Is English cluttered? Simplified Spelling supporters think so

Living in Washington, D.C., I have seen a decade-full of protests. They’re such regular occurrences here that I don’t really notice what people are protesting any longer. I’ll walk or drive-by the gathering crowd, oblivious to their message, and continue on my way. Except this weekend, a very small crowd of people protesting in front of a hotel, instead of on the National Mall or in front of the White House, caught my attention.

Late last week and into the weekend was the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It was held at The Grand Hyatt in downtown D.C., and the competition drew hundreds of spellers, their families, media crews, and (much to my surprise) protesters. The demonstrators gathered in front of the hotel were adamant supporters of phonetic spelling, what they call Simplified Spelling. From a Washington Post article covering the protests:

The protesters believe English is mired by too many spellings for identical sounds and too many sounds for identical spellings. If they got their way, “you” would become “yoo,” “believe” would become “beleev” and “said” would become “sed.”

The cost of clinging to traditional spellings, they say, is millions of illiterate English speakers who struggle to read signs or get good jobs, and billions of dollars in lost productivity.

The campaign for simple spelling, which activists say started more than 100 years ago, is experiencing a revival with kids who have taken wholeheartedly to phonetic spelling in electronic messages.

I’ve never thought about non-phonetically spelled words in English as a distraction, so I don’t personally consider them clutter. However, I find it delightful that there is a group of people on a mission to rid the English language of what they believe is spelling clutter. Check out the video of the protests on the Washington Post website to learn more about the mission of supporters of Simplified Spelling. (And please, don’t worry, I have no intentions of adopting Simplified Spelling practices on Unclutterer. I can’t imagine how much my productivity would tank trying to phonetically spell an entire vocabulary of words.)

71 Comments for “Is English cluttered? Simplified Spelling supporters think so”

  1. posted by Max Sipowicz on

    So the fact that illiterate people struggle to get good jobs is a bad thing?

    The reason why those jobs are good (which I assume means high-paying) is because they require a certain degree of education. How is one meant to get an education without being able to read and write?

  2. posted by Mrs.Mack on

    So, they want to change the way the (pretty much) entire English language is spelled so that “millions” of illiterate English speakers can learn to read and write easier, never mind that the change would cause EVERYONE to have to relearn the written language, thereby making basically all of us illiterate?

    Not to mention, if this starts in the US it would probably be won one state at a time, which would make communication crazy within the country, and then we’d be writing a completely different language than other English speaking countries.

    What a mess. No thanks!

    I’m all for simplifying English by getting rid of unnecessary big words (like “cognizant”? Just use “aware”), but spelling the way kids do in texts just makes the writer look lazy or stupid.

  3. posted by The Plaid Cow on

    They are welcoming an Orwellian future.

  4. posted by Anita on

    Linguistic debate aside, their proposals remind me of this joke:

    I say we all switch to Esperanto and save ourselves the trouble. To hell with history, etymology, linguistics, nuance and regional variation!

  5. posted by Tiffany on

    I think it’s so fascinating that they think the reason people remain illiterate is that English is too complicated, and not any of the myriad socioeconomic factors that prevent children from being able to take full advantage of the free public education provided them.

  6. posted by Rita on

    Myself, I love the English language and believe me if I can learn how to spell the words anyone can. Geesh! What a lazy bunch!

  7. posted by Beverly on

    The point is reading, writing and speaking English is something you should do IF you want to live in the U.S. It IS our language. If you don’t want to learn, then stay in your own country. I’m sure the French wouldn’t change their language and neither would the Germans, the Italians, the Russians, etc. So, why should the U.S. change it’s language???

  8. posted by Kate on

    But uncluttering spelling would just clutter up whole other areas, the way words are spelled may seem nonsensical, but they usually hold a clue to the root of a word, which makes learning a new language easier.

    Not to mention the trouble accents would cause.

  9. posted by Margaret on

    What about homonyms?

  10. posted by Kelly on

    I, too, love the English language… so much so that I majored in it. Advocating bad spelling is not “uncluttering” the language, it’s just advocating bad spelling. I don’t see other countries changing the spelling of the majority of their words just to make things easier. I never thought to advocate “less cluttered” spelling when I was learning Spanish or German or Irish. To the Simplified English advocates I say, “learn how to spell words as they are or continue to be considered uneducated… your choice.”

  11. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Beverly — English is not the national language. There is no official language of the United States:

  12. posted by Sherri on

    I don’t get these people.

    Yes, I know that English is a complicated language, and as soon as you learn one rule, you find 79 exceptions to that rule, but just how do these Simplified English people plan on dealing with regional dialects? Which region pronounces English the “right” way? British? Ireland? Australia? Boston???

    So help me, if I have to start writing English the way they speak in Fargo, I’m moving to Russia.

  13. posted by Allison on

    Double plus ungood. –Orwell

  14. posted by labyrinthine on

    this is a horrible idea. languages are not clutter!

  15. posted by Joy on

    I see two major flaws with “simplified spelling”. There are so many different accents, not to mention speech impediments, that change the phonetic spelling of a word. It isn’t even regional, especially now that people are so mobile. I say words differently than my classmates, even those of us who spent the first 25 years of our lives in the same town. I say “our”/”are”, “too”/”to”, “there”/”their” differently. Not drastically but most people who have an ear for sound do notice. My sister has a lisp which affects how she speaks. Secondly, words that are true homonyms give clarification to the written word by the varied spelling.

    Overall, spoken English is living. Our pronunciation is not the same as it was 100, 200, 300 years ago. Even if we were able to account for different accents, we would risk losing our entire body of literature as these changes occurred. And all those “funny” spellings? At one time some of those were phonetic.

  16. posted by Jen on

    “Simplified Spelling” apparently has a large following amongst YouTube commenters.

  17. posted by terriok1 on

    What a crock of horse manure! English is far too complicated phonetically for these knuckleheads to try to reinvent it. They do not understand it to begin with. How can they possibly modify it?

    Has any singel one of them EVER studied phonetics?

    And somehow most of us learned to read and to write.

    Do you know how? We practiced!

    If kids are exposed to good literature they will start reading on their own.

    They come to school with no pencils, no crayons, no nothing. I spent my own money. Lots and lots of it which is why I have none now. The kids were/are important to me.

    Parents have money for other things. But if they cannot afford to buy their kid a pencil, I think that they ought to think twice about bringing children into this world.

    I taught for years. Maybe two kids in a class of 42 had library cards. So I went out and got them. The following year some mother was hounding me about getting her kid a library card from the year before.

    I finally got disgusted and told her if she could be up at the school pestering me, she certainly could spend 15 minutes doing it on her own.

    Kids should be taught English primarily through sight words with some phonics. The phonics is irregular.

    English is not the only language with lots of irregularities!

    In the inner cities, the people are illiterate or semi-literate as parents as often take absolutely NO responsibility for the education of children they have chosen to bring into this world.

    These kids are not even exposed to the most basic kiddie literature. They have NO books in the home. I mean NONE.

    They are not taken to museums. They have no enrichment activities. But all the households have large cable bills and they pay to watch wrestling and take their children to bloody horror movies.

    I heard some clown on talk radio last night talking about teachers making $80,000 a year which is utterly false and that school should be from 9-5 twelve months out of the year.

    Instead of calling up the talk radio and blasting him, I just turned him off. There is no convincing such a cretin that cannot get the most basic facts down correctly and that is his job.

    Hey picture yourself locked up with 35 or 42 eight year olds for 6 hours a day and you cannot even go to the bathroom. The teachers are exhausted. The kids are exhausted.

    Now ALL the schools (except maybe a few elite private schools run by people with functioning, educated brains) do is teach to standardized tests that are invalid and do not measure what they are supposed to measure.

    That is the purpose of education: to learn how to take the standardized tests. That is true in every socio-economic area. They are cheating the kids out of an education for political gain. Period.

    That is what is going on is our schools throughout the nation. Teachers have no choice. And teaching is an art and not a science anyway.

    Oh I do not blame the kids. Not one iota. Kids learn by playing. Parents want teachers to keep their kids entertained 24 hours a day. (Not all but a significant number like these clowns that think people cannot read because of spelling). Egads!

    Why not just put the children in a kibbutz!

    The kids, even the mopier ones, are tired after a 6 hour day.

    If they really think English is too complicated, they should learn how to read in Spanish.

    While only thought an easy language to learn by people who cannot speak it, it is very regular phonetically and I could teach any person on this website how to read it in a matter of days.

    Now that is not reading for understanding, that is decoding, breaking the words down phonetically so they are said, pronounced correctly.

    Now somehow I think would the political climate being what it is and Mexicans being the current scapegoats, I do think that would go over like a lead balloon.

    It use to be the Polish, or the Italians and the “Irish Need Not Apply”. In tough economic times, people tend to assign blame to people just below them on the socio-economic ladder. It is a fact.

    Someone is profiting in of these tough economic climates and it has to be the rich. Everyone I know is hurting. History repeats itself.

    So if they want an easy language phonetically, I suggest Spanish. It is not an easy language but phonetically it could not be any easier.

    Thanks for waking me up!

    I know I brought up a lot of issues but it is complicated, IMHO.

  18. posted by Luke on

    Sorry, but it reminds me of the skit from Greg Giraldo – Civil War vs Iraq War Letters

    English is already going newspeek… you just don’t realize it….

  19. posted by terriok1 on

    Nah, Luke, these peo no how 2 spel, they r just lazy. Most peo are literate, altho it may be marginally.

  20. posted by Dawn F on

    It will be a miracle if our youngest generation will ever be able to write a complete sentence at all (whether it be traditional English or Simplified Spelling) considering all of the texting and tweeting and speedy, abbreviated lingo that people are using on a regular basis.

    Grammar, spelling and punctuation seem to be a low priority and perhaps “clutter” up their high-speed communication. It’s sad, but I guess that’s just the way life is going to be.

  21. posted by Marteka on

    I do not come from a country with a language considered a “world language” (like French or Spanish) but I can tell you that in my little country (Norway) the spelling is regularly changed to be more like the way Norwegians speak.

    This sometimes causes some annoyance for some people, but not the kind of anger that the commenters in this entry present. Why so mad?

    I remember a text from my English book in junior college that was called “Ghoti and chips, please”:
    “Gh” from words like “enough”
    “o” from words like “women”
    …and “ti” from some other strange spelled word(s) 🙂

    Also: The reference to phonetics is just strange. Phonetics should be about how people actually speak, not how they should speak – and definitely not how they WRITE?! I should know – I’m a phonetician!

    BTW: Pardon my spelling, hope this is readable enough for you… 😉

  22. posted by Becky on

    I wonder what the spelling bee contestants thought about these protesters. You gotta love those spelling bee kids, don’t you?

  23. posted by habithacker on

    I adore the strange ins-and-outs of English language spelling. I’ve always loved that ghoti example…it might be a George Bernard Shaw comment?

    Yes, it’s hard to master spelling. But there’s nothing wrong with a little challenge (plus, these days we’re so lucky to have those fab spell checkers that fix what ails us).

    Something that’s been left out of this discussion is that investigating why words don’t always sound the way they’re spelled leads to the fascinating arena of word derivations….a little history lesson and also a lesson about how culturally diverse our language is.

    I’m all for multi-lingual societies, but I’m also all for teaching the beauty of words.

    (I’m not a teacher, but I think teachers are saints and deserve to be paid way more than they get now. Teachers changed my life!)

  24. posted by chacha1 on

    I predict this will go nowhere just as efforts to convert the U.S. to the metric system have gone nowhere. The fact is, very few people like to learn a different way of doing things; unless the old way is starting to hurt them they simply won’t change.

  25. posted by Thorin Messer on

    I have no respect for a person who can only think of one way to spell a word. C.F. Ghoti (

  26. posted by Mike on

    I write for a living.

    Every time I see someone’s misbegotten spawn type “WAT” when they mean “What?”, I die a little inside.

  27. posted by Marie on

    People who want to “simplify” the English language just don’t have enough to do.

  28. posted by Anita on

    … I should let this go, but I seem to suffer from a disorder which makes it impossible not to correct misconceptions on online fora (

    To those of you who say “you don’t see other countries simplifying their spelling”, I beg to differ. Most languages I’m aware of have had one or many spelling reforms in the past century. See a partial list here:

    However, as far as I know, few if any of those reforms pointed to illiteracy as the motivator behind the reform. Generally, spelling reforms are motivated by academics’ desire to either modernise spelling by getting rid of archaic word forms that have fallen out of use, or to bring the spelling of the language closer to its etymologic roots. Few of the reforms are sweeping attempts to radically simplify the language, with the possible exception of simplified Chinese and the adoption of Pinyin, which was more of a spelling alternative (the romanization of Chinese) than a spelling reform.

    The last proposed English spelling reform was rejected by Congress in 1906. Still, most of the changes proposed in that reform have become common and accepted spellings.

    I say maybe a spelling reform of English could be useful, though much more limited in scope — and certainly not motivated by illiteracy rates.

  29. posted by Leslie on

    If they really wanted to simplify things wouldn’t “you” be “u” and “believe” be “bleev” (forget all those confusing consonant blends):-)

    I do sympathize since my son is very much an auditory learner and he had a lot of trouble with spelling and reading his first few years of school. We still have his booklet from the end of first grade–he wrote the best things he learned that year were “Reading and fonix” (I’m not making this up.) However, he eventually went on to be one of those spelling bee kids and is now enrolled in a creative writing conservatory in an arts high school.

    So the real solution is practice, practice, practice and don’t give up!

  30. posted by Pam on

    While I certainly can appreciate the struggle that English’s complicated rules creates in a beginning reader and writer (I’m watching my daughter struggle to learn “dolch” words which are apparently 300 sight words that they need to learn by grade 3 and my 9 year old son figure out spelling) and yet, I am loathe to allow them to “slip” into the more lazy phonetic spelling patterns that the schools are encouraging…
    I can’t read that way! I can’t write that way… changing the entire way we write would be just a mess!

  31. posted by Sesquipedalian on

    Returning to the original idea of whether English is actually cluttered by its current spelling system, the underlying question should not be whether or not its users are lazy, but rather whether the current system has value.

    Certainly there are very good reasons that an intelligent person might have difficulty mastering the rules of English spelling and pronunciation. Learning disabilities, certain neurological disorders, head traumas, etc. can all create difficulty for some individuals. Even among healthy individuals, difficulties may arise — as an editor, I work with many highly intelligent people whose spelling is atrocious. However, these people are the minority. Very young children (even as young as 3 years old!) can learn and predict these spelling and pronunciation rules, so certainly the rules and even the exceptions of English cannot be too insurmountable for the average person.

    The reasons behind the complexity of our spelling and pronunciation system include our language’s history of borrowing so much of its lexicon from so many different languages. As a result, yes, there are many different ways to represent the same sounds on paper. Word roots from different origins may have different rules governing both their spelling and their pronunciation. But is this clutter?

    In my opinion, no. Word roots contain clues about word meaning. When I examine the written word, I can learn about the meaning of the word from its spelling. (Conversely, I can learn something about a word’s spelling by learning its origin — which is one reason the children in the spelling bee so often ask for a word’s origin before spelling it.) What I gain in terms of understanding of word meaning far outweighs any cost in terms of potential pronunciation or spelling errors. After all, isn’t the meaning of a word more important than its spelling or pronunciation?

    This is not an argument for simplified spelling, but rather for retaining spellings that illustrate word meanings. Consider the fate of homophones (one previous comment mentioned homonyms, but I believe they were really referring to homophones, as homonyms are already spelled and pronounced in precisely the same ways): in my dialect of English, “oral” (of the mouth) and “aural” (of the ear) are pronounced in exactly the same way. By simplified spelling rules, they should, then, be spelled the same way. However, how would one tell the difference between the two? In written form, it is clear which is which and what each means.

    Shall we shake a whole wealth of stored meaning from our lexicon like just so much dust off the rug to standardize the spelling and pronunciation for the minority? Stored meaning is so much more valuable than mere clutter, and it would be a shame to lose it for the convenience of ‘simplified’ spelling.

  32. posted by Koni on

    @Beverly: the Germans did simplify their language.

    I’m all for keeping English the way it is. I love it with all its faults.

  33. posted by Hessiess on

    Yes, English is cluttered and its spelling system is stupid and logical. For us dyslexics, its impossible to write without a spell checker. It should be reformed to use a phonetic spelling system.

  34. posted by Ericka on

    Thanks for posting this! A new perspective I’d never thought of.

  35. posted by Juliska on

    Spelling reform would create a boundary between “modern” English and its past: Right now we can read books written centuries ago, because the vocabulary is still in use. Spelling reform would render those books incomprehensible to future readers. I know, I know, someone could make a fortune converting Shakespeare, Jane Austen, etc., into phonetically spelled English. It would be ugly beyond compare.

    As for the fairly recent spelling reform in Germany: I have family there, and everyone hates it. The only people happy about it were the idiots who pushed it through, and publishing companies, because there was a demand for new dictionaries and grammar guides.

  36. posted by terriok1 on

    Phonetics- The branch of linguistics that deals with the sounds of speech and their production, combination, description, and representation by written symbols.

    Of course phoneticians study how words “should” sound and how they “should” be written. In Spanish it is called the Real Academia.

    How could one study dialects if there is no norm to deviate from? Obviously that does not favor one dialect over the other but a standard needs to be established for comparative purposes.

    And of course languages are dynamic. But some languages are confined to a small geographical area.

    You cannot devise a system of modification of something you do not understand or have a limited grasp thereof. Now that is truly absurd.

  37. posted by jane on

    stupid idea. One of the reasons some people find english difficult is the fact that it is a more precise language. In english it isn’t how a word sounds but how it is spelled that gives its meaning. Simplified spelling will wipe all that out.

  38. posted by Bob on

    English is part of my culture and heritage. I will not change how I spell… ever! My teenaged son uses text messaging a lot and makes it a point to spell out each word he uses. He keeps his messages to the point.
    Why does everyone else who paid attention in class need to dumb down their written communications so that the lazy can succeed? They can take my language from me when I’m dead.

  39. posted by Ed Eubanks on

    The cost of clinging to traditional spellings, they say, is millions of illiterate English speakers who struggle to read signs or get good jobs, and billions of dollars in lost productivity.

    Ridiculous. The “cost” of doing things their way is that hundreds of years’ worth of books, papers, letters, and articles — representing the wealth of English-language knowledge and information — will be lost to future generations, but for the few elite scholars who keep up with the “older” styles of English.

  40. posted by Mr. Garrison on

    This reminds me of what Mark Twain so cleverly wrote on the subject:

    A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling

    For example, in Year 1 that useless letter c would be dropped to be replased either by k or s, and likewise x would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which c would be retained would be the ch formation, which will be dealt with later.

    Year 2 might reform w spelling, so that which and one would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish y replasing it with i and Iear 4 might fiks the g/j anomali wonse and for all.

    Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants.

    Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez c, y and x — bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez — tu riplais ch, sh, and th rispektivli.

    Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

  41. posted by Clare K. R. Miller on

    I have no respect for anyone who wants to reform the English language (spelling or otherwise) unless they have studied linguistics extensively.

    Here’s a very interesting and informative article about English spelling conventions:

  42. posted by nephlm on

    I don’t see this being about laziness, I see it being about balance.

    Before the advent of the dictionary and standardized spelling, as pronunciation of words wandered so would the spelling. Odd spellings from foreign languages would be sanded down to simplified versions, that meshed with the English spelling and pronunciation of the words.

    We haven’t had that natural flow in spelling in a very long time. This isn’t to say no spellings have changed, it has just happened at a very slow rate. I could support a modest proposal to update the spellings of some words to bring them closer to the English norms.

    A full on radical simplificaton seems like nothing more than a stalking horse.

  43. posted by empty on

    This idea makes me think of the book “Ella Minnow Pea.”

  44. posted by dave on

    A bigger problem I see with “simplifying” the language is where do you draw the line? What words are “too hard” to understand for the illiterate? Is “the” or “for” too much for them to understand? May as well invent a whole new language.

    On another front, if the illiterate want to experienced what the rest of us “privileged folk” do, then freaking learn to read and write! Its not that hard, I did it when I was like, 5 years old!

    And lastly, this reminds me all too clearly of the movie “Idiocracy”. If you haven’t seen it, do.

  45. posted by ysabet on


    Changing ‘English’ to phonetic spelling would not unify or simplify the language; it would fragment it. Spelling would be different across every state in the US, and regional variation in spelling would render the language mutually incomprehensible. As an Australian, when last in the US I had to resort to paper and pencil to make myself understood. If there was no mutual written language (as would be the case if the ‘English’ in both cases was spelt phonetically), then, despite in theory having the same language, chances of accurate and clear communication would be reduced significantly. Additionally, some form of ‘standard english’ would have to be retained, as an international language – for instance, used in flight plans.

  46. posted by Chelfyn Baxter on

    The english language has a past, based in many languages from many invading cultures over the centuries. The spelling of words in our language reflect these roots, and they reflect a deeper meaning to the words than a simple phonetic spelling can account for.

    Most people wander through life blissfully unaware of this, but when you know, for instance, that the root of the word “amateur” is the (dead) latin word ‘amo’, meaning ‘to love’ you become aware that the ‘amateur’ does not mean unprofessional, but something done for love.

    I can only speak for myself here, but that knowledge deeply affects my use and appreciation of the word. This linguistic history of our language adds depth, richness and ultimately a much greater understanding and ability to communicate accurately.

    This is just one example out of thousands. If we were to lose sight of that history we would lose much of the depth and beauty of our language.

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  49. posted by Steve on

    English is a living language which adapts and changes over time. There are many words and phrases that are taken directly from other languages and adopted into English. It was a spoken language long before it was written down.

    I realise the language is also coloured by local habits that are slowly disappearing. Colloquialisms aside, English should be allowed to evolve as it always has (within reason).

  50. posted by TanyaZ on

    “Most people wander through life blissfully unaware of this, but when you know, for instance, that the root of the word “amateur” is the (dead) latin word ‘amo’, meaning ‘to love’ you become aware that the ‘amateur’ does not mean unprofessional, but something done for love.

    I can only speak for myself here, but that knowledge deeply affects my use and appreciation of the word. ”

    So, if it was spelled AMOTER, it would somehow irrepratbly damage the root of this word and change its history? What you are holding on to is the French “eu”, which has nothing to do with the Latin root of the word. Just pointing out that your argument does not really apply. I know it because I grew up in a country with a phonetic spelling (Russia), and all latin/greek/turkish roots are still present in the words. Oh, and there are no spelling bees. There is not even a verb for “spell”.

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  52. posted by DJ on

    So they want to dumb everyone down to the level of people who are unable to learn? No, thanks.

  53. posted by gypsy packer on

    Lexicography and orthography are historical treasure boxes, but like any buried treasure, you have to make the effort to dig it out.

    The lazy and unadventurous among us want to simplify the language, to win races without running, to whip the Indians in American spelling bees without putting in the practice hours. Part of this is pure xenophobia, and the remainder, sullen ignorance.

    Spellcheckers were made for such as these. A trophy or plaque from a bee will not get you hired, but it makes word processing easier and life more interesting.

  54. posted by Sue on

    Great. Let’s change the entire language so every existing book, magazine, etc becomes useless clutter.

    Besides, if anyone is paying attention to what’s coming out of the “Text Generation”, this may already be happening.

  55. posted by TanyaZ on

    So, are you saying that phonetic languages like Russian have been stripped of historical significance? Riiiiight.

    It is also a myth that everyone will be able to write/type orthographically correct if the language goes phonetic. Even in phonetic languages most people have awful orphography. Just look up превед, which is a way for people to can spell to make fun of those who can’t.
    Translation: no, you will still get a chance to feel superior to other people.

    What is true that it is a lot easier for kids to learn how to read and write if the language is phonetic.

  56. posted by Lisa on

    Sherri – are you referencing the accent portrayed in Fargo (Coen Brothers) or have you been to Fargo and spoken with people living there? It has been my experience that that accent is rare. Please move to Russia immediately. We’ll miss you. Ya betcha. 😉

  57. posted by WilliamB on

    Wow, this post led to a lot of rants. A few points:
    1. Simplifed Spelling has nothing to do with changing English vocabulary. Using that argument, especially using Orwell, is a strawman argument and irrelevant to a discussion of spelling.
    2. Also? if you want to persuade others, please use facts that actually support your argument. You’re not going to convince many people to the correctness of your stance if your supporting statements actually undermine your argument.

    Without offering an opinion on whether English spelling *should* be changed, I do offer the opinion that English spelling is particularly messy. The letter “c” is thoroughly redundant, as is “q.” “Y” and “x” are confusing, and Latin letters don’t properly accommodate many of the consonants of Old English, such as “th” for which OE had a single letter.

    The messiness does complicate matters. OTOH, changing spelling would also be complicated and messy. I do not have an opinion on whether the cost would outweigh the benefit.

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  59. posted by ninakk on

    What a passionate thread! I don’t have a clear opinion on this one and also don’t know whether even should have one or not, considering my background of having another mother tongue entirely. English has been an interesting ride, both challenging and enjoyable, and I still like expanding my vocabulary so that I can put into words precisely what I mean and not anything that is merely “almost there”. Now I get to practice it daily as I’m married to an American and I’m not complaining, because I know I have a lot to learn still.

    I take pride in mastering especially my mother tongue as well as is humanly possible and think it’s a continuous learning process throughout life. I wish parents would realize in greater extent the importance of pointing out the difference between written and spoken language. It is acceptable for languages to evolve slowly, but in my humble opinion it would be completely ridiculous to force a major change out of the blue. Who says it would be necessary? Why would it be wrong to keep the language alive and kicking in its current state? Wouldn’t it be more about changing something just for the sake of change in this case? I lean toward a yes on my last question.

  60. posted by Jude on

    Sorry, guys. To good spellers, English spelling is logical. It tells you a lot about the origin of the word. All that would be lost with simplified spelling. Take the words to, two, and too. In Spanish, those words are a, dos, and demasiado. Yet English Language Learners frequently misspell to, two, and too even though their language uses such different words. I like instantly knowing which form of two someone is referring to in writing. I also like “big words” because a word like “loquacious” is much more specific than the simple “talkative.”

  61. posted by Michael on

    Bah, English spelling is too easy! The Chinese have the right idea — make even less correspondence between writing and speaking, so children *really* have to put a lot of work to memorizing words. Better yet, have multiple written forms, like the Japanese, and require tests in each. And forget spelling bees, if we make the language complicated enough, we can have dictionary lookup bees.

    So instead of reforming spelling to make it easier, lazy Americans, you need to make it more difficult to catch up to the hard-working Chinese and Japanese. (Tongue firmly in cheek.)

    A previous writer mentioned George Bernard Shaw and the word ghoti (fish). As an interesting side note, he left a sum of money in his will to come up with a phonetic alphabet (see ), which even funded a book, Androcles and the Lion. If there is going to be comprehensive English spelling reform in some far-off future, we might as well go with a script designed with one sound/one symbol (or in the case of Shavian, one sound/one symbol, plus a few diphthongs and words/one symbol).

    Finally, an interesting Explainer article on “spelling bee” equivalents in other countries:

  62. posted by Cassie on

    I was going to mention how China adopted simplified characters to increase literacy. I think it’s stupid – why? First of all, a country telling their constituents that they’re too dumb to learn a language that other people can learn? What are you teaching them? English is not a difficult language to learn (reading/writing) – speaking is a bit different because people may have trouble pronouncing words if they come from a different language background. But spelling is not that difficult (and I say this with parents aren’t native English speakers). Use a dictionary (or Microsoft Word) if you don’t know how to spell something.

    The second thing, more related to the simplified characters in China – with the traditional (un-simplified) characters, the various strokes and parts of the character give us clues on how the word is pronounced and what the word means. Chinese is unlike English (and other alphabet languages) – you can’t just “sound out” a word. With simplified characters, a lot of the characters lost their “clues” – if you don’t know what a word is, good luck trying to figure it out. In Taiwan and Hong Kong (who still use traditional characters), sure – people do simplify some characters when they write. It’s kind of like using short-hand or abbreviation, but they still recognize the original character.

    Sorry, I went off on a tangent!

  63. posted by Dave on

    This has been done many, many times before, to mixed results. It’s part of the reason why Americans spell colour as “color”

  64. posted by GraceY on

    Simplified English Spelling? Sure, that’s the kind of brilliant idea that Comminist China had originally, to make Simplified Chinese for those poor, illiterate people who could learn written Chinese in a blink of second. The idea meant well, but guess what? Now the new generations after year 1956 (See Wikipedia have most difficult time understand Traditional Chinese ( <– I call it "Real Chinese".) They are the sad generations who's illiterate from any traditional written scripts hanging in the Palace Museum. I have talked to an associate professor who's originally from Germany, who has been spending lots of time in both China and Taiwan every year, said that she feel Chinese language in mainland China has not been used as naturally and lively as they've been used in Taiwan, mostly because this language barrier created by cultural revolution and Mao wanted people to cut themselves away from the past, therefore spoken and written language in China seems very utilitarian and rigid.

    To those people who wants to simplify English spelling, here's a good read to you ( and I quote at the end of his article: "In researching Spellbound (his book), I discovered some very good news, both for the English spelling system itself and for our culture: despite the apparent illogicality of most English spellings, there is in fact often an abundance of method in the madness.

    What do I mean by this? I mean that while English spelling may not seem very logical, or very consistent, or very rational as a system, it wonderfully preserves the heritage of the evolution of the English language, the Anglo-Saxon culture, and even the evolution of English spelling itself. I ended up convinced that the English spelling system was a truly wonderful thing, no matter how strange it may seem, and that if we were to deprive ourselves of it by radically streamlining, simplifying and making more systematic the way we write English, we would suffer an immense cultural and historical deprivation and would no longer be anything as like as grounded as we could be."

  65. posted by Gillian on

    We tried this in the UK. It didn’t work:

    You already have ‘simplified spelling’ in the US, hence ‘philo’ rather than ‘filo’, or ‘fetus’ rather than ‘foetus’. However, the problem with phonetic spelling is it doesn’t take into account variations in accent. When I studied phonetics during my degree I struggled because I have a northern rather than Standard English/RP accent, hence I pronounced certain words completely differently to the examples given in my textbooks. If I had difficulty as an undergraduate linguist, how hard would it be for speakers of other languages learning English, or children in different parts of the country learning to read?

  66. posted by Rattanji on

    I think some changes need to be made. Why ‘ch’ sounds /ch/ in child, /k/ in chemical and ‘sh’ in champagne? Why ‘que’ sounds /k/ in antique, ‘gue’ sounds /g/ in brogue and ‘d’ sounds /j/ in gradual? Why ‘l’ is silent in balm but not in film? When such questions are asked, I remain silent.
    I have written 59 articles in Some of them are about pronunciation of English words.
    I remember a quotes:
    1. Introducing ‘Lite’ – The new way to spell ‘Light’, but with twenty percent fewer letters. — Jerry Seinfeld
    2. Not only does the English Language borrow words from other languages, it sometimes chases them down dark alleys, hits them over the head, and goes through their pockets. — Eddy Peters

  67. posted by WilliamB on

    Rattanji – I love the quote but I’ve always heard the following version attributed to James D. Nicholl. “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary”

    My computer can’t open the original source but here’s the Wikipedia page on James with a link to an older source:

    To save me hours of searching online to see who really said it (because credit for such a great quote should go where credit is due), can you direct me to sourcing for Eddy Peters?

  68. posted by The late Ed Rondthaler on the nonsense of English spelling « From Rednecklandia to the Emerald City on

    […] Unclutterer Posted by shawncita Filed in Uncategorized Tags: critical thinking skills, cute, English, […]

  69. posted by What on

    I agree with most of the posters on here, these protesters are trying to dumb us all down to their level. I’m curious how many of them had poorly spelled signs.

    And for the record, phonetic learning does not help children learn how to read better. It makes it harder when they have to read a book they’ve never seen before. Don’t dare tell me it’s better when I’ve seen my niece in tears because she can’t figure out how to read a new book.

  70. posted by Gilrean on

    I would vote against it. My language has gone through multiple thought through, well meaning and “forced simplifications” in spelling and grammar. The result now is a completely illogical difficult language that is even harder to learn for foreigners and a language which is less interesting.

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