Thursday, September 30, 2010

International Spelling Reform Day

The Spelling Society was founded in 1908 as the Simplified Spelling Society. Its aims are to "[raise] awareness of the problems caused by the irregularity of English spelling and to promote remedies to improve literacy, including spelling reform." In 1980, the Spelling Society declared September 30 to be International Spelling Reform Day. Its motto was "Thirty days hath September - Spelling Reform to remember!"

This was far from the first effort to simplify English spelling. Since at least the 16th century, there have been numerous proposals for spelling reform of the English language. These met with varied success; while some proposed changes entered into general use, others were largely ignored.

Supporters of reform have pointed out the many inconsistencies and irregularities of English spelling. Mismatches between spelling and pronunciation of words make English a difficult language to learn. Arguments against reform include the difficulties of instituting great changes to a language that is used worldwide, the variety of regional accents which make standardized pronunciation impossible, and resistance to losing the etymological roots of words from other languages.

In 1768, Benjamin Franklin wrote a pamphlet titled, "A Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling," in which he proposed a phonetic system for spelling English. Noah Webster, author of the famous Webster's Dictionary, responded to Franklin's proposal in 1789 with his book, Dissertations on the English language : with notes historical and critical : to which is added, by way of appendix, an essay on a reformed mode of spelling with Dr. Franklin's arguments on that subject. In the appendex, Webster discussed the necessity of reforming spelling, while also addressing potential objections. Of Franklin's proposal, Webster wrote, "This sage philosopher has suffered nothing useful to escape his notice. He very early discovered the difficulties that attend the learning of our language; and with his usual ingenuity, invented a plan to obviate them."

The Book Division of the Clements Library contains several other works on American spelling reform, including books written in phonetic alphabets:

David Lyon, The analitical American spelling book : containing appropriate spelling and reding lessenz, including the rudiments ov the Inglish languij; and uther useful matter, progressivly arranjed (Oxford, N.Y., 1834).

Andrew Comstock, The phonetic minstrel: consisting of original songs, in Comstock's perfect alphabet, as well as in the old alphabet; set to popular air (Philadelphia, 1847).

Ezekiel Rich, Thrten lcturs, on a nw, slf-suportng systm of jnrl & librl education, fr both sxs, espsly femals. To which is add, an esa, aplyng this systm to the education of a stat r nation ... Also, som stps fr litrry rform (Rochester, 1848).

American Phonetic Society, The fonetic olmanac and rejistur of the spelling and writing reform, together with a list of the American phonetic society, for the year of our Lord 1853 (Cincinnati, 1852).

1 comment:

Allanstr said...

I support the idea of an international spelling day. Eenglish needs it! I thought there was one on October 9, aligned with Korea's Hangul day.

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