Elsewhere on the internet...

The League of Reason has some social media accounts! You can find us on Facebook or on Twitter for some interesting links and things.

Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Post new topic Reply to topic  Page 1 of 2
 [ 26 posts ] 
Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?
Author Message
GlossophilePosts: 12Joined: Fri Aug 14, 2015 6:57 pmLocation: Florida, USA Gender: Male

Post Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

I'm not sure if this belongs here or in the Politics and Law section, but I'll leave that up to the moderators. While I mainly signed up to observe and sometimes even participate in debates and other discussions of theism, deism, and atheism, I have pleasantly noticed that other topics are also discussed in which skepticism is important. In my self-introduction, I mentioned that I am an advocate of radical English spelling reform, and that seems like precisely the sort of fringe movement that could provoke some interesting conversation among members of a forum like this one.

My hope is that some of the same rationalist perspective used in debates on (a)theism may be brought to bear on the notion of spelling reform as a worthwhile if not ultimately necessary transformation. I've heard several common arguments so often that I've come to refer to them by particular names. Analogous to things like the Cosmological and Teleological arguments are the Etymological and Morphological arguments. But these are mostly deployed by average Joes and Janes who at least don't explicitly identify as skeptics, rationalists, etc. I would be very interested in hearing the perspectives of those who are more active in the skeptical/rationalist community on this rather obscure topic. My aim threefold: to educate interested parties in the issues addressed by spelling reformers, to exercise my debating chops, and to uncover any flaws in my own reasoning, so please ask questions and/or give your opinions, and hopefully we can all learn something in the course of our discussion/debate.
The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
Thu Dec 31, 2015 7:32 pm
SpecialFrogUser avatarPosts: 827Joined: Wed Jul 16, 2014 2:13 pmLocation: Great White North Gender: Tree

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

I guess where my skepticism comes in is wondering whether the benefit merits the cost. While I recognize that my native tongue is an idiosyncratic mess I am reasonably okay with that.

In fact I use Canadian spelling, which is possibly even less sensible than most variants.
"Life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest" -- Albert Szent-Gyrgyi
Thu Dec 31, 2015 8:25 pm
Gnug215ModeratorUser avatarPosts: 2561Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 10:31 pm

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

I'm all for spelling reform.

Those that know how to spell are fully able to change their spelling.

Those that are not as good at it will probably be equally good at spelling in the new way as the old - if not better because it will (presumably) be more logical.

Remembering new rules of spelling would probably also be easier than remember old and contrived ways/rules of spelling.

But... I wouldn't go bonkers right away. Maybe a major change every 5 years or so. And there'd be a "grace period", of course, but maybe having such a grace period would be inducive in teaching some people to not be spelling tyrants.
The important thing about language is not to adhere to a set of rules, but to make your communication understood.
- Gnug215

YouTube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/Gnug215


The horse is a ferocious predator.
Thu Dec 31, 2015 9:24 pm
WarKChat ModeratorUser avatarPosts: 1185Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:59 am Gender: Tree

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

I've spent so much time learning the current rules and you lot want to change them and make me start learning all over? Piss off!

It's just the excuse grammar nazis need to become more... you know... nazi!


Seriously though. I don't like the idea. English language is used as first language through out the world. There's no way to force all the countries/regions to use an arbitrary set of rules.
Besides, the idea of having comities and laws to protect the language is a stupid idea. Languages are alive, they're always changing and in different ways in different places. That's one of the interesting things about English, the differences between places like the UK, North America, New Zealand or India.
Did you see that ludicrous display last night?
Thu Dec 31, 2015 9:36 pm
Gnug215ModeratorUser avatarPosts: 2561Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 10:31 pm

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

WarK wrote:I've spent so much time learning the current rules and you lot want to change them and make me start learning all over? Piss off!

It's just the excuse grammar nazis need to become more... you know... nazi!


Seriously though. I don't like the idea. English language is used as first language through out the world. There's no way to force all the countries/regions to use an arbitrary set of rules.
Besides, the idea of having comities and laws to protect the language is a stupid idea. Languages are alive, they're always changing and in different ways in different places. That's one of the interesting things about English, the differences between places like the UK, North America, New Zealand or India.



Well, maybe we could make both ways of spelling acceptable? At least in cases where you wouldn't be in doubt what word you're looking at. That would make the grammar nazis LESS nazi!
- Gnug215

YouTube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/Gnug215


The horse is a ferocious predator.
Thu Dec 31, 2015 9:47 pm
ProlescumWebhamsterUser avatarPosts: 5002Joined: Thu Dec 31, 2009 8:41 pmLocation: Peptone-upon-Sores

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

As a grammar Nazi, I'm not a fan of grammar communists. More seriously, I can see the utility, bit given things like the persistent use of imperial measurements 150 years after legislation to standardise to the metric system and the failure of Esperanto, I'm not sure it's possible in our lifetimes. One also has to take into account how attached people are to local cultural idiosyncrasies; Scousers, Geordies, Brummies and Cockneys are essentially as different as Irish or Australians are, and likely won't take kindly to an imposition of that magnitude. Of course, you'd have to argue successfully that your suggestion wouldn't be a slippery slope toward a stagnant culture.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on the logistics of implementing the change.
if constructive debate is allowed to progress, better ideas will ultimately supplant worse ideas.

Comment is free, but facts are sacred
Thu Dec 31, 2015 9:59 pm
he_who_is_nobodyBloggerUser avatar
Online
Posts: 3335Joined: Tue Feb 24, 2009 1:36 amLocation: Albuquerque, New Mexico Gender: Male

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

As someone with dySlEXiA, I am a huge fan of making English far more phonetic (what is up with “island”? WTF!?). Honestly, without a word processor, I could not spell words like elephant correctly (I placed an “e” after the “ph” because I am actively remembering that the “f” sound is a “ph” in elephant). Little quirky things such as that is the stuff of nightmares for dySlEXiCS when we have to stand up and read or write in public. That is beyond that fact that the word dySlEXiA is such a hard word to read and spell in the first place.
_BONES AND FOSSILS = LOVE_
(_'--------------------'_)
(_.--------------------._)
Thu Dec 31, 2015 10:18 pm
YIM WWW
GlossophilePosts: 12Joined: Fri Aug 14, 2015 6:57 pmLocation: Florida, USA Gender: Male

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Wow! I am pleasantly surprised at the response I got! Let's look at the costs-versus-benefits issue mentioned by special frog first, which I think incidentally addresses most of the other points raised here.

The main benefit for which most reformers advocate is much easier and therefore faster acquisition of functional literacy. There is one published academic paper in particular that strongly suggests that it takes English-speaking children about two or three times longer to become functionally literate than it does speakers of most other European languages. Another experiment starting in the 1960s with a highly simplified alphabet called Unifon not only had children reading and writing proficiently in three months or less (instead of the more typical two or three years) but also facilitated a more effective transition to traditional spelling (TS). While Unifon was promoted primarily as a learning aid rather than a total replacement for TS, its success at fostering impressive reading levels among children testifies to the fact that a simpler spelling system would indeed be much easier to master. A similar example is the popularity of Pinyin as training wheels for Chinese morphograms.

Children being able to read more proficiently in earlier grades might seem like a substantial advantage by itself, but it could easily end up cascading throughout education in general. I think it is sufficiently probable that the child who has to spend less time "learning to read" can then spend more time "reading to learn." In other words, the time (and tax dollars) that would have originally been spent on additional training for a complex spelling system could, if the system were much simpler, be diverted towards what would seem to us now like a head start in mathematics, science, or even more advanced language skills (more sophisticated comprehension and basic literary interpretation). Another possibility is that children would escape the disenchantment with academia that often comes with reading/writing difficulties and thus grow into much more scholastically inclined individuals. It's speculative, to be sure, but I think it's at least a potential that's worth exploring and testing.

I probably don't need to tell you that my country (the USA) is in dire need of intellectual revival, and though it may be to a lesser extent, other major Anglophone nations might do well with a boost as well.

Now, as to the costs, the main cost I anticipate would be the cost of maintaining access to pre-reform writing for future generations. Everything from classic literature to local road signs would need to be transcribed into the new spelling system, and that is admittedly going to come with a substantial price tag. The best route would probably be to develop automated transcription software, since it would both minimize the need for paid human labor and allow for texts that were missed by the official transcription effort to be transcribed on demand as they are encountered. Although something robust enough for an actual transition to reformed spelling would probably take some investment and a team of programmers, I myself have managed to create something decent using little more than my rusty Java skills, so it is feasible.

The transition (which I envision lasting about 50 years, with both old and new codes co-existing for a time) could perhaps at least partially pay for itself if the money that is saved on literacy remediation could be redirected towards transitional costs.

WarK, no one has said anything yet about committees or laws to protect the language. The closest thing to that would be the international delegation proposed by some reformers that would choose the best reformed orthography and facilitate its promulgation. On my part, I suggest that this democratically formed body meet regularly every half-century or so to keep track of prevalent changes in pronunciation and revise the standard spelling accordingly. Even then, their job would be mainly to describe rather than prescribe. Crucially, though, it is not the language itself that we seek to change and/or regulate. It is merely the spelling. To conflate spelling reform with language reform would be like using the word "music" to refer to the circuitry inside an iPod.

Also, on the whole "grammar Nazi" thing, two points are to be made here. First, a reform that relates strictly to spelling would have no bearing on the merits of, for instance, splitting an infinitive or ending a sentence with a preposition. The words would be spelled differently, but the rules for arranging them would still be subject to the same contention and debate as they always have been. Secondly, linguists tend to be the exact opposite of grammar Nazis, since they learn early on that no form of language is intrinsically superior to any other.

Prolescum, while I agree that it will certainly be a very uphill battle, I'm not quite ready to give up just yet. Also, you brought up dialects and patriotism. The system that I propose, at least, has a measured dose of dialectal flexibility built into it. Most texts would be written in an international standard that is essentially a compromise between the normative US and UK accents (General American and Received Pronunciation, or GA and RP), but if a particular situation makes more regional varieties artistically or otherwise relevant, a text can be spelled according to that more localized form without necessarily breaking or changing any of the rules or correlations used more generally. The lyrics to "Star-Spangled Banner," for example, can easily be transcribed according to a distinctly American accent. Of course, not every single local accent in the entire world can be thus accommodated, but at least the major players are covered.

Gnug215, what you seem to be suggesting is known in spelling reform circles as "piecemeal reform," and there are plenty of reform advocates who favor it. I have my own reasons why I think it's a bad idea, and I'd be happy to explain them if you wish.
The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
Thu Dec 31, 2015 11:22 pm
Gnug215ModeratorUser avatarPosts: 2561Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 10:31 pm

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Glossophile wrote:Gnug215, what you seem to be suggesting is known in spelling reform circles as "piecemeal reform," and there are plenty of reform advocates who favor it. I have my own reasons why I think it's a bad idea, and I'd be happy to explain them if you wish.


Sure, please do.

I was only suggesting this because I figured it might appease the opponents.

Personally, I wouldn't mind too much if we didn't reform as I'm a prety gud spellur maiself.
- Gnug215

YouTube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/Gnug215


The horse is a ferocious predator.
Fri Jan 01, 2016 12:14 am
GlossophilePosts: 12Joined: Fri Aug 14, 2015 6:57 pmLocation: Florida, USA Gender: Male

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Well, Gnug215, I hope you don't mind if I reprint a detailed comment of mine from a few years ago on another forum, with only the sample dates updated.

----------

Piecemeal reform (a reform implemented in stages rather than all at once) does seem like an almost ideal solution. It's bound to be gentler on public sensibilities and therefore easier to sell. However, in my opinion, there is also a rather substantial downside.

First, I must simplify things a bit for the purpose of easy illustration. So let's assume that the international commission identifies 10 rules of English spelling that, if rigorously enforced, can constitute a fully functional orthography all on their own.

For the sake of not having to repeat long phrases, I will also define a couple of shorthand terms:

Great Legacy Transcription (GLT) = a systematic re-spelling or transcription of virtually every pre-reform text imaginable, or at least all but the most trivial ones, for posterity (everything from classic literature to road signs); no doubt a massive undertaking only partially expedited by the likely aid of computers

Incremental Interim Transcription (IIT) = a systematic re-spelling or transcription of all texts produced since the first stage of piecemeal reform; basically a mini-GLT covering only those new writings produced in the intermission between stages

Hypothetical Timeline:

January 1, 2017
- all exceptions to rules 1 and 2 are re-spelled into adherence
- first GLT to bring pre-2017 texts into compliance with rules 1 and 2.

January 1, 2022
- all exceptions to rules 3 and 4 are re-spelled into adherence
- second GLT to make pre-2017 texts, previously made compliant with rules 1 and 2, now compliant with rules 3 and 4 as well
- first IIT to bring all written material produced between 2017 and 2022 into compliance with rules 3 and 4

January 1, 2027
- all exceptions to rules 5 and 6 are re-spelled into adherence
- third GLT to make pre-2017 texts, previously made compliant with rules 1-4, now compliant with rules 5 and 6 as well
- second IIT to bring all written material produced between 2022 and 2027 into compliance with rules 5 and 6

January 1, 2032
- all exceptions to rules 7 and 8 are re-spelled into adherence
- fourth GLT to make pre-2017 texts, previously made compliant with rules 1-6, now compliant with rules 7 and 8 as well
- third IIT to bring all written material produced between 2027 and 2032 into compliance with rules 7 and 8

January 1, 2037
- all exceptions to rules 9 and 10 are re-spelled into adherence
- fifth GLT to make pre-2017 texts,previously made compliant with rules 1-8, now compliant with rules 9 and 10 as well
- fourth IIT to bring all written material produced between 2032 and 2037 into compliance with rules 9 and 10

Now, a cold-turkey reform would look more like this:

January 1, 2017 – new orthography promulgated, GLT, new code taught in progressively lower grades over an agreed-upon timespan

Done!

Do you see the problem? Rather than have a single GLT and be done with it, the piecemeal approach requires several cumulative and layered GLTs/IITs to preserve access to heritage writings and make things as easy as possible for future historians who will increasingly rely on specialists to decrypt TS in their research. As costly as reform is likely to be in any case, doing it in phases is almost certain to multiply those costs significantly.

Plus, neither a GLT nor an IIT is an instantaneous event. The former especially will probably take a few years at least. This means that, unless the phases are spaced out at an arguably impractical speed, at about the time the first GLT or IIT is finally complete, the start of the next one will be just around the corner. This will only serve to disillusion the public.

Even if we begin with only IITs and delay a single GLT for the final act, that still adds up to one GLT and multiple IITs as opposed to just one GLT and nothing else required by a more cold-turkey approach.

Piecemeal reform may be easier to sell to the public in the beginning, but in the long run, it seems woefully inefficient.

----------

Another argument that's been made is that, if the reform was spread out across multiple stages, the benefits would be likewise spread out, perhaps too thinly to be sufficiently dramatic at any single stage to convince the public to proceed to the next one.

You remarked that, having become quite comfortable with TS, you wouldn't mind if we stuck with the status quo. As you may have noticed, I too am at least a decent speller. Although I might earn a cozy little place in the history books if my proposed system ended up being the one adopted, mine is not by any means the only proposal that exists, so have little personally to gain from spelling reform more generally. Spelling reform as a broad goal is, at least to me, an inherently very forward-looking cause. Adults who are already literate in English, for the most part, have little if anything to directly gain from a revamp of current conventions. But they're not that the ones that many reformers want to help most. Our focus is on future generations of children and non-native learners, which is unfortunate, since they're also the ones who have the least power in making the decision.
The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
Fri Jan 01, 2016 7:50 pm
Gnug215ModeratorUser avatarPosts: 2561Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 10:31 pm

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Glossophile wrote:Piecemeal reform may be easier to sell to the public in the beginning, but in the long run, it seems woefully inefficient.

----------

Another argument that's been made is that, if the reform was spread out across multiple stages, the benefits would be likewise spread out, perhaps too thinly to be sufficiently dramatic at any single stage to convince the public to proceed to the next one.





Before we continue, I came to thinking... how would the spelling reform actually look? Could you show us what you propose in terms of what we'd be spelling differently? :)

I remember we had a previous thread that touched on this, but I think we quickly ran into some problems and disagreements. No clue what the thread was called, though, sadly.

Now to your point. Yes, I certainly agree, it would be woefully inefficient. But it's not just the fact that I think a slow, piecemeal reform would be easier to sell to the public. It's the fact that I think fast, immediate, full reform would be IMPOSSIBLE to sell.

But, as I touched on above, I suggest there may be a third way to do it, and that's to have both methods of spelling be acceptable for a long period of transition. That is, afterall, how many of these things are dealt with already, although usually on a smaller scale.

We're pretty much already on two different ways of spelling many words, with US Eng. vs UK Eng. spelling.

The younger generation would have a much easier time accepting the change, I think, and the old generation could just be allowed to keep spelling their words however they damn well pleased. :)
- Gnug215

YouTube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/Gnug215


The horse is a ferocious predator.
Sun Jan 03, 2016 9:08 pm
GlossophilePosts: 12Joined: Fri Aug 14, 2015 6:57 pmLocation: Florida, USA Gender: Male

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Well, I will gladly show you my proposed spelling system and how it works, but I would be remiss if I didn't remind you that mine is only one of several, and they range from quite conservative to even more radical than mine, such as Shavian.

As a quick sample, let's see if you recognize this popular skeptics' quote, with the name of the person who said it re-spelled only for purposes of demonstration (in the event of an actual reform, personal names would likely be re-spelled only at the discretion of their respective bearers).

Ðæt wic kæn bi øsértid wiðaut evidøns kæn bi dismist wiðaut evidøns. - Kristøfør Hicønz

For something a bit more random, a tidbit from classic literature...

Nau iz ðø wintør ov awør diskøntent meid glorrïøs samør bai ðis san ov York!

Now, if you're at all curious as to how my system actually works, I invite you to visit my website, where you can find a quick five-lesson tutorial, sample texts, an FAQ of sorts, and more. I rigged the sample texts so that hovering your mouse pointer over any word will reveal its transcription in the International Phonetic Alphabet (in case you happen to be familiar with it) and in traditional spelling (if you're like most people and thus know little of the IPA).

At a glance, you might suspect that my proposed system would be quite difficult to type on a typical computer. Actually, this is not the case. In fact, part of the criteria for choosing the six unconventional letters that I use was precisely their availability on a keyboard extension that comes pre-installed on most modern PCs and can be activated within a minute or two with no specialized hardware or software. Instructions for turning on that capability on a Windows machine are included on my website.

Now as to your point about sellability, the main reason for considering a piecemeal approach would be to spread the changes out so that each stage generates less resistance than changing everything all at once. It essentially divides a radical reform into a series of conservative ones. The problem here is that at least one linguist, Mario Pei, has reputedly stated that public resistance to a spelling reform actually does not tend to decrease proportionally with the comparative radicality of the reform. In other words, the reaction to a mild change (such as any single stage of a piecemeal reform) would only be slightly (rather than dramatically) less intense than that generated by a more sweeping and fundamental change. As I stated in a term paper of mine...

"The extra-drastic change from familiar TS patterns that such a move would entail may also be justified by a particular argument which is sometimes applied to more radical schemes in general. I shall call it the Peian argument, since it is often attributed to the Italian linguist Mario Pei. It derives from the presumably inevitable disproportionality of public resistance to spelling reform. The assertion is that, if the difference between resistance to a mild reform and that provoked by a comprehensive overhaul is slight and therefore negligible, then we may as well opt for the latter and get the most out of the uphill persuasive battle that awaits us in any case."

If I recall correctly, Mark Sebba, the author of the textbook for two of the courses on writing systems that I have taken in graduate school, made a similar remark in his book Spelling and Society.

I completely agree about letting both traditional and reformed spelling co-exist for an extended transitional period (I estimate 50 years). That way, the older generation(s) need not adapt immediately all at once, and by the time it becomes truly critical that they have at least a passive knowledge of the new system, it will have permeated society to the point that many of them are likely to have absorbed much of it through sheer increased exposure.
The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
Sun Jan 03, 2016 11:09 pm
Gnug215ModeratorUser avatarPosts: 2561Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 10:31 pm

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Glossophile wrote:Well, I will gladly show you my proposed spelling system and how it works, but I would be remiss if I didn't remind you that mine is only one of several, and they range from quite conservative to even more radical than mine, such as Shavian.

As a quick sample, let's see if you recognize this popular skeptics' quote, with the name of the person who said it re-spelled only for purposes of demonstration (in the event of an actual reform, personal names would likely be re-spelled only at the discretion of their respective bearers).

Ðæt wic kæn bi øsértid wiðaut evidøns kæn bi dismist wiðaut evidøns. - Kristøfør Hicønz

For something a bit more random, a tidbit from classic literature...

Nau iz ðø wintør ov awør diskøntent meid glorrïøs samør bai ðis san ov York!

Now, if you're at all curious as to how my system actually works, I invite you to visit my website, where you can find a quick five-lesson tutorial, sample texts, an FAQ of sorts, and more. I rigged the sample texts so that hovering your mouse pointer over any word will reveal its transcription in the International Phonetic Alphabet (in case you happen to be familiar with it) and in traditional spelling (if you're like most people and thus know little of the IPA).

At a glance, you might suspect that my proposed system would be quite difficult to type on a typical computer. Actually, this is not the case. In fact, part of the criteria for choosing the six unconventional letters that I use was precisely their availability on a keyboard extension that comes pre-installed on most modern PCs and can be activated within a minute or two with no specialized hardware or software. Instructions for turning on that capability on a Windows machine are included on my website.

Now as to your point about sellability, the main reason for considering a piecemeal approach would be to spread the changes out so that each stage generates less resistance than changing everything all at once. It essentially divides a radical reform into a series of conservative ones. The problem here is that at least one linguist, Mario Pei, has reputedly stated that public resistance to a spelling reform actually does not tend to decrease proportionally with the comparative radicality of the reform. In other words, the reaction to a mild change (such as any single stage of a piecemeal reform) would only be slightly (rather than dramatically) less intense than that generated by a more sweeping and fundamental change. As I stated in a term paper of mine...

"The extra-drastic change from familiar TS patterns that such a move would entail may also be justified by a particular argument which is sometimes applied to more radical schemes in general. I shall call it the Peian argument, since it is often attributed to the Italian linguist Mario Pei. It derives from the presumably inevitable disproportionality of public resistance to spelling reform. The assertion is that, if the difference between resistance to a mild reform and that provoked by a comprehensive overhaul is slight and therefore negligible, then we may as well opt for the latter and get the most out of the uphill persuasive battle that awaits us in any case."

If I recall correctly, Mark Sebba, the author of the textbook for two of the courses on writing systems that I have taken in graduate school, made a similar remark in his book Spelling and Society.

I completely agree about letting both traditional and reformed spelling co-exist for an extended transitional period (I estimate 50 years). That way, the older generation(s) need not adapt immediately all at once, and by the time it becomes truly critical that they have at least a passive knowledge of the new system, it will have permeated society to the point that many of them are likely to have absorbed much of it through sheer increased exposure.



Ok, that is REALLY drastic. The Shavian one is straight up insane, though, IMO. :)

I can, in fact, read your quite easily, having dealt with IPA a little bit back in the day.

What I had in mind was just minor simplifications, like, replacing "c" with "k" and "s" where appropriate. Just the immediate stuff that I'd say most people would see as most egregious in terms of how a word looks compared to how it's pronounced.

The more radical the change, the stronger the resistence against reform, and while I can't speak for everyone, I'd imagine that even your suggestion (here I'm comparing it with Shavian) would be way too much for the vast majority of society to accept.

I think the introduction of new letters would be a major point where most people would just straight up refuse right away.
- Gnug215

YouTube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/Gnug215


The horse is a ferocious predator.
Mon Jan 04, 2016 12:46 am
he_who_is_nobodyBloggerUser avatar
Online
Posts: 3335Joined: Tue Feb 24, 2009 1:36 amLocation: Albuquerque, New Mexico Gender: Male

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Gnug215 wrote:I think the introduction of new letters would be a major point where most people would just straight up refuse right away.


Well, I have always wondered why there are not more letters. I get vowels and how they change, but what is up with "ch" and "th"? I have always thought those should be their own letters. It does not make sense how "t" and "h" have their own sounds, but together they make a different sound. What madness is that?!
_BONES AND FOSSILS = LOVE_
(_'--------------------'_)
(_.--------------------._)
Mon Jan 04, 2016 6:17 am
YIM WWW
Steelmage99Posts: 170Joined: Thu May 28, 2015 9:43 am Gender: Male

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

How about changing the "ch" (as in chance, chat and change) to "tj"?

While Tjance, Tjat and Tjange certainly looks strange now, it seems phonetically fitting -or just replace it with a single letter representing that particular sound.

Also any word ending in either -tion, sion or -cion can be also be changed to "sjon" - or simple standardized to all using either the t, s or c exclusively.
Blunder that theists make all the time;

Pretending to know what other people think.
Mon Jan 04, 2016 1:49 pm
WarKChat ModeratorUser avatarPosts: 1185Joined: Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:59 am Gender: Tree

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Leave the poor language alone! :)

Shavian alphabet is just nuts. Trying to start using a completely new alphabet is just stupid. Latin alphabet have been used for centuries in many languages in Europe. It's a lot harder to learn a language when you also have to learn a completely new alphabet.

The sample of your spelling isn't convincing to me either, Glossophile

Glossophile wrote:Ðæt wic kæn bi øsértid wiðaut evidøns kæn bi dismist wiðaut evidøns


Well, it is decipherable.

Đ and ð are pointless. As a foreigner I may have trouble pronouncing th sound correctly but when I see th letters I know how it's supposed to sound. Changing th digraph to ð isn't helpful.

Ø and æ, given that those sounds can vary widely between accents and dialects, You're just replacing one random letter with a completely new one without giving any hints as to how it actually should sound. And why should spelling tell you exactly how to pronounce a word in English anyway.

Out of curiosity I searched for every word on Cambridge dictionary and this is what I got (minus -ed ending for the verbs)

IPA wrote:ðæt wɪtʃ kæn biː əsɜːt wɪðaʊt ev.ɪ.dəns kæn biː dɪsmɪs wɪðaʊt ev.ɪ.dəns


Well, enough of my rumbling. I'm tried and grumpy and probably don't make much sense.
Did you see that ludicrous display last night?
Mon Jan 04, 2016 8:18 pm
malicious_blokeUser avatarPosts: 305Joined: Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:12 pmLocation: Proper Westcountry Gender: Male

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Prolescum wrote:As a grammar Nazi, I'm not a fan of grammar communists.


Yeah. I mean collectivised spellings may seem like a good idea but in practise you just end up turning into a Grammar Soviet
[sarcasm ][/sarcasm ]

The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they've found it
Mon Jan 04, 2016 8:57 pm
SpecialFrogUser avatarPosts: 827Joined: Wed Jul 16, 2014 2:13 pmLocation: Great White North Gender: Tree

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

So, my impression so far is that the cost is unknown but would be enormous.

While I can see on-demand conversion of electronic texts being feasible, there would still be a need for a large number of people -- possibly most people -- to be able to read the conventional alphabet as well.

I can see that there might be benefits but I'm not sure how well-established this is. I'm not sure simplified Chinese is a good example because the need for that is largely driven by the fact that pictographic languages are a lot harder to become literate in than alphabetic languages.

And even if the benefits offset the costs, could comparable or even superior educational benefits not also possibly arise by spending the same whopping amount of money differently? What's the opportunity cost of such a program?
"Life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest" -- Albert Szent-Gyrgyi
Mon Jan 04, 2016 9:46 pm
GlossophilePosts: 12Joined: Fri Aug 14, 2015 6:57 pmLocation: Florida, USA Gender: Male

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Gnug215 wrote:The more radical the change, the stronger the resistence against reform,...


This claim, intuitive though it may be, is debatable at best. I revisited Spelling and Society, the book that served as an important text in two relevant courses that I've taken at my university, one on writing systems in general and the other on the sociolinguistics of writing. In Chapter 6, Mark Sebba makes a couple of remarks that jumped out at me (emphasis mine).

"Indeed, the greater and grander the tradition of literacy, literature and liturgy in an orthographic community, the less likely that even minor systematic orthographic change will be freely accepted and the less likely that any orthographic change will be considered minor. (Fishman 1977: XVI)"

If no orthographic change is likely to be considered minor, than even modest proposals will be treated as if they were completely revolutionary. Imagine you are a child whose parents strangely react with roughly the same intensity whether you spend $10 or $100. Is there really any point to being stingy and settling for a lesser toy when you can buy the absolute best one on the market and be scolded/punished only slightly more than you otherwise would have been. The problem is that the difference in toy quality greatly exceeds the difference in penalties.

Furthermore, Sebba explicitly makes the point in the first sentence of this passage:

"The quantity of resistance is also not proportional to the amount of change. Although the proposals for German orthographic reform in the 1990s only affected an estimated 0.5 per cent of the lexicon (Johnson 2000: 116) or 0.05 percent of all words in running text (Institutfür deutsche Sprache, Mannheim) they resulted in a public uproar and a constitutional 'crisis' in Germany itself, when the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein decided not to implement the proposal (See Johnson 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005 for discussion). Likewise, a modest set of proposals to adjust French orthography in 1990 (the Druon reforms) caused uproar, despite the fact that according to the authors of the reform, none of the 500 most frequently used words would be modified, and altogether exactly 2383 words were affected according to the Robert dictionary (Chollet 1992: 76, Ager 1996: 121)."

One prominent theme in Sebba's work and in my coursework seems to be that spelling is often bound up with socio-political identity in people's minds, to the extent that successful reform may tend to depend on some broader ideological motivation. Multiple post-colonial spelling systems in non-Western countries had their designs rendered quite contentious by the clash between the desire to emulate the still prestigious European colonial language and the desire to re-assert the locals' own identity and autonomy via the written word. In a word, it was legacy and social mobility versus nationalism and independence.

One of the things that is at least somewhat unique about my approach is that, in addition to the rational arguments summarized above (i.e. easier and faster acquisition of literacy), I also make a more ideological appeal. English spelling very often seems bound and determined to spell the mother tongue as though it were any other language besides itself (e.g. French, Latin, Greek). In that sense, it is therefore anti-patriotic (not with respect to any one country but rather with respect to collective English-speaking culture as a whole) to continue spelling our own language as we do.

Now, of course, one can argue that we borrowed so many words from French, Latin, and Greek that it's only fitting that we spell them accordingly. Well, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France. That doesn't mean that the famous poem about the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" should be inscribed on its pedestal in French. Given the whole "freedom fries" fad that occurred relatively recently, I imagine that most Americans would balk at the thought, and yet they seem perfectly happy to write "coup" instead of just "ku."

Three of the six unconventional characters used in my system (''æ,' 'ð,' and 'þ') are actually restorations from the very roots of the English language, making it arguably a very linguistically patriotic system. On the other hand, those who take pride in English's willingness to borrow words from many languages can find that feature symbolized with two more unconventional characters, 'ç' and 'ø,' which are emblematic of two of the most historically notable contributors to English vocabulary (French and Norse). The one unconventional letetr remaining, 'ñ' for /ŋ/ (the 'ng' sound), comes from Spanish, with which English's interaction has arguably become more notable in more recent times.

He_who_is_nobody, you might be pleased to learn that my system (and some other proposals) do away with digraphs like 'th.' SteelImage99, it's fortuitous that you mention 'ch,' because my proposal just drops the 'h' ("child" becomes "caild") and simply uses 'k' or ''s' as needed for the more traditional uses of 'c.' Here also, there is some precedent for this in Old English. As for the "-tion" suffix, my scheme renders it as "-çøn" (the letter 'ç' corresponds to the traditional 'sh').

WarK, I am perfectly happy to leave the language alone. It's the spelling that I have a problem with. As for 'æ' and 'ø,' even if the choice of those particular letters was random (which it wasn't), that wouldn't matter as long as, once chosen for use, they were used consistently for the same respective sounds. 'Ø,' for instance, represents schwa (IPA /ə/), the very generic vowel that abounds in unstressed syllables and right now can be spelled unpredictably with any one of the five conventional vowel letters:

A - idea = /aɪˈdiːə/
E - persistent = /pə˞ˈsɪstənt/
I - possible = /ˈpɒsəbəl/
O - photography = /fəˈtɒgɹəfiː/
U - difficult = /ˈdɪfɪkəlt/

On 'ð' (and also 'þ'),' it may not be helpful for most words, but what about cases like "anthill" or "bathouse," where the 't' and the 'h' have to be pronounced separately with their own independent sounds and yet there's no way for a child or foreign learner to know that upon seeing the word for the first time? Spelling would ideally tell you how to pronounce any word you see written, even if you've never seen it before. Why? As I've said, it would make learning to read much easier.

SpecialFrog, it;s funny you should say this...

SpecialFrog wrote:I'm not sure simplified Chinese is a good example because the need for that is largely driven by the fact that pictographic languages are a lot harder to become literate in than alphabetic languages.


...because English has actually been compared to Chinese. The claim is that the English "pictograms" may superficially resemble sequences of Roman letters, but in terms of how they actually function for purposes of learning and literacy, they actually behave more like Chinese characters. This is argued to be a natural consequence of just how patently unreliable a more phonic approach is due to the sheer inconsistency of sound-to-symbol correspondences.

Why do you think that, in a scenario where virtually all texts are either already transcribed or readily transcribable, there would still be a need for many people to know the traditional system? I am curious.

As for getting the same benefits from using the money differently, it might be possible, at least in the short term, but I submit to you that it would be more of a gamble, since any alternative solution to the literacy issues would just be a metaphorical Band-Aid. I think we would both agree that treating the problem at its ultimate source is more likely to produce more long-term benefits. I'm afraid I'm not sure what you mean by "opportunity costs."
The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
Last edited by Glossophile on Thu Jan 14, 2016 7:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Mon Jan 04, 2016 10:30 pm
SpecialFrogUser avatarPosts: 827Joined: Wed Jul 16, 2014 2:13 pmLocation: Great White North Gender: Tree

Post Re: Skeptical Perspectives on English Spelling Reform?

Glossophile wrote:SpecialFrog, it;s funny you should say this...
SpecialFrog wrote:I'm not sure simplified Chinese is a good example because the need for that is largely driven by the fact that pictographic languages are a lot harder to become literate in than alphabetic languages.


...because English has actually been compared to Chinese. The claim is that the English "pictograms" may superficially resemble sequences of Roman letters, but in terms of how they actually function for purposes of learning and literacy, they actually behave more like Chinese characters. This is argued to be a natural consequence of just how patently unreliable a more phonic approach is due to the sheer inconsistency of sound-to-symbol correspondences.

Compared by who? It seems kind of a pithy comparison. Having kids at various stages of the learning to read process I have the ongoing experience of seeing someone encounter a new word. While their ability to sound it out correctly is not 100% it is not 0%, as is the case in a pictographic language.

Glossophile wrote:Why do you think that, in a scenario where virtually all texts are either already transcribed or readily transcribable, there would still be a need for many people to know the traditional system? I am curious.

Oops. I cut part of my argument that was clearly relevant.

I was assuming that conversion of legacy texts is inherently infeasible. We aren't going to pulp our libraries and re-print all these out-of-print books. Only new texts and texts available electronically could be read in the new alphabet.

Glossophile wrote:As for getting the same benefits from using the money differently, it might be possible, at least in the short term, but I submit to you that it would be more of a gamble, since any alternative solution to the literacy issues would just be a metaphorical Band-Aid. I think we would both agree that treating the problem at its ultimate source is more likely to produce more long-term benefits. I'm afraid I'm not sure what you mean by "opportunity costs."

The effectiveness of educational systems world-wide is not uniform (even in the English world) so clearly there are some better or worse ways to improve educational outcomes. Improving student:teacher ratios alone is probably at least moderately effective.

And "opportunity cost" means examining what you are not able to spend money on if you spend money on plan X. In business, plan X may be profitable but still not justifiable if it makes resources unavailable for other plans that are of higher value.
"Life is nothing but an electron looking for a place to rest" -- Albert Szent-Gyrgyi
Mon Jan 04, 2016 10:58 pm
Next
Post new topic Reply to topic  Page 1 of 2
 [ 26 posts ] 
Return to General Scepticism

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot] and 3 guests