Re: Common Errors in English

Subject: Re: Common Errors in English
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "Mark L. Levinson" <nosnivel -at- netvision -dot- net -dot- il>
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 2004 18:31:41 -0800

Mark L. Levinson wrote:

Standardized spelling (of English, at least)
came with printing.

Not really. Printing was a fifteenth century event, while standardized spelling was a product of the eighteenth.

But with standardized
spelling and printing came fast reading.
As someone else remarked here, we tend to read
by identifying visual patterns rather than by
sounding out the words. Take away the spellings,
and the patterns are gone, leaving us to reconstruct
each word laboriously afresh from its phonemes
each time we read it.

I think reading was harder for Shakespeare (it
certainly looks harder for his characters, like
Malvolio) than it is for us.

I think we're both speculating here, but my take is that reading by visual patterns may be at least partly due to the fact that many moderns don't read phonetically, and those of us who can don't do so very often.

Every now and then, I've come across a book that deliberately uses non-standardized spelling, like Russell Hoban's Ridley Walker, or Avram Davidson's Limekiller stories, which phonetically reproduce the speech patterns of Belize. When I first start to read these works, my reading speed goes way down. However, after about ten pages, I find that I'm reading at more or less my normal rate. I don't know if I'm typical, of course, but, from my experience, I don't think that standardized spelling makes that much difference.

I should also mention that silent reading only really became widespread in the seventeenth centuries - and, of course, is a necessity for drama. So I'm not really sure that you can come to conclusions based on the actions of plays.

Also, if reading is difficult with non-standardized spelling, wouldn't writing be as well? Yet Shakespeare, Jonson, and dozens of other writers were prolific by any standards.

Don't mistake me: I think that standardized spelling does convey some advantage, but I also suspect that it's smaller than we usually assume. Moreover, the reason for standardization may have less to do with convenience that with a wish for order and science.

Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177


Re: Common Errors in English: From: Mark L. Levinson

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