C U l8r: Anne Trubek makes a kase 4 pour spelling

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First aired on Day 6 (5/5/12)

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Sometimes, the rules of English spelling don't seem to make much sense. But these rules get even more problematic when technology invites us to ignore them at will. So we see "cuz" instead of "because" and "l8r" instead of "later." Purists are appalled at how this corrupts our basic standards of composition. But Anne Trubek, a professor at Ohio's Oberlin College, thinks we should just relax. In her essay "Proper Spelling? It's Tyme To Let Luce!" she says uncommon or unusual forms of spelling are the result of writing's evolution, not of its demise.

Trubek points to the origins of the English language as proof of the fact that change is a constant. "Before the mass production of writing, people spelled words many different ways," she said recently on Day 6. Before then "there were 114 variant spellings of 'through.' Shakespeare used seven different ways to spell his name." Even once the advent of the printing press encouraged spelling convention, linguists argued to make changes to the language. Benjamin Franklin, for example, advocated for the addition of two vowels and the removal of several letters, including c, j, q, w and x. Noah Webster, of the eponymous Webster's Dictionary, is the reason why Americans spell "colour" without the u. For Trubek, the argument that English is a static, rigid sets of rules is not only silly, it ignore the rich history of the language itself.

Additionally, Trubek argues that English spelling conventions make no sense. "It's full of arbitrary contrivances and exceptions that outnumber rules." Daughter and water rhyme, despite being spelled differently. Through, cough and dough don't, even though they all end in -ough. "English has always been a mish-mash of other languages and weird spelling," Trubek pointed out, so why not welcome these new conventions instead of fighting them?


Besides, it's already happening. Whether we like it or not, language play occurs every day in emails, on Twitter, in texts and on facebook. Who knows what communication tools -- and how they will impact language -- lie ahead. Trubek argues that instead of lamenting that kids are saying "C U l8r" to their friends online, we should celebrate it. "Computers, smartphones and tablets are changing how we reproduce language as radically as it did with the printing press," Trubek said. "We need to keep evolving with this radical new technology."

This kind of spelling suggests innovation and outside-the-box thinking, which are skills we need to push civilization forward. Because of that, Trubek has a suggestion for anyone who's ever sent a text message or wrote a document in Microsoft Word: relax and enjoy the ride.

"Turn off Autocorrect. Turn off Spell Check. Play around, make your own rules. It's not like the English language has any good ones anyway."

Do you agree with Trubek? Should we be more open to changes in conventional spelling and language use? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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