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Unit 35: Why is English spelling so hard?

Page 7 of 7

Unit 35: A brief history of English spellings

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Why is English spelling so hard?

Whether we should aim to simplify our spelling system has been a cause for much debate for many years. 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 (see Unit 36 for more detail on these differences). Since then, many societies have been formed to campaign for simpler spelling (both in the UK and the USA) but despite attracting support from well-known figures (Charles Darwin, Lord Tennyson, Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain, to name but a few) their efforts have met with very little success. George Bernard Shaw (remember ghoti?) tried to increase the number of letters in our alphabet to try to match the number of different sounds. That linguists cannot decide how many phonemes are in our language suggests that even that would not be a completely straightforward activity!

Most of the changes suggested involved dropping unnecessary letters:

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

And the dropping of unnecessary letters is arguably happening anyway in some contexts; Technological advancements, for example, have had a considerable impact on our language. Initially, because we were limited to the number of characters you could included in a text message, a huge number of shortenings and abbreviations came into being:

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.

And whilst predictive texting has negated the need, in some cases, this type of spelling remains common in some internet chat. So, we are already changing the spelling system in part to suit our changing methods of communication, something that is not popular with everyone.

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The Spellzone interactive course is intended to be used online and may not be printed.

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