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Should the English language undergo a spelling reform?

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    The English language contains many irregularities and inconsistencies in respect to phonetics and its relation to spelling, consider the letters 'ough' and how they can be pronounced in so many different ways: (oʊ/ as in “though”, /uː/ as in “through”, /ʌf/ as in “rough”, /ɒf/ as in “cough”, /ɔː/ as in “thought”, /aʊ/ as in “bough”, /ə/ as in “thorough). We only have 26 letters in the alphabet and yet we have to use these to represent more sounds.

    For instance, why do we need silent letters? Consider how many words that stem from other languages, such as the word honour differ from phonetics. The American version of the word honour is honor which removes the French influence from the language and thus making it more consistent with phonetics.

    The problems in the language derive from its historical context, Old English was pronounced very much as it is written but due to influence from many invaders (Scandinavian, Norman, etc...) and of course the great vowel shift the language began to lose its consistency, it not longer adhered to a strict set of phonetical rules and became much more ambiguous.

    The problem with the inconsistencies in the orthography of the language means it is much more difficult to learn (for native people this means we spend much more time in the classroom teaching literacy skills), indeed even literate people often display difficulty spelling words that they are unfamiliar with because of so many variations in the rules. Spelling has become so ambiguous that its lack of adherence to any strict rules means it is nothing more than a memorisation game.

    A spelling reform would focus on the consistency between phonetics and spelling, focusing on the orthography of the language to make sure it can meet a strict set of rules rather than having wide variation and ambiguity would increase people's ability to spell and make it easier to spell words we're unfamiliar with.

    So, to repeat the question in the title: should the English language undergo a spelling reform?
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    Yeah i think it should be reformed, that way you could worry less about whether you've spelt everything right, and more time about what the words actually mean.
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    Nah, most vaguely intelligent people seem able to spell, and those who are too simple to spell comprehensibly probably aren't writing too much that's worth reading anyway.
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    No, I don't think so, mainly for three reasons.

    Firstly, English is the closest thing we have to a lingua franca of the world today, and the number of EFL speakers is growing. To push a huge reform now would be like changing the fact 1+1=2. It will be difficult enough for native speakers to cope, let alone EFL learners. Documents that conform to the reform would be close to unintelligible for a long period of time, which would cause havoc and chaos.

    Secondly, unlike Spanish or French, English has no central authority to make one coherent set of grammar and spelling rules. Apart from the two major variants, British and American English, you have minor variants like Canadian, Australian, NZ etc. that adopt their own style on orthography. Thus it is hard to find a compromise between all the variants of English.

    Thirdly, even if such a reform goes ahead, it's likely that most people, having been taught all their lives the traditional orthography, will ignore it completely or only adopt it partially.

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    (Original post by Mill)
    The English language contains many irregularities and inconsistencies. why do we need silent letters? Old English was pronounced very much as it is written but due to influence from many invaders (Scandinavian, Norman, etc...) and of course the great vowel shift the language began to lose its consistency The problem with the inconsistencies in the orthography of the language means it is much more difficult to learn . . .it is nothing more than a memorization game.
    MB: I prefer to ask the question this way: If a phonemic reform would give every beginning reader a 2 year head start, would you support it?

    There are many possible reforms. Just getting rid of the silent letters would have little impact on reading speed of the already literate and remove a major impediment for new readers. Removing the surplus characters would still leave quite a bit of ambiguity and inconsistency. It would not reach the 85% phonemic threshold of Spanish and Italian.

    While you can spell words as they are pronounced by a news reader using a phonemic code such as the one in the dictionary, few of the reform proposals go that far. Currently, a second year student of Spanish can spell words in Spanish better than in English. There would be fewer spelling errors in an 85% phonemic writing system, but it would probably not remove all worries about whether you've spelt everything right

    Spelling reform comes about when the publishers and educators agree on what it should be. While the old generation can continue to read old books and write in the traditional manner, all new publications will be consistent with the new house style. Most reform notations can be read by TS adepts without much of a problem. It takes a few months before they can be read at the same speed.
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    The main reason for considering a modernisation English spelling is to make learning to read and write the language easier, as I have explained on http://improvingenglishspelling.blog...dernising.html This would cause some minor, temporary inconvenience to proficient adult readers and writers. Change invariably has some costs, but these have to be set against the much bigger ones which English spelling inconsistencies currently incur: http://improvingenglishspelling.blog...-spelling.html All English-speaking countries currently have much higher levels of functional illiteracy than comparable ones which also use alphabetic writing systems. Finland and Korea, the two countries which consistently score very highly in all international educational comparisons happen to have the world's two most learner-friendly spelling systems. They enable their children to learn to read fluently in roughly three months, even words that they have never heard or seen before. After a year, they can spell all common words accurately. In English, children of average ability take around three years to become reasonably competent readers, although many words (e.g. echo, marine, minute) will continue to flummox even fairly able readers for many years thereafter. Very few students become competent spellers in less than 10 years, with nearly half of all adults never getting close to real spelling proficiency. Spelling reform could change this.
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    They did try it in Australia once, but discovered a huge problem- English is a huge language without a central governing authority. To push through a major language reform would require the cooperation and consent of people from the US to India to Australia to South Africa. And then people would have to spell words differently from the way they were taught in school and were using since childhood.
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    I dont think it should be reformed. I quite like its silent letters and strange spellings, it's almost like a historical and cultural heritage if you will.
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    Check out 1984. The diversity and complexity of our language are some of its most valuable assets. The 'b' in 'doubt', for example, looks initially superfluous, but contains a central clue to the origins of our language, originating in the Latin verb dubito meaning 'I hesitate'. Everything is there for a reason, whether you care about it or not. It'd be like whitewashing out the idiosyncrasies of a piece of art to make it easier for people to remember.
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    (Original post by Plantagenet Crown)
    I dont think it should be reformed. I quite like its silent letters and strange spellings, it's almost like a historical and cultural heritage if you will.
    So u prefer the museum/history quality rather than the school/literacy potential?
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    By rights it should be reformed, I mean as a spelling system it just no longer makes sense, and there would be great benefits in doing so.

    Yes, we have learnt these spellings our entire lives. We are now, presumably, all competent writers in having mastered all the oddities of the English language. Well done us! We look down on those who have somehow struggled into adulthood without gaining full literacy (those idiots who should have just tried harder in school) and no debate about spelling reform is complete without accusations of dumbing down. No one cares that our inconsistent and outlandish spelling system makes it far more difficult for youngsters to learn to read and write than it needs to be. There are plenty of kids in school today who will never quite grasp the difference between 'might' and 'mite' and will suffer socially and economically because of it and this is all completely avoidable. In many languages if you can say a word you can spell it, more or less, so to dedicate thousands of teaching hours teaching most kids to spell most words is a horrendous waste.

    This all said, it won't happen for the foreseeable future. Even ignoring the practical problems of different accents, et cetera, people would resist any top-down attempt to enforce a language reform. I cannot blame them, as the idea is positively Orwellian. One day the issue will come to a head, and hopefully an organic and voluntary transition can be achieved, but I don't hold out much hope for it happening in my lifetime to be honest.
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    I don't think you can force languages to change like that, they happen organically and always have, hence why English is the way it is, it's essentially a mongrel language. Too many countries speak English and we can barely co-operate with each other as it is, let alone try and change the spellings of everything.
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    No. I think it is important we embrace the historical aspects of English, and not just push it away. It's brilliant as it is, so i don't think we need to tinker with it at all, except add to it through new words. I'm not against subtle changes, however, what I am against is drastic changes.
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    (Original post by Rinsed)
    Even ignoring the practical problems of different accents, et cetera, people would resist any top-down attempt to enforce a language reform. I cannot blame them, as the idea is positively Orwellian. One day the issue will come to a head, and hopefully an organic and voluntary transition can be achieved, but I don't hold out much hope for it happening in my lifetime to be honest.
    All of us, with our different accents, manage somehow with our present spelling which not very efficiently reflects "standard English". As we upgrade it to keep on reflecting "standard English" much mor (sic) effectivly we can keep on managing, much mor easily!

    Who's to say "one day" hasnt already arrived? No doubt the reformers of a century ago wer thinking that within 100 years sum major change would hav happened.

    If we dont grab the opportunity now, we'll keep on missing the boat.
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    You mention the great vowel shift in the first post. I think that things like that shew that it's not really our spelling that's aberrant in comparison to our European cousins, but our pronunciation. Our vowels have bizarre values compared to our Continental neighbours, and we lost our Germanic /x/ (hence the <ough> problems).

    However, I think we should keep it. Every charmingly anomalous spelling is a clue to our history, our origins, how our language has changed, and our language's uniqueness. Besides that, who has the right or the legitimacy to make such a change? The Oxford English Dictionary? The state? As far as I know, we don't have an official body to regulate our language like the French. Who decides whose pronunciation is correct to phonemicize, anyway? There are differences even between speakers of RP, let alone accents. Standardizing and rationalizing spelling like that will also disregard accents, thereby eliminating one of the truly organic and creative parts of language.

    Besides that, who would even obey it in our own country, let alone the multitude of other countries who use Enlgish, some of whom still say 'gaol', and others 'labor'? It will end up as nothing more than a We know best élitist effort.

    I do appreciate someone who uses IPA though, OP.

    (Original post by AllanJC)
    All of us, with our different accents, manage somehow with our present spelling which not very efficiently reflects "standard English".
    You are indeed correct that our current spelling system reflects different accents and pronunciation norms no more than a reformed spelling would. However, I still think a reform would not work with regards to other accents because our current system took a more evolutionary development: no one person created it, so it doesn't favour RP any more than any other accent. To try and contrive a system phonetically, however, would open the whole regional accent can of worms.
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    (Original post by AllanJC)
    So u prefer the museum/history quality rather than the school/literacy potential?
    Oh come one, stop making out as if it's impossible to learn. Most people can deal with it.
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    (Original post by Plantagenet Crown)
    Oh come one, stop making out as if it's impossible to learn. Most people can deal with it.
    But not all. I think of my days in hi school when we had to learn chemical equations. I tried, but was hopeless with them. Some people, without great visual memory capabilities – not as fortunat (sic) as u – hav the same problem with spelling and reading words.

    Its not impossible, but hugely difficult for at least one-fifth of our English speakers. Literacy is a requirement – indeed a right – in our modern world.

    Every learner should be able to master it. In Finland and Estonia, where they hav sensible, reliable, regularized spelling, they can read in their first school year!
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    (Original post by AllanJC)
    But not all. I think of my days in hi school when we had to learn chemical equations. I tried, but was hopeless with them. Some people, without great visual memory capabilities – not as fortunat (sic) as u – hav the same problem with spelling and reading words.

    Its not impossible, but hugely difficult for at least one-fifth of our English speakers. Literacy is a requirement – indeed a right – in our modern world.

    Every learner should be able to master it. In Finland and Estonia, where they hav sensible, reliable, regularized spelling, they can read in their first school year!
    To be honest, the problem with people struggling will always exist, no matter the language. In Spain, where everything is spelt exactly how it sounds, you'll still find kids in school that struggle with spelling.
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    (Original post by AllanJC)
    not as fortunat (sic)
    Why did you leave the 'e' out? It's actually not entirely superfluous there - it indicates that the 'a' is not pronounced /æ/.
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    (Original post by AllanJC)
    mor (sic)
    Why do you do this?

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