By Paul Majendie
LONDON (Reuters) - Enough
The Simplified Spelling Society (SSS) is celebrating
its 99th birthday by launching a new campaign to make it easier to read
and write English.
It may be the world's most universal language but linguistic experts say
it has failed to adapt for the last 500 years and now half the globe's
English speakers have difficulty spelling.
With texts and e-mails revolutionising the way we communicate, SSS secretary
John Gledhill says the time is ripe for phonetic reform and spelling simplification.
"Texts cut away the complications and take away the stigma of not
being able to use an obsolete spelling," Gledhill told Reuters in
TIME FOR CHANGE
The SSS message is simple: "You can change the spelling without spoiling
the language. People are scared of change and don't realise it is normal
European children learn to read and write far quicker than the British,
he said. Italians take just two years while the British can struggle for
up to 12 years.
He said 40 million American adults are functionally illiterate -- for
everyday purposes, they are not able to read and write.
Gledhill, who has a PhD in the history of Dutch consonantal spelling from
1100-1970, said the Netherlands updated spelling to keep pace with pronunciation.
"English is about the only language, apart from French, on the world
stage that hasn't updated its spelling for 500 years. That is why it is
in rather a mess," he said.
Gledhill sees phonetics as the key to improving literacy and spelling.
He complained that almost 4,000 English spellings make no sense. If head,
said and friend were simplified down to 'hed' and 'sed' and 'frend' then
kids would learn quicker.
But teachers begged to differ.
"Language has to be fit for purpose. The discipline of spelling is
important. Children should learn to judge when formal and informal language
is required," said John Dunford of the Association of School and
"Text message spelling may be appropriate for text messages. It certainly
isn't appropriate for filling out an application form. Children should
learn how to punctuate and spell properly."
HISTORY OF THE SSS
The Simplified Spelling Society boasted 35,000 members in its 20th Century
heyday. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was one of its most prominent
In Britain, where illiteracy is estimated to cost the economy 10 billion
pounds a year, parliamentarians sought to tackle the problem by legislation.
But enthusiasm waned.
"We are not sure why there was such a huge interest after the First
World War. Maybe people thought it was a brand new world after the war
to end all wars," Gledhill said.
Membership worldwide has now shrunk to 500 for the London-based society
but Gledhill insists change is more urgent than ever.
"Spanish is easier to read and write and could challenge the dominance
of English. The English language itself is in very good health. We just
want it to be written down in a way that is readable and writeable."
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