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Table Of Contents From Spelling Dearest... 

 

 

OLD ENGLISH

1.   THE SIMPLE START OF OLD ENGLISH

2.   THE COMPLICATED MIDDLE OF OLD ENGLISH

3.   THE STABILIZING END OF OLD ENGLISH

MIDDLE ENGLISH

4.   THE SIMPLE START OF MIDDLE ENGLISH

5.   THE COMPLICATED MIDDLE OF MIDDLE ENGLISH

6.   THE STABILIZING END OF MIDDLE ENGLISH

MODERN ENGLISH

7.   15TH-CENTURY RELATIVELY MINOR DESTABILIZATION

      (THE CENTURY OF WILLIAM CAXTON)

8.   16TH-CENTURY TRAUMATIZATION & RE-EMERGING STABILIZATION

      (THE CENTURY OF THE PRINTER)

9.   17TH-CENTURY FINAL STABILIZATION

      (THE CENTURY OF THE SPELLING BOOK)

10.  18TH-CENTURY CRYSTALLIZATION

      (THE CENTURY OF THE DICTIONARY)

11.  19TH-CENTURY AMERICANIZATION

      (THE CENTURY OF AMERICAN REFORM)

12.  20TH-CENTURY BRITISHIZATION

      (THE CENTURY OF BRITISH NON-REFORM)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

INDEX

ENDNOTES

 

 

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Part Of The Book's Introduction...

 

Contrary to what some might think, not all countries of the world have multitudes of children with serious spelling problems. For instance, children from countries with phonetic spelling systems (i.e., systems with words spelled the way they sound) have very little difficulty learning to spell. As a matter of fact, in countries such as Italy, Germany, Spain, and Finland, children rarely even use spelling books at school because their systems are so easy to learn. What confidence these youngsters must have, knowing they are masters of their own language, and what a bond they must have with their own country, when at any given moment they are patriotic enough to be able to spell its name.

     Here, in direct contrast, are a few of the endless list of things that make spelling difficult for our children. We have too many silent consonants such as the l in walk and the t in mortgage; we have too many illogical vowel combinations such as the ai in said and the eau in bureau; we have too many double letters such as the double p in sapphire and the double u in vacuum; we have too many words that sound the same but are spelled differently, such as rain, rein, and reign; and we have more than our share of words that sound different but are spelled the same, such as tear (eye fluid) and tear (to rip apart). Additionally, we have an overabundance of nuisance spellings such as colonel, queue, and choir, which have no redeeming qualities whatsoever.   

     On top of that, we have a gross excess of differing spellings for each of the sounds we have. The sh sound, for instance, has 19 spellings, including ss in issue, sc in crescendo, ch in chute, ce in ocean, and a single t in negotiate. There are 42 different sounds in our language and we, in our inexhaustible capacity for innovation, have invented over 400 ways to spell them. That's an average of 10 spellings for every sound. No wonder millions of schoolchildren throughout the English-speaking world are confused on a daily basis. We have far too many rules and far too many exceptions to these rules, and too many people saying, "all you have to do to be able to spell is learn the rules." That's way too many things wrong with any subject.

     If our complex spelling system only affected people's ability to spell, that would be bad enough. Unfortunately, though, our spelling system also plays a considerable role in the high number of adult functional illiterates in the United States and other English-speaking countries. In all the major English-speaking countries, 17 to 24 percent of the adult population is functionally illiterate, whereas in countries with more phonetic spelling systems, such as Finland and Germany, the figures are about half that amount. Furthermore, nothing we've ever done to improve our teaching methods ever closes that gap significantly, because we're fighting an uphill battle with downhill skis. We don't have the correct equipment for the task: an easily understandable spelling system.

     All right, so our complex spelling system is greatly to blame for our poor spelling and reading abilities — but who or what is to blame for the complex spelling system, and how did it become as bad as it is? The answer to these and many other important questions can be found, along with an Anglo-Saxon recipe for barbecued missionary, in the history that's about to unfold.

 

 

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Part Of Chapter 5

The Complicated Middle Of Middle English...

 

To add to this chaos, the spelling in most regions, in this and the next period, took on a distinct French flavor. What this means is that an immense number of words or parts of words were spelled like the French would spell them in their language. These are the same French who didn't even sound their words the way we would sound them if they were ours. In fact, it's the same French who sometimes didn't even sound their words at all. They just shrugged their shoulders or waved their hands and that was considered to be a whole sentence. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that many of the words or parts of words that the French gave us were riddled with silent letters. Obviously, these were the bits that were supposed to be mimed. 

     English spelling was, to say the least, quite imperfect before the Normans arrived. Their spelling, however, plus the real French spelling, which was sometimes different, helped greatly to increase this imperfection. If pressed, I could understand the reasoning behind new English words borrowed from the French being spelled like the French would spell them. I can even accept new words created by the French in England being spelled the French way. If I was bound, gagged, and dragged behind a chariot, though, I don't think I could ever be persuaded that taking perfectly good existing English words and changing them to the French way of spelling has any worthwhile attributes at all. That, nevertheless, is exactly what happened. The word some, for instance, used to be spelled sum before the Normans arrived, and the word quick used to be spelled cwic before the invasion. These old spellings were phonetic for us then and are phonetic for us now, yet we changed them. I've never heard of anything so ludicrous in my life, except for maybe what happened to the word dumb. It was spelled dumb before the Norman French came and, of course, we kept it. Put bluntly, it was dumb then and it's still dumb now.

 

 

SOME OF THE FRENCH-INFLUENCED SPELLING CUSTOMS THAT CHANGED ENGLISH SPELLING IN THE COMPLICATED MIDDLE OF MIDDLE ENGLISH

 

FRENCH-INFLUENCED CUSTOM

MODERN-DAY SPELLING OF ONE OF THE MANY AFFECTED WORDS

COMMON OLD-ENGLISH SPELLING BEFORE FRENCH INFLUENCE

MIDDLE-ENGLISH VARIANTS AFTER FRENCH INFLUENCE (SOME ARE UNINFLUENCED)

qu-spelling for kw-sound

queen

cwen

 

quene, quuen, qwen

c-spelling for s-sound

 

mice

mys

mice, myce,

myse

o-spelling for u-sound

wonder

wundor

wondere, wondur, wondire

ou-spelling for oo-sound

wound

(injury)

wund

wound, wounde, wund

h-spelling for no sound

honest

No Old-English spelling for this word

honeste, oneste, onest

                  The limitations of the website didn't allow all the accents that are
                     present in the book's chart to be shown in the above chart .
 
 
 
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Part Of Chapter 9

17th-Century Final Stabilization...

 

With the establishment of this first English colony in the New World, English spelling (like many other European diseases and unwelcome creatures) seized its opportunity to perpetrate its peskiness on a new continent. The early American colonists were primarily interested in building their houses, planting their crops, and preparing or recovering from whatever catastrophe might or had befallen them. Simultaneously, however, they also had the need to read and write. This, unfortunately, made spelling unavoidable.

    In the 17th century the English colonies of America were just that — English colonies. As such, they looked to England for guidance in matters such as government, manners, style, etc. Consequently, there was never any question as to what form of spelling to use — they used the spelling of their British bibles and books, the spelling of their British parents and siblings. They used the spelling they brought from their homeland.

     Of course, since British spelling was still in the process of stabilization, the spelling that the colonists used in the 17th century was always slightly behind that of their more up-to-date British cousins. In comparison to the people in Britain, the colonists often used older printed material, and used that material for longer. Newer material and ideas took quite a while to paddle their way across the channel.

     The intelligent and resourceful early colonists did not rely solely on British publications for their books and other reading material. In late 1638 or early 1639 they were printing their own stuff. Steven and Matthew Daye — a father and son duo — were America's first printers. These gentlemen lacked the literary vision of England's first printer, Caxton. No Chaucers or Miltons or even Shakespeares emerged from the inked plates of their press (at least while they were using it). Colonial Americans were interested in more practical publications such as almanacs, religious texts, and law books. They needed to know when to plant their crops, what prayers to say to make these crops grow, and who to sue if they didn't grow. In 1643, the Dayes also printed the first spelling book in America. Apparently, early colonial practicality also included knowing precisely where to place highly impractical silent and double letters.

     The spelling that the Dayes and the few other 17th-century colonial printers used was nothing special. They and the other more literate American colonists of this period essentially used — with a slight delay — the spelling of the British Isles. It wasn't until the late 18th century that being British and following British traditions and guidelines were brought into question, and even then the questions were primarily written using British spelling.

 

 

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Quotations From Spelling Dearest...

 

 

"Instead of letting monks and priests and other scribes stabilize English spelling, King Edgar should have given it the royal treatment — he should have locked it in the tower until it rotted away."

 

"Due to Webster, American spelling is slightly better than British spelling. That, however, is nothing to brag about. It’s like being in a horse race and beating a donkey by a nosehair."

 

"The Oxford English Dictionary became the unofficial bible of British spelling. Unlike the real bible, though, if you break one of the Oxford English Dictionary's commandments, you don't go to hell — hell comes to you."

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Copyright © 2004 Niall McLeod Waldman. All Rights Reserved.

 

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