December 16:  Spelling Reform Day

On this day in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter wrote a letter to a friend explaining a recent political defeat.  Roosevelt, who won fame as a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War and served two terms as president from 1901-1909, was not used to defeat.  He broke up monopolies, championed federal regulation of railroads, spurred conservation of natural resources, and began the construction of the Panama Canal.  As the leader of the Progressive Movement, however, there was one reform that Roosevelt could not make happen:  spelling reform.

President Roosevelt - Pach Bros.tifIn addition to being an age of reform, the 19th century was also a time when public education was being expanded and democratized in America.  Roosevelt, along with other education advocates, viewed spelling reform as a practical and economical way to improve education.  After all, English orthography is plagued with words that have more letters than necessary as well as inconsistent and capricious spelling rules.

In March 1906 the Simplified Spelling Board was founded and funded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie.  It’s mission was to reform and simplify English spelling.  

On August 27, 1906, President Roosevelt issued an executive order that 300 words from the Simplified Spelling Board’s list of revised spellings be used in all official communications of the executive department.  Some of the examples of changes are as follows:

blessed  to blest

kissed to kist

passed to past

purr to pur

though to tho

through to thru

On December  3, 1906, Roosevelt wrote his annual message to Congress using the new spelling.  He became an easy target for criticism, however, as can be seen in the following sentence from a newspaper editorial:

[Roosevelt] now assales the English langgwidg, constitutes himself as a sort of French academy, and will reform the spelling in a way tu soot himself.

On December 13, 1906, soon after it received Roosevelt’s annual message, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution rejecting the new spellings and urging that government documents be written using “the standard of orthography prescribed in generally accepted dictionaries of the English language.”

At this point Roosevelt decided to surrender.  He withdrew his executive order, and wrote a letter to his friend Brander Matthews, who was also the chairman of the Simplified Spelling Board, admitting defeat:

I could not by fighting have kept the new spelling in, and it was evidently worse than useless to go into an undignified contest when I was beaten.

Today’s Challenge:  Spelling Bee or Spelling De-bate

What are the arguments for and against spelling reform?  Should schools hold spelling bees?  Should correct spelling be a major criteria in evaluating writing?  Debates about spelling did not end in the 19th century.  Today people are still arguing about issues of spelling.  Select one of the resolutions listed below and take a side, yes or no.  Write your argument using reasons, evidence, and explanation to defend your position.

Resolved:  English spelling should be reformed

Resolved:  All students grades 1 to 7 should participate in an annual spelling bee.

Resolved:  Spelling should be weighted as a significant element in the evaluation of student writing.

(Common Core Writing 1:  Argument)

Quotation of the Day: The story of English spelling is the story of thousands of people – some well-known, most totally unknown – who left a permanent linguistic fingerprint on our orthography. –David Crystal

1-Thomas V.  Teddy Roosevelt, Rough Ride Over Spelling Rules. The Wall Street Journal 16 April 2015.

12/16 TAGS:  Roosevelt, Theodore, spelling, spelling reform, Simplified Spelling

September 28:  Spelling Reform Day

On this date in 1768, Benjamin Franklin — founding father, diplomat, printer, scientist, writer, and civic reformer — wrote a letter making his case for spelling reform.

BenFranklinDuplessis.jpgMany know about his inventions, such as the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, but not many know about his attempt to eliminate six letters of the English alphabet and replace them with six of his own invention.

Franklin’s chief concern, like many who came both before and after him, was the confusing discrepancy in English between its sounds and its alphabet:  “The difficulty of learning to spell well . . .  is so great, that few attain it, thousands and thousands writing on to old age without ever being able to acquire it” (1).

To correct the imperfections in the English alphabet, Franklin proposed throwing out the six letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y and replacing them with six new letters of his own, letters which would represent the six sounds found in the following words:

  1. law, caught
  2. run, enough
  3. this, breathe
  4. singer, ring
  5. she, sure, emotion, leash
  6. thing, breath (2)

In his letter Franklin addresses objections to his spelling reform scheme.  One was that books published before the reforms were implemented would become useless.  To rebut this Franklin asked his reader to consider a similar case in Italy:  “Formerly, its inhabitants all spoke and wrote in Latin; as the language changed, the spelling followed it.”  Another objection addressed by Franklin was that of etymology – or word history –, particularly the historic roots of words that are preserved in their orthography (the way they are spelled).  To this objection, Franklin responded with the following apt example:

If I should call a man a knave and a villain, he would hardly be satisfied with my telling him that one of the words originally signified only a lad or servant; and the other an under-ploughman, or the inhabitant of a village. It is from present usage only, that the meaning of words is to be determined.

Although Franklin’s arguments are convincing, his reform plan never came to fruition.  Perhaps he was sidetracked by his other possibly more important role as  midwife to the birth of the world’s first great democracy.  Not until Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1828, did spelling in the United States see much reform.

Today’s Challenge:  The Case for X Reform
Great people like Benjamin Franklin demonstrate the power of ideas, ideas for making their town, state, country, or world a better place.  What do you see in your world that should be reformed, and how specifically would you propose to make it better?  Argue your case by addressing the current problem, followed by a  specific vision of how your reforms would improve the situation. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Attempting to spell in English is like playing one of those computer games where, no matter what, you will lose eventually. If some evil mage has performed vile magic on our tongue, he should be bunged into gaol for his nefarious goal (and if you still need convincing of how inconsistent English pronunciation is, just read that last sentence out loud). -James Harbeck

 

1- http://grammar.about.com/od/readingsonlanguage/a/The-Case-For-Spelling-Reform-By-Benjamin-Franklin.htm

2-http://www.benfranklin300.org/_etc_pdf/Six_New_Letters_Nicola_Twilly.pdf

3- http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150605-your-language-is-sinful

 

August 29:  Akeelah and the Bee Day

Today marks the DVD release of the film Akeelah and the Bee. This 2006 film is a drama about 11 year-old Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) who overcomes personal struggles to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Directed by Doug Atchison, the film stars Laurence Fishburn as Dr. Larabee, an English professor who coaches Akeelah.

Akeelah and the Bee film.jpgThe film is an off-shoot of the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary and surprise hit Spellbound, which profiled a number of the competitors in the National Spelling Bee. After the success of Spellbound, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast on network television for the first time in May 2005. The growing popularity of spelling has even entered the adult world with spelling competitions in bars around the country and a senior national spelling bee sponsored by the AARP.

In addition, in 2005 the film Bee Season was released, and spelling even hit Broadway with the 2005 musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Prize Winning Bees

Below are eight of winning word for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the years 1998-2005:

chiaroscurist: 1998 – a painter who cares for and studies light and shade rather than color

logorrhea: 1999 – pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking

demarche: 2000 – a move or step or maneuver in political or diplomatic affairs

succedaneum: 2001 – (medicine) something that can be used as a substitute (especially any medicine that may be taken in place of another

prospicience: 2002 – prevision: seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing.

pococurante: 2003 – Indifferent; apathetic

autochthonous:  2004 – of rocks, deposits, etc.; found where they and their constituents were formed

appoggiatura: 2005 – grace note: an embellishing note usually written in smaller size.  (1, 2)

Today’s Challenge:  To Bee or Not to Bee
Should schools still hold spelling bees?  What are the arguments for holding bees and for eliminating them?  Imagine that an elementary school in your city or region is considering eliminating the annual elementary school spelling bee; make your argument either against or in support of this action.  In the course of your argument address the relative importance or unimportance of spelling in the education of young people today. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Spelling Bees are useless and unnecessary competitions. Before Microsoft Word and Google, Spelling Bees had value, but now they are all superflewus. -Jarod Kintz

1 – http://spellingbee.com/champions-and-their-winning-words

 

 

July 26:  Ghoti Day  

Today is the birthday of playwright George Bernard Shaw. He was born in Dublin in 1856 and began his writing career as a journalist and theater critic in London. Eventually he began writing plays of his own, his most famous being Pygmalion (1912) — the play upon which the musical My Fair Lady is based. In 1925, Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature (1).

In addition to writing plays, Shaw was active in political causes, most notably socialism, vegetarianism, and spelling reform.

To illustrate the troubled state of English spelling, Shaw gave a famous example by fabricating a word spelled G-H-O-T-I. He said it was a new way to spell the word fish and was perfectly logical based on the spelling in existing English words:

-The gh in Ghoti was the f sound in enough.

-The o was from the i sound in women.

-The ti was from the sh sound in nation.

Clearly, argued Shaw, the spelling of words in the English alphabet had little logical relationship with the sounds of words.  It’s little wonder we have problems with spelling since we have an alphabet of twenty-six letters and a language with more than 40 sounds.  On top of that there are over 300 different ways to spell those forty-plus sounds.

Shaw’s passion for the spelling reform cause is reflected in the tone of his writing in a preface to a book by R.A. Wilson, The Miraculous Birth of Language in 1941:

Professor Wilson has shewn that it was as a reading and writing animal that Man achieved his human eminence above those who are called beasts. Well, it is I and my like who have to do the writing. I have done it professionally for the last sixty years as well as it can be done with a hopelessly inadequate alphabet devised centuries before the English language existed to record another and very different language. Even this alphabet is reduced to absurdity by a foolish orthography based on the notion that the business of spelling is to represent the origin and history of a word instead of its sound and meaning. Thus an intelligent child who is bidden to spell “debt,” and very properly spells it d-e-t, is caned for not spelling it with a “b” because Julius Caesar spelt the Latin for it with a “b” . . . .

If the introduction of an English alphabet for the English language costs a civil war, or even, as the introduction of summer time did, a world war, I shall not grudge it. The waste of war is negligible in comparison to the daily waste of trying to communicate with one another in English through an alphabet with sixteen letters missing. That must be remedied, come what may.

Shaw, like many others before and after him, failed to reform English spelling (Shaw died in 1950).  The fight for spelling reform, however, goes on even today as seen in a headline from a 2006 Associated Press article:  Puush for Simpler Speling Perzists — despiet th lak of public intrest (2).

Today’s Challenge: The Spelling List From Hell
What are examples of words in English that are difficult to spell because their pronunciation has very little correlation with their spelling?  On this 26th day of the month, create an abecedarian list of words from A-Z that are extremely difficult to spell.  To check how challenging the words on your list are, write each word phonetically and compare that to the word’s actual spelling.  For example, notice how words like psychology, chaos, colonel, and tsunami are spelled quite differently from the way they are pronounced.

Quote of the Day: You must remember that it is permissible for spelling to drive you crazy.  Spelling had this effect on Andrew Jackson, who once blew his stack while trying to write a Presidential paper.  “It’s a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word!” the President cried. -John Irving

 

1 – George Bernard Shaw. The Novel Prize in Literature 1925.

2 – http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Puush-for-simpler-speling-perzists-despiet-lak-of-119163.php

 

August 29: Akeelah and the Bee Day

Today marks the DVD release of the film Akeelah and the Bee. This 2006 film is a drama about 11 year-old Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) who overcomes personal struggles to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Directed by Doug Atchison, the film stars Laurence Fishburn as Dr. Larabee, an English professor who coaches Akeelah.

The film is an off-shoot of the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary and surprise hit Spellbound, which profiled a number of the competitors in the National Spelling Bee. After the success of Spellbound, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast on network television for the first time in May 2005. The growing popularity of spelling has even entered the adult world with spelling competitions in bars around the country and even a senior national spelling bee sponsored by the AARP.

In addition, in 2005 the film Bee Season was released, and spelling even hit Broadway with the 2005 musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Today’s Challenge: Prize Winning Bees
The eight words below are the winning words for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the years 1998-2005. See if you can match up each word with its definition.

prospicience

logorrhea

succedaneum

demarche

chiaroscurist

appoggiatura

autochthonous

pococurante

1. 2005: grace note: an embellishing note usually written in smaller size.

2. 2004: of rocks, deposits, etc.; found where they and their constituents were formed.

3. 2003: Indifferent; apathetic.

4. 2002: prevision: seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing.

5. 2001: (medicine) something that can be used as a substitute (especially any medicine that may be taken in place of another.

6. 2000: a move or step or maneuver in political or diplomatic affairs.

7. 1999: pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking

8. 1998: a painter who cares for and studies light and shade rather than color (2, 3).

Quote of the Day: They spell it Vinci and pronounce it Vinchy; foreigners always spell better than they pronounce. –Mark Twain

Write: Should spelling count when you write essay in school? Make your case.

Answers: 1. apoggiatura 2. autochthonous 3. pococurante 4. prospicience 5. succedaneum 6. demarche 7 logorrhea 8. chiaroscurist

1 – http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=17112481&BRD=1142&PAG=461&dept_id=568956&rfi=6

2 – http://www.spellingbee.com/bwg/statschamp.shtml

3 – wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn