Anyone Can Read Now
The extent and seriousness of English functional illiteracy exceeds your worst NIGHTMARE,
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11. All Reasonable Objections to Spelling Reform Have Been Debunked
People may think that if we cannot change to the metric system, we cannot change our spelling either. There is, however, a very significant difference. Although changing thermometers from Fahrenheit to Centigrade and road signs from miles to kilometers is easy and only moderately expensive, changing hundreds of huge metal-working machines from inches to centimeters would be devastatingly expensive to numerous manufacturing companies. The American economy would be seriously damaged by the millions of dollars the manufacturing companies would need to spend.
On the other hand, changing from our present inconsistent, illogical, and chaotic spelling system would definitely save money in the long run. This is true for several reasons. English-speaking students would learn to read in less than three months as opposed to the present two or more years. Many subjects could therefore be taught two years earlier than at present. Many of the dropouts from school every year are a result of students who do not learn to read, which damages the American economy. The textbooks used for teaching reading would be much smaller and would not need to be replaced until they physically wear out instead of being replaced every five or ten years when the latest "new and improved" teaching methods are adopted. Previously published books which have exceeded their copyright date or for which the publisher has the copyright can be used in the classroom after conversion to NuEnglish rather than the expense of newly written schoolbooks.Will Existing Writings Become Inaccessible?
Conventional wisdom states that if a completely different spelling system is adopted, all the existing material in English will become inaccessible. However, learning a new language will not make us unable to understand our first language. Learning a new way of spelling will not erase all memory of English spelling. Nor would the printing of new books suddenly cause all the existing books to self-destruct. The truth is this: all the existing books in English are already inaccessible to illiterates.
After NuEnglish is implemented, almost everyone will read. People who now read English will keep their books written in English and read either English or NuEnglish. Libraries will keep their books in English. All others will read only NuEnglish, unless they choose also to learn English, similar to English literature scholars who must learn Middle English to read Chaucer and other writers of his era. Lawyers, English scholars, historians, and all those whose vocation or hobby requires extensive research through written material of the past — if it is not of sufficient interest to make reprinting in NuEnglish economically feasible — would learn English spelling as a college (or possibly high school) elective course.
All the books that are so important that they have a readership large enough to make reprinting economically feasible for the publishers will be reissued in NuEnglish. Competition among printers for their share of the market suddenly swollen with millions of previous non-reader will ensure such an event. In the same way that we recently saw "Now in HDTV!" preceding certain television programs, we will soon see advertisements by bookstores declaring, "Now in NuEnglish!" Many libraries have few books that are fifty years old or more. Many libraries sell outdated and least used books to make room for new ones. Often the books they sell are only one or two years old. The average age of books in a bookstore is much less than that of books in a library. Few books in a bookstore are so eagerly sought that they will be reprinted for more than a year or two.Is a Standard Pronunciation Required?
A second objection to spelling reform based on phonemic spelling (such as NuEnglish) is that it would require a fixed standard of pronunciation, which we do not have. This line of thinking is a fallacy. We understand each other's spoken words. We will understand the written transcription of words even more easily than spoken words. This is true because when listening to someone speak, if we misunderstand a word in the split second in which it is spoken, it is gone forever unless there is a written or audio recording of what was said or we can ask the speaker what was said. Written words can be examined as long as needed to be understood.
Understanding written words will also be easier that understanding spoken words because written words are separated by spaces. It is often difficult to know the start and end of spoken words because they are run together unless the speaker purposely speaks slowly and distinctly. So, basing our spelling upon pronunciation would not require that we all pronounce words the same to be understood. No one wants to be told how to pronounce their words — nor should they be. Furthermore, people's speech will become more standardized as time goes by. This will occur both by choice and by the same process as occurred through the widespread use of radio and television begun in the twentieth century. Seeing words always spelled the way they sound will train the reader in how the writer pronounces and prompt many readers to adopt the same pronunciation.Will Linguistic History Be Lost?
A third and much less convincing objection to spelling reform is that reformed spelling would destroy the etymological or linguistic history of words. Samuel Noory, on pages X-XIV of his book, Dictionary of Pronunciation, shows that "today's spelling is in many respects as much an offspring of fancy as of design." He gives several examples in which spelling is not based on historical roots. Also, etymologists themselves would prefer to see English spelled phonemically, and thus, from this point forward, have a dynamic history of the language. As it is, we have 250 years of repetition of a "snapshot" of spelling the way many words were pronounced many years ago — a static history. As mentioned earlier, adoption of NuEnglish spelling would not result in the instantaneous destruction of all books written in English. Therefore, the question must be asked, "How much more static history of a mid-1700s spelling freeze do we need?" A much more pertinent question must be asked. Let us grant for a moment that the etymological history of present English spelling is very valuable. Should we let the desire for etymological data by a limited number of scholars cause us to keep a spelling system that is causing a severe problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world?Must We Standardize Plural and Past-Tense Spelling?
The final objection to spelling reform to be considered is that a phonemic spelling would hinder the recognition of the plural and past-tense forms of words. This also is untrue. If the plurals and past tenses were shown with a standard prefix, the reader might recognize them as plural or past tense a millisecond sooner. When the reader's eyes reach the end of a word, however, if the word has been recognized (read), the reader knows that the word is plural or past tense not only by knowing the word but also by the context. And as explained before, the ability to decide the pronunciation from the spelling helps in recognizing the word.
Although this should be enough to dismiss the argument, a more thorough explanation is needed. The argument has philosophical over-tones affecting our overall view of languages.Philosophical Overtones of Frozen Spelling
Since there are four spellings of plurals (adding S or ES to words not ending in S or Y, adding SES to words ending in S, and changing Y to I and adding ES) and only three sounds of plurals (S, Z, or UZ), spelling phonemically reduces irregularity — and improves clarity. (Words in which plurals are not constructed in this manner would be essentially the same length in English and NuEnglish.) One source (who will probably appreciate remaining anonymous if he carefully examines this website) states that the actual differences in sound are "irrelevant."
Let's analyze this statement.
If written communication were the primary form of communication (that is, if all spoken communication were just a way of turning the written words into sounds)
and if everyone who had a need to read English knew exactly what sounds every S added to show plurals stood for, the statement might have some validity. Neither "if" is true, however, and the first "if" is the exact opposite of the truth.
Regarding the first "if," the spoken language is primary for these reasons:
1. Almost everyone learns to speak their native language before learning to read it. 2. According to Mario A. Pei, in the article "Language" in the 1979 edition of World Book Encyclopedia,human beings act as talkers and listeners much more than as readers and writers. He states, About 90 per cent of all human communication takes place through spoken language." (Note, however, that written words can be disseminated to more people more easily than spoken words, and the value of what is communicated by written words is often greater.) 3. David Crystal, on page 123 of his book, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, points out that, "No community has ever been found to lack spoken language, but only a minority of languages have ever been written down." 4. Writing is simply a way of making spoken words or vocal ideas in the mind permanent for later use by the writer or someone else that the writer wants to communicate with but cannot (or does not desire to) speak to. 5. Whether a language has a written form is irrelevant to the characteristics of the language itself. Many unwritten languages are as highly structured, as rich in vocabulary, and as efficient for communication as languages that are written.
As Aristotle expressed it, "Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words." (I. J. Gelb, A Study of Writing, p. 13)
Regarding the second "if," both beginning readers (especially immigrants trying to learn English) and adult illiterates are badly confused by written words that give no hint of how they are pronounced. Since most English words are learned in spoken form first, if the written word does not suggest how it is to be pronounced, it often cannot be recognized (read).Why Do Some Scholars Oppose Our Proposed Solution?
Most scholars insist upon precision and "exactitude" (as they should). A few scholars insist upon "pedantic exactitude." This is insistence upon maintaining "high standards of scholarship" for the purpose of displaying their scholarship. NuEnglish will not require the scholarship of remembering complex spellings and spelling rules. We must not misjudge motives, however. We must not casually attribute all scholarly opposition to spelling reform to pedantic exactitude.
Most opposition to spelling reform comes from a natural human resistance to change. It also comes from overlooking the real purpose of a written language. Scholars (like the rest of us) can easily isolate themselves from the monetary and human-suffering costs of illiteracy to such an extent that they may even fail to see that
the purpose of writing is to COMMUNICATE IDEAS, not to display an ability to remember complex spelling rules and traditional spellings of thousands of words.
Dr. Thomas R. Lounsbury, LL.D., L.H.D., professor emeritus of Yale University, presents a devastating attack against all the common objections to spelling reform mentioned earlier as well as the objection of spelling heteronyms the same in his book, English Spelling and Spelling Reform. He convincingly demonstrates that the real motivation in opposing spelling reform is the natural human tendency to resist change — even change for the better. Although Dr. Lounsbury convincingly disproved the objections to spelling reform, his book is a scholarly one that was evidently not as widely circulated as it should have been. As a result, present-day references to spelling reform still dredge up these same disproven objections as sufficient, in themselves, to dismiss any further consideration of spelling reform. Perhaps another reason his book had no lasting influence is that, although he vehemently attacked what he recognized as ridiculous arguments against spelling reform, unlike Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, he did not take the next logical step of proposing a solution to the problem by advocating a specific spelling reform proposal.
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