English Spelling Revision: How?

Jim   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 03:42 GMT
Clark writes that he "would be a little afraid that if one country devised one system, then another country would devise a different system, and then the English language would start to split up ..." Sounds only too familiar.

More division is hardly what anyone would want but creating division was exactly what drove Webster to make his reforms. "As an independent nation our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government," he said.

What you'd want is for a reform to build bridges rather than walls. You'd want to elliminate the differences between US spelling and Commonwealth spelling. One such system goes by the name of "cut spelling" http://www.spellingsociety.org/pubs/leaflets/cutspelng.html

Hmm writes "Different dialects have different homonyms ..." yep, this is a problem but I don't know that "keeping different sounds spelt differently in one" would necessarily "not go down well in another country where they sound the same,". It is already the usual case that these distinctions are made. They could still be retained whilst making things simpler rather than more confusing.

Much worse, I think, would be to go the other way and ignor the distinctions that different dialects make. For example, there are those who make a distinction between "w" and "wh" therefore I'm in favour of keeping the "wh" wherever it's found rather than changing it to "w" even though I'm not one of those who make the distinction.

For me "caught" and "court" sound the same as each other but sound nothing like "cot". For some Americans "caught" and "cot" sound the same as each other but sound nothing like "court". We could still simplify things by dropping the "gh" in "caught" and dropping the "u" in "court". Who'd complain about spelling these words "caut", "cort" and "cot"?

Of course, there still exists a trade off between building bridges between dialects and spelling phonetically when it comes to words like "vase", "lieutenant", "schedule", etc. Perhaps we could allow different spellings depending on dialect, devise some fancy rule to allow for different readings or just steer clear of these words altogether.

Ben writes "Spelling reform could never work" but does he then go on to contradict himself with "linguistic mutation is as natural as evolution,"? I think so: it all hinges on what you mean by "spelling reform". Webster tried it and only got part of the way: many of his ideas were just rejected by the public and so you've got American spelling which is really no better than Commonwealth spelling.

I don't believe that any one person in any one country will ever have the influence to push through an across-the-board reform but I believe that spelling will slowly evolve and therefore, by the very process of linguistic mutation, spelling reform will take place.

I believe that this is the only practical way ahead for those who want spelling reform: go via the mechanism of evolution. Anything too drastic would never be accepted. The question is how to get this mechanism opperating faster. The best way, I think, would be to encourage people to be more accepting of spelling variation and feel more free to spell as they will.

P.S., Clark, if you haven't already found this page, have a look here http://www.spellingsociety.org/
Simplified Spelling Society
Clark   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 03:57 GMT
Jim, nice to hear from you. I have not looked at those links yet, but I just wanted to say something.

I did not want to talk about the actual spelling reform, but I will just here. Everyone thinks of spelling reform as this major overhaul of the language. If simple spelling changes were made, there would not be too big of a problem. For example, we could chang the "-ough" to just "o," and then the other "-ough" to an "of." Now you might be thinking, "of" sounds like "uv," well, the intention is not to totally change the system, but to simplify. Just something like this.

All right, just wanted to say that, and now something else. Jim writes, "...people to be more accepting of spelling variation and feel more free to spell as they will." This is how English spelling of today came about, thanks to Chaucer. The English language did not have a standard spelling until 1788 and Johnston's dictionary (or was in Johnson?). But there was an unofficial standard set by Chaucer in the late 1300's early 1400's. And most poets of the day would write very phonetically to their dialect of English. I wonder if this could happen again. However, if this were to happen, I think that each English-speaking country would start to develop their own Englishes just like the Romance languages.
Jim   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 06:02 GMT
Nice to be back. In today's environment of global mass communication there'd be far less chance of English's splitting as Latin did. Still possible though.

Perhaps, if we become less strict on ourselves (and each other), a more sensible system would emerge.

That old "gh" would have to go (except in rare cases such as "yogh" where it belongs) but, of course, there's more to it than changing the "-ough" to "o" or "of". Changing "thought" to "thot" just wouldn't work for me.

For me "thought" rhymes with "caught" but not "cot" so changing it to "thaut" works but not "thot". It's that old thing of maintaining distinctions that people make whether or not you're one of them.

You might be thinking, "of" sounds like "uv", but it sounds like "ov" to me ... anyway more of these details on another thread, ay.

But perhaps this is how thing could progress ... one person would write "I've thot uv a nice noo wey uv speling this wurd." and his friend would reply "I'v thaut ov u niser new way ov spelling dhat werd." and thingz wood goe on liek dhat until out pops sumthing wee aul kood ugree on ...
TO CLY   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 12:08 GMT
English and Castillano are not the only languages with 'TH' sounds.

Modern Greek has the letters:

theta: pronounced as in 'THink'
delta: pronounced as in 'THis'

Icelandic has extra letters known as:

thorn: THick
eth: THin

And I wouldn't be surprised if there are others!
Ben   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 13:34 GMT
As to the original question of 'HOW' (as opposed to 'why?') spelling revision in English should be brought in...the only way to impliment the system, as I see it, would be to get the global media onside. If spelling of English on TV and in papers and magazines could be standardised, the change would filter down through the consumers of that media. Of course that would have to go hand in hand with a new teaching system at all school levels.

So yeah, it would be possible, I'd say. I don't think it would catch on though - there'd be too much opposition. People just wouldn't like being told how to spell. That's partly why Esperanto never caught on, after all.

And Clark - I think classifying Catalan as a 'different langauge' to Spanish is a bit of a sticky point. I agree that it shouldn't be classed necessarily as a 'variant' of Spanish, but at the same time, it is closer to Spanish than to anything else, to the extent that some are happy to think of it as a 'dialect' of Spanish. The relationship is similar to that between Provencale and French. Also, I beg to differ on the phonetic point - yes, there are probably more similarities between certain varieties of South American Spanish and that spoken in Spain than between British and American English, but at the same time the differences, to a Spaniard, are equally pronounced.
Clark   Tuesday, September 02, 2003, 16:37 GMT
I showed a Catalan grammar bit to one of my French teachers in high school, and she said it reminded her more of French than Spanish. I think it resembles Spanish more though.

As for how to spread English spelling reform, I would agree about the media. And as for the Englishes splitting up, I do not think the Englishes would vary much, but if each English-speaking country had their own way of spelling something, I think there would inevitabley be some divergences between the English-speaking countries.

But as I am thinking about the media, I think that they would need a starting "spark." The media, at least in America, gives the people what they want to hear--entertainment (car chases, robberies, sex, drugs, etc). So I think that if this were to work in America, some other source would need to step up to the plate and change things. I would say the universities could have the biggest impact because they are the ones who teach. But then you have the government that could step in ans say, "what kind of English is this?" and shut the whole programme down.