Spelling reforms

It’s no secret that the English orthography is complicated and full of inconsistencies. This leads to occasional calls for its reform: some would like to see it more phonetic, others would like the rules loosened to permit more alternative spellings. They usually sound tolerably reasonable until they start giving examples, after which it is easy for those in favour of keeping the status quo to pick up a handful of the most objectionable ones and use these to deride the whole concept.

Both sides are driven by laziness. Supporters of a spelling reform are motivated by being too lazy (or accepting others as too lazy) to learn those complicated rules and inconsistencies. Opponents are motivated by being too lazy to unlearn them and learn a large new set instead.

In the meantime, a spelling reform or even revolution is quietly happening with the help of information technology. You may be a stickler yourself, but you can hardly avoid noticing the multitudes of people who can’t spell “properly”, and of those who obviously don’t even bother to try. Some entirely ignore punctuation (except for smileys), some treat apostrophes more like an ornamental than an orthographic feature, some naïvely rely on spellcheckers and so on. Some even obviously misspell intentionally because it makes them feel they are “cool”. Sticklers are naturally horrified.

But that’s the way of a living language. Just like some spoken words and grammatical structures become obsolete, others change, yet others survive unchanged and new ones appear, so do spellings. The more so nowadays, when even people who would, twenty years ago, only read their tabloid and maybe write a few Christmas postcards, happily mail, text, post, comment, tweet… Which is the basic problem for any spelling reform: whatever it proposes, for most people it would either go too far or not enough. And they would ignore it as best they could.



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