To celebrate National English Language Day, and to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, the English Spelling Society is calling for delegates and sponsors to support their detailed proposals for an International English Spelling Congress which will debate the difficulties of English spelling and look to suggest a short list of alternative spelling schemes.

This coming Saturday is National English Language Day, a United Nations day of observance which celebrates the English Language.  It is also, world book and copyright day and this year the 23rd April will be the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. 

The English language is famous for its many quirks and for its irregular spelling system which can make it difficult to learn.   

The Chair of the English Spelling Society, Stephen Linstead said: “We hope that on this, the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard we can stimulate English language lovers to consider the question of the irregularity of our current spelling system.  We think that our proposals for a Congress to debate this issue offers the best chance of getting agreement to improve our extremely irregular spelling, whose economic and social costs are becoming increasingly apparent.  Far too many pupils leave school functionally illiterate and studies have shown that English speaking pupils can be up to two years behind their European counterparts in acquiring basic literacy skills.  This initiative is not an attempt at top-down regulation, it is an opportunity for ordinary people to have their say and to get the process of reform moving.”

Famous Spelling Reformers:  Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt

The English Spelling Society Congress will appoint an expert Commission which after consultation will produce a short list of alternative spelling schemes for presentation to a reconvened Congress.

It is the Society's hope that  the approved alternative spelling scheme will be promoted to run alongside traditional spelling informally until such time as it gains sufficient acceptance in the English Speaking World. At that stage it will be possible to promote it as a formal alternative to traditional spelling.

The Congress will consist of physical meetings in the UK and USA but with a large number of delegates participating by video link.  Applicants from throughout the English Speaking Word will be eligible to apply to become a delegate.

Shakespearian spellings: no 'ed' just 'd': "curld, disposd, performd, perishd; wrackt." He used 'i.e.' instead of 'y' here: "daies, denie, libertie, marrie, quality" and instead of 'i' he used 'y' here: "cabyn, lyes, poysonous, raysing, toyle."

The English Spelling Society (formed in London in 1908) are in the process of seeking funding for the event.  Mr Linstead added: “We were lucky enough to have been kick-started as a Society in the early 20th century by support from philanthropists concerned with spelling improvement.  We hope that today’s philanthropists will support our work to improve the situation for the millions of children and adults who find the current spelling system difficult, if not impossible, to learn.”

John Milton and George Bernard Shaw, have on occasion used non-standard written dialects.

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Notes for Editors

1. The English Spelling Society was founded in 1908. It is headquartered in the UK but has members throughout the world.

The English Spelling Society is an organisation with a worldwide membership which tries to address these problems by:

  • Raising awareness and promoting research on the economic and social costs of English spelling
  • Providing resources on the development of English spelling and of the movement to update it
  • Seeking to open minds to the possibility of an eventual update of English spelling in the interests of  improved literacy

2. National English Language Day: April 23 marks the anniversary of the birth or death of a range of well-known writers, including Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Maurice Druon, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Haldor Kiljan Laxness, Manuel Mejía Vallejo, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and William Shakespeare. For this reason, UNESCO's General Conference chose this date to pay tribute to books, the authors who wrote them, and the copyright laws that protect them.

3.  Press Inquiries should be directed to: Vikki Rimmer 07886673412 vikki@presscontact.co.uk 

4. For details of the proposed Congress visit http://spellingsociety.org/international-english-spelling-congress

Did You Know:

• Ask your friend what Y-E-S spells. They won't have any difficulty saying yes. Then ask what E-Y-E-S spells. It's easy when it's written down, but surprisingly difficult when it's spoken. See a YouTube video of this.

• Who has not heard i before e, except after c. A University of Warwick statistician put it to the test. He plugged a list of 350,000 English words into a statistical program to see if the math checked out. It didn't.

• When Adam met Eve for the first time, he said Madam, I'm Adam. This is a palindrome — a phrase or sentence in which the letters, words or even lines read the same in either direction. Adam hoped to impress the most beautiful woman in the world, but she more than matched him by replying simply, Eve. Not bad given that writing, and therefore palindromes, and English ones in particular, had not yet been invented! More palindromes, and a wonderful palindromic poem.

• How would you pronounce ghoti? Pronounce it like this:

and you get ... fish! Thanks to Charles Ollier for writing this in 1855 — and for showing that English spelling has been ludicrous for quite some time.

• One of the arguments in favour of keeping English spelling unchanged is to show the etymology of words. For example, the silent s in island shows the link to the Latin insula. But island actually derives from the Old English íglund, not from the Latin at all. More examples at Mental Floss.

 

Page editor: N Paterson. Contact by email or form.
FAMOUS ONES WHO WANTED TO IMPROVE
THE ENGLISH SPELLING SYSTEM
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Charles Darwin
  • Lord Tennyson
  • Mark Twain
  • Theodore Roosevelt

 

Page editor: N Paterson. Contact by email or form.