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Intro E: Mini-FAQ on Spelling

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Subject: Intro E: Mini-FAQ on Spelling

                                 Last Revised 2015-05-28 (28 May 2015)
                                      * = recently revised

Intro E: Mini-FAQ on Spelling
There are longer answers, with more examples, for most of these items in
the full AUE FAQ (see end). Many of these topics cause much argument,
and we earnestly request that you do some research before deciding to
post on these.


     - Isn't spelling reform a good idea?
*   - Joke about step-by-step spelling reform
     - Humorous poems about spelling
     - What is "ghoti"?
     - I before E except after C
    - U.S. -v- Rest-Of-World spelling

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Isn't spelling reform a good idea?

Only a tiny number of a.u.e participants favour spelling reform. One
chief reason is that there are so many ways to pronounce common English
words that any simplified standard spelling would still be irregular for
many people.

We do not appreciate long attempts at trying to convert us to spelling
reform. You may find a better audience at
alt.language.english.spelling.reform, and there is The Simplified
Spelling Society at:

A history of English spelling reform attempts since 1870:

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*Joke about step-by-step spelling reform

Three versions of this joke, in which spelling reforms are proposed
and then made in the course of the article itself, are in circulation.
They can be found on the Web, so please don't post any to a.u.e.

(1) A plan for the improvement of spelling, by M. J. Shields
   It begins, "For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c"..."
   [M. J. Shields was a critic of G. B. Shaw's spelling reform ideas,
according to the book "Another Almanac of Words at Play" (William Espy,
1980, p. 80). Many web sites attribute this piece to Mark Twain, but
Twain scholars at the University of California could find no supporting
evidence for that.]

(2) MEIHEM IN CE KLASRUM by Dolton Edwards (in _Astounding SF_ 1946)
   It begins: "Because we are still bearing some of the scars..."

(3) "The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be..."

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Humorous poems about spelling

One well-known poem that is posted occasionally and can be found on
the Web is sometimes called "English is Tough Stuff," but its original
title was "The Chaos." It was written by Dutch writer and teacher G.
Nolst Trenité, and first appeared in his textbook, _Drop Your Foreign
Accent_ (Haarlem, 1920). In later editions he added more verses.  It

   Dearest creature in creation,
   Studying English pronunciation.
   I will teach you in my verse
   Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.

Another humorous poem is sometimes called "Ode to a Spelling Checker" or "Owed to
a Spieling Chequer." This page shows the original two verses from 1991:

  by Mark Eckman

  I have a spelling checker
  It came with my PC
  It highlights for my review
  Mistakes I cannot sea.

  I ran this poem thru it
  I'm sure your pleased to no
  Its letter perfect in it's weigh
  My checker told me sew.

followed by a much expanded 1992 version by Dr.  Jerrold H. Zar
of Northern Illinois University, with the title "Candidate for a Pullet Surprise."

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What is "ghoti"?

It's an alternative spelling of "chestnut". :-)  O.K., it's "fish",
re-spelled to demonstrate the inconsistency of English spelling:  "gh"
as in "cough", "o" as in "women", "ti" as in "nation".

This idea is used as a humorous educational tool to make us think about
the irregularity of English spelling, which lacks perfect one-to-one
correspondence between sounds and symbols.

In fact, one can say that "ghoti" shows that English spelling is kind,
considerate, and easy. Why?  Because fish isn't really spelled "ghoti"!
Made-up examples like this may be fun, but they overstate the case for
spelling reform and strike some of us as self-defeating.

The first mention we've seen of "ghoti" as a linguistic amusement was in
the Christian Science Monitor of Aug 27, 1938. It appears as word-play
in _Finnegan's Wake_ (1939). A 1943 story in The Times (London) shows it
was known to Daniel Jones, Professor of Phonetics (an inspiration for
G.B. Shaw's Henry Higgins). It has often been suggested that "ghoti" was
created by Shaw, or at least was used by or popularized by him; we found
a story in the Los Angeles Times of 1946 in which linguist Mario Pei
described Shaw as using this trick. But so far we have not found it in
Shaw's own writing. See our FAQ for more references.

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I before E except after C

This rule is presented in different ways in America and Britain.  The
British version specifies:

"I" before "E"
Except after "C",
When the sound is "ee". [/i:/ in ASCII phonetic]

This old rule is supposed to help students remember the
spelling of vowels pronounced /i:/ (the long "e" sound of "feed"). It
has no value for words where the vowel is pronounced in any other way,
the key fact which people bemused by many "exceptions" to the rule
usually do not realise.

Apart from some personal names (Keith, Sheila), there are very few
common exceptions to the British rule. The apparent change in
pronunciation of words like "fancies" from the traditional "fanciz" to
the modern "fanceez" may lead to a new common exception being added to
the rule.

A common U.S. version is:

"I" before "E"
Except after "C",
or when pronounced "ay" [/eI/]
as in "neighbor" and "weigh".

It has been pointed out (by at least one American) that this version has
far more exceptions because "ei" has many other pronunciations, e.g. in
"height" and "heifer". There are more examples in the AUE FAQ

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*  U.S. -v- Rest-Of-World spelling

Lists of words such as harbor/harbour and center/centre:

  Wikipedia: Comparison of American and British English

Canada spells some words as the British do, and others as the Americans do. Australia and other Commonwealth countries tend to follow the UK.

This series of seven "Intro Documents" is intended to aid newcomers to
the newsgroup. The articles are posted frequently in the newsgroup
and are installed at this Web site for your convenience, along with
a menu of links to the seven Intro documents.

Parts of this document are taken from the big AUE FAQ, which was edited
by Mark Israel.  Remaining parts were written by Albert Marshall and
others. Suggestions for improvements in clarity, fairness, accuracy, and
brevity should be emailed to me -- Donna Richoux
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