English is not an easy language to learn. Linguists say there are more than 40 distinct sounds in English that can be spelled out in 400 different ways. It’s no wonder that shorthand spellings like “thru,” “U” and “thanx” are becoming standard in e-mails and text messages. And that kind of spontaneous language degeneration is why a small but persistent group of simplified-spelling advocates wants to create a new, mostly phonetic, system of written English. They argue that both children learning English as their native tongue and second-language learners would have fewer linguistic headaches and could master the language more quickly if we got rid of the maddening unreliabilities that, for example, make “tomb,” “bomb” and “comb” all sound different. The idea isn’t new. One hundred years ago, President Teddy Roosevelt used simplified spellings in his presidential correspondence, and Andrew Carnegie created the Simplified Spelling Board to encourage more logical spelling. The Chicago Tribune even used some phonetic spellings in its published articles for 40 years. But experts like education professor Donald Bear argue that phonetic spelling strips words of their roots, and therefore much of their historical meaning. “Students come to understand how meaning is preserved in the way words are spelled,” he said. And aside from meaning, the public just doesn’t seem to like strange-looking phonetic spellings. “I think that the average person simply did not see this as a needed change,” one librarian said. Stoodents, bak to thoez speling bookz.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.