Re: Push for Simpler Spelling

Subject: Re: Push for Simpler Spelling
From: Dick Margulis <margulisd -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: Janice Gelb <janice -dot- gelb -at- sun -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 05 Jul 2006 21:57:35 -0400

Janice Gelb wrote:

Read it and wince:

Ho-hum. Again, huh? Will they ever learn?

There have been successful spelling reforms (in Russian(1), in French(2), and in Turkish(3), for example). There have also been failed spelling reforms, in German most recently(4).

The last successful spelling reform in English was promulgated by a certain N. Webster(5), of Massachusetts, although many, on both sides of the pond, have tried repeatedly since.

What the successful attempts have in common is that they preserve the information contained in the original orthography. Changes are small and subtle and do not discard etymological clues. What the crackpot schemes have in common is precisely that they discard all etymological coding in favor of phonological coding.



(1) The "hard" mark was dropped some decades ago, during the Soviet era. I don't know if there were other changes.

(2) I don't know the details, but there was a transition from Old French to Modern French at some point in the last few hundred years. One of the prominent changes was the replacement of s in certain positions with a circonflex over the preceding o (as in hostel > hôtel). For a long time L'Académie has governed such matters, and their general approach has been to resist change as much as possible.

(3) Kemal Atatürk ordered Turkish to be written in a modified version of the Latin alphabet starting in 1928.

(4) The German government ordered a major spelling reform a few years ago, beginning with schoolbooks. The changes were massively resisted and led to all sorts of confusion. I believe the changes were withdrawn, but perhaps someone else can supply more details.

(5) The changes Webster introduced were politically motivated. He explicitly wanted to create an American lexicon independent of Britain's to symbolize the cultural gulf between the two countries. There have been evolutionary changes in the American lexicon since his time, but his basic reforms are still in place.


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Push for Simpler Spelling: From: Janice Gelb

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