English language spelling reform
Should we change the way words in the English language are spelled, to make them more like the way they are spoken?
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The way in which many English words are spelled does not make sense. Over hundreds of years the way...
The way in which many English words are spelled does not make sense. Over hundreds of years the way words are written down has become very different from the way they are said. This means that there are very many difficult rules to learn about English spelling – and still some words don’t fit into the rules. Many other languages are phonetically written – they follow simple rules so that words are spelled in the same way that they are spoken. We should change the spelling of English so that it too is phonetic. Such a reform would modernise English for the use in the 21st century.
Language and its spelling carries our history and culture. For example, “Wednesday” is not a phonetic spelling, but it reminds us that the weekday was named for Woden, the Anglo-Saxon god. Changing the spelling to “Wensday” throws that link away. Other words link us to the French culture of Norman invaders, to the Latin of the Christian church, and to Britain’s past as a colonial power gaining new words from Africa, India and elsewhere. These roots make English a hugely rich language of 700 000 words, even if it also means that spelling is not always straightforward. So simplifying spelling might make words easier to spell, but they could end up being harder to understand.
Spelling needs to change so that children’s reading and writing (literacy) can get better. At the m...
Spelling needs to change so that children’s reading and writing (literacy) can get better. At the moment English-speaking children are held back by the need to learn and remember huge numbers of odd spellings. Research suggests that English-speaking children take three times as long to learn to read as the European average. No wonder countries like England and the USA do badly in international comparisons of reading ability. As different English-speaking countries have different schooling systems, this suggests that it is the language itself which is to blame. And poor literacy means students do badly in other subjects, like literature, history and science.
Actually English-speaking countries have similar school systems, so it is quite likely that teaching methods are the real problem. In any case, English is not totally illogical – there are clear patterns that most children learn easily. And phonetics is not the only or best way to learn spelling – most children learn hundreds of words as a whole (the “look-say” method) rather than breaking them down into phonetic syllables. \
So we don’t need reform. If people are still worried about spelling problems, we could just be more relaxed about common misspellings. As long as the meaning is clear, misspellings could be accepted as alternative spellings. This would allow children to get on with learning history, science, etc. without everyone getting hung up on a few letters here or there. After all, Shakespeare commonly spelled words in different ways, including different versions of his own name!
Spelling reform would save money over time. At the moment many children need extra support to help ...
Spelling reform would save money over time. At the moment many children need extra support to help them with reading, writing and spelling. This costs money and time that could be better spent on other parts of their education. And more children would leave school with good reading and writing skills, giving them the chance to get better jobs and earn more money. At present 20% of adults in Britain cannot read and write easily – a much larger number than in countries like Sweden that have easier spelling systems. This represents a lot of wasted ability and holds our economy back.
The cost of change would be huge. Billions of people who speak some English would need to be taught a new system. Trillions of books would need to be thrown away and replaced with new versions. Computers and websites would all need to be changed. And hundreds of years of English literature would have to be translated into the new system, or people would soon be cut off from their literary birthright.
Spelling reform is quite possible. In the last forty years Britain changed its currency from the tr...
Spelling reform is quite possible. In the last forty years Britain changed its currency from the traditional pounds, shillings and pence (with 4 farthings to the penny, 12 pennies to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound). This was a complicated system that made learning mathematics very difficult for children. It was replaced with the modern system with 100 pennies to a pound. Around the same time the old imperial system of measurements (inches, feet, yards, furlongs, miles; ounces, pounds, stones, hundredweights and tons, etc.) was also changed to the simpler modern metric system. If big changes like these have been made already, it should not be too hard to reform English spelling too. All it needs is some government strength of mind.
Change will be very hard to achieve. Unlike in countries like France and Italy, there is no agreed authority to make changes to the English language. When Germany and Portugal tried to reform their spelling there was a lot of resistance, both inside the country and from places like Austria and Brazil where the language was also spoken. And English is a much more international language – why should one English-speaking country have the right to bring in changes and make others follow them? Should it be Britain because it is where English began? Or the USA because it is the biggest and richest English-speaking country? Or India because it has the most people speaking English as a second language?
It is difficult for non-English speakers to learn English as a second language. Students can never ...
It is difficult for non-English speakers to learn English as a second language. Students can never be sure from reading a word how it is pronounced. They have to hear it aloud at the same time as seeing it written down. Then they have to learn by heart the many difficult spelling rules and exceptions to them. If English is to hold its own as a global language it must become easier to learn.
Why then is English so widely and easily learnt by so many students and adults around the world? It may be hard to learn to write like a native speaker, but it is quick and easy to learn enough English to communicate well. All languages have their own difficulties – English at least doesn’t go in for compound-word-building in the way German does, or have masculine and feminine like French. It has many fewer verb tenses than Russian. Chinese and Japanese have thousands of characters which have to be learnt. And in many languages like Danish the spoken and written forms have moved apart over the past two hundred years or so.
Spelling reform would help to break down the barriers that still exist in British society. “Correct...
Spelling reform would help to break down the barriers that still exist in British society. “Correct” spelling is so difficult that it is used as a means of entry into the educated upper classes. Those who cannot spell so well are looked down upon as “ignorant” and “thick”. No matter how good the ideas are in anything they write, if it is not correctly spelled then it is rejected as worthless. So people with certain types of memory or education are more likely to get into good colleges or get top jobs, even if they are not so able in other ways. And there is still a lot of unfairness towards dyslexic people who find spelling very difficult.
Trying to change the way English is spelled would raise up new barriers between people. What version of English should be used as the standard one for spelling purposes? Southern British English might change the spelling of “anyone” to “ennywun”, but a northerner would prefer “ennywon”. What about American and British accents (potaytoe or potartoe?)? What about Irish, African, Caribbean, Australian and Indian accented English? Moving to a phonetic system will only end up with one small group forcing their way of pronouncing English on everyone else. This will create division and bad feeling between English speakers. It might even lead to groups with different accents ending up producing different spelling reforms, so we stop being able to understand each other.
What do you think?