Should English Spelling Be Modernized?

Last week, Anamika Veeramani correctly spelled the word “”stromuhr” and, in doing so, won the 83rd Scripps National Spelling Bee. But while the 14-year-old girl was inside the Washington, D.C. Grand Hyatt demonstrating her amazing spelling skills, protesters were outside the building complaining about how difficult it is for the average person to do what she and the other competitors can do: Correctly spell words in the English language.

Representing the American Literacy Council and the London-based Spelling Society, the demonstrators passed out lapel pins that read, “Enuf is enuf. Enough is too much.” Both organizations believe that with over 400 ways to pronounce the 42 spoken sounds in the English language, it is far too difficult for children to learn to read, write and spell.

The answer? Modernize the spelling of English words. Get rid of all the complex rules and exceptions and spell words just like they sound. For example, fruit should be froot and slow should be slo. Phoneticizing the English language, they claim, would make it easier for everyone to learn to read, thereby drastically reducing illiteracy and dropout rates.

As someone who has always been a pretty good speller, my first reaction to this idea is to discount it as nothing more than an attempt to provide students an easy way out. Learning anything new is hard and by dumbing down the English language, would we not be pandering to the lowest common denominator?

Then I remember all the smart, educated people I know who can’t spell worth darn. There are lots of them. While none of them are illiterate, every one of them has been criticized for and embarrassed by their inability to put the correct letters in the correct order when writing. They aren’t dumb at all. They just appear that way to others.

But despite the fact that the American Literacy Council and The Spelling Society have both been advocating for simplified spelling many years, I suspect it will never happen. One need look no further than metric system fiasco of the 1970’s to know that we Americans like things complicated.

Image: elginwx/Flickr

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