RE: English Spelling

From: Reynolds, Gregg (
Date: Wed Dec 08 1999 - 15:34:38 EST

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Hart, Edwin F. []
> Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 1999 12:53 PM
> English spelling versus pronunciation is terrible. (Spelling
> was my worst
> subject in elementary school except for handwriting. Now, I
> just blame all
> of my spelling mistakes on poor typing.)
> However, in his keynote at IUC 14 in Boston, Thomas Milo asked if the
> purpose of writing was to show you how to pronounce a word but not
> necessarily its meaning or to convey its meaning but not necessarily
> pronunciation. Until his comment, I had always decried

Neither, really. It's a common misconception (promulgated by some of the
most prominent linguists of the 20th century) that English orthography is
somehow deranged or chaotic; it's actually highly rational, but it is
designed for native speakers, not those who needed a phonemic transcription.
(English orthography is not "alphabetic"; or rather, "alphabetic" is not a
meaningful term in descriptions of written language systems.) But it
carries meaning only in a limited sense; it doesn't supply meaning in the
sense of lexical information. There is a very interesting little book on
this subject by a man named Richard Venezky, published in the early 70's by
Mouton. "The Structure of English Orthography". You can find it at the
various online bookstores. He's got a more recent book (June 1999) on
American Orthography that also looks interesting, but I haven't read it.

> spelling in English.
> I still hate English spelling but I have a little more

That's a shame. The spelling is part of the charm of the language.
"Fixing" it would be like doing away with Kanji in Japan. Think of it as a
highly sophisticated game.


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