For further information, contact the Society's Press Officer:

Press releases are listed below in reverse chronological order.

Press release 2018-01-30

ENGLISH SPELLING IS BROKEN

PLANS TO FIND A NEW SPELLING SYSTEM ANNOUNCED TODAY

The English Spelling Society announced plans today to host an International Congress with the aim of choosing a new English spelling scheme.

People from across the English Speaking World will be able to participate in an International debate on the difficulties and problems of the current English spelling system.

The first session of the Congress will be held on Wednesday 30th May and will provide a platform for speakers to focus on the irregularity of English spelling, its economic and social costs and what measures may be taken to remedy this. Participants from across the English Speaking World will be able to take part via a webinar.

Following the first session, an Expert Commission will be appointed to choose a short list of alternative spelling systems which will be presented to a reconvened Congress where a final choice will be made. 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 Chair of the Society, Jack Bovill, said: ‘This is not an attempt at top-down regulation. It is a genuine opportunity for ordinary people across the world who have some interest in the reform of our highly irregular spelling to come together and discuss what improvements might be effective and feasible.’

The Congress is the first event of its type and is being arranged in consultation with the Society's sister organisation, the American Literacy Council.

Registration for the event begins today online via www.spellingsociety.org.

Possible spelling test for readers/listeners:

A spelling survey carried out in the US and in the UK showed that more than 50% of people had trouble with some of these words. (Spelling survey details in notes below.)

Choose the correct spelling for the following words:

i.

  1. definitely
  2. definately
  3. definatley
  4. definitley

ii.

  1. seperately
  2. separately
  3. separatley
  4. seperatley

iii.

  1. acommodation
  2. accomodation
  3. accommodation
  4. accomerdation

iv.

  1. embarassed
  2. embarrased
  3. embarrassed
  4. embaressed

v.

  1. leasion
  2. liason
  3. liasion
  4. liaison 

Define the following homophones:

i. they’re / their / there =

  1. in that place
  2. they are
  3. something that belongs to someone

ii. affect / effect =

  1. to influence
  2. the result of something

iii. stationary / stationery

  1. paper for letter writing
  2. not moving

iv. its / it's =

  1. it is, it has
  2. belong to it (possessive of it)

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Notes for Editors

1. The spelling survey in the USA was carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of The English Spelling Society. A sample of 1,000 adults aged between 18 and 80 years from across the USA responded to the survey. Fieldwork was conducted using an online methodology, and took place between 15th January and 20th January 2009. Data has been weighted to the known population in the USA.

The spelling survey in the UK was carried out by ICD Research/ID Factor on behalf of The English Spelling Society. A sample of 1000 adults aged between 18 and 80 years from across the UK responded to the survey. Fieldwork was conducted using an online methodology, and took place in April 2008. Data has been weighted to the known population in the UK.

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

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

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

Its objects are:

  • 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

To register for the event and to find out more visit www.spellingsociety.org

Press release 2016-11-30

A new study out this week highlights the difficulties students have with English spelling

Research by the Cambridge Research Assessment, to be published on Wednesday 30th November, will detail a lack of overall improvement in the spelling of 16 year olds, and also point to some deterioration in the spelling used by GCSE students. 

Stephen Linstead, Chair of the English Spelling Society says: "The findings provoke little surprise within the English Spelling Society. There is growing evidence that our uniquely unpredictable spelling system has economic and social costs. It is also worth noting that English-speaking children take up to three years longer to master basic spelling than their European counterparts in their native language."

The Society asserts that there was no 'golden age' of English spelling, and the Cambridge Assessment findings merely underline that students continue to have difficulty mastering English spelling due to its high degree of irregularity. 

Are we wasting our children's time and in some cases their life chances by obstinately clinging to our outdated spelling as if it was something of value?

Studies point to roughly one fifth of UK school-leavers being 'functionally illiterate'. There is a desperate need to address this problem as the costs to the individual and to society at large are immense.

An approach being actively considered by the English Spelling Society in cooperation with its sister organisation the American Literacy Council, is to try to open up the question of spelling reform to a wider audience by means of an International English Spelling Congress. For more information on the Congress please visit: www.spellingsociety.org

-- Stephen Linstead is available for interview and comment via vikki@presscontact.co.uk 07886673412

Press release 2016-04-20

Delegates & sponsors sought on #NationalEnglishLanguageDay to help update rules of English spelling

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.

Press Release 2015-01-07

Proposals for an International English Spelling Congress

The English Spelling Society, working with the American Literacy Council, has today announced its proposals for an International English Spelling Congress.

The task of the Congress will be to appoint a Commission of experts charged with drawing up a short list of proposals for an improved English spelling system.  Congressional delegates will then choose one system from the Commission's short list.

Stephen Linstead, Chair of The English Spelling Society said: “The intention is that the preferred new system should run alongside traditional spelling as an informal alternative and, if it gains sufficient support among English speakers, eventually replace it.”

Delegates to the Congress will be chosen from throughout the English Speaking World and global participation will be facilitated by video conferencing.

The English Spelling Society has long campaigned for awareness of the inherent problems associated with an irregular spelling system and has illustrious past supporters including Sir James Pitman MP, George Bernard Shaw and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Stephen Linstead, who became Chair of the Society in 2013, added:  “The case for updating traditional English spelling is based on the growing evidence that our extremely irregular spelling system has a substantial economic and social cost.  When you consider the damning statistic that English speaking children take up to two years longer to acquire basic literacy skills than their counterparts in some other European countries and that 1 in 6 people in the UK are functionally illiterate with children no better at spelling than their parents’ generation, then there is a very strong case for re-evaluating English spelling.”

The Congress is planned for late 2015 or early 2016; funds are currently being sought. The venue is to be finalised. 

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Notes for Editors

1. To view a short film on spelling reform (90 seconds) please see here:

 http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30698266

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

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

4. For further details of the proposed Congress visit www.spellingsociety.org: > spelling in the news > IESC.

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                                See separate page for more details on the proposed Congress.

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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

​Spelling reform is not a new idea!

Benjamin Franklin "The same is to be observed in all the letters, vowels, and consonants, that wherever they are met with, or in whatever company, their sound is always the same. It is also intended that there be no superfluous letters used in spelling, i.e. no letter that is not sounded [...]"  Franklin proposed a spelling scheme with 6 new letters. (Franklin 1806 p359)

Theodore Roosevelt "It is merely an attempt [...] to make our spelling a little less foolish and fantastic." Theodore Roosevelt promoted the Simplified Spelling Board's gradual reform (see Twain below). (Roosevelt 1906, p3)

Mark Twain "It is my belief that an effort at a slow and gradual change is not worth while. [...] It is the sudden changes [...] that have the best chance of winning in our day. Can we expect a sudden change in our spelling? I think not. But I wish I could see it tried. [...] By a sudden and comprehensive rush the present spelling could be entirely changed and the substitute spelling be accepted, all in the space of a couple of years; and preferred in another couple. But it won't happen, and I am as sorry as a dog." (Twain 1997, pp208-212)

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