Why is English spelling so hard?

There have been many attempts over hundreds of years to simplify English spelling. In 1828 Noah Webster published his 'American Dictionary of the English Language', and his suggestions for simplifying many words were adopted by the US Government in 1864. (Unit 36 covers these differences in detail.)

Since then, several societies have been founded, both in the USA and in Britain to campaign for simpler spelling but they have met with very little success, despite having the backing of several well known people such as Charles Darwin, Lord Tennyson, Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain. George Bernard Shaw (remember 'ghoti'?) tried to introduce a new alphabet with over 40 characters, one for each sound in English.

Most of the changes suggested involved dropping unnecessary letters, for example:

Traditional Simplified
through thru
though tho
have hav
should shood
spelling speling
head hed
friend frend
certainly certnly
night nite
light lite

It is possible that some changes will occur naturally. Words like night and light are now often spelled nite and lite, not just in advertising. Lite is even counted as correct by some computer spellcheckers.

The huge growth in the use of text messages has taken simplified spelling to the extreme. How many of these can you work out?

1.  undRst& Why is English spelling so hard?
2.  CUl8r
3.  I c%d mEt U @ 7
4.  ovRdU
5.  BetaLckNxTIm
6.  cngr@ul8
7.  wan2 C a moV?

Click here to see if you were right.

This type of spelling is also common in Internet chat rooms and people often shorten words when writing an e-mail. But in other ways, the Internet demands very accurate spelling, for example:

Why is English spelling so hard?
  • when entering a URL - a site address
  • when using a search engine

So, although the growth of technology has brought about some rapid changes in everyday spelling, it remains to be seen how much influence this will have on what is regarded as 'correct spelling'. American spelling is likely to take over from British spelling, but other reforms will probably still meet much opposition.

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Unit 35: Why is English spelling so hard?

Page 7 of 7

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