Brake the Rulz, Get Reel, Lern to Spel Rite

PR people have no time to bemoan the state of the dot-gone era and its impact on agencies and departments. We surviving practitioners are much too busy: We’ve much too much to do — from a myriad of must-read papers and urgent emails requiring endless replies and forwards to must-write meeting minutes, weekly and monthly activity reports, and releases, releases, releases… Whew!

And through it all we must cope with an archaic language, the tortured spellings and mystical grammar of which pose a constant challenge. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a simpler way to deal with English spelling?

The Simplified Spelling Society thinks so, sort of:

    English spelling is notoriously difficult. It is an antiquated, unpredictable system not designed for universal literacy. We all suffer from its irregularity: it takes much longer to learn than more regular systems; it inhibits free expression; it causes mispronunciation; it is handled erratically by most people, with even skilled writers prone to uncertainty and error; and it depresses educational standards (millions are functionally illiterate). Many languages with more regular spellings have modernized their writing in the past century, and several English-speaking countries modernized their currency and/or weights & measures in the 1970s. Our spelling can and should now be modernized too…

    An ideal spelling system matches letters to speech-sounds. The sounds of words then tell us how to spell them, and the spelling tells us how they sound. English is so far from that ideal that we would need a totally new spelling system to make a perfect match. Even if such a drastic change were agreed, it would so disrupt the continuity of literacy, and the necessary worldwide re-education would be so costly, that it would be impracticable. As other languages show, new spellings must be close enough to the old for people educated in the one to read the other easily.

What Can Be Done?

So faced with the tsunami of English words, the last thing we PR pros should have to worry about is proper spelling. (Some 13 percent of words are not spelled the way they sound anyway.) Communication is key, right? We’ve endured enough and, frankly, we should open the window and scream that we’re not going to take it anymore. Like Nike, let’s just do it — spell it like it sounds.

Happily, help is on the Web. Spelling reformer Richard L. Wade — of Oxford, England, no less — recently launched freespeling.com. And the august, London-based Simplified Spelling Society has been around since 1908. Both sites offer guidelines and tips.

Cut Spelling

I don’t dare recommend that we adults jump right in and apply cut spelling (CS) rules to the inviolate news release, but why not ease into the new by trying it out in emails? As it is, our kids have been very quickly evolving the language since ICQ and instant messaging have taken hold.

The following example from the Simplified Spelling Society demonstrates how CS works. If you can read it, then surely you can write it.

    Efect of CS on readrs

    Th foloing paragrafs sho CS in action. We first notice it is not hard to read, even without noing its rules, and with practis we read it as esily as traditionl spelng. Most words ar unchanjed (over 3/4 in th previus sentnce), and we hav th impression not of a totaly new riting systm, but of norml script with letrs misng here and ther. Th basic shape of most words, by wich we recognize them, is not fundmently altrd, and nearly al those that ar mor substantialy chanjed ar quikly decoded; very few ar truly puzlng. This means that, if al printd matr sudnly apeard in CS tomoro, peples readng ability wud not be seriusly afectd. Foren lernrs in particulr ar helpd by th clearr indication of pronunciation, as wen pairs like lo/cow, danjer/angr, undrmine/determn cese to look like ryms. With groing familiarity, users apreciate CS as a streamlined but mor acurat represntation of spoken english. Its novlty lies in th disapearnce of much of th arbitry clutr that makes ritn english so confusing and causes most of th mistakes peple now make.

Wade, a retired television, radio, and advertising writer, calls it “freespeling” and suggests that one just get on with it, beginning by trying a few words on each page to avoid overwhelming and confusing the readers. Then, perhaps if we listen more closely to rap music, we can make faster progress.

As you may be able to tell from this column, it’s pretty close to April Fool’s Day…

Yes, I do applaud efforts to hasten the evolution of the language. But as one who failed to master emoticons 101, I shall cling to the “old English” that I labored so long and hard to comprehend. Besides, it’s much easier on my spell checker.

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