contains 12 discussion categories. When U have something U want archived, please use this site.

George Lahey, author of the recently published PV6, has upgraded his website.

Paul Cunningham has upgraded his site and changed the name Spell Right to Spel Riet.

Alan Mole's page has more than just a copy of the original BTRSPL orthographic converter. [See Links page.]

Steven Bett's automated BTRSPL converter has been moved. [See Links page.]

Valerie Yule's bibliography of spelling related books and articles. [See Links page.]

The Uniform English Society has upgraded its website.



Tale peace

Creative speller, passive teller.

A would-be bank robber in San Francisco handed a withdrawal slip to the teller. On it he had written: 'pot al the moni in ma beg or i wil bloe u awa.' The teller's decrypting skills matched the writer's spelling ability. Without batting an eyelid she handed the form back and told him he had filled it out incorrectly, which left him unsure. He headed off across the street to another bank, where he had a similar experience. He was arrested when he returned to the first one to try again.

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