Friday - - Leisure -

Where did we go wrong? English speech has shrunk from el­e­gant hand-writ­ten cor­re­spon­dence to the mu­tated text in which words are spelt in the pho­netic rather than clas­si­cal sense. Who is to blame? Ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy, short at­ten­tion spans, tiny key­boards, too lit­tle time, fear of be­ing branded a square fud­dy­duddy, or sim­ply a case of “I couldn’t care less” among the writ­ers? Take your pick. There’s another fac­tor: some mem­bers of the new gen­er­a­tion who grew up on ab­bre­vi­ated tex­ting have reached an age where they have be­gun to teach English. What would they im­part to their stu­dents? Per­haps the larger les­son that the world is illogical, in­con­sis­tent and in­com­pre­hen­si­ble.

In­con­sis­ten­cies in spelling are most acutely a prob­lem for chil­dren learn­ing to read and write English as a for­eign lan­guage. A study in 1925 found that chil­dren in Puerto Rico learn­ing to read in Span­ish were a year ahead in con­tent of read­ing, com­pared to chil­dren in New York City learn­ing to read in English. This prob­a­bly af­fected writ­ing even more, with dyslex­ics hav­ing it re­ally tough.

The prob­lem was recog­nised as early as 1908, when the Sim­pli­fied Spelling So­ci­ety was formed with the aim of rais­ing aware­ness of the prob­lems caused by the ir­reg­u­lar­ity of English spelling and to pro­mote reme­dies to im­prove lit­er­acy, in­clud­ing spelling re­form. Now called the English Spelling So­ci­ety, it pub­lishes leaflets, jour­nals, books and bul­letins to this end.

Masha Bell, recog­nised as a re­spectable spelling re­former in the 2000s, ex­plains that learn­ing to read and write English is ex­cep­tion­ally dif­fi­cult be­cause it has 185 spellings for 44 sounds. She re­mains against chang­ing any of the main English spelling pat­terns and ad­vo­cates merely a re­duc­tion of the ir­reg­u­lar spellings, which most im­pede progress in learn­ing to read and write, such as re­dun­dant ‘–e’ end­ings (such as ‘have’, ‘imag­ine’, ‘del­i­cate’), which un­der­mine their use as a long vowel marker (‘gave’, ‘de­fine’, ‘in­flate’), and in­con­sis­tent use of dou­bled con­so­nants for in­di­cat­ing short, stressed vow­els (‘rab­bit’ – ‘habit’, ‘muddy’ – ‘study’). Such so­ci­eties and ex­perts may be our best bet for bridg­ing the gap be­tween purists and those for whom ‘N.E. thing’ goes.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.