LINGUIST List 9.1511

Thu Oct 29 1998

Disc: German Spelling Reform

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <karenlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Richard Sproat, Spelling Reform
  2. Peter T. Daniels, Re: 9.1504, Disc: German Spelling Reform
  3. Patrick C. Ryan, RE: 9.1504, Disc: German Spelling Reform

Message 1: Spelling Reform

Date: Wed, 28 Oct 1998 16:07:33 -0500
From: Richard Sproat <rwsresearch.bell-labs.com>
Subject: Spelling Reform


I am probably going to get myself into hot water here, but one
paragraph in Martin Haspelmath's seems to require some comment:

 In my view, linguists have indeed failed -- they have not accompanied
 the reform with a broad public-relations offensive, explaining to the
 public why certain ways of spelling are better than others, and why the
 alternative (never changing anything, as in English spelling) would have
 desastrous effects.

Perhaps that's because not all linguists agree that "certain ways of
spelling are better than others" much less that complex systems like
English spelling have "desastrous [I'm not sure if the spelling error
here was intentional or not] effects".

There is no question that systems such as English are harder to learn
- both from a reader's and a speller's perspective -- than more
"regular" systems (e.g. German or, better, Finnish). Systems like
Chinese are even worse from a learner's point of view. That much is
not in doubt. (It would be a bizarre model of learning that had these
two kinds of systems be equally easy.)

What is much less clear is whether being forced to spend time learning
a complex writing system is detrimental to one's long-term educational
well-being, and this seems to be the more important point. (To me,
"disastrous" implies a *significant* measurable effect.) Despite the
complexity of English writing, I cannot remember learning to read or
spell, meaning that the bulk of this was already covered very early on
in my education. I've heard similar accounts from native readers of
Chinese.

To be sure, there are a lot of bad spellers (and bad readers) in
English-speaking countries. But this may have more to do with
misguided educational theories (particularly in the U.S.) about how to
teach kids reading and writing (simplistic "whole word" methods, for
instance), than it does with the system itself.

What is the real effect of the complexity of English spelling? It is
harder to learn, but it is clearly within the range of what kids can
handle, given appropriate educational approaches. Some curious
cultural institutions like the "spelling bee" are possible (I assume
there is no equivalent in, say, Spanish-speaking countries) but, hey,
some kids actually get a kick out of those kinds of things. And even
adults will occasionally find that they do not know how to spell a
word; for instance I discovered only today that I didn't know how to
correctly spell "superintendent". But none of these seem like major
drawbacks requiring the commentary of professional linguists.

(I should add that I'm not afraid of being completely wrong about the
things I've said here: if someone has some hard data to show that
English spelling, or other complex systems do indeed have measurable
detrimental affect on children's education, then I would be very
interested to see it.)

- 
 
Richard Sproat
Language Modeling Research Department
Multimedia Communications Research Laboratory
Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies | tel (908) 582-5296
600 Mountain Avenue, Room 2D-430 | fax (908) 582-3306
Murray Hill, NJ 07974, USA | rwsbell-labs.com
http://www.bell-labs.com/project/tts/rws.html
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Message 2: Re: 9.1504, Disc: German Spelling Reform

Date: Wed, 28 Oct 1998 18:11:54 -0500
From: Peter T. Daniels <grammatimworldnet.att.net>
Subject: Re: 9.1504, Disc: German Spelling Reform

Why should spelling be a matter of legislation?
- 
Peter T. Daniels				grammatimworldnet.att.net
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Message 3: RE: 9.1504, Disc: German Spelling Reform

Date: Wed, 28 Oct 1998 19:26:32 -0600
From: Patrick C. Ryan <proto-languageemail.msn.com>
Subject: RE: 9.1504, Disc: German Spelling Reform

Dear Professor Haspelmath:

Personally, I favor phonetic spelling of English so that GHOTI cannot be
read as /fish/ as GBS correctly observed it could be.

However, I think "disastrous" does not correctly characterize the effects of
retaining historical spellings in English.

Where is the disaster? Students with normal learning abilities have been
mastering it for centuries.

Pat


PATRICK C. RYAN <PROTO-LANGUAGEemail.msn.com>

(501) 227-9947; FAX/DATA (501)312-9947

9115 W. 34th St. Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 USA

WEBPAGES: <http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/2803

and PROTO-RELIGION:

<http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/2803/proto-religion/indexR.html

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