Advocates push for simpler 'spelling'

  • Updated: July 5, 2006 - 2:25 PM

Those in favor of simplified spelling say children would learn faster and illiteracy rates would drop if words such as bomb," "comb" and "tomb" were spelled the way they sound.

WASHINGTON -- When "say," "they" and "weigh" rhyme, but "bomb," "comb" and "tomb" don't, wuudn't it maek mor sens to spel wurdz the wae thae sound?

Those in favor of simplified spelling say children would learn faster and illiteracy rates would drop. Opponents say a new system would make spelling even more confusing.

Eether wae, the consept has yet to capcher th publix imajinaeshun.

It's been 100 years since Andrew Carnegie helped create the Simplified Spelling Board to promote a retooling of written English and President Theodore Roosevelt tried to force the government to use simplified spelling in its publications. But advocates aren't giving up.

They even picket the national spelling bee finals, held every year in Washington, costumed as bumble bees and hoisting signs that say "Enuf is enuf but enough is too much" or "I'm thru with through."

Thae sae th bee selebraets th ability of a fue stoodents to master a dificult sistem that stumps meny utherz hoo cuud do just as wel if speling were simpler.

"It's a very difficult thing to get something accepted like this," says Alan Mole, president of the American Literacy Council, which favors an end to "illogical spelling." The group says English has 42 sounds spelled in a bewildering 400 ways.

Americans doen't aulwaez go for whut's eezy — witnes th faeluer of th metric sistem to cach on. But propoenents of simpler speling noet that a smatering of aulterd spelingz hav maed th leep into evrydae ues.

Doughnut also is donut; colour, honour and labour long ago lost the British "u" and the similarly derived theatre and centre have been replaced by the easier-to-sound-out theater and center.

"The kinds of progress that we're seeing are that someone will spell night 'nite' and someone will spell through 'thru,"' Mole said. "We try to show where these spellings are used and to show dictionary makers that they are used so they will include them as alternate spellings."

"Great changes have been made in the past. Systems can change," a hopeful Mole said.

Lurning English reqierz roet memory rather than lojic, he sed.

In languages with phonetically spelled words, like German or Spanish, children learn to spell in weeks instead of months or years as is sometimes the case with English, Mole said.

But education professor Donald Bear said to simplify spelling would probably make it more difficult because words get meaning from their prefixes, suffixes and roots.

"Students come to understand how meaning is preserved in the way words are spelled," said Bear, director of the E.L. Cord Foundation Center for Learning and Literacy at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Th cuntry's larjest teecherz uennyon, wuns a suporter, aulso objects.

Michael Marks, a member of the National Education Association's executive committee, said learning would be disrupted if children had to switch to a different spelling system. "It may be more trouble than it's worth," said Marks, a debate and theater teacher at Hattiesburg High School in Mississippi.

E-mail and text messages are exerting a similar tug on the language, sharing some elements with the simplified spelling movement while differing in other ways. Electronic communications stress shortcuts like "u" more than phonetics. Simplified spelling is not always shorter than regular spelling — sistem instead of system, hoep instead of hope.

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