As It Happens

Conference aims to create new standards in English spelling

No more spelling surprizes: a conference will propose a simpler model of English spelling.
Different spelling: Shakespeare’s grave in Stratford-Upon-Avon (Getty Images)

Rough, through, bough, cough, thought, borough. Enough! Those are just seven reasons to simplify English spelling, according to a group that's planning a conference to come up with a standardized form of spelling.

"Modern English is the probably the most irregular of all alphabetically based spelling systems," Stephen Linstead tells As It Happens host Carol Off. Linstead is the chair of the UK-based English Spelling Society. Together with the American Literacy Council, it is organizing a conference that will examine English spelling -- and try to make it simpler. "Probably between 30 and 40 per cent of all English words have some degree of ambiguity or irregularity."

It takes an average English-speaking child two years longer to learn correct word spellings than any other country in Europe, Linstead says. This costs governments money, and uses up teaching resources that could be better used elsewhere, he adds.

Stephen Linstead, chair of the UK-based English Spelling Society. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Linstead)

The conference will examine whether it makes more sense to move to a more phonetic way of spelling, similar to Italian and Spanish, he says. Besides clearing up the "ough" confusion, that may mean an end to the myriad ways people spell words that use an "oo" sound, such as  shoe, through, flew, you, ewe, blue, too and two.

Linstead acknowledges, however, that any changes to the official spellings of English words will meet with resistance from those who don't believe the language in its current form should be tampered with — even if that spelling has greatly evolved over time, as the photo of Shakespeare's grave, above, shows.

"We don't underestimate the problems of change."


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