Patterico's Pontifications

6/3/2005

Metrik Spelling Now!

Filed under: General — See Dubya @ 3:04 pm



Being P-dog’s in-house religious-right theofascist Cromwell, I like to drop by the Fundie Forum (aka World Magazine’s Worldmagblog) now and then to see what my fellow Jesus-freaks are up to. It’s an interesting blog in that almost every post seems designed to provoke debate in the comments section, which it usually does, and the debates are often quite interesting. Of course, it runs completely counter to the stereotype that there is such lively debate in evangelical circles, and that their opinions aren’t shoveled directly into the faithful’s brains by Jerry Falwell, but that’s another rant for another time.

Today they’re talking about the idiots who are protesting the National Spelling Bee, demanding an end to idiosyncracy within English spelling. Enuf, they say, is Enuf. As if the National Spelling Bee people are just going to call a press conference and say “These idiots have a point. This is the last Spelling Bee ever. We hereby abdicate all responsibility for the maintenance of traditional orthography.”

This is dumb, or dum, in all kinds of ways. Linguistically there are three I can think of: First, we already have too many houynonyms homophobes words that are sound alike or spelled alike in English and this would only create more. It’s already hard enough to hear the difference between lead, the element, and led, the past tense of “to lead”. Read/red, Pray/prey, cock/caulk, all these useful distinctions would disappear in print as well as in spoken language. The second is mnemonic: having had some success in these spelling bees myownself, I know that the odd spelling of particular words is part of their charm and part of the reason they come to mind when you need them. My vocabulary is much greater because I spent some time as a child memorizing the uniqueness of crazy words like “snood” (okay, that’s actually spelled pretty straight, but it’s funny) and “syllabub”. And the third, XRLQ would be forced to reveal his true identity.

Besides the language problems, though, there’s a cultural issue. We’re not France, and we’re not Quebec (nor Quebek). There is no language police in America imposing top-down rules of expression on our speech. We talk the way we talk and most of us who enjoy reading and writing cherish the odd word and the odd turns of phrase that characterize regional dialects, foreign influences, and even spontaneous neologism (like “immedia”). Diversity really counts for something here, and it is something to be conserved.

I’m not worried. I think they’ll have about as much success with this newfangled spelling system as the government did in trying to force us to adopt the metric system for our own good. If there is a need for it, the language will evolve, from the bottom up.

5 Responses to “Metrik Spelling Now!”

  1. One of my favorite words has always been quotidian, which actually describes its polar opposite. It’s the reverse of a word like polysyllabic, which describes itself perfectly. I think there is a word that means “a word which describes itself,” such as stark or sibilant, and another which means “a word that is the opposite of its meaning,” such as monosyllabic or quotidian; and I think Richard Lederer revealed those words in one of his Anguished English books. But I’m too lazy to look it up.

    Dafydd

    Dafydd (df2f54)

  2. This is a perennial debate; George Bernard Shaw was an advocate of reformed spelling. But it’s not practical, for several reasons. One is that to standardize spelling you have to decide whose pronunciation is standard. Britain, America, Canada, Australia — or for that matter, India?

    Another is that reform spelling would cut us off from much of what has been published in English over the past several centuries; depending on how radical the reform is, reading Melville would be like reading Chaucer, a specialized skill.

    linda seebach (7e7c6d)

  3. Another still is that a purely phonemic writing system would mask morphological relationships between words, with the result that “new” words would be easier to sound out but their meanings harder to recognize. For example, from a phonetic standpoint it’s confusing to have the letter c sometimes pronounced like an s and sometimes like a k, but it’s easy for a person who knows the word elastic to figure out the meaning of elasticity the first time he sees it in print. It would be harder to do that if the two words were spelled “uhlastik” and “eelastissity,” respectively.

    For an example of what a disaster spelling “reform” would be, see this letter by M.J. Shields. But see also this.

    Xrlq (6c76c4)

  4. […] d Joe “Leiberman.” I don’t know if Steve and Cokie would approve of the spelling reform noted earlier today by guest blogger See Dubya. But they need some kin […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Steev and Cokee Robberts Cant Spel (0c6a63)

  5. I was galled to learn Miles Davis is billed “Kilometer Davis” in Europe.

    Ed (817857)


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