Join The Protest…Against Spelling Bees

A spelling bee in the US was recently picketed

Who would do that? Anti-globalization protesters angry that big bad coffee company Starbucks sponsored the film Akeelah and the Bee? Americans angry that British spelling is sometimes used or vice versa?

Why, it was the Simplified Spelling Society, of course (thanks to this blog for the info). This is a group which would like English to be written phonetically, or at least more phonetically than it is now.

It is an interesting proposition; I can’t say this is the first time I’ve heard it suggested, but it is the first time I’ve heard of a whole organization – a Society no less! – advocating it.

I certainly think English spelling is a mess, and sympathize with students who find that there are 8 different ways to pronounce the -ough cluster. But my non-trained-in-linguistics opinion is that maybe it is that standard, mostly inflexible spelling that has kept English as one language, and recognized as such by most of its speakers, rather than many. Doing away with that spelling might not lead to few things to learn for those who want to communicate globally, but more. It does not escape my notice that people do speak English differently: would each variant, even within a country, have its own spelling? Would most English speakers feel okay with a new system for spelling the language that reflects the pronunciation of some speakers, but not most?

I can concede that English spelling does present more difficulties than “the average” language…maybe that’s why native English speakers don’t have time to learn other languages. Hmmm…