Years and years ago, I did a bunch of spelling bees. In fact, I was in the spelling bee every year from fourth through eighth grade. I get twitchy when people misspell common words in their blogs, tweets or Facebook posts. Yes, I know, I’m a little bit obsessive, but it’s a conveyance of language and the record of who we are and for what we stand. I’d rather it didn’t become a mark of our decline.
However, wayyy back at the beginning of the summer, I heard about an organization protesting the spelling bee.
I mean, yes, the psychosis of spelling bee participation is mildly troubling. The studying shut-ins leave little time for childhood diversions and socialization, but if compulsively spelling words even linguists wouldn’t recognize is what a kid loves, then hey! Live and let live, right?
Too bad that’s not what they were protesting. Organizations like The English Spelling Society (TESS), American Literacy Council (ALC) and the Simplified Spelling Society (SSS) aim to simplify the spelling of words in the English language to the way they sound (or as they would have it, “simplify the speling uv werds in thuh eenglish langwedj too thuh way thay saond”).
Now I understand that the English language is a hot mess of irregularities, exceptions and outright bs. However, it is a language of borrowed words. I mean, yes, it is primarily of West Germanic origin (which, HOLY CRAP have you ever tried to read “English” lit before the 16th century in its original language? It’s the entire reason that people advised against taking classes whose syllabi included Beowulf and/or that Chaucer gets a bad rap), but we’ve borrowed a lot along the way.
Kinda fitting that we speak English here in the US considering our history and culture, dontcha think?
But anyway, the anti-spellers. I get it. I do. But frankly, I think that if they REALLY want to shatter the hopes and dreams of compulsive spellers (myself included), they should go big or go home.
Resa, what the hell are you talking about, you ask.
I’m SO glad you asked, my imaginary voice of my blog friend. In fact, I’m talking about the international phonetic alphabet (henceforth to be known as the IPA).
Thanks for the abbreviation, but you just spewed out a bunch of big words together and expected us to know what the hell you mean.
Well, sorrrrryyy, imaginary voice of my blog, but if you’d stop interrupting I’d explain. See, the IPA is an alphabet whose symbols are based solely on individual language sounds (phonemes) instead of single letters representing multiple sounds.
But there are a few inherent issues here.
First: The prospect of learning a whole new alphabet. It’s actually not TOO too different, and since it’s dictated by how things sound, it’s not at all hard to learn (yes, I can write in IPA).
Second, and most important: The variations in word pronunciation, especially across different regions. On one hand, it would be easier to recognize regional diction in writing, but on the other, academia would have a heyday trying to come to an agreement on the proper pronunciation of certain words.
Well, then, what’s wrong with spelling phonetically with our existing alphabet?
Well, the way I would spell something out would be quite different than the way someone else might. Take the word “would” for instance.
If I spelled it “wood,” would it sound like “wood” or “wooed”? If I spelled it “wud” would it sound the same or would it rhyme with “cud”?
You see the dilemma.
Now I do understand some of the motivations behind this movement. Dyslexics, dysgraphics and children with developmental disabilities or impairments could greatly benefit from a language that utilizes phonetic spelling. I have family members who have been or are in that boat. It’s an incredible tool to assist in bringing written and verbal language together, but it’s to assist.
So all in all? The impracticalities of phonetic spelling, in my mind, outweigh the inconvenience and confusion of language irregularities. Just like our current language, it would be based on rules, probably sprinkled with exceptions, and ultimately just another written iteration of an ever evolving language.
Okay, one last time. Just lyk ower kurent langwadj, it wud bee baysd on roolz, probablee spreenkld with ekseptchuns, and ultimetlee just anuther ritin iderayshun uv an ever evolving langwadj.
What do you think? Should we spell phonetically? Are you itching to learn IPA? Or are you a spelling geek like I am and you’re more than happy to learn the whys, hows, origins and exceptions of the English language?