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Is there occasion for spelling reform with American English? irregular spelling, the...

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gamefaceguy | Honors

Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:51 PM via web

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Is there occasion for spelling reform with American English? 

irregular spelling, the great vowel shift, phonetics, use of consonants have many experts in accord about the need for spelling reforms. However, the amount of borrowed words from other countries may make this impossible.

I would like to know what implications these irregularities present for possible spelling reforms -- I would also like to know your opinion in the arguments for and against spelling reform.

Thank you

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 16, 2012 at 8:19 PM (Answer #1)

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One needs only to peruse the Declaration of Independence and other documents from early America, as well as re-examine Noah Webster's efforts in compiling an American Dictionary in order to confirm that spelling reform has already occurred more than once. Such spelling changes as those that have evolved in American English are not uncommon in other languages, as well.  For example, even a small word such as king in French--roi--was once spelled roy. Also, the French language is regulated by L'Academie Francaise while America has no such authoritative body.

That America has no single authority is, of course, part of the dilemma of spelling reform.  For, who is to decide? With the inundation of so many of a foreign tongue, how can the decision of a word's spelling be based upon any set pronunciation? And, then, as mentioned above, many words in English are of foreign origin, anyway (one source cites over 60% of the words in English having come from French, for instance). 

In recent decades, there have been a few serious attempts at spelling reform.  For example, one group has advocated abandoning the Latin ph spelling for the letter f since the /ph/ is like /f/.  [ The two slashes around a letter indicate the sound that that letter or letters make.] And, most other arguments involve the way that certain letters sound in contemporary times.  Of course, the problem with this measure is that pronunciations change too quickly, or are altered by celebrities who have nimerous imitators. 

Rather than alter American English to where it looks entirely different from historical and literary texts of the past, thus alienating these texts written in other time periods from only but the erudite, this country may do well to understand the importance of teaching children the grandparent languages of English so they will grasp the pronunciation concepts behind certain words. Ironically, this absence of the acquisition of another language early on in one's life so that one can better understand one's own language is somewhat limited to Americans. Confirming this importance of knowing another language, the great poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe declared, "One who knows no other language does not know his own."

When the Communist Soviet Union had control of East Germany, it not only constructed a wall dividing Berlin; it began building another more formidable wall--one of language.  New words were introduced into the East German vocabulary, language constructions were altered, etc. In this way, the East Germans could quickly be alienated from their Western countrymen as they would be unable to communicate with them, for a language barrier is a formidable one, at that as proven in Babylon. Indeed, it is a profound truth stated by George Orwell in his essay on the English language that language does not merely reflect culture; language is culture. To forcibly alter a language is to force radical changes upon a people, its history and culture and to damage the aesthetics of a language.  After all, there is beauty in the variety found in English--Is it not enjoyable to break from its regular iambic meter? On this subject, Orwell writes,

[In the perception of] beauty in the external world, ...in words and their right arrangement, [there is] pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose, or the rhythm of a good story. 

In the absence of an authoritative academy, there should be no spelling reforms.

 

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