Simplified Spelling

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The Simplified Spelling Society recently had a discussion with Professor Vivian Cook about whether English spelling should be simplified. English spelling is chaotic, but I found the society's arguments weak.

The decision of Ms Bell from the society to write her answers only partly using simplified spelling made her argument seem unconvincing; if it's such a good way of writing, why has she not adopted it totally? Also, some of the spellings are not particularly regular themselves, like 'butiful' for 'beautiful'.

Apart from the huge costs that would be involved in changing texts, it is the parochiality of their view that stands out. I see little point in teaching British learners to write 'munny' for 'money' as it would just put them at a disadvantage later when communicating with the rest of the world. English is so international that it is pointless to imagine that such reforms could be achieved without far wider recognition, and their desire to make these changes smacks of a terribly outdated view of ownership of the language without any regard to the actual globalised context.

Categories: General


You seem to be not that happy with Marsha's decision of using her set of simplified words.
To be very true I've been working on this for quite some while. And also do not agree with every other thing they do.
I had a chance to see the suggestive glossary on BBC news page on this topic. There are 22 odd suggestions. And to be very honest, I do not reason with most of those suggestions.
But I must tell,"butiful' for 'beautiful' is a good attempt.
And if you do not agree with me on 'butiful', I can explain it to you. And if you want to discuss the glossary on BBC page on Marsha and Vivian's
discussion,you can write to me.
Or may be if you want to know something more than what they cry about.

Firstly, my complaint was that she didn't use it all the time; it is the inconsistency I didn't like.

I don't see why 'butiful' is a good attempt. Two sounds that are clearly different are represented by the same spelling, so when a learner comes across 'cupl' , which if the two sounds would they associate with the letter? I don't honestly see that much point in replacing an irregular way of spelling with another irregular, though less so, one.

However, it is the failure to take into account the international context that strikes me as a greater failing. Why does the society suppose that other nations would adopt it? And if they didn't, it would merely place British learners at a disadvantage.

Noah Webster reformed spelling to some degree in the USA, though that merely left us with two ways of writing some words.

There is no Academy that controls the English language that could impose such a change. Furthermore, as Professor Cook pointed out, the cost of reprinting entire libraries with the new spellings, not to mention changing the entire internet would be huge, and just who is going to pay for this? Why should other countries have to shell out huge sums to retrain their teachers when the problem is in our schools?

English has some official status in about 30 countries, and that doesn't include the UK or the USA. Are they all going to follow suit? How is an agreement going to be achieved, especially as many of these countries have different pronunciations and already have some spelling differences?

This society's proposed reforms are going to go nowhere, just like GB Shaw's and all the others; practicalities will make sure of that. I am afraid that imposed spelling reform, like artificial languages, is never going to take off in my opinion. Language changes because the users change it; imposition won't work.

Kate Gladstone

Dear Sir —

As most of your readers probably know, the pronunciation of the English language has dramatically changed (more than once!) over the centuries and millennia of the language's documented existence, creating much of the present bad fit between English spelling and English pronunciation.

Since English spelling will foreseeably stay the same (while we can expect English pronunciation to continue its long history of changing, as long as the language remains in use), after several more centuries or millennia will there ever come a day when the sounds of English have changed far enough to destroy all useful remnants of a fit between spelling and sound?

In other words, could it ever happen that the English language (or any other alphabet-using language which "froze" its spelling system a long time ago) would eventually get so far out of step with the writing system that hardly any words (or no words at all) had a phonemically transparent spelling, and reading had to rely 99+%/100% on the memorization of words as wholes, even though the alphabet still existed and still putatively represented sounds?

After all, imagine what we would face today if present-day English had standardized its spelling 1000+ years ago instead of only a few centuries ago: so that the word pronounced "DEY-lee" still required the ancient spelling "gedaeghwamlice" (and so on for all, or almost all, the vocabulary, because nobody wanted to change the traditional spelling that showed how the word USED to sound a long, long time ago).
If the writing system hadn't "broken" by the time that people had to decode "gedaeghwamlice" into our "daily," my imagined example would at least seem very well along on its way to breakage — so, as English pronunciations keep on changing, will the actual spelling of English similarly reach a "breaking point" sooner or later, where reading must rely entirely on memorization of whole words because phonetic change has attenuated phonemic cues to the point of uselessness? (in effect "de-inventing" the alphabetic principle?)
If so, what happens then — or can we somehow prevent the eventual "breakage" of our current standard spelling?

Yours for better letters, Kate Gladstone
Handwriting Repair and the World Handwriting Contest

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