Friday, August 08, 2008

Wots It Mater

Perhaps nothing illustrates the laissez faire attitude to education as much as the suggestion that students should not be penalised for not knowing how to spell.
This brilliant notion comes from a professor of criminology, whose services are no doubt in great demand today. I’m not quite sure of the function of a ‘professor of criminology’ unless it’s to train future criminals, a service which has been sorely lacking since the days of Bill Sykes, but I take his point that correct spelling is not a sine qua non for ransom notes etc.
For the rest of us, however, orthography does matter. To say that a misspelling is acceptable is akin to saying that 2 + 2 = 5 – it’s close enough so why penalise the student?
I always felt a bit sorry for the pompous Dr. Johnson, who first compiled a modern English dictionary, as he always had that sycophantic Scot, Boswell, hanging around and recording his conversation.
“Get a life, Boswell,” said Johnson. Boswell, who obviously misheard him, thought he said “write my life” and the rest is history.
Noah Webster used Johnson’s work to write his own patriotic American dictionary, eliminating double consonants, adding a few of his own and changing some endings quite arbitrarily. This led to the popularity of “Spelling Bees” in 19th, century America, nobody really knowing exactly how to spell a word any more.
American children can thank their lucky stars that Benjamin Franklin, normally a bastion of common sense, had his suggestions rejected by Webster. These were to add six new characters and to drop all silent letters.
The notion of simplifying, or ‘dumbing down’ English is not new. Even Bernard Shaw suggested it but thankfully nobody took any notice of him.
The criminology man cites the word ‘fifth’ as an example.
“Where did the ‘f’ come from?” he asks. It is sad to find an ‘academic’ with so little knowledge of the source of his own language.
And his pronunciation could do with a little sharpening up.
The word is not pronounced ‘fith.’
So I shal continew to spel jest the wey I wont – that’s if I nede to pars his crimmenology exam.


Blogger Nigel said...

Simplifying is not necessarily the same as "dumbing-down". It could be an upgrading of our already dum(b)ed down & corrupted orthography. Ken Smith is suggesting adding to the existing 3% of the words in the dictionary with variant spelling another 20. I fail to see how this is a cultural catastrophe if these variants are within existent spelling patterns.

The parallel that you make with maths miss the mark completely. It is more to do with which spelling system we use rather that "truth" or "accuracy". Using our spelling system is like doing maths with Roman Numerals or finance in LSD: archaic things that we were happy to see the back of & no one wants back as they effectively discriminated against a large minority of us.

Having 25% of the work force with a reading age of 12 year-olds is no trifling matter & a scandal in a democracy.

As someone who is passionate about good spelling & literacy I say: upgrade, don't dumb down.

Apologies for the inevitable spelling & grammar mistakes.

10:31 pm  

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