Should we relax English spelling rules?

Should we relax English spelling rules?

In many languages, you can read a new word and instantly know how to pronounce it, or hear a new word and instantly know how to spell it - not so in English.

A girl at a spelling bee

The inconsistency of English spelling can make it hard work

Being a language with a voracious appetite for new words taken from other languages means that English has accumulated a very large vocabulary.

This allows English-speakers to express themselves using subtly differing words to convey subtly different meanings.

The downside, however, is that it is impossible to have simple, regular spelling rules.

So perhaps it is time to extend the rules that do exist a bit further through the language and free up spelling a little? That is the idea being put forward by Professor John Wells of University College, London, and President of the Spelling Society.

He was joined in disucssion by Ian Bruton-Simmonds, Author of "Mend Your English: Or What You Should Have Been Taught at Primary School."

World Update's Roger Hearing asked Professor Wells why we need to make any changes, given that most of us can vaguely cope with the current spelling rules.

Listen Listen to their discussion (4 mins 52 secs)

First broadcast 8 September 2008

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Some of Professor John Wells' suggestions for simpler spelling:

  • Short vowel sounds

Drop the final e from words if the preceding vowel sound is short: Give becomes giv but love remains love

  • Double consonants

Allow double consonants when the preceding vowel sound is short: River becomes rivver; model becomes moddel

  • Danger, Anger, Hanger

Replace the soft g with a j: Danger becomes danjer
Use a double g after the n if the sound is hard: Anger becomes angger
Use a single g if the sound is elided: Hanger remains hanger

  • Embrace Americanisms

Many people already use an s in "practice", as in the US. Also, the American version of organize with a z is accepted. Why not thru?

  • Abolish the apostrophe

Get rid of the two types of its (it's and its) as it is hardly likely to confuse your meaning. If removing the apostrophe is a problem, then leave a space: We'll becomes we ll

  • Their, there and they're

They all sound the same and the meaning is unlikely to be lost if we just use "there" in each case

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