1 of 2
1
HD: Spelling Reform
Posted: 22 July 2016 01:12 PM   [ Ignore ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6327
Joined  2007-01-03

There are several other current threads that touch upon the topic.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 22 July 2016 02:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3024
Joined  2007-01-30

Liberman is probably right that a handful of modest reforms could be implemented successfully if we tried hard enough, but those few modest reforms won’t make dent in the problem.

But is there a problem? It seems to me that we have no problem at all communicating with and understanding each other at present. Changes in spelling, if they come, will, I fancy, come as they usually do in English, from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 22 July 2016 03:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6327
Joined  2007-01-03

Liberman’s main concern seems to be for those learning English as a second language. Given that English is the global language, its spelling is a significant hurdle for people to clear.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 22 July 2016 03:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3986
Joined  2007-02-26

"But is there a problem”

We manage.

But English is a bit harder to learn as a second language than languages with regular orthography. Incorrect spelling by someone who is fairly new to the language may be taken as evidence of stupidity, ignorance or carelessness by a reader. Someone learning Spanish will not encounter this problem.

It is not a crippling problem but the possible advantages of spelling reform are clear enough. Would it be worth it? Would people accept it? I don’t know.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 July 2016 02:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3024
Joined  2007-01-30

But once again, foreigners seem to do just fine, witness the number of people who speak, write and understand English around the globe. Could we make it easier to learn? Of course, but is the game really worth the candle? I think not.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 July 2016 03:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1512
Joined  2007-02-14

Besides, if we attained a rational spelling system in English we wouldn’t have the fun of arguing pointlessly about whether a given error was a spelling error or a grammar error.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 July 2016 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3466
Joined  2007-01-31

Being childless, I don’t know much about current practices in elementary education, but when I was a child, “Spelling” was a separate class, like “Arithmetic,” “Science,” “History,” or “English.” I gather that there are (almost?) no other languages in which this is common, or necessary.  Because we are used to our spelling, we mostly don’t see it as a problem, but it seems virtually certain to me that the time and effort spent on mastering English’s abstruse spelling could be put to better use if our spelling were more regular.

That said, I can’t believe that a country that has resisted the metric system as long and stubbornly as the US will adopt any scheme of regularized spelling in the foreseeable future.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 July 2016 05:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  287
Joined  2007-02-15
Dr. Techie - 23 July 2016 09:08 AM

Being childless, I don’t know much about current practices in elementary education, but when I was a child, “Spelling” was a separate class, like “Arithmetic,” “Science,” “History,” or “English.” I gather that there are (almost?) no other languages in which this is common, or necessary.  Because we are used to our spelling, we mostly don’t see it as a problem, but it seems virtually certain to me that the time and effort spent on mastering English’s abstruse spelling could be put to better use if our spelling were more regular.

That said, I can’t believe that a country that has resisted the metric system as long and stubbornly as the US will adopt any scheme of regularized spelling in the foreseeable future.

Fair points all.

Believe me, there are other languages where spelling is as important or even moreso than English. English as dominant business language has a different set of issues to deal with. If it weren’t for Spanish, I would point to image-oriented orthographies and English’s loose use of spelling as a human-type failing but lovable too.

English is currently the prototype of a new phenomenon: a language responsible for a lot of new word coinage and technological updates to the core language. After this, other languages get to work and sort out what their place in proceedings is, or adapt what they talk to new norms.

This seems to be happening at an ever-increasing tempo due to interconnectivity and web speed of diffusion. Are we living in a time where new additions will be made to the core vocabulary of languages, a new grammar to express immediate of grammar ‘updates’, for example? Like, we totally accept ‘up-speak’ (raising the pitch of an utterance at the end of the soundbyte) when we hear it. But what will be the gain as opposed to the current manner of asking a question by raising the pitch at the end of a sentence?

Académie does have some advantages: for three hundred years they have kept the spelling of the language the same while the pronunciation changed often radically in the spoken word.

Who did the deed with Spanish, that it is so regular in orthograpgy? Kudos.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 24 July 2016 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4516
Joined  2007-01-29

The more I learn about Liberman, the more annoying I find him.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 August 2016 01:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Moderator
RankRank
Total Posts:  70
Joined  2010-11-02

I agree with Dave Wilton’s and almost everyone’s comments. But I think Dave Wilton and everyone else is thinking about the problem in the wrong way. I think there’s a good English solution for this English problem. The solution is for you, as a reader, to tolerate variant spellings. Anatoly Liberman said in another forum that English spelling is “frozen”. We all agree it’s frozen with a large number of defects. What keeps it frozen is the intolerance for spelling diversity, underlying which is the centuries-long strong desire for standardization. Attitude-wise, “frozen” is a much better angle of view than “standardized”. I argue there’s no more value to be had from standardization, and we should let writers go off the standard, whereby you tolerate writers to spell their words whatever way they think fitting (and you’re free to stay fully with the old standard if you want). Crucially, I can assure you this will not slow you down as a reader, after you’ve had just a little practice and exposure with it.

I think most people on this board have had the experience of reading old text bodies (corpuses) having lots of spelling variations. So I think you should be able to know from your own personal experience that the spelling variations didn’t slow you down as a reader after you’d had a bit of practice and exposure.

As a personal experience, I remember the first time I saw “trewly and duely” (in an Act of Parliament of England, anno 1439), meaning “truly and duly”. It took me more than one second to know what I was looking at. Thereafter I was never delayed by it or the likes of it again.

Here’s another personal experience. I used to work as a computer programmer at company that had company standardization of the stylistics of the computer code text. I felt this had benefits in making the code easier to read by all programmers who needed to read and modify the code. Then I moved to another company that had, by company policy, almost no standardization. “We don’t have a totalitarian attitude,” the manager said. At this company, a programmer who had to read and modify a piece of existing code had to adjust themselves to the free stylistics of the original writer of the code. It took me a bit of conscious effort at the very begining, but overall a negligible amount of time to adjust to this. The standardization of the first company was, I think, a net waste of time to teach and enforce, but one thing I can say for it is that it was defect-free as a standard.

Another personal experience about standards. There are multiple ways for writing Arabic text with the Roman alphabet. For instance بالروح بالدم can be legitmately romanized as bel-rouh bel-dam, OR ber-rouh bed-dam, OR berouh bedam, OR bilruh bildam, OR bālrūḥ bāldam, OR bil rou7 bil dam, OR bel ru7 bel dam, OR (this one’s bad style but it’s common enough) bel ru7 be dam; the first syllable is a preposition-like prefix that in standard Arabic is pronounced as in cases #2 and #3 and is spelled as in #5. Arabic alphabet has two letters ‘h’, one of them can be put down in Roman as a 7 as in ru7, which removes the ambiguity of ‘h’. Effectively, on the Internet, there is no standard and no movement towards a standard for romanizing Arabic. Lots of people use a mix of ways in the same sentence. In practice, people (especially Arabs) have no problem reading the various Romanized transcriptions on the Internet. It takes very little exposure to get used to them all. Standardization would achieve very little, or nothing. The different ways each have pluses and minuses, which is why there isn’t convergence towards a standard.

Another point. If you search at Google.com for the phrase bel rouh bel dam (without quotation marks), Google will include instances of the spelling bel rou7 bel dam in its search results. Likewise, if you search for bel rou7 you will also get results for bel rouh (unless wrapped in quotation marks). What do you think happens when you put the following words into Google search as a search expression without the quotation marks: “I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!” Google replies with the statment: “[We are] Showing results for: I always thought spelling was important! [Do you wish to] Search instead for: I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!”

Spelling is not important for comprehension. Here’s one kind of example to illustrate this. This example is at many places on the Internet. The first sentence coming up is going to call for some backchewing, but by the time you get to the last sentence you’ll have cracked it:

I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rescheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

After 30 minutes of practice with reading such text with those weird spellings, you’d be able to read such text at a rate not much slower than the text you’re practiced with. For more phonetic spelling changes, like trewly for truly, you’d be able to read at the very same rate as you do now, and maybe even faster.

In summary, English spelling needs to be unfrozen, not re-standardized. When it’s unfrozen it will be dynamic, its dynamism will improve it. Crucially, the loss of standardization will not do any real damage. The damage it’d do id be trivial, and far outweighed by the damage being done by the prevailing totalitarianism.

[ Edited: 13 August 2016 01:33 AM by ᴚǝǝƶɐʍɐɈ ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 August 2016 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6327
Joined  2007-01-03

I don’t want to overstate this because spelling is not all that big an issue and we can tolerate a great deal of diversity of how words are spelled, but you don’t give enough credit to the value of standardized spelling. There is a difference between finding something tolerable and finding it optimal or desirable. You’re right that we can often tolerate and understand non-standard spellings, but there is a small, incremental cost each time we encounter one.

First off:

I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rescheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae. I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Yes, this passage can be comprehended, but as you say, it takes work. This is, of course, an extreme example, one that would never be encountered in real life, but in real life every misspelling takes the reader out the narrative and logical flow of the text. It disrupts the reading process as the reader has to spend cycles to figure out what the word is. It’s not a big disruption and the reader can get past it, but as I tell my students, the job of a writer and editor is to smoothly communicate the message, and spelling in the standardized fashion is part of that.

Of course there are national spelling differences, but national audiences are large and most writing is targeted to only one, even in this internet age. Plus, the national differences are relatively minor and usually systematic, so they’re not very onerous when being read by someone from another spelling tradition.

Then I moved to another company that had, by company policy, almost no standardization. “We don’t have a totalitarian attitude,” the manager said. At this company, a programmer who had to read and modify a piece of existing code had to adjust themselves to the free stylistics of the original writer of the code. It took me a bit of conscious effort at the very begining, but overall a negligible amount of time to adjust to this.

As a former software product manager I shuddered at this. Yes, within a small group of programmers, it’s relatively easy to grow accustomed to idiosyncratic stylistics. But what happens five years later, when the original coder has long ago departed for another company and a new person has to go into the code to fix a bug or reuse the block of code in another application? It’s hard enough to parse out how a sequence of code works without the idiosyncratic stylistics of someone you’ve never met and is barely remembered by anyone else. And in larger organizations and projects, where you have multiple teams in locations around the world writing units of code, standardization is often essential. (And this situation is far from unusual and growing more common as the internet allows for offshoring of work. I worked for one, modestly sized, company that had coders in Mountain View, California; Paris; and Beijing, not mention freelancers from all over working on bits and pieces.) Again, the problem can be overstated. You don’t need to be “totalitarian,” and there is a point where the demand for standardization ceases to deliver a return on investment, but that’s not to say that there isn’t value in everyone using the same coding practices.

As a personal experience, I remember the first time I saw “trewly and duely” (in an Act of Parliament of England, anno 1439), meaning “truly and duly”. It took me more than one second to know what I was looking at. Thereafter I was never delayed by it or the likes of it again.

If you’re reading something from 1439, the spelling of truly and duly is not going to be the biggest impediment to understanding. Grammar and semantics are going to be what really trips you up. But reading medieval texts is not something you do every day. (Okay, it’s something I do everyday, but that’s my job.) If you have the motivation to dive into a medieval text, you’re going to tolerate (and perhaps even enjoy) the language differences. That’s not the case with reading a daily newspaper or website. (Not to mention that understanding a legal text, even a present-day one, requires a great deal of specialty knowledge, and a casual reader often cannot be expected to understand it even if all the spelling and grammar are standard. And to give one example of where non-standard orthography throws lawyers into fits, just start reading a bit about comma usage in the text of the second amendment to the US constitution.)

There are multiple ways for writing Arabic text with the Roman alphabet.

I don’t know what the experience of Arabic speakers is when encountering transliterated Arabic. Do you often have to read large swaths of text that are transliterated into the Roman alphabet?

But most English speakers rarely encounter transliterated words, and the words, such as place names, are usually unfamiliar, so whether or not there is a standardized spelling is immaterial. (We don’t know enough to realize that it’s spelled idiosyncratically.) And the few cases of words that encounter frequently, such as the multiple ways to spell Gaddafi, fall within the scope of differences we can easily tolerate, especially given the context of where we encounter them. This is the case where it’s just not worth the effort to force a standardization beyond what’s already there in house style guide.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 13 August 2016 01:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3986
Joined  2007-02-26

I’d also mention that new English writers misspelling words is only part of the problem. The weird spelling also slows down new English readers, by making it harder to match what they are reading with words they have heard.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 14 August 2016 02:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
Moderator
RankRank
Total Posts:  70
Joined  2010-11-02

Dave Wilton, you say: “There is a small, incremental cost each time we encounter a non-standard spelling… It is a small disruption.” Under the atmosphere and regime we have today, you’re right. I find from experience that this is NOT intrinsic to the spelling; rather it is due to the atmosphere. As an analogy to try to convey this, if a woman walks around topless in public today, it’s a distraction and disruption. In a hypothetical world where going topless is no longer a frowned-upon irregularity, it is no longer disruptive to do it. Another analogy, in some publication environments the word “goddamn” would be a disruptive irregularity; in others, “goddamn” is not at all disruptive or irregular. You say: “every misspelling takes the reader out the narrative and logical flow of the text”. I say that is a falsehood. Except it’s true in a political environment where there’s no decent respect for spelling diversity. When the respect is there then the spelling variants do NOT take the reader out of the narrative. Rather, the reader pays no attention to the spelling and doesn’t give a shit what the spelling is. In what I’ve just quoted you, what you’re talking about is stupid “rubbernecking” in an environment where to go off-standard in spelling is adjudged an error. You don’t get this stupid rubbernecking in a truly tolerant environment (as in romanizing Arabic, for instance). The more the spelling diversity, the less the rubbernecking about it.

Google search “wepon” (with quotes). Google has a big number of instances, many of them in forums about video games. E.g., “the diamond sword, a leagendary wepon in Minecraft”. No doubt many of the authors are teenagers. I say it ought to be unwarranted to distract the teenagers into changing their spelling from “wepon” to “weapon”. Ought to be (in a wiser world). It’s equally unwarranted to distract yourself when you see “wepon”.

Aspects of the damage of the prevailing “totalitarianism” are presented in-depth by Masha Bell at http://improvingenglishspelling.blogspot.co.uk/ . Masha Bell is inclined towards advocating an alternative totalitarian system, which is surely a fornlorn cause, but for the most part she’s focused on presenting the problems, not solutions.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 14 August 2016 04:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6327
Joined  2007-01-03

Comparing spelling to going topless is a specious analogy. It’s not a question of ignoring the misspelling. We can’t ignore it; we must decipher it if we want to continue reading. It’s a question of how our brains work, not of social convention.

We read via pattern recognition. We take chunks of text, a few letters at a time, match them to known sounds and generate the words in our mind. We then delve into our memory and associate a meaning. When we come across an unfamiliar combination, our brain has to take extra time to decipher it. Sometimes this process is minimally disruptive and unconscious, especially if the misspelling falls into another familiar pattern and isn’t essential to the core content of the message (e.g., thier for their), but it can also be seriously disruptive, causing the reader to pause and make a conscious effort to decode the word and associate it with the appropriate meaning. But even when unconscious, it still takes additional cognitive cycles to decode, causing the reader to slow down.

Where spelling variation is regular, as in the -or / -our difference between British and American spelling, we can quickly incorporate the patterns into our memory and the disruption disappears, other than perhaps the initial encounter which signals we’re reading a text from the other country.

There is a problem with social convention, and you’re right that we should be more tolerant of idiosyncratic and “wrong” spelling in many contexts. But language and social judgment are inextricably bound up together, and not just in how we spell. We define ourselves and others, in part, by how we speak and write, assigning class and even moral judgments based upon it. Regarding wepon, it’s possible that this is a dialectal spelling adopted by gamers to distinguish those in the group from those who are out. (I don’t know this to be true, I’m just guessing at a possibility. It’s certainly true in many other instances of spelling in gamer-speak.) As much as we may want to not do this, we are a tribal species, continually defining who is in our group and who isn’t. Changing that is a much harder task than spelling reform.

(I don’t know who Masha Bell is. She appears to be someone of considerable practical experience in the classroom, but little or no formal training in psycholinguistics or how to conduct research. Many of her statements and suggestions are rational and reasonable—although that’s not to say I agree with her conclusions. But one statement brought me up short and caused me to question everything she writes in that blog. It’s the statement that Finnish students learn to read in three months. Now I don’t know much about the Finnish education system, but this has to be false. Learning to read in any language is an enormously difficult task. Speaking is natural, reading and writing are not. My guess is that she’s ignoring Finnish “pre-school” education and that there are different standards as to what constitutes reading proficiency. I have no doubt that Finnish children have an easier time of it, but not on the order of three months vs. three years.)

[ Edited: 14 August 2016 04:58 AM by Dave Wilton ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 14 August 2016 05:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4516
Joined  2007-01-29

ᴚǝǝƶɐʍɐɈ, your entire argument boils down to “In a different world, what I say would be true.” To which the only possible response is: So what?  We live in this world.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 14 August 2016 03:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
Moderator
RankRank
Total Posts:  70
Joined  2010-11-02

Dave Wilton said “we read via pattern recognition”, which is true, and he went on to say that variant spellings can be seriously disruptive, and I’ve been saying this is not true when you have the right mindset. I can give you a glimpse of why I think this by repeating an item I said at the beginning: When I was first reading later-medieval and 16th century English texts, I was made to pause by “trew” the first time I saw it, and not thereafter; and with that pattern learned by just one exposure to it, I didn’t blink when I came across “rewfule” for “rueful” and suchlike. Similarly, when I will learn by one exposure that “wepon” is “weapon”, I won’t be gawking at “wepon” the next time I come to it, and likewise for the deletion of letter ‘a’ in already, bread, breadth, breakfast, breast, etc. What Dave is saying deserves more than a counterexample, it deserves a full counterargument. I won’t get into the counterargument today, and I’ll just assert the conclusion that the pattern matcher in your brain is able to handle the spelling variants instantaneously after input of a tiny number of pattern exemplars.

It’s human naycha. Human what? How many times do you need to see naycha in your own language before you know what it means? I do pronounce ‘r’ myself and I’d never write naycha myself, but I feel I’ve no logical or morally decent reason to censor others from using it.

Masha Bell says at another page at her website: “A cross-European study led by P H Seymour which investigated how quickly children master the basics of reading and writing in 13 European languages reported in 2003 that English-speaking children needed an average of three years to attain basic reading fluency, while pupils in the 12 other countries took between three to 12 months.” The abstract for that study by Seymour is at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12803812 and I see that this author Seymour has lots of similar stuff on the Internet, none of which I’ve read.

Masha Bell’s website has a lot of material. It’s full book-length in size. The site’s top-level navigation is poorly designed, with the result that much of the material is buried and invisible at the top level. She says she was primary school teacher in the UK for years while unconsciously having a very foggy and very cloudy view of what what the English spelling ‘system’ is. The whole society, including the teacher training schools, are in a fog about it too. She goes into spellings’ nuts and bolts at the page http://englishspellingproblems.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/the-english-spelling-system.html AND http://englishspellingproblems.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/reading-problems.html

[ Edited: 14 August 2016 03:53 PM by ᴚǝǝƶɐʍɐɈ ]
Profile
 
 
   
1 of 2
1
 
‹‹ East Wing      HD: A New Turing Test ››