Valerie Yules Letters

March 26, 2015

Reforming spelling but keeping 38 common irregular words – why?

Filed under: literacy, spelling, spelling reform — Tags: , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 2:41 am

The spelling of frequently used words evolves at a much slower pace than less common words. These words often retain old spellings longer because they are used more often than less familiar words, and so the old forms are very familiar. The greater familiarity of their appearance causes people to be disturbed by any disruption of them in the name of ‘reform’.

This explains the failure of most English spelling reform attempts – because they try to change the most common words first. This is intuitive, but it is wrong.

Changing the less familiar words gets less opposition, because they are less familiar and so when their forms don’t fit the words’ pronunciation any more, we change them more readily.

That is why I recommend  keeping  the spelling of the 38 most common irregular words.  They are more familiar and they make 12% of what we read –  all almost always among as come some could should would half know of off one only once other pull push put they their two as was what want who word why, and word-endings -ion/-tion/-sion/zion. People learn them quickly because they are faced with them all the time, and research has shown that 40 words are within most people’s capacity to learn as word-signs by heart.

Then in time we will be ready to change them too.

((the list above may not actually be 38)

November 19, 2014

Think about spelling

Filed under: Education, humor, social innovations, social problems, spelling — Tags: , , — valerieyulesletters @ 6:33 am

Think about spelling

1 Which are the most common words?
36 irregularly-spelled words make up 12% of almost every text. Which appear here?

Once upon   a   time,   the   beautiful   daughter   of   a great   magician   wanted   more pearls to put   among her treasures. “Look through the centre of the moon when it is blue,” said her mother in answer to her question. “You   might   find   your heart’s desire.” The princess laughed, because she   doubted these words. Instead, she used her imagination, and moved into the photography business, and took pictures of the moon in colour. “I perceive most certainly that it is almost wholly white,” she thought. She also found that she could make enough money in eight months to buy herself two lovely huge new jewels too.

Answer: 27 very common words are here: 14 common words are difficult to spell.
Once a the of a more to put her through when it is said in you your because she I most that could make in two too.

2. Which letters are not needed in words?
Once upon   a   time,   the   beautiful   daughter   of   a great   magician   wanted   more pearls to put   among   her treasures. “Look through the centre of the moon when it is blue,” said her mother in answer to her question. “You   might   find   your heart’s desire.” The princess laughed, because she   doubted these words. Instead, she used her imagination, and moved into the photography business, and took pictures of the moon in colour. “I perceive most certainly that it is almost wholly white,” she thought. She also found that she could make enough money in eight months to buy herself two lovely huge new jewels too.

These words have letters that they do not need:
beautiful daughter more pearls treasures through centre when answer you might your heart’s laughed because doubted instead business colour perceive certainly wholly white thought could buy two lovely

3. Which letters are misleading in words?

Once upon   a   time,   the   beautiful   daughter   of   a great   magician   wanted   more pearls to put   among   her treasures. “Look through the centre of the moon when it is blue,” said her mother in answer to her question. “You   might   find   your heart’s desire.” The princess laughed, because she   doubted these words. Instead, she used her imagination, and moved into the photography business, and took pictures of the moon in colour. “I perceive most certainly that it is almost wholly white,” she thought. She also found that she could make enough money in eight months to buy herself two lovely huge new jewels too.

These words have misleading letters:-
Once beautiful daughter of great wanted more pearls to put among treasures. “Look through centre of when is blue,” said mother answer to you might your heart’s desire laughed, because doubted these words. Instead used moved into business took of colour I perceive certainly is wholly white thought could enough money I eight months to buy two lovely new.

4. Which letters are missing from words?
Once upon   a   time,   the   beautiful   daughter   of   a great   magician   wanted   more pearls to put   among   her treasures. “Look through the centre of the moon when it is blue,” said her mother in answer to her question. “You   might   find  your heart’s desire.” The princess laughed, because she   doubted these words. Instead, she used her imagination, and moved into the photography business, and took pictures of the moon in colour. “I perceive most certainly that it is almost wholly white,” she thought. She also found that she could make enough money in eight months to buy herself two lovely huge new jewels too.

These words have missing letters:
put might find used imagination moved most almost also huge

5. How would you spell this story?
Once upon   a   time,   the   beautiful   daughter   of   a great   magician   wanted   more pearls to put   among   her treasures. “Look through the centre of the moon when it is blue,” said her mother in answer to her question. “You   might   find   your heart’s desire.” The princess laughed, because she   doubted these words. Instead, she used her imagination, and moved into the photography business, and took pictures of the moon in colour. “I perceive most certainly that it is almost wholly white,” she thought. She also found that she could make enough money in eight months to buy herself two lovely huge new jewels too.

6. Is this spelling esier to read?  Cud u mak it esier?

Ons upon a  time,  th   butiful   dautr  of  a grat   magician  wonted   mor perls tu puut   amung   her tresurs. “Luuk thru the centr of the moon wen it is blu,” sed her mothr in ansr to her questn. “u   mit   find yur hert’s dezir. Th prinsess lafd, becos she   douted thez werds. Insted, she usd her imajinatn, and muvd into th fotografy biznes, and tuuk picturs of th moon in culr.”I percev most sertnly that it is almost holy wite,” she thaut. She also found that she cud mak enuf muny in ait munths tu by herself 2 luvly huj nu juwels too.

September 21, 2014

Experiment in teaching literacy

Filed under: children, Education, spelling — Tags: , , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 11:40 pm

Teachers teach what they have been taught to teach. It does not occur to most of them to query what they have been taught. Some children will always fail to learn to read; the reasons are assumed to be intrapersonal, their own defects, if they are middle class, and their lack of educational background, if they are disadvantaged. Who dares think that the task may be at fault? Who dares think that the task could be easily amended so that more children and adults could read it?
Thousand of books and articles are published every year, and thousands of research articles are devoted to this terrible failure to learn to read in English. Yet the failure to learn in English is greater than in any other language that has half the resources dedicated to its teaching.
In Victorian times hundreds of the eminent and well-meaning sought to reform everything they thought needed reforming, and this Age of Reform achieved most of its aims, from abolition of slavery to the Industrial Revolution. But they did not manage to improve English spelling or its teaching. So the working classes spent a third of their primary education on learning spelling. The ‘dyslexic’ among the middle classes received remedial education once they had failed.
Today we realize that the spelling reformers went too far. They tried to reform English spelling root and branch – it was too much, changing the alphabet or changing the spelling so much it would need to be learnt all over again.
But now Anglo countries are running out of innovation. Are we afraid? The costs of our illiteracy and child difficulties are more than in other modern languages which have updated the ways that they teach beginners, making it esier for them – in alphabetic spellings updating them, and in languages like Chinese and Japanese making the beginning of learning to be easy, e.g.with hiragana, and leaving the hard way for later, when learners were more confident and readier to spend the time on repetition to remember their characters in hanzi and kanji.
In English the educators and dictionary-makers stick to the old spellings, and a vast literature exists to keep them as they are, for the sake of tradition.
Yet it would be easy to make life easier for the down-trodden in English spelling. The Left would be able to reach them, which it cannot now.
– http://

Innovation in publishing and education in English

January 7, 2014


Filed under: Political reforms, spelling, Waste — Tags: , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 4:39 am

All my webpages that formerly had URLs including VICNET have changed their URL.

They now are called and then their subhead,

Tell me if u hav eny dificulty.

October 6, 2013

How pepl would like to spell

Filed under: Education, spelling, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 7:35 am

1973. Illiteracy- and a problem we refuse to face. Three articles in The Melbourne Age. June 16, August 14 and 21. Over 250 responses came from the public ‘spelling as you would like to spell’ Possibly the first public experiment in spelling reform.
How would the ansers be like today? Try it as an online experiment.

My first spelling research began in 1973 when over 250 readers of a newspaper sent in ‘how they would like to spell’ a short story of 102 words. Its findings have been replicated many times since, although the research itself is somewhere in the garage, following many moves.

The composite spelling reproduced below is made of the most common preferences of 250 entries to a newspaper request for ‘the spelling you would like’ – although the spread of alternatives was wide.
Words and spelling conventions which were not respelled by more than half of the respondents are left as they are – and show how common words can be blindly accepted.
Words in in capitals are compatible with Speling-No-Traps apart from diacritic acsents. Quite a lot.

Wuns apon a TIM the BUTIFUL dorter of a GRAT majishon WONTED MOR PERLS TO poot AMUNG her treshers. ‘Look THRU the SENTER of the moon when it is bloo,’ SED her MUTHER in ANSER to her KWESTION. ‘Yoo MIT find yor HART’S DEZIRE.’ The PRINSESS lafed BECOS shee DOUTED thees WERDS. INSTED, shee yoozed her imajinashun and MUVED intoo the FOTOGRAFY BIZNES and tuk pikchers of the LOONER SFERE in CULOR. ‘I perseev most SERTANLY that it almost always APEERS HOLEY WITE,’ shee thort. Shee also found that shee cud MAK ENUF MUNY in eit MUNTHS to bie herself two ENORMUS hug new jooels too.’

This compares quite well with a collage made up of the most popular spellings for the story when two classes of children aged 9-12 took down dictation ‘spelled as they would like to spell it’

“Wuns UPON A TIM the BUTIFUL DAUTER of a GRATE magishan WONTED MOR PERLS to PUUT amung her tresers. “Luk THRU THE SENTER OF THE MOON WEN IT IS blue”, SED her MUTHER in ANSER to her QESTION. “Yu MITE find yor hart’s desier.” The PRINSESS laft becos she DOUTED thees werds. INSTED she yoused her imaginashin and mooved intoo the fotograffy BIZNES and TUK pichers of the loona sfear in culur. “I PERSEVE most SERTENLY that it ALLMOST ALL ways apeers HOLY WITE,” she thort. She allso found that she CUUD make ENUF MONY in ate MUNTHS to by herself too ENORMUS HUG NU jewls TOO.”

Both sets of the paragraf still leave punctuation, tho possessives are a problem. The children, still with lots of spelling lessons, are closer to conventional spellling, not seeing it may be silly. Children use the morfemic ‘s’ for plurals and tenses, but are stil fonetic when it comes to participls -d/-t.

I still have the entry of Guy, aged 5, to compare with the ‘preferred spelling’ of more experienced writers:
“Oens a pon a time the byootiFul dort of a grat mjishan wotid mor guls (graphic reversal of p and g. vy) to put umung her treshas. Look throo the sent of the moon wen it is blue sed her mother in asr to her cwesjan. Yoo mit find your hrts disia. The prinses laft becos she dawtid thes wrs. Insded she yoes her imajinashon moovd in to the ftografee bisnes and tooc picchrs of the loonar sfiar in colar. She thort she cod pseever cwit sutlee it Alwas Apiad whit. She arlsoo Fawd lat she Wos Abil to bi her self too inoormas huj ne eyols to.”
Guy also uses the morfemic ‘s’ for plurals and tenses. He is notably economical, and also still hears some speech sounds slightly difrently from older children and adults.

valerie yule

September 26, 2013

Spelling personal names and places

Filed under: spelling — Tags: , — valerieyulesletters @ 4:18 am

September, 2013. A correction to a spelling mistake on a voting paper is likely to cost NZ Wellington City Council thousands of dollars, but it says it’s worth it to maintain the integrity of the process.
About 18,000 correction letters have been sent to Wellington’s Southern ward voters after council candidate Donald McDonald’s surname was spelt incorrectly as “MacDonald” on voting papers and in the accompanying candidate profile booklet.
Wellington City Council electoral officer Charlie Inggs has apologised to McDonald for the “very unfortunate” error.
Council spokesman Richard MacLean said an exact figure for the cost of the correction was not yet known, but it was likely to be closer to $9000 than $1000.

Yet my ancestors Macdonald spelld Macdonald and McDonald and MacDonald on the same page!
As for McKie, Mackay, MacCay, Mackie etc!

April 27, 2013

New Game for spelling

Filed under: humor, Pleasures, spelling, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — valerieyulesletters @ 7:31 am

New Spelling Game – Spell a word as u think it ought to be spelld.


Play every spelling game by spelling a wurd as u think it aut to be spelld.


Win every spelling bee by spelling a wurd as u think it aut to be spelld.


Pronounce every spelling as u think it aut to be pronounced!   Grapes of wrath or wroth?


See how much we all agree on changes from present spelling. 

April 11, 2013

Injustice for the disadvantaged

Injustice and huge waste of talent result when the disadvantaged face barriers that need not be. Also consider the personal suffering, the economic cost to society, and the wasted hours in school when children fail to learn through social disadvantage, dyslexic difficulties, or their foreign background.
Most people do not consider the injustice of which I write, and which my experience as a schools and hospital psychologist and teacher has burned me up, when I found how unnecessary it was.
Most people who are literate have learned it easily or have forgotten that even they had a struggle.
Many British and American talented men and women from Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin to inventors of modern communications like JV Atasanoff (computers) have seen the problem, but have tried to cure the problem of English spelling by radical change. That is impossible for many reasons. Other countries have updated their spelling. For many reasons Americans and English have not. Now spellcheckers help those who can read to write better. But what of those who cannot?
The burgeoning of texting shows how people can spell better than our writing system can. But this is hard for everyone to link to our traditional spelling.
Our academics prove that English spelling has problems; they know the problems of those who cannot learn literacy. But they fail to investigate how spelling could be updated, like other modern languages, to help the disadvantaged, and cut the time in education teaching reading and spelling for children to be able to learn other things, including learning by reading.
I have put forward ways in which this can be done. I have tried removing unnecessary difficulties in spelling for children, disadvantaged adults, foreigners learning English and even for ourselves as literate adults, and seen the happy results.

2011, Yule, Valerie ‘Recent developments which affect spelling. On the possibility of removing the unnecessary difficulties in English spelling, while leaving the basic appearance of English print intact.’ English Today, 107, vol 27, No 3. Sept 2011, pp 62-67
1986. The design of spelling to meet needs & abilities. Harvard Educational Review. 56.3. 278 – 297.

Try Parallel Texting to give these unfortunats a chance. That is, a parallel text shorn of the spelling difficulties, set next to the present text. Mor foriners and English-speakers could then manage to read
I try to persuade teachers to giv it a trial. It harms no one. But everyone is afraid to start, altho my tests hav stood the test of time and experiment since the 1970s.

One side of each page in a reading book is normal spelling; the other side is ‘spelling without traps’ which helps beginners to read present spelling.

Innovators! What do u think most needs innovation?
My work as a psicologist has been primarily with peple who hav not been able to read, or very badly, or strugld as children harder than we had to. Think of what they miss out. Think of the cost to society!
Try this, or think what u would do.
If we got rid of the unnecessarily tricky spellings, most disadvantaged peple would hav a better life, thru having fewer barriers to literacy. Children could lern litracy qicker. We could read a spelling with rules that took one page – like most alfabetic languages – and so could they. No mor than one or two spellings per speech sound.

1. A Dictionary Pronunciation Guide based on the BBC Text Pronunciation Guide, plus 36 very common irregularly-spelled words to lern by rote that make up 12% of everyday text. (ALL ALMOST ALWAYS AMONG COME SOME COULD SHOULD WOULD HALF KNOW OF OFF ONE ONLY ONCE OTHER PULL PUSH PUT TWO THEIR THEY AS WAS WHAT WANT WHO WHY VERY, and international word endings -ION/-TION/-SION/ZION)
After that, only 6% of surplus letters in words need be cut, and 3% of misleading letters changed, in everyday text. That indeed makes a difrence for the disadvantaged, who can then read normal texts when Paralel Text is given next to it.
Experiment is the best way to progress.
Can u make a trial, for those whom u find hav dificulty?
Tell me what happens, or why u did not trial innovation at all. Can u spell? The best of us may not be perfect.

2002. It’s the spelling that’s stupid, not me; Taking Ockham’s Razor to English Spelling. ABC Radio National broadcast. Ockham’sRazor. 5.5.—not-me/3505566
Only one or two spellings are necessary for every speech sound, not up to twelve.
Dr Valerie Yule, M.A., Ph.D, Dip.Ed., M.B.Ps.S. Academic positions at Melbourne, Monash and Aberdeen Universities in departments of Psychology and Education; Teacher at all levels, from preschool to adult and migrant literacy; Clinical child psychologist at the Royal Children’s Hospitals, Melbourne and Aberdeen; Schools psychologist chiefly but not only in disadvantaged schools, Present research on imagination and literacy.

March 17, 2013

Fallacies used to retain present spelling unchanged

Five errors need correcting in this book. First, almost every other modern language, exept English, has had some degree of successful change, major or minor, that updated its writing system (Writing systems and how they change, Yule, in press). The fights are often long and continuing, but the changes enable mor pepl to read and rite. Remember that the Arabic number sistem, essential for modern sience, took 500 years to be acsepted over the Latin numerals in some parts of Europe!
Second, Simon Horabin confuses phonetic (sounds of speech) and phonemic (sounds as represented in a ritten language). The word DOG (phonemic spelling) is pronounced meny diffrent ways in spoken English, from dawg to dahg (phonetic pronunciations), but we all think we are saying DOG.
Third,” in order to preserve the richness, subtlety and history of our language” Horabin claims that we must keep spelling unchanged. Our spelling has continued to change since Samuel Johnson, e.g. – e.g. horror and economic for horrour and oeconomick.) but change is stopped by our Spelling Checker. Most literat peple cannot spell without a Spelling Checker. Most peple, however well educated, cannot spell 16 common words which have surplus letters. (
If spelling checkers changed, we would change our spelling too.

4. Dictionries and other books tell us the
history of our language. Updating spelling does not uproot our culture. Experiment and see. an index page about spelling

5. Noam Chomsky’s statement that English spelling ‘comes remarkably close to being . . .an optimal system’ was made in one regard only. I have examind this one regard and even then there are caveats. (Carol wrote in the Harvard Educational Review that it enabled one to see the relationship of PRODIGAL and PRODIGIOUS.) I have a letter (not email) from Noam Chomsky himself in which he regrets the wide misuse of his statement, and says he is sympathetic to ideas of spelling reform, properly conducted. – Other writing systems of the world, their advantages and disadvantages, and how many have been reformed English spelling rules on one page

January 19, 2013


The  Politics of
‘Simplified spelling brought about sunspots, the San Francisco earthcquake and the recent business depression, which we never would have had if spelling had been left all alone.’
Mark Twain, speech to Associated Press in support of reform, Sept 18. 1906.
            The live issue of the politics of literacy  includes questions of the social and political purposes of  universal literacy, its feasibility, and its cost/benefits.
            The politics of spelling is not considered in English speaking countries.  Yet reform of the writing system has been one of the first concerns of almost every modern national revolution – from the French to the Russian and  Chinese; and of almost every revolutionary modernisation or nationalist surge –  as in Turkey, Korea, Israel, Indonesia and Malaysia, Norway, and Finland.     Reconstruction after wars has spurred modernisations in countries such as the Netherlands, Greece, and Japan, and other countries that have improved their writing systems this century include Spain and Portugal in co-operation with their Latin American collaterals,  Germany, Taiwan, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, the Phillipines,  Niugini (wantok,) Sweden, Thailand, Vietnam, Dutch South Africa (Afrikaans), Greenland, and recently France again.1  Hundreds of new writing systems have also been invented this century for previously unwritten languages, aiming at efficiency with the benefit of experience. It is ironic that most of their linguistic inventors have been American or British. 2
            English is now the only major language in that has had no update of its writing system within the last hundred years, and it can only be compared with some Arabic and Indian scripts  for the obduracy and arguments with which moves for improvement are rejected.              What is going on?
             Ignorance about English spelling is almost universal – quite apart from inability to spell it.   New initiatives in Australian education remain restricted as long as Australians  are unaware that spelling is not only a key for reading and writing, but an indicator of how the whole society ticks.   We must understand how the past can suffocate or enlighten the future.
            The nature of the writing system is related to the values, power relations, and tensions within a society.  It has major social and economic consequences.   The development of Western capitalism, science and ways of thinking would have been impossible without the accessible alphabetic script and linear number systems. Literacy also involves internalising the social values of the literate community. Spelling is one way to restrict to an elite the initiation into the heritage and the living world of print.
             A difficult script helps to preserve power in a static society when only a few can master it.    Old China had a sense of heavenly self-sufficiency and an economic base in peasant agriculture.  For thousands of  years the Chinese script carried on a traditional Chinese civilisation that was antagonistic to  change and did not care for trade.   It was a matter of conscious pride that the difficult writing system was, like the virtues, a life-time’s work to acquire.   The key to government office was skill in the mastery of Chinese literacy, demonstrated in strenuous annual competitions.    In Korea the medieval  mandarins openly recognised their vested interest in the difficult Chinese-origin writing system.   A benevolent Emperor had sponsored the design of a new Korean syllabo-alphabet, hangul, hoping that his ‘Great Letters’ would make it possible for the common people to read and write.  And this was the explicit reason that the mandarins gave for banning it as soon as he was dead.   Only the court-ladies, barred from masculine education,  maintained hangul  for their own private use –  and it was Korean nationalism, the growth of commerce, and the needs of Westerners,  that brought this remarkable script  back four hundred years later.3
             Trading nations from the Phoenicians and the Rus onwards, have preferred, and needed, some form of alphabetic or syllabic writing for their business operations.4   In the classical civilisations of Greece and Rome, the male citizens were expected to be literate, as part of their citizenship, and both the Greek and Roman writing systems were simple and regular enough for boys to be taught by literate slaves, although the masses, the  hoi polloi and slaves, were in general unlettered.   The Roman Empire was held together and organised by the written word, which was deliberately plain enough for the armies and civil administrations to operate in their extending territories.  When Pax Romana collapsed, literacy was continued by the clerics scattered over that Empire, still in Latin –  but lacking public literacy,  the spoken forms quickly became unstable, and became the Romance languages and dog-Latins.
                         In many cultures, such as ancient Egypt and some medieval societies, the writing system has been so holy and complex that it could only be learnt and read by the priestly caste and scholars, who supported and were supported by  an illiterate aristocracy.   An early  and continuing purpose for writing systems has been the transmission of  religious knowledge –   often the more mysterious the script the better, for the status of the guardians of the spiritual mysteries. Sacred scriptures are often written in scripts that are regarded as sacred as their message.  The namehieroglyphics significantly means sacred writing.   Magic and the writing system were also linked in Northern Europe, as seen in how we still have  double meanings for the words  spell and rune (the name of  Norse writing).   Language and orthography may be carefully preserved as an essential manifestation of the sanctity of a religion – holiness made tangible and visible.   So,  antique Arabic script is retained untouched for the Qur’an, and ancient Hebrew for the Jewish Scriptures, similar to the importance of Latin in Catholic history, and the language of the King James Bible for English Protestants.    Older Boers felt it was profanation when the Holy Dutch Bible was translated into the vernacular Afrikaans spelling that they actually used themselves.  There is a deep psychological connection  between a sign and what it signifies.  The roman script for Catholic Croats and cyrillic for Orthodox Serbs is a continuing visible symbol to divide members of the same ethnicity.  Indeed, writing systems can be similar to organized religions in their function and significance in society, to the degree that when all else in a society is changing, a spelling system- the letter, as it were –  is still clung to when the spirit has gone.
 The politics of English spelling
             King Alfred, like Charlemagne, sought to unify his multilingual tribes by encouraging literacy in the dominant vernacular language.  He called for written English to be so simple and close to speech, that anyone could learn to read. However, spelling problems had already set in, and history went on to make them worse.
             Originally,  Anglo-Saxon characters matched Anglo-Saxon speech, but the Latin alphabet reintroduced with Christianity in the 6th century had no letters for several English consonants, such as th, sh, ch,wh, zh, ng, and only  five letters for the twenty English vowel sounds.   The resulting expedients still trouble English spelling. 5
             After the Norman conquest of 1066, with Norman-French and Latin the official languages,  the ‘English’ language was left to the illiterate Saxon underdogs.  One good result was that, without the stabilisation of writing, many complex inflexions of early English rubbed away.   English returned as a written form partly through Saxon upward mobility,  as conqueror and conquered merged, and partly through the Black Death, according to John of Trevisa, writing in 1385 –  since it killed off most of the teachers  still able to teach the nearly obsolete Norman-French language.
             With the inventions of printing and cheap paper, literacy was no longer confined to the clerical classes.   Floodgates were opened for popular reading and writing.  The prime motivation for literacy in Northern Europe was to read the newly accessible Word of God – and Martin Luther reformed German spelling as well as religion, to increase its accessibility.  Medieval manuscript copying by hand had been erratic in maintaining spelling conformity, and introduced many anomalies, but printing now stabilised the spelling system.  However, one consequence was that English spelling did not follow the continuing Great Vowel Shift in the spoken language,  but still represents many old vowels  and dropped sounds such as final <e> inflexions.
            Personal handwriting tended to spelling economy, as surviving records show, but public print did not, because the solution to the problem of standardisation was etymology.  Some degree of spelling uniformity was now needed – but what standard was reliable?  There were thriving dialects and ‘vulgar’ vernaculars, and the whole English language had an immense flowering from the 15th to the 18th century , with the Renaissance, and the discovery of New Worlds of geography and the mind.
     Faced with all this lively, chaotic and continually changing English language, scholars and printers decided to turn to the derivation of words  to supply the needed prestigious standard for a national spelling.   Early voices asking for a speech-based spelling were unheard.  Since so much new and old vocabulary was of classical origin, the ‘etymological principle’  allowed more consensus on spelling. But it meant that English spelling in writing did not truly represent the spoken language – and derivations could also be mistaken.
            By the late 18th century, nouveau riche commercial classes were  seeking to join the landed aristocracy socially.  They admired but lacked the nobility’s perceived advantages of birth and supposedly civilising education.  Snobbery prevailed – both to keep them out, and to make them want to get in.  Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son 1737-57  gave classic contemporary advice on how to be seen to be a gentleman. Surface behaviors, such as manners and spelling, performed like password and screening tests for social acceptance.
            A correct and complex orthography that required considerable education, intelligence or persistence to acquire, and where solecisms could be immediately detected,  was an excellent screening device.  The aspiring middle classes  possessed persistence and intelligence as well as high motivation to be socially accepted.  They too, therefore, valued the acquisition of correct spelling, as a sign showing they were fit for ‘good  society’
            The high-status field of scholarship also emphasised  knowledge and correctness in spelling.   A scholar was a ‘Man of Letters’.   Mastery of the letters was his first achievement.   This respect for the alphabet is still seen in the university degree of D. Litt.    Doctor of Letters is the accolade for the highest scholarship in the land, even above divine Philosophy (Ph.D).
            Eighteenth-century gentlemen and scholars also valued the complexity and elaboration of English orthography for its own sake.  The 19th century sociologist Thorstein Veblen 6 has described English spelling as a notorious example of his concept of  ‘Conspicuous Consumption’, which characterises  upper classes throughout history, who show off their status in public  by displays of extravagance, from sumptuous garb to prestige cars.  In the eighteenth century   ‘Age of Manners’, ‘conspicuous consumption’ included    baroque garments and rituals of behaviour, and love of ornament.   The Englishman of education and leisure took personal pleasure in elegance and correctness in manners, however tedious.   The French, German and Russian courts were more frightful in rituals and dress, but the English had their spelling.   And-  as often happens after a golden age of high culture –  after the  Renaissance, the Age of Reason and the Revival of Learning, the inheritors, lacking their genius and excitement, tended to turn to pedantry and to value form over content. 7
            In the 19th century the value of correct spelling became still more strongly entrenched. In Victorian times Victorian values  of respectability, discipline, conformity and hard work called for perfect adherence to spelling conventions  The middle classes were firmly in power, with a creed of meritocratic social promotion. Correct spelling was regarded as an infallible indicator of merit.  Spelling proficiency was supposed to have provided a kind of minimum qualification for entry into the middle class.  Looked at the other way, however, it meant that a difficult spelling system acts as a classbarrier. It ensures that a certain proportion of the population remains illiterate and can never aspire to more than menial jobs. .
             The Industrial Revolution required a literate management and skilled tradesmen who were also demonstrably diligent, intelligent and highly motivated to achieve.   Businesses needed intelligent and enterprising employees, as well as a laboring class who need only read instructions.
 A complex and difficult spelling was an admirable screening device for employment too.
             The Victorian moral majority with its high moral and even missionary aspirations for education sought to remove poverty by encouraging ‘self-improvement’ so that everyone would move up the ladder through literacy and learning.    They believed that anyone who tried hard enough could learn to read and spell.  It would be pandering to indolence to make spelling easier   Learning spelling itself was of value as a moral discipline.   ‘Slipshod spelling arose from slipshod thinking, which arose from slipshod moral ideals’.
            When the struggle for manhood suffrage succeeded,  the perceived need to then‘educate our masters’ resulted in the 1870  Education Act, enshrining the promise of universal literacy.  Learning  spelling could now take a third or more of the primary school curriculum.  The Spelling Bee  became a uniquely Anglo-American  form of entertainment and torture for old and  young.     It was a sign of educational heroism to master difficult spelling, and relatively few thought that the spelling need not be difficult in the first place.
              The 19th century Victorian arguments for preserving English spelling unchanged were in terms of Victorian values –
 Etymology (the Heritage of Civilisation),
Practical Impossibility to change (Pragmatism),
 Aesthetics (Beauty ),  and
Discipline (Virtue).
            However, the nineteenth century was an age of great reforms as well as of great iniquities to attack.  Many eminent Victorians sought to reform English spelling, impelled by  other Victorian values –  for rationality, and for belief in the perfectability of ‘man’ as well as of his spelling.
             Optimistic spelling reform campaigns attracted both support and ridicule for a hundred years.  At times reform appeared distinctly possible.  Noah Webster was a spelling reformer before his lexicography was revised by  commercial considerations.   U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s authorisation of 300 re-spellings lasted from August to December 1906 before Congress forced him to rescind.  Their combined legacy was a few dozen ‘American’ spellings –  the original reasons for separate British and American editions of books.    In Britain, in 1923 proposals of the  Simplified Spelling Society were backed by a petition signed by 15,000 people ‘prominent in public life and affairs’, supported by four major teacher unions and including  800  University scholars, 125 Members of Parliament, 22 bishops, and 49 publishers.  The proposals were rejected single-handed by the President of the Board of Education, and in 1933, again a single bureaucrat refused to consider renewed proposals. 8
            After the destruction of the second World War, the social catalyst of reconstruction included changes in the writing systems of many  countries.  And in Britain,  with Parliamentary and press debate from August 1945 onward, a Simplified Spelling Bill to permit moderate reforms  reached the Third Reading in the Commons successfully, but, for political reasons, it was withdrawn on the promise of a Ministry of Education investigation into the best system.9   The outcome was the Initial Teaching Alphabet experiment –  but it meant that the political moment passed to galvanise public support for spelling change.  Spelling improvement has been excluded from the prescripts of later U.K. Reports on literacy (Bullock, 1975) and language (Kingman, 1989)   In Australia Dr Everingham was a short-term Federal Minister of Helth, a Victorian teacher’s union journal used the Australian Harry Lindgren’s contribution to spelling reform proposals (‘spell the short sound /e/ with <e> as in bet), and a teachers’ union national conference in the 1970s passed a short-lived resolution recommending its use in schools.
             Most of the working classes possibly never benefited from compulsory literacy more than was sufficient to read instructions, tabloids and small-printed ‘penny dreadfuls’.  Many remained illiterate or nearly so – the struggle in spelling being more than sufficient for defeat in reading.   Today the middle classes’ disciplined dedication to the arduous task of learning to read may  be falling away, and the spirit of the culture is not less dedicated to learning.   Whether Anglo-American literacy problems are perennial, improving, or deteriorating,  social factors, including the fascination and immediacy of electronic media, contribute to reducing motivation for literacy.    The ‘educated public’ may now be less fully literate – as appears notably in changes in circulation and layouts of  ‘quality’ periodicals – print larger, articles shorter, errors more numerous, pictures and paper glossier.  Copy editors and computer spelling checkers arenow  essential for a high proportion of authors.  That is, now that personal spelling efficiency is not a necessary passport at the Top, social inequity in literacy  is confirmed by lack of electronic access. Learned journals have transferred their ‘immediate screening device’of correct spelling to screening by compliance with the minutiae of individual house styles and how to set out the references.
             Current Anglo-American attitudes to spelling are apathetic –  interested in neither Victorian perfectionism nor technological restructuring –  perhaps (?)  related to fading Anglo-American enterprise leadership and initiating spirit.  Japanese and Chinese now apply the same disciplined industry to acquire their difficult (though recently much improved) orthographies  as that spurring 19th century Anglo-Americans to master their spelling books- while also using phonic-based initial spellings as introductions for learners.    Korea,  Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam move rapidly into advanced 20th century despite great initial handicaps,  but plus the advantages of their improved writing systems.
            Official attempts to arouse enthusiasm for literacy among the unlettered Australian populace in International Literacy Year 1990 often emphasised relaxed, even passive, short-term satisfactions, dropping the old arguments of‘knowledge is power’, ‘heritage of print’ and ‘it’s good for learning discipline’.   The theme words for beginning readers in the government-funded A.B.C. Literacy Tape for ILY were:
‘I  dream  a lot.  I  dream  about  people  and  about  reading.
I  think  it  would  be  great  to  read,  you  know,  to  read  something,  a  book or  even  about  something  that  was  in  th e newspaper. ’
This is the conscientisation approach of Paulo Freire,10  but turned   dilettante.   Such words contrast with the political conscientisation of literacy in revolutionary Latin America and the stirring, if illusionary, first words of the Bolshevik Russian reader of 1917-1921 :
We are not slaves. Slaves we are not!
            Spelling and social class.   Spelling reform has been promoted by  educated idealists, generally in professions  giving them expertise and experience in spelling or public affairs.  However, educationalists within the’ establishment’ have tended to respect the status quo that they teach, although with notable exceptions dating from Bullokar (1580) and Mulcaster (1582) .
               Curiously, unlike overseas radicals and revolutionaries,  British and American Leftist political movements have ignored English spelling as a source of oppression of the masses.  Yet ‘any spelling that takes several years to master perforce plays into whatever class struggle exists’  (Gregersen)11   and socially disadvantaged learners have been shown to benefit from simple, clearly structured literacy teaching  – which would be more feasible with a consistent spelling system.
             Anglo-American political indifference may be due to the anti-intellectualism of both moderate and hard left sections of their labor movements and among the working classes generally.    Unions campaign for more expenditure on education and for the Right to Read (e.g. Victoria in the 1970s)  but at the same time Learning is not perceived as the ladder to advancement and key to the millennium, as it is still in many other countries.  On the contrary, schooling is often suspected as the capitalist enemy’s means of training ‘factory fodder’.  The education system itself has  been called a pernicious form of screening designed to ensure  masses will fail and fill the lower jobs,.  Far from the middle-class perspective that literacy offers a fair chance for upward mobility, large sections of  the poor have regarded it as an imposition on them by a middle-class serving its own interests.  This belief has not been without some justification 12.
            Nevertheless, a social group seeking an identity distinct from its perceived exploiters could assert that emphasis in its writing  – as in Australian aboriginal’sKoori  Kolej and their musical, Bran Nue Day.  These are spellings of defiance, and conceivably the germ of a demotic koori  script.  Kooris,  less bound to white traditions of writing,  already have their own examples of phonemic spelling for their own aboriginal languages –  written down usually by whites.
    Writing systems have political functions.   Governments  may recognise but not admit a dilemma.   A semi-literate or even illiterate society may be gullible and governable because it is dependant upon authority  for its information.  But a literate society,  efficient, instructable and a source of managers and expertise, may also  be dangerously independent-minded and unruly through its access to books.  Books, far more than broadcast media, can give everyone the liberty to ‘know, to utter and to understand’ (Milton, Areopagitica).  Power goes with access to print.
Spelling change and information technology.   When machines demand, tradition will not hold out for long.   At first it had seemed that the early computers might require a simplified English spelling,  to make possible speech/printcomputer transliteration.  However they have an non-human capacity for one-trial learning of input data, and are currently a force to stabilise spelling, as  spelling checkers.    Nevertheless,  developments in cybernetics and computer science may alter the intellectual climate and hence attitudes to spelling. 14.   Even one-word-one-symbol may prove to have greater potential than is now apparent.             Computers offer research techniques and modelling for how spelling could be improved, enhancing the practical potential for both research and implementation of spelling change.
            Simple algorithms can implement spelling change in anything that is printed or reprinted, allowing inexpensive transition in publishing.   Research can show how humans adapt to change – in a century of constant changes.
                         Philosophies of reading and spelling are dated by their relation to prevailing cultures.  In a social climate in which readers must be able to read every word accurately and understand the writer’s intentions without distortion, spelling will  be expected to be strictly orthodox.  In a different climate, permissiveness can led easily into uncaring.  Current reading theory emphasises guessing, and advises against decoding from the letters in words.   For those who seek a visible sign of stability, orthodox spelling remains as probably the last traditional value in a society in which the more spiritual values have been forsaken and the less tangible idols have toppled.
‘Spelling is pride. Spelling is social acceptance.
Spelling is discipline. Spelling isn’t an isolate’
                                                                                                                     (Partridge, 1984).
            But  spelling is also information technology – a tool for the communication of information, subject to human engineering principles like any other tool.   It cannot be expected to be the embodiment of an unchanging culture, subject to preservation orders –  or identified with the language itself that after all, it is only a means to represent – or saddled with the purposes of a dictionary.
Australians today are vociferously keen to remove all symbolism that proclaims their colonial dependance on another country. They could well start their new republic off with an updated International English spelling, compatible with the present, but more suited to the needs of the global community that uses English.   By  shedding the worst features of  English spelling, such as its clutter,  they would dispose of genuinely tyrannical remnants of an English history  that they have already thrown out of Australian schools.  Spelling is not an isolate.
2. select bibliography FOR POLITICS OF SPELLING BOOK CHAPTERS 1995.
This includes some publications for further reading on English spelling, its politics, and international writing systems,  that were not included in chapter end-notes.
Bailey, R. W. & Görlach (Eds.), English as a world language, Cambridge, C.U.P., 1984.
Coulmas, Florian. The writing systems of the world. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.
Brown, Bob. A typology, list & bibliography of English spelling reforms. London:Simplified Spelling Society, 1991. (lst edition, incomplete.)
Chao, Y. R. Language and symbolic systems. London: C.U.P., 1968.
Chu-Chang, Mae & Rodriguez, Victor (Eds.) Asian and Pacific American perspectives in bilingual education: comparative research.  NY: Teachers College Press., 1983.
Fishman, Joshua (Ed.). Advances in the creation and revision of writing systems. The Hague: Mouton,1977.
Fishman, J. A., R. L. Cooper & A. W. Conrad (Eds.). The spread of English: the sociology of English as an additional language.  Rowley, Mass: Newbury House, 1977.
Follick, Mont. The case for spelling reform. London: Pitman & Sons, 1956. (Includes a little-known account of spelling reform in U.K. 1900-1953.)
Freire, Paulo. Literacy, reading, the word and the world.  South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey, 1987.
Johnson, Samuel.  Preface to A dictionary of the English language in which the words are deduced from their originals.  London. Knapton. 1755.
Kavanagh, J. F. & Venezky, R. L. (Eds.). Orthography, reading and dyslexia.Baltimore: University Park Press. 1980.
McArthur, Tom (Ed.). The Oxford companion to the English language.  Oxford, O.U.P. 1993. Pitman, James & St. John, John. Alphabets and reading.  London: Pitman, 1969.
Scragg, D. G. A history of English spelling.  Manchester University Press, 1974.
Stevenson, H. W., Stigler, J. W., Lucker, G. W., Lee, S-Y, Hsu, Ch-Ch, & Kitamara, S. ‘Reading disabilities: the case of Chinese, Japanese and English’. Child Development, vol 53, 1164-1181, 1982, with a follow-up by Stevenson on ‘Orthography and reading disabilities’ in Journal of Reading Disabilities, vol 17, 296-301, 1984.
Taylor, I. & Taylor, M. The psychology of reading.   NY: Academic Press. 1983. (One of the few non-specialist books to take an international perspective.)
Tzeng, O. J. L. & Singer, H. (Eds.) Perception of print: reading research in experimental psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 1981.
Wagner, D. (Ed.) The future of literacy in a changing world.  Oxford: Pergamon, 1987.
Yule, Valerie. ‘The design of spelling to match needs and abilities’, Harvard Educational Review, vol. 65, no.3, 278-297, 1986.
Yule, Valerie.  Orthography and reading; spelling and society.  Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Monash University, 1991
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