LINGUIST List 10.93

Wed Jan 20 1999

Sum: Spelling in -ise vs. -ize

Editor for this issue: Jody Huellmantel <>


  1. zmaalej, -ise vs. -ize

Message 1: -ise vs. -ize

Date: Wed, 20 Jan 1999 20:17:49 +0100
From: zmaalej <>
Subject: -ise vs. -ize

Dear colleagues,

I would like to thank the following people for responding to my
query (LINGUIST 9.1839) regarding the spelling of -ise vs. -ize:


The mails I received about -ise vs. -ize could be roughly collapsed
into two major classes: ideological and academic. Ideological
explanations have centred on the two parties' (American vs. British)
persistence in adopting different systems as a way of demarcating
themselves vis-a-vis one another (even though this is rather implicit
in the way my informants responded). Academic explanations, on the
other hand, have focused on etymology (French vs. Greek), tradition
(OUP vs. CUP), and newspapers corpora (BrE-NZE-AustralianE).

Colin Whiteley (Spain), Vincent Jenkins (UK), and Gaby Charing
maintain that the -ise is the standard spelling form in the UK, even
though the OED suggested that proposes alternative spellings for some
lexical items.

Dick Watson, an American who has worked in Sudan and East Africa,
pointed to the Americans' inconsistent spelling ("It is unfortunate
that American English is not consistent, else I should have written
'surprize'"). Paul Bruthiaux (California) pointed to the rigidity of
the American system and the relative recency of the British -ise.

I am grateful to Geoffrey Sampson (UK) for correcting my
"anaesthesize" as "anaestheTize," and reiterating that I did not say
that I was right in assuming that -ise is disappearing from BrE.

Henry Rogers (Canada) gave an ideological explanation for the
Canadians using -ise instead of -ize "not from a pro-British
perspective" as a way of demarcating themselves from Americans.

Larry Trask (Sussex) and jcb (UK) invoke that OUP adopts -ize for the
morpheme -IZE ("which produces verbs with a factitive or inchoative
meaning" in the words of jcb) but CUP adopts the -ise spelling. Trask,
however, maintains that the British spell with -ise both the French
and the Greek words while the Americans spell them with -ize.

Robert Sigley (Japan), relying on data from newspapers and academic
writing in both British and New Zealand Englishes, argues that "(a)
British (and New Zealand) *newspapers* almost invariably use -_ise_
(over 99% in my NZE data; 98% in a sample of British news articles
from 1990-91). Sigley claims that "-_ise_ is also very frequent in
most other NZ writings (average for the Wellington corpus as a whole =
87%), though it was less common in BrE in 1961 (average =
62%). Comparing the 1961 and 1990-91 samples of British news articles
suggests that there has been some recent standardisation towards -ise
in the UK. Peters' (1995) figures for Australian English suggest it's
a little behind NZE (possibly because of greater American influence on
Australia); (b) British *academic* *writings* often (but not
invariably) use the -_ize_ spelling sponsored by Oxford University
Press. This convention is based on etymology, rather than on sound,
and so is not the same as Webster's -_ize_ spelling convention. Stems
of Greek origin get -_ize_ (_anaesthetize_,_baptize_); stems of French
origin get -_ise_ (_advertise_, _comprise_)." (Sigley was
quoting:Peters, Pam. 1995. The Cambridge Australian English Style
Guide. Cambridge; Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.). I would
like to thank him specially for attaching a paper in this connection.

Yasuhisa Watanabe (Australia) reported a friend typist to have said
that "-ize is fading out in Australia because it takes more time to
type -ize than -ise. She also mentioned that the similar move is
evident in America."

Thanks to all again for your help and patience.

Zouhair Maalej
Assistant Professor
English Language Department, Manouba.
University of Tunis I

Fax: +216 1 362 871

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