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Harmless Drudge: More Spelling Reform
Posted: 30 November 2010 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A response to the silliness.

[ Edited: 30 November 2010 05:36 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 30 November 2010 08:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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This confirms my own nonscientific finding that most people in the 18-24 demographic think that text-speak like cu l8r for ‘see you later’ or OMG for ‘oh, my god,’ is just a developmental phase, something one grows out of after middle school, when conventional writing takes over.

As they mature, most internet writers seek correctness, and to satisfy their continuing demand for standard English, programs for texting, chatting, and email typically come with spell-checkers which mark suspected errors and often suggest corrections. It turns out that, thanks to digital technology, no matter how bad you are with pencil and paper, on the internet, nobody need know you can’t spel spell.
------

I assume I’ll still be saying OMG when I’m 80.

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Posted: 30 November 2010 10:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I don’t consider spelling a sign of intelligence or morality).

(languagehat)

That is an enlightened, intelligent view; one with which any civilized being can wholeheartedly concur. But do most people? I think not. It seems to me that in many people’s minds, there is a stigma attached to an inability to spell. Not so much a moral, as a social stigma - being an inadequate speller is like having smelly feet, or the mange: it’s something that alienates one from others (and from oneself), something one tries anxiously to get rid of if one can, and to conceal if one can’t...... Perhaps it’s this negative view of .... [is there a word for an inability to spell? kakorthographia?] ....which keeps alive that persistent, absurd urge to spelling reform. I’m pretty sure that the most fervent apostles of spelling reform are people who can’t spell themselves.

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Posted: 01 December 2010 04:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I agree that poor spelling has nothing to do with intelligence, but it does have something to do with professionalism and consideration for others. With all the automated spelling tools available nowadays, there is really no excuse for bad spelling.

When someone presents themselves with poor spelling in a professional environment, be it in the office or a grocer’s hand-lettered sign, it shows that they didn’t take the time to do it right and that they really don’t care about their jobs. Other things are likely to be deficient too. In personal communication, it again shows that the person didn’t take the time to do it right and really doesn’t care.

Now, the occasional typo is completely understandable and forgivable. We all make them. (Particularly me on this discussion group at 6 am before I’ve had my coffee.) Also, there are different standards for different media. I don’t expect people to exactingly proofread their spelling on this forum or in a hasty email between friends, but in a business environment or in a composed letter I do. And I don’t consider Leetspeak or other texting conventions to be “bad” spelling in this regard. (Perhaps inappropriate in certain contexts, but not a sign of laziness.)

Also, I don’t see a problem with people’s spelling on this forum (auto-spammers aside). The standards everyone exhibits here are just fine.

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Posted: 01 December 2010 01:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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You illustrate the point I’m trying to make, Dave, by being censorious about “bad” spelling. Yet only a few days ago, we had a poster pointing out that Shakespeare is on record as having spelled his own name in half a dozen different ways (Ripley, in “Believe It Or Not”, quotes about 20 different ways that other people have spelled that name). I remember as a boy, browsing through my mother’s OED1 (it was awesome - it took up a whole bookshelf, even though it only went as far as “Ph") and wondering at the number of different ways of spelling “dziggetai”. One might argue that names don’t count, and that exotic words will inevitably be spelled in more ways than one, since there are no universal rules for transliteration into English - but in fact, the OED offered (and for all I know, may still offer) alternative spellings for many, many words, including common ones. I know little about the history of English, but I seem (o perilous words!) to have read somewhere that spelling only began to get more or less regularized with the advent of printing. I don’t know if this is true or not. Are there many instances of English writers of, say the 17th or pre-Johnson 18th century, speaking of, or railing against, “bad” spelling? How consistent is the spelling in 16th/early 17th century editions of Shakespeare? Have we got used to allowing lexicographers to prescribe for us? I believe the OED doesn’t prescribe, it just gives the alternative spellings in order of frequency of occurrence; but others aren’t so cautious.

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Posted: 01 December 2010 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The comparison with Shakespeare is not applicable. Standardized spelling did not exist in Elizabethan England, but it does today. Standardized spelling is important in that it greatly facilitates the reader’s comprehension. Yes, you can parse misspelled words, but it takes effort and slows comprehension. A writer who is professional and considerate spells correctly.

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Posted: 01 December 2010 08:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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"I agree that poor spelling has nothing to do with intelligence, but it does have something to do with professionalism and consideration for others. “

Come on ... Am I really Robinson Crusoe on this? How can spelling have nothing to do with intelligence? If you have trouble learning, you’ll tend to be worse at a lot of things, including spelling. There’d be exceptions due to dyslexia but I’d bet London to a brick that less intelligent people on average make more spelling mistakes.

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Posted: 01 December 2010 10:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I take your point, Dave. Thanks.

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Posted: 02 December 2010 01:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I agree that poor spelling has nothing to do with intelligence, but it does have something to do with professionalism and consideration for others.

This is too glib and dismissive.  Many people outside professional circles can’t spell even commonly-used words, not because they’re inconsiderate but because they haven’t been taught properly.  The confusion over there/their/they’re, its/it’s, potatos etc (which even regular posters here get wrong periodically) is just one example.  In the UK at least, the educational system has not done its job of teaching standardised spelling, with the result that even some university students (some of whom are now teachers, thus perpetuating the problem) can’t spell, and don’t even know they can’t spell.

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Posted: 02 December 2010 02:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I think Eliza’s summary of the situation in the UK is spot-on. My spelling is fairly poor and I was heavily criticised for it through school (I’m borderline dyslexic, but that wasn’t really recognised or catered for in the 60s and 70s). I’ve learned coping strategies over the years, but the best thing that has ever come along for me is as-you-type spellchecking. I use Firefox as my browser and Thunderbird as my email client and have the spellcheck plugins installed in both. That and spellchecking in Word and OpenOffice mean that I can be reasonably confident that I have produced something professional-looking every time. The issue is less that I can’t spell but that I tend to transpose letters and often can’t see when I’ve done it - the spellchecker’s role is to spot that for me. Red wiggly underlines are wonderful!

Back in the early 80s when I was completing my PhD thesis, I began to realise that I had a monumental proofreading job on my hands. Usually I relied on my wife as a proofreader, but she is a languages graduate and a lot of the thesis was fairly dense computer science which she found quite hard going. I concluded that I might be quicker to write a spelling checker (there wasn’t one available for the Prime minicomputers we used at my institution) than to do my own proofreading. That was of course grossly optimistic - it took a while to write a serviceable interactive spelling checker, but it did the job for me and I felt suitably proud of my work. (It also did the job for other people too, until everyone switched to using PCs a few years later.)

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Posted: 02 December 2010 03:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Dave Wilton - 01 December 2010 03:34 PM

… Standardized spelling is important in that it greatly facilitates the reader’s comprehension …

Well, no, the most important reason for standardised spelling is to stop different proofreaders with different ideas of what is “correct” constantly changing the copy as it comes past them at the printworks/publishing house/newspaper. Because if the copy comes to me and I change “standardized” to “standardised” since I believe the “s” version is correct, and it then goes to you and you change it back to “standardized” because you think “z” is correct, then the chances of it eventually appearing in print as “standardiszed” are quite high. But if the stylebook/dictionary insists on the word being spelt as “standardised”, then all that potentially dangerous messing about as different spelling schools of thought come into conflict is forbidden. Which saves both time and the chances of unforced errors getting into the copy. So yes, I’m sure standardised spelling was introduced by printers to save time, cut down on errors and avoid punch-ups in the composing room between supporters of different spelling variants.

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Posted: 02 December 2010 04:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Several points in response to a number of posts:

How can spelling have nothing to do with intelligence? If you have trouble learning, you’ll tend to be worse at a lot of things, including spelling.

Of course, it depends how you define “intelligence,” but most experts would say that rote learning, what is required for good spelling, is pretty low on the scale of mental tasks that require intelligence. Common disabilities like dyslexia make the point nicely. Dyslexics have difficulty spelling, but few would say they have issues with intelligence. People with below average intelligence can learn to spell quite nicely. It doesn’t require a great brain to be a speller. There may be correlation with other factors, such as children with lower intelligence may be less interested in school in general and therefore not put in the time anyone requires to learn spelling, but that doesn’t mean they can’t if they did try.

The confusion over there/their/they’re, its/it’s, potatos etc (which even regular posters here get wrong periodically) is just one example.

I would hazard a guess and say that every one of the regular posters here knows the distinction between there/their/they’re and its/it’s. When these errors occur it’s because of faulty or skipped proofreading, not because they don’t know the right way to spell the words. That goes to my point about professionalism. (For the record, again I don’t expect flawless copy on hastily typed internet forums like this one, and I don’t believe I’ve ever pointed out typos here except in the rare instances where there is some confusion over meaning. The standard varies with the context.)

I can’t speak to students in the UK, but my experience so far with Canadian university freshmen is that they are quite good spellers. Spelling mistakes are relatively rare, and all of the papers I’ve graded so far have been written in class without the benefit of spell checkers. (And with a few exceptions (mostly non-native speakers), the students are quite good at the mechanics of sentence-level writing. Some have problems with creating coherent paragraphs, and many don’t know how to construct a logical argument in an essay. Those are chief problems I see in writing skills, not in the “grammar” skills that are bugaboo of most writing manuals.

Well, no, the most important reason for standardised spelling is to stop different proofreaders with different ideas of what is “correct” constantly changing the copy as it comes past them at the printworks/publishing house/newspaper. Because if the copy comes to me and I change “standardized” to “standardised” since I believe the “s” version is correct, and it then goes to you and you change it back to “standardized” because you think “z” is correct, then the chances of it eventually appearing in print as “standardiszed” are quite high.

I’m not sure this is the most important reason—especially since most writing is not edited by any copy editor, much less multiple ones—although it is a good one for the professional context. Also, standardised/standardized is not an example of “bad” spelling, but one of competing standards. Which one is chosen is a matter of style, not correctness.

Speaking of which, one issue I have with the Canadian students is that I’m not certain of the standard Canadian spelling (and punctuation) conventions. I know it’s a combination of US and British conventions, but I’m not sure what conventions are applied where. There are lots of manuals that point out the differences between US-UK spelling, but I’ve never seen one that points out the US-Canadian differences. If anyone knows a good resource, I’d love to hear about it.

[ Edited: 02 December 2010 04:48 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 02 December 2010 04:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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In the UK at least, the educational system has not done its job of teaching standardised spelling, with the result that even some university students (some of whom are now teachers, thus perpetuating the problem) can’t spell, and don’t even know they can’t spell.

As this recent incident, alas, demonstrates! (Never mind “written in haste and not checked” - anybody can fat-finger a typo or two, but nobody who could spell and punctuate properly could write this and fail to realise how bad it was, no matter how hurriedly it was done. I’m sure it’s not dyslexia, either! Those aren’t dyslexic errors.

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Posted: 02 December 2010 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Yes, this email was appalling, but it tells nothing about the overall trend, only the individual teacher. I could pick out the one similarly bad essay from the pile of fifty and bemoan the educational standards of Canadian schools, but I would be incorrect in doing so as the other forty-nine are not at all like that.

I’m extremely leery of such reports based on a single or small number of examples that appear in the media. The press is good at taking isolated examples and giving the impression that they represent a trend.

And most of these errors are missing, incorrectly inserted, or transposed letters, which indicates a bad typist, not a bad speller. I don’t know of anyone who spells it “everning” out of ignorance of the correct spelling. This is an over-the-top example of what I called “[non-]professionalism,” not ignorance or stupidity. It’s still inexcusable, but a different type of problem. To correct it, you don’t need to spend more time teaching spelling; you need to demand and enforce higher standards of professionalism.

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Posted: 02 December 2010 05:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Dave Wilton - 02 December 2010 04:41 AM

There are lots of manuals that point out the differences between US-UK spelling, but I’ve never seen one that points out the US-Canadian differences. If anyone knows a good resource, I’d love to hear about it.

Two come to mind, both published by Oxford University Press:

1.  Canadian Oxford Dictionary (see here)

2.  The smaller (and cheaper) Canadian Oxford Dictionary of Current English (see here)

Whether these directly compare US-Canadian spelling I’m not sure, but at least they provide the “official” Canadian spellings.

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Posted: 02 December 2010 05:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Thanks. I’ll have to get a copy.

(Oddly, the cheaper version is not available from the US Amazon site. Not that that’s a problem since I would order from the Canadian site—I had thought to add it to my wish list on the US site for Xmas—but I find it curious.)

[ Edited: 02 December 2010 05:45 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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