Spellings in English Language: To Spell or Not to Spell Correctly
- Dilip Barad
(This was published in IATEFL newsletter VOICES. University of Kent, UK. September-October 2009. 210. ISSN: 1814-3830)
How to cite this article:
Barad, D. P. (2009). Spellings in English Language: To Spell or Not to Spell Correctly. (A. Schwetlick, Ed.) VOICES (210), 11.MLA:
Barad, D. P. "Spellings in English Language: To Spell or Not to Spell Correctly." VOICES 210 (2009): 11.
Language grows. It has accreting quality. It flows like river. It goes on changing its shape and flow in harmony with its levee. Change is the only permanent feature of language. Language which does not change with flux of time, gives up the ghost.
The Spelling is one of the vital components of a language. From time and again, like language, spellings of the language also undergo a change. From Geoffrey Chaucer – the father of English language – down the line, if you read writings of Shakespeare, Edmund Spencer, Milton, Dryden or any of the 18th, 19th century English literary hulks, you will find how modern English spellings were ‘misspelled’ by these great man of English letters.
If the history of English language tells us that language and its spellings can’t be static; it must constantly evolve to keep up with changing times and remain relevant; then why should Pundits of the language cling steadfastly to the correctness of spelling?
Ken Smith (Rebecca Atwood 2008, BBC 2008), lecturer at the Bucks New University in Britain has added fuel to the debate over ‘to spell or not to spell correctly’. “Don't let students' howlers drive you mad, says Ken Smith. Accept their most common mistakes as variant spellings ... and relax.” He further argues that “…instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I've got a better idea. University teachers should simply accept as variant spelling those words our students most commonly misspell”. Several of British English spellings are already accepted as American variants and people have easily assimilated them in their daily usage. Thanks to Bill Gates and MS Office. ‘U’ is omitted from ‘colour’, ‘favour’, ‘endeavour’ etc. This software programme has changed ‘programme’ to ‘program’, ‘judgement’ to ‘judgment’. Ken Smith asks, “The spelling of the word "judgement", for example, is now widely accepted as a variant of "judgment", so why can't "truely" be accepted as a variant spelling of "truly"?” To begin with, he listed top 10 spellings of simple words which are commonly misspelled by the students.
Of course, such proposals have been made in the past. The dawn of SMS-text messaging turned many students into spelling Neanderthals as phrases such as "wot r u doin 2nite?" became socially, if not academically, acceptable.
Despite Smith's suggestion, language pundits are unconvinced. John Simpson (Luke Baker 2008), the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, says rules are rules and they are there for good reason. "There are enormous advantages in having a coherent system of spelling," he told the Times newspaper. He added, "It makes it easier to communicate. Maybe during a learning phase there is some scope for error, but I would hope that by the time people get to university they have learnt to spell correctly."
But still the point is: Is it really necessary to spell correctly to fulfill basic function of language – which is to ‘communicate’? If we can communicate without correct spellings, is it essential to learn how to spell correctly? If you have a million dolor (check meaning of this word) doubt regarding how to communicate without spelling correctly, read following paragraph (I originally saw this a few years ago as blog entries by Mark and Angel 2006):
Cna yuo raed tihs? Suteids sohw taht olny aoubt 55 prcenet of plepoe can (atculley trheer is no scuh sudty). I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. Tihs sohws us the phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at an Elingsh Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are in, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pclae. The rset of the txet can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but isntaed raeds the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? Yaeh and we awlyas tghuhot slpelnig was ipmorantt!
Yet even some of Britain's greatest wordsmiths have acknowledged it's a language with irritating quirkiness. Playwright George Bernard Shaw was fond of pointing out that the word "ghoti" could just as well be pronounced "fish" if you followed common pronunciation: 'gh' as in "tough," 'o' as in "women" and 'ti' as in "nation."
Isn’t Ken Smith’s idea worth accepting? Isn’t it the time to adopt humanistic approach and free student from the atrocities of spellings? Technology has changed the way we live and think. It has initiated change in the way we spell our spellings. Isn’t it a good idea to simplify obsolete and confusing spellings? Isn’t it an idea whose time has come?
“Bad spelling 'should be accepted' . BBC News Online. 7 Aug 2008. n.pag. web. 4 July 2009. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7546975.stm>
Attwood, Rebecca. “Just spell it like it is”. 2007 TSL Education Ltd. 7 Aug 2008. n.pag. web. 4 July 2008. <http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=403092>
Baker, Luke. “Spelling "truely atrosious," says academic”. Thomson Reuters 2009. 7 Aug. 2008. n.pag. web. 4 July. 2009. <http://www.reuters.com/article/oddlyEnoughNews/idUSKUA75572520080807?feedType=RSS&feedName=oddlyEnoughNews>
Mark and Angel. “Can you read this?” 2006-2009 Marc and Angel Hack Life. 20 Nov. 2006. n.pag. web. 5 July. 2009. <http://www.marcandangel.com/2006/11/20/can-you-read-this/>
Images of the cover page and write up:
|IATEFL - VOICES front page|
|Write-up in VOICES-210|
Response to this write up:
In the next issue of Voices, Jean Stocker questioned this:
This was my reply:
Dear Jean Stocker,
In reply to my write up "To Spell or Not to Spell Correctly" published in IATEFL newsletter VOICES. University of Kent, UK. September-October 2009, you asked following question n Voices Issue 211, Nov-Dec 2009.
The question was: "I would like to ask Dr Barad if he considers it acceptable to misspelt words in his own language, or, in fact, in any language?
First of all, i am sorry for this delay in reply. Today suddenly i found this issue and read the question and remembered that i have yet not replied.
Well, i have seen that spellings in my language ( that is Gujarati, spoken in Western state Gujarat of India) are quite often misspelt. In journalistic writings, no body cares for correctness of spellings. The functional and communicative aspect has become more important in spellings. So, by and large, people of my language have accepted several variants of spellings.
I have seen that, on social media, people do communicate without being careful about spellings. The auto-spell checkers in mobile phones changes spellings and people realize (see this 'Gmail', forcing me to write realize instead of realise. What can we do? :) ) the error after it is sent. Most are developing habit of proof reading after sending or when they receive reply. But the surprising fact is that they are able to communicate and so nobody cares about spellings.
What do you say about spellings in your language?
I would like to request scholars and researchers of Gujarati language to throw some more light on spellings in Gujarati.