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Spelling Reform Is Not the Answer

Posted on February 24, 2011 | Comments Off on Spelling Reform Is Not the Answer

English, as we know it today, has taken on some changes from its original form. The language is primarily made up of a hodgepodge of other words taken from other languages such as French, German, Latin, and Greek. The end result is a language made up of approximately 251 different letter combinations to spell only 43 sounds. With this kind of complex system for written communication, it is no wonder English is such a hard language to learn.

Starting back as early as the eleventh century, writing as a form of communication was becoming more popular. However, the uneducated could not understand what was written. Too many English words are not sounded as they are spelled. Some scholars hoped to reform certain words to sound as they are spelled or be more be phonetic.

Other scholars disagreed, feeling that changing the spelling to accommodate some would be confusing to those that were familiar with the current spellings.

Eventually, words began a slow change, with some having either version acceptable.

As the time changes, words continue to change. Words that tend to get misspelled may eventually become acceptable. For example, British English would have us spell the past tense of travel as “travelled.” Americans took used this spelling for hundreds of years until at some point, dropping the second /l/ became accepted and correct.

Also, words that were passed down verbally were all-too-often misheard, causing a shift in language. Buttonhole used to be “buttonhold.”

As new technologies emerge, the language changes with it. Shakespeare would not have written about cell phones, internet spell check tools, or mega-pixels. Further, current writers do not write content in a current setting using words such as thee, tho, or shalt.

Current reform for spelling changes is a hot topic of discussion. Those for the changes allege that students that have trouble learning to read would benefit from a phonetic language system.
Those opposed to changes counter that a phonetic language system would be worse, and that thousands upon thousands of books and other written material would become obsolete and unreadable in the near future. No one would know how to check spelling because there would be no consistency. Software and internet spell check could not detect errors. Dialect has much to do with phonetics.

For example, the word pecan.
Some people pronounce it /pē-kān/. (Both vowels are long.)
Other people pronounce it /pē-kăwn/ (/e/ is long, /a/ is short)
Further, the emphasis on the syllable varies.

So, if we were to write, “My favorite pie is pecan,” how would we phonetically write about the pecan? Peekan? Pecawn? Peak-an?

While the language will continue to change, it is best to learn the English rules as well as the exceptions as it stands now. A century from now, there may be a new article written called, “New and Improved: How to Check Spelling for Phonetic Users.”

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