Language Matters August 2008: Spelling

Dear Language Friend,

Ever complained about the unpredictable spelling of English words? Or even French? Indeed, these mismatches between pronunciation and spelling have been categorized as major flaws of our National Languages by poor spellers, and spelling errors have been a major “needle in the eye” for linguists since the Renaissance period and even earlier on.

 Contributed by Annie Pei. Thank you for reading.

The Challenge of Words

For many of us, spelling is definitely a challenge. Looking back on our elementary school years, some of us relive the glorious marks on our spelling quizzes whereas others… well… let’s just say those quizzes really weren’t golden moments in their lives. Sometimes, the errors are humiliating, such as when the word love mutates in a very sad fashion to become “luv”. But just when those unfortunate few thought they had their native language all deciphered, along comes the challenge of learning a second language. Suddenly, “random” slashes on top of certain letters appear (French and Spanish, for example), dots appear on top of e’s and o’s, etc. Gradually, the longing for words to be spelt the exact way they’re pronounced dominates the thoughts of those poor language students who are unable to spell in their native languages let alone others. School and other sites providing language courses induce nightmarish scenarios and the non-linguistically talented pupil has no escape.

Change is Coming

But lo and behold! Throughout the years, many languages have sought to reform the ways certain words are spelt. In the year 2004, France acknowledged changes to the spelling of approximately 2,000 words in the French vocabulary (“levraut” has been changed to “levreau”-French speakers, is that not so much easier?). Indonesia is changing some letters of its alphabet, and a possible (though unlikely) Spanish spelling revolution is gaining more support. Experts are essentially attempting to ease the pressure on horrible spellers.

 There are varied reasons for these changes, the most obvious being that it would alleviate the difficulties of writing out words. This approach arguably benefits immigrants and children learning languages as more and more exceptions are being thrown out the window into oblivion. Spelling reformers argue that by simplifying spelling (such as the simplification of Chinese characters, for example), immigrants will blend into our society much more easily as the written difficulties facing new immigrants learning another language from scratch are diminished. On a more serious scale, note that writing does sometimes reflect social classes. Formal writing essentially equals formal education, something that is readily available (but not exclusively available) to the wealthy classes. The language a person uses does, at times, reflect their status. Such as in England, where a Cockney accent and dialogues are considered to be characteristics of commoners. By changing orthography, experts claim that equality is being achieved in terms of language use, both class-wise, and newcomer-wise.

Difficulty of Reformation

Probably the biggest argument in opposition to spelling reform movements would be the fact that enforcement of the new rules is extremely difficult to do. Ensuring each and every citizen recognizes or even hears about the changes is a very difficult mission, especially as most spelling reform movements are not very centralized and is unclear who is actually in charge of them. Even now, only on rare occasions have French dictionaries adopted the new spelling changes with most of them still following old orthography. This example clearly shows that even though a spelling reform may be successful (that is to say, recognized by the government), putting these changes in place is an entirely distinct matter.

Resolution for Spelling Errors

While we give the time for others to figure out as to exactly how spelling changes will take place, it is still perfectly acceptable to follow the models we’ve known for decades, centuries even. Count on LingoStar translators to spell every word right, whether it is in French, German, Dutch, Chinese, or any other language where spelling has been challenged. LingoStar translators have proven themselves again and again to be reliable, so count on LingoStar for your language needs!