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)
On almost everything, from sports to going to sleep, there are people who find it easy, and people who find it hard. The most serious difference between children at school is between those who find learning to read fairly easy, and those who find it hard.
They are often in disadvantaged or minority ethnic groups or have dyslexic problems. The unnecessary difficulties of English spelling are the final barrier.
Yet reading raises a child’s IQ, by adding to general knowledge, verbal skills and capacity for numeracy.
‘Whole language’ has proven inadequate. Phonics is necessary for those who find learning to read hard. Yet it is sabotaged by the 20% of unpredictable English words.
Turn the reasons given why spelling should NOT be reformed into how it could be reformed. The visual and auditory routes to reading, importance of morphemes in English, links to our culture and etymology, the ‘Chomsky’ line about word families with underlying phonological similarity, the familar appearance of text, the problem of growing dialects, and the world-wide importance of English. Spelling reform of our present system to remove exceptions can improve all these.
The small costs of this reform compare with the costs of so much illiteracy and semi-literacy. (Forget about radical phonetic reforms requiring everything to be reprinted and a new system learned. We are mending the present system.)
Let us see how this could be done, rather than throwing up our hands.
The dirty little secret of the press is suppressing this discussion.