Today on the BBC website I came across an interesting debate on whether English spelling should be simplified - I personally agree with Vivian Cook who argues against simplification.
In addition to Vivian's points I'd like to say that when I taught English as a foreign language, my students struggled much more with English grammar (especially tenses), and with phrasal verbs, than they did with spelling. I hope that's not a reflection on my teaching...
Also, spellings often indicate a word's etymology - and by simplifying spellings, we would lose a lot of visual clues to the origin and history of words.
A third point I believe is not raised in the debate is that related words are often pronounced differently but spelled similarly, for example 'maniac' and 'maniacal'. If the spellings of these words were 'simplified', the connection between these words would no longer be so obvious in the spelling - which might actually hinder language learning.
Masha Bell, arguing in favour of simplification, says that irregular spellings penalise language learners with poor memories. Perhaps, but could it be that our idiosyncratic spelling actually helps all of us to develop our memories?
Finally, pronunciation of words changes over time, so if we moved to a more phonetic spelling system, would it be necessary to update certain spellings periodically? Who would be in charge of deciding when this happened and to what words? The Simplified Spelling Society, perhaps. But I like the fact that the spelling of the English language, or even of British English, isn't prescribed by any one body or organisation.
Any more thoughts?
4 days ago