RE: English Spelling

From: Kenneth Whistler (
Date: Fri Dec 10 1999 - 14:37:46 EST

John Cowan wrote:
> "Reynolds, Gregg" wrote:
> > Rather than ask if the orthography allows non-speakers to
> > puzzle out the sound, I would ask if native speakers of normal intelligence
> > can learn to read with reasonable effort.
> I agree with this criterion, and I believe that English fails it: it
> takes twice as long to learn English spelling as it should, more or less.
> But a modest Wijk-style reform would eliminate most of that.

Give o'er, reformers! It won't happen.

Even the friggin Chinese Communist Party, at the height of its
power, in the midst of an explosion of cultural revolutionary fervor,
managed only a half-assed reform of the Chinese writing system. Yes,
it has arguably made learning easier for many in China today, but
in the long historical sweep of things has only managed to add a
few thousand *more* Chinese characters, with all the attendant complications
of keeping track of which simplified one goes with which traditional one.
The net-net is that they managed to make the Chinese orthography more
complicated than it already was.

English spelling reforms are up against the same wall of complexity:
how do you get from point A to point B and manage the transition, when
equivalences between the still current old forms and the incoming reformed
spellings have to coexist? And that wall of complexity doesn't have any
political entity of sufficient clout to break through it despite the
tens of millions of affected individuals who would complain loud and
bitterly through any such process. The fact that English is now *the*
preeminent international language just makes any reform more impossible.
Who would carry the banner and hold the coalition through the multi-decade
process of the turnover? The U.N.? Don't make me laugh, er... laf.

At this point, the only reforms I see happening in English spelling are
those driven up by popular fad and media exposure. It seems reasonable to
predict that in the not-too-distant future, "nite", "lite", "rite", etc.
will win out over the archaic "night", "light", "right", etc., although
elementary school English teachers everywhere will fite this for another
fifty years, no doubt.

> But in our accounting of this slough of oughy despair let us not slough over
> "slough", the doughtiest of oughs!
> There, that makes 11, with one dual. (key: 1st slough = slew/slu, or slao
> rimes with cow; 2nd slough = sluff; doughty = doubt ;)

--Ken (soughing in oughy despare)

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