WASHINGTON – Wy chanje English spelling?
Several men and women from across the country came to the 77th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee last week to demonstrate how much easier they believe the English language could be.
Carrying signs such as “Enuf is Enuf” and “I'm thru with through,” representatives from the American Literacy Council and the Simplified Spelling Society spent hours marching outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel as children inside correctly – or incorrectly – spelled such words as triskaidekaphobia,fougade or netiquette.
“There are over 40 million people who can't master spelling,” said Pete Boardman,a protester from upstate New York. “We could simplify spelling by eliminating unnecessary letters.”
Protester Timothy Travis,61,of King George,Va.,said,“Take words like red and bed for example. They rhyme,so the word ‘said' should be spelled ‘s-e-d.'”
The groups claim that a quarter of English-speaking children cannot read effectively by age 11 and that,after 11 years at school,barely half of all English speakers become confident spellers.
“Spelling,being obviously written and thus belonging to a different domain than spoken language,is slower to change than speech,” wrote Patricia Moody,associate professor of English at Syracuse University,in response to an e-mail inquiry. “If you think that spelling doesn't change,look at a passage of Old English!”
She wrote that “historical reasons” account for many apparent inconsistencies in modern spelling.
But she added that making “wholesale” changes is “a different matter. Since spelling is conventional,asking a culture to make such wholesale changes voluntarily is a tall order!”
Margie Berns,Purdue University professor of English,made the same points in a telephone interview and said Germany has been trying to modernize some spellings. One prominent newspaper and one state have rejected the changes.
Both professors pointed out that words do change over time,a movement that may be enhanced by the Internet and e-mail,Berns said. She said “nite” might replace “night” in all uses one day,for example.
“It's an interesting question whether you should plan the change,or whether the change will just happen,” Berns said.
A non-profit organization,the American Literacy Council offers literacy software and aids to assist those who have difficulty writing and reading,according to its Web site.
The Simplified Spelling Society's objective is to publicize the difficulties of the English language and to persuade people that changing how words are spelled would increase literacy,its Web site says.
“We think these kids are great,and we are very pleased with the goals they have accomplished,” Boardman said about the bee participants. “But we just want to make people aware of another perspective on English spelling.”