Skip to comments.National Spelling Bee protests: Should we simplify English spelling?
Posted on 06/04/2010 8:50:41 PM PDT by James C. Bennett
The Scripps National Spelling Bee highlights what a mess the English spelling is a hodgepodge of orthographies borrowed from German, French, Greek, and Latin. Is it time for a makeover?
The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is said to have joked that the word "fish" could legitimately be spelled "ghoti," by using the "gh" sound from "enough," the "o" sound from "women," and the "ti" sound from "action."
Shaw was probably not the originator of this joke, but he was one of a long line of people who thought that the English language's anarchic spelling, a hodgepodge of Germanic, French, Greek, and Latin, was desperately in need of reform.
To this end, he willed a portion of his estate toward the development of a new phonetic script. The result was the Shavian alphabet, whose 47 letters have a one-to-one phonetic correspondence with sounds in the English language. Like just about every other attempt to rein in English spelling, Shaw's alphabet continues to be widely ignored to this day.
But spelling-reform advocates press on. The Associated Press reported that this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee was picketed by four protesters, some dressed in bee costumes, who distributed buttons reading "Enuf is enuf. Enough is too much."
The demonstrators were from the the American Literacy Council and the London-based Spelling Society, organizations that aim to do to English orthography what the metric system did for weights and measures. The American Literacy Council endorses SoundSpel, which seeks to "rationalize" the English language by spelling each of the English language's 42 (or so) phonemes one way and one way only. In SoundSpel, "business" becomes "bizness," "equation" becomes "ecwaezhun," "learned" becomes "lernd," "negotiate" becomes "negoesheaet," and so on.
(Excerpt) Read more at csmonitor.com ...
Ohio teenager wins US spelling bee crown
A 14-year-old girl from the US state of Ohio has won the country's coveted annual National Spelling Bee.
Anamika Veeramani, from North Royalton, claimed victory by correctly spelling the word stromuhr - a medical term.
She takes home $40,000 (£27,450) in cash and prizes, as well as the coveted championship title. Anamika's winning word, stromuhr, is the term for an instrument used to measure the velocity of blood flow.
It is the third year in a row that an Indian-American has won the championship.
The popularity of the spelling bee - a peculiarly American tradition - has grown greatly over the past decade, partly as a result of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Spellbound.
Anamika's winning word, stromuhr, is the term for an instrument used to measure the velocity of blood flow.
Shaw was also in favor of gassing people who didn’t, in his judgement, contribute to society.
no we should not simplify it
It’s largely a memory contest, and would be far less challenging, and therefore far less interesting, if spelling was made more consistent.
Those who don’t excel at spelling/memorization, find a contest where you can excel! Don’t pick at those who are good at this. Language has a flavor; leave it alone.
Nuts to the protestors. Spelling, like punctuation, is a dying art, and one that I think should be preserved.
But then, I’m biased ‘cause I’m good at it.
He sure was
“Simplifying” English spelling would cause more problems than it solves. Even among American speakers, there are a plethora of ways to pronounce various words; include English, Australian, etc., and any phonetic system will be even more unintelligible than the spoken systems.
English is a highly dynamic language and as such, should not be meddled with.
Right. If you want to find out the correct way to pronounce words in English, just come here to northern New England. Every other way is wrong. But don’t listen to those Vermont natives. They talk funny. They say things like “caows”.
The people I attended school with somehow learned to speak and spell, limited as we were! Maybe it is because we didn't have a bunch of liberal crap around to distract us, and teachers who wouldn't accept excuses.
No we should not simplify it (ie, dumb it down for the dummies).
Simplify? Every time I’m around someone playing with their damned cell phone they ask “how do you spell ....” for the simplest of words.
I will quite literally off myself if one day our language is “simplified” to “tlkng w/o actly splng stuf out, no wut i mene? ok gr8”
And what was Latin?
a hodgepodge of orthographies borrowed from languages that had proceeded it.
If spelling bees had been held in ancient Rome they could have complained about the same thing.
Gallagher did a bit about the english using the words “one” and “two”....goes something like this..
The word “one” has a wa-wa sound but no “W”
The word “two” has a “W but no wa-wa sound.
Yes, lets all spell like those ignorant spray paint taggers who have never made it beyond the fifth grade.
Announcer: And now, Mr. Joseph Franklin of the U.S. Council of Standards and Measures.
Joseph Franklin: Thank you. Tonight I'd like to talk to you about how the new metric system of conversion will affect you. This is one in a series of public reeducation programs designed to make Americans aware of the metric conversion to take place in the next ten years. Most Americans already know that the measurement of miles will be discarded in favor of kilometers - a systme of measurement based on the unit of tens and already in use in most of the world. Few people, however, know about the new metric alphabet: the "Decibet"; "deci" from the Greek "ten", and "bet" from our own "alphabet". Let's take a look, shall we? [ holds up large poster of the Decibet ] Now, isn't that simple? Only ten letters. Twn fingers.. ten letters.
Now, let's take a look at some specifics.
[ shows Card 1 ] A, B, C, and D: our first and most popular letters will remain the same.
[ shows Card 2 ] E and F, however, will be combined and graphically simplified to make one character.
[ shows Card 3 ] The groupings GHI, and..
[ shows Card 4 ] LMNO will be condensed to single letters. Incidentally, a boon to those who always had trouble pronouncing LMNO correctly.
[ shows Card 5 ] And finally, the so-called "trash letters", or P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z, will be condensed to this easily recognizable dark character.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten! Now, let's take a look at how this change will affect our daily speech habits.
[ shows card ] In the EF grouping addition, the word "eagle" would remain basically the same in character, but would be pronounced "efaglef". However, certain words previously beginning with the letter F, like..
[ shows xard ] .."fish", would be pronounced with an additional E sound: this, "efish". "I caught a big efish."
[ shows card ] "Goat" would remain "goat".
[ shows card ] "Hotel" will carry the G letter addition, but as in many words beginning with the GH sound, such as "Ghana", the G would remain silent; thus, "hotel". However, words beginning wih I..
[ shows card ] .. as in "industry", will be pronounced "gindustry". The meaning will remain the same. LMNO's grouping is similar.
[ shows card ] "Mucus" will be LMNOucus".
[ shows card ] "Light" would remain "light".
[ shows card ] And "open" would then ne "LMNOpen", as in, "Honey, would you LMNOpen the door?" Finally, the "trash letters", or the letters from P to Z, would then make a stop sign appear like this: [ holds up stop sign with unintelligble blotch on it ] So there you have it. We hope to eventually establish the Universal Metric Alphabet in America by 1979. Join me next time, when we explore the changes you'll be seeing in alphabet soup and spelling bee contest rules. But now, let's sing the old favorite, the childhood "Alphabet Song", as we will hear it in the future..
[ singing ] "A, B, C, D, EF.. GHI.. J, K, LMNO.. [ blotch ]"
“The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is said to have joked that the word “fish” could legitimately be spelled “ghoti,” by using the “gh” sound from “enough,” the “o” sound from “women,” and the “ti” sound from “action.””
You don’t have to fabricate absurd example, there are plenty of them in the actual language.
For example how the hell do you get “one” to sound like “won”.
Having learned english as an italian (which is very phonetic) speaker, very often I felt like I might as well be reading chinese, since there was so little correspondence between the letters that made up a word and its pronunciation.
Italian is so phonetic that spelling does not exist in Italy - I wasn’t aware of the concept/term until I got here.
Now when it comes to grammar, that’s a different story. English grammar is a piece of cake.
Hell, in twenty years nobody here but a few lingering minorities will speak English anyway.
Should we simplify spelling? No.
However, what is irksome to me is that fact that our most glorified scholastic competition is not a math, or science, or even a music competition, but a spelling bee.
How many jobs are created by good spellers? How many hungry get fed? How many lives are saved? Do we thwart our enemies by outspelling them? Catch any criminals? Create any energy?
The great genius of language, especially the English language, is that it is a bottom-up evolution much like the Internet and, like the Internet, it should remain an expression of individual liberty. The god-players on the left cannot leave anything free of top-down micromanagement.
Here in Germany, and in France, there are government agencies to determine how words should be spelt, ... er I mean spelled.
it could not... there are rules... now i do like to, in my head, say "not a thruff street," when i read the road sing, "not a through street."
Plus you didn’t have teachers who felt it was more important to be sure you had high self-esteem than to correct your spelling. I can remember papers having all sorts of corrections marked in red ink, and whenever they occurred, not just when spelling was stressed. Nowadays some school districts have even banned the dreaded “red pen” for fear of making kiddies feel badly about themselves.
When my kids were going through school, the teachers tolerated “creative” spelling so it would supposedly not interfere with their “creative” writing. But the way I learned to spell was largely on recognition and repetition and if I had been allowed to repeatedly misspell words, my mind would have imprinted it to be a stumbling block the rest of my life.
I, too, grew up in an atmosphere where you learned to spell correctly. Voracious reading also taught me a lot about our marvelous language. I am currently going through Richard Mitchell’s “Crazy Fractured English” again. I love Mitchell’s books skewering pompous English bloviating and Edwin Newman’s book on the same subject. English is a fascinating, creative language and if we “simplified” the spelling, we would lose the ability to figure out what the words mean because the spelling is a sign of which language contributed the word. It would be a tremendous loss and pretty confusing.
By the way, I love your photos.
“English is a highly dynamic language and as such, should not be meddled with.”
Some of the changes described in the article are already evolving out of texting and twitter. Rap culture tends that way also. cu soon. hav biznes 2 do.
Another interesting development. Linguists have thought for a long time that the English verb “to be” would take centuries and centuries to regularize (English verbs have regularized historically in an inverse relationship to the commonness of the use of the verb. E.g., “He spake”).
But “to be” has begun to regularize in rap culture in only about 20 years. “I be top dog.” “We be goin’ soon.” The practice has spread quickly to the general culture amongst youngsters. I be done writing now.
The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the EU rather than German which was the other possibility.
As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty's Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a five year phase-in plan that would be known as "Euro-English".
In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of the "k". This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan have 1 less letter.
There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like "fotograf" 20% shorter.
In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be ekspekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkorage the removal of double letters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of the silent "e"s in the language is disgraseful, and they should go away.
By the fourth year, peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v". During ze fifz year, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and similar changes vud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinations of leters.
After zis fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi to understand ech ozer. Ze drem vil finali kum tru! And zen world!
An example for you Xena...just for fun. Ready?
Punctuate the following to make exactly ONE grammatically correct sentence:
Xena where Tax-chick had had has had had had had had had had had had both the teacher's and SAJ's approval.
Care to have a go, said SAJ with a smile? If you do it properly, I'll even agree to take a ride (my own expense) on the Wham-Bam.
Meddling with English, to borrow from Churchill, is something up with which I shall not put.
You make some good points. Got to say, though, that seeing the twitter and message slang like r, cu, lol, and others is to me like fingernails on a blackboard. I have resisted going with the flow with just a couple exceptions: I have been known to use btw and iirc. But I think that’s about the extent of my corruption. I do hope that ghetto slang doesn’t catch on in serious communications. My children and I message daily on our phones using full English while a contemporary of mine uses the common abbreviations.
I remember kids who obviously didn't hear good English at home being corrected, over and over, until they got it right. Teachers don't do that now, I know of teachers with language problems.
Words are the tools you use to form concepts, as much as to communicate with others. A limited language isn't going to create many deep thinkers.
You seem to want to succumb to the same, frankly disastrous, point of view that consigned even Medieval Latin to the ash-heap of history.
Given the relative levels of civilisation and language at that time and now, you would apparently surrender to those having even fewer demonstrable brain cells than the assorted barbarian hordes.
As M. T. Cicero used to ask, when confronted with a crime such as you (apparently) advocate: "Cui bono?"
Theeze peepel ar stoopid.
We need to institute the decabet.
“Especially the particular usages, “I be a dumshjt” and “we be dumshjts”. You seem to want to succumb to the same, frankly disastrous, point of view that consigned even Medieval Latin to the ash-heap of history.”
I’m of two minds about this:
1. There’s the demonstrable history that English changes a lot over time. Our English would probably be considered a barbaric regularization of verbs by educated English speakers from 300 years ago. Yet we consider ourselves defenders of the language from the barbarians. It’s going to change and there’s nothing we can do. With texting, twitter and the internet interacting with pop-culture, it will change much faster than it ever has before.
2. OTOH, writing and speaking well—and defending those who do—is really the only response we have.
But pretending the language is not going to change and that the change will not be in the direction of “commoness”—at least in our lifetimes—is not living in reality even though I think folks who use the regular form of “to be” sound like idiots. In 100 years, they won’t; and will probably rail at the debasement of their language by new, common usages.
I love reading 18th and 19th century correspondence. It was so much more eloquent, precise, and expressive than texting. OTOH, Beowulf-era English and even Edwardian English is hard to read or understand. But, in reality, I text my wife and son regularly and we all use abbreviations. And that’s how Beowulf-era English changed into American 2011 English.
Frankly, I don’t care that I don’t speak Medieval Latin. So I guess I’m a craven succumber. :)
Well learnt Aquila. I’m an ESL teacher and I can tell you Italians learn English quick.
As you know one/won are homophones.
So, I had a group (of brain dead oafs)at France Telcom and one of them asked me what “homophones” are, so I answered “Gay Telephones”. It seemed funny at the time. Anyway, they complained to my boss and I was pulled from the contract.
Remember, Heteronyms row/row, tear/tear.
“You make some good points. Got to say, though, that seeing the twitter and message slang like r, cu, lol, and others is to me like fingernails on a blackboard. I have resisted going with the flow with just a couple exceptions: I have been known to use btw and iirc. But I think thats about the extent of my corruption. I do hope that ghetto slang doesnt catch on in serious communications. My children and I message daily on our phones using full English while a contemporary of mine uses the common abbreviations.”
Part is context. There’s a reason posting on Free Republic is less formal than, say, legal writing. Different contexts. Texting is difficult (at least for me with my big thumbs) and abbreviations are the natural result of that. Of course, the usages of texting bleed over into other writing. So, we see “BTW” “OTOH” and the like on FR all the time. But we do not see it in formal writing. Eventually, perhaps, we will. Perhaps b4 we expect it.
Here's a question in perfect, unsimplified English:
Do you ever tear up watching wolves tear up does the way they do?
Found at The Spelling Society
The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité.
Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say - said, pay - paid, laid but plaid.
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak, 20
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind, 40
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live. 60
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.
You'll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache. 80
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,
But it is not hard to tell
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor, 100
Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose. 120
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn. 140
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme. 160
But you're not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!
Acquiesce, and obsequies.
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan. 180
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.
Wait! I've got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath. 200
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry. 220
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!
Never guess - it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir. 240
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll. 260
Won't it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying 'grits'?
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??
Shouldn't that be,
"...learn English quickly"?
“So, I had a group (of brain dead oafs)at France Telcom and one of them asked me what homophones are, so I answered Gay Telephones. It seemed funny at the time. Anyway, they complained to my boss and I was pulled from the contract.”
Sounds like you made gay Paree un-gay.
Plenty, if you want to communicate effectively.
If that constitutes 'progress' to you, so be it. Hate to quote Cicero again, but, as he famously remarked to Catalina, "Quo usque tandem abutere, Catalina, patientia nostra?"
As a guess, I should say that that would depend on from whom these assorted Italians are learning English. Wouldn’t you guess that way, too?
The Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox are examples of what this movement tried to impose during the late 19th/early 20th century.
My first thought is “Wouldn’t the idiots just love it if people could no longer read Shakespeare or the King James Bible, not to mention the rest of the Western canon?”
One of your “hads” should be “and.” Thirteenth word.
My second thought is “The dumb-downers are simply getting tired of watching the homeschooled kids win all the spelling bees.”
What kind of loser complains about the difficulty of a spelling bee?
It’s more like puzzles meet the lottery. A kid gets a random word, the definition, alternate pronunciations, etymology of the word, and then they hear it in a sentence.
The contestant may know the word, may not, but usually has enough information to work it out about half the time. In the second to last round, the other girl was one letter off (my guess was the same as hers), using o instead of e since the O is common in words that come from Greek.
I got the winner’s word correct based on etymology also. I don’t think she knew the word, but it was Spanish/Portuguese in origin which is very phonetic and was able to work it out.
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