Dazzling Knowledge

Friday, July 07, 2006

Spelling for loozers

On the radio the other day, I heard someone mention a movement to simplify spelling, ostensibly to relieve frustrations for immigrants and schoolchildren. As a word snob, I immediately recognized that this was a movement that I could seriously hate on.
The Simplified Spelling Society advocates a shift toward phonemic spelling of all words in English. For example, “dumb” would become “dum.” The Chicago Tribune actually tried this in the 30’s. That’s why the White Sox aren‘t the White Socks.
I oppose this for the following reasons:

1) I am a word snob.

2) From Wikipedia: “(I)t would hide morphological similarities between words that happen to have quite different pronunciations. This line of argument is based on the idea that when people read, they do not in reality try to work out the sequence of sounds composing each word, but instead either recognise words as a whole, or as a sequence of small number of semantically significant units (for example morphology might be read as morph+ology, rather than as a sequence of a larger number of phonemes). In a system of phonetic spelling, these semantic units become less distinct, as various allomorphs can be pronounced differently in different contexts. For example, in English spelling, most past participles are spelled with an -ed on the end, even though this can have several pronunciations (compare kissed and interrupted).”

3) It would hide the etymological relationships between words that allow readers to infer the meanings of unfamiliar words.

4) It would introduce an unnecessary and intrusive Top-down micromanagement to the language. One of the reasons English is a successful international language is that it is adaptable and open to influx from other languages. Note that English is not even an official language in The United Stated or Great Britain.


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