Ask Mr Linguistics Person SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 2 Contents Hu ða Æþelingas? or, Who are the Linguists?—A “Monolingual” Analysis—by B. E. O’Wulf

Spelling Reform
As seen through the eyes of a child

Yan-Ying Mottainai and Madingle Hopper
Midwestern University of the Midwest

There have been many arguments for, against, around, counter to, and in the general vicinity of English spelling reform over the years, decades, and centuries. Ultimately, none have had much success, other than the lexicographic disaster perpetrated by Noah Webster, who only complicated matters by increasing the divide between UK and US speakers of English.

We had long since given up hope of any acceptable form of prescriptive spelling reform, holding on to only the faintest glimmer of optimism with regard to natural spelling change, which, over the generations, might “cre8 a consistenter form of english that is more easier 4 U 2 read, too.” There’s not really much hope left there, either.

Our passion for the topic was resurrected when we were discussing children’s spelling errors. We have in common a nephew—the child of our siblings, who are married to each other—who is a precocious 8-year-old user of language and lover of words. However, he can’t spell worth a damn. We came to realize that he hasn’t learned to spell because spelling shouldn’t be something a child has to learn. There are no spelling bees in Spanish-speaking countries because “spelling” is something children learn some random Thursday after they’ve mastered the alphabet. Se deletrea como se habla—one spells as one speaks.

In fact, our nephew, who has a particularly good ear, does just that. He spells train as “chrain” and raisin as “raisn”—uncorrupted by ideology, unencumbered by too many exceptions, he hears what he hears and writes exactly that. We propose a council of such fluent and talented 8-year-olds, who would create a consistent, natural spelling system for English, based on the supposed “rules” of our current spelling system.

Of course, there will be dialect differences, including splits and mergers that can make any attempt at a unified spelling system significantly more complex. The solution is embodied by our 10-year-old niece, sister to our nephew, who has an unusual flair for mathematics. We propose a number of regional councils of 8-year-olds, who each determine their own appropriate dialectal spelling system. These proposals would then be forwarded to a council of mathematically gifted 10-year-olds, whose advanced pattern-recognition abilities, coupled with their childish desire for simplicity, would allow them to normalize the regional varieties in an unprejudiced manner.

This reformed “Mottainai-Hopper spelling system” (named after the children, naturally) could revolutionize English acquisition for native speakers and second language learners alike! Or it could be a pointless, miserable failure—but even then it wouldn’t be any worse, or any more preposterous than any other English spelling reform system proposed in the last hundred years!

Ask Mr Linguistics Person
Hu ða Æþelingas? or, Who are the Linguists?A “Monolingual” Analysisby B. E. O’Wulf
SpecGram Vol CLXIII, No 2 Contents