back to article Academic wants to 'free up' English spelling

Linguistic traditionalists look away now: John Wells, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London, is proposing English adopts a phonetic approach to spelling in order to relieve kids of the "burden" of learning to write our beloved mother tongue as God intended. Wells will outline his proposals to the the …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Cheap publicity whore

    What an utter, utter cock. Can there be any method more sleazy for an allegedly educated person to generate some cheap publicity for himself than this bucket of fetid dog crap? While we're at it, perhaps we should just scrap schools and merely teach kids how to smash their skulls into a big iron spike. That's about as intelligent as this rotting turd of an idea. Fucking moron.

  2. JoePritchard

    For 'free up' read 'dumb down'...

    This country is becoming a laughing stock in the world.

    I assume that this is another ploy to make our ill-educated young people more suited to become Sector 7g Drones. Just give 'em enough education to perform.

    I for one will welcome our better educated overlords...wherever they come from.

    Mine's the coat with the King James Bible in one pocket and the works of Shakespeare in the other.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    The Modern Approach

    If it's too difficult to learn, dumb it down a level that everyone feels comfortable with. That way every person can be equally thick; there are no losers this way, only non-winners.

  4. E_Nigma

    I Want the Credit for This!

    My friends and I have done this a long time ago, we call it "English by Vuk Karadzic" (after the guy who reformed our spelling in a similar fashion in the nineteenth century) end it luks lajk dis. Moust konvinient, izn't it? :D

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hooray for idiots who promote illiteracy

    Children have been learning to spell their contemporary English words correctly for centuries, why are modern kids so incapable of doing the same? I couldn't think of anything worse than allowing "txt spk" into the modern lexicon.

  6. Alan Fisher

    Nothing new here

    They've been trying this for years (back in the 80's even) and it never happened then either.....maybe we should concentrate on teaching our children properly rather than dumbing down even further.....if kids can't spell, whose fault is it at the end of the day?

    Could it be that those countries cited also happen to have excellent educational systems?

    I reely fink day we shud lern to spel rite or weel be in trubbel later, innit?

  7. Tony Green

    A point people advocating this always forget... that people in different parts of the country pronounce words differently to each other. So whose pronunciation are we going to choose to base the phonetic spelling on?

    Even a simple word like "book" for example. Would we use "buk" to reflect a lot of pronunciation in the south east, or "bewk" to be phonetic for Scousers?

    Phonetic spelling only works in countries with little regional variations in pronunciation. It's never going to work in Britain.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Let me be the first

    to go and grab my Pitchfork, and my *Torch!!

    Grammar Nazis UNITE Heil Grammatik!!!

    Runter mit diesen Bastard Hundesohn!!

    *The Flame for obvious reasions

    P.s. Besides just how fecken hard is it to hit "F7" or Right-Click -> Spell Check in FireFox?

    Letters and or Book reports (like when I was a wee lad?), surly those died out with the Phonogram.

  9. Steve


    Could it be?

    Best keep this news away from Miniluv.

  10. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)


    Pry my apostrophe's from my cold dead hand's, Prof.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Mark Twain (someone had to do it)

    A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling

    For example, in Year 1 that useless letter c would be dropped to be replased either by k or s, and likewise x would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which c would be retained would be the ch formation, which will be dealt with later.

    Year 2 might reform w spelling, so that which and one would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish y replasing it with i and Iear 4 might fiks the g/j anomali wonse and for all.

    Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants.

    Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez c, y and x -- bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez -- tu riplais ch, sh, and th rispektivli.

    Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

    Mark Twain

    Now if your BBC newscasters would just pronounce your 'th's as th instead of v, e.g. wiv, bovver, ovver, etc, and enunciate the w instead of lispily half swallowing it then all would be well with the world.

  12. Iain Purdie
    Thumb Down

    Good greef

    Wot a fukwit.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    How did University College London allow a moron to become Professor of Phonetics? People such as Wells are in the privileged position of influencing UK educational standards. He should be arguing for higher standards, not dumbing-down writing to the lowest common denominator.

    Paris, because clearly her writing "style" is the standard to which all children should aspire.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    what a wonderful idea

    Our education system is in tatters... our schools are failing our children, our society is failing our children, our health service is failing our society, our children are a bunch of over pampered overweight overindulged undereducated technologically spoilt numbskulls ... so lets reduce our rich and vibrant language to fkg txt msgs tht cn B Ndastood by th grwng nmbr ov semilit... semilll... cemiliterat... semylitr... o fk it I dnae ken th wrd.

  15. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    A pedant writes

    Haven't we been through all this before?

    Using correct spelling and grammar has nothing to do with education and everything to do with clarity of concept and meaning. English is a complex language capable of incredible subtlety and shades of meaning; unfortunately because of its history of acquiring loan words from other languages (and originally being a mish-mash of Germanic, Norse, and Latin roots) this means that the spelling or grammar is sometimes not strictly logical. It also means however, in the absence of markers used by other languages such as case and gender, that there is little redundancy in the language. Simplified spelling reduces this redundancy further... not a good idea, if the writer is attempting to get a complex idea across.

    It's a language that can encompass the richness of Dickens, the detail of Darwin, and yet still be understood by the mouth-breathers brought up on the eight or nine hundred words to be found in the red-top papers. Attempt to reform it at your peril.



  16. AC
    Paris Hilton

    hope I'm the first ...

    "Text messaging, email and internet chat rooms are showing us the way forward for English"

    HAHAHAHAHAHA, shor fing buddee.

    next he ll fansee dropping grammer rulez 2 so that onlee TEH important wurdz r used, for example.

    Go jump off high bridge.

    Next it'll be tenses that we don't need either.

    I are on internets yesterday and I are talk with my friends.

    Paris because this plan is in line with her perceived IQ

  17. Mike Hall

    I can't disagree, unfortunately.

    Language changes over time. Go back a couple of hundred years and many spellings are completely different to those we accept as correct today. There is no reason to believe that today's spellings are more correct than those Shakespeare used. Similarly, they are no more correct than those that will be used two hundred years from now. Let the language move on.

  18. Ted Treen


    And then we appoint Jade Goody to his job, 'cos she's better qualified.....?

    Eyel get mi kote - as any fule kno

  19. Mike

    Wat ay dik hed

    Right, didn't the schools try this before? Then found that once the pupils could spell fo-net-ick-al-ee, they then had to reeducate them to be able to cope with the rest of the english-writing world?

    Do I spot some vested interest here? Maybe Mr Phoenetics University bod smells the possibility of getting the lucrative option of re-writing the dictionary?

    The english language has survived millennia of additions, invasions and conquests, adapting and evolving gradually whilst becoming one of the most commonplace languages in the world (again thanks to invasions and conquests)

    Now some upstart suddenly wants to trash the language and replace it with his own? Well he can write it if he wishes, but as far as I'm concerned, his dictionary can gather dust on the shelf next to the Klingon dictionary and Jedi bible.

    Alien, cos I can't understand what the professor just wrote down...

  20. Pete James

    I thnk thr4 I am

    What a brilliant introduction to education. Something that isn't particularly hard to learn should be just thrown away and the language abused in any way seen fit by exactly the age group that needs to realise the importance of structure. sometimes I think these ideas are created so that the smug intelligentia on the left keep their supporters as thick as possible and so enjoy their hypocritical, privileged positions.

    Not that it matters anyway, seeing at the woefully poor grasp of English displayed by some children.

  21. EvilGav


    How else can we continue to extol the virtues of a superior intellect by simple grammar nazi-ism in forums such as this ??

    I don't see any other country simplifying their language due to the inadequacies of their education system. More to the point, what happens in the sciences, where a simlpe mis-spelling could spell (sic) doom for an experiment ??

    Here's an idea, stop the stupid method of teaching children to read phonetically at all (modern phonics, i think it's called) and instead teach them to read properly from day one. Worked for me and the many generations before, is our education system such a shambles that they now find it too difficult ??

  22. Exarsere


    The very idea that we should reduce the complexity of our language for the intellectually inferior is preposterous. Some people will always be one step below, incapable of some levels of understanding. We take this step back, then in 50 years when people are even less linguistically inclined we will take another, changing words entirely just because people are too lazy to learn or teach correct English. Even Americans can handle spelling and punctuation more complicated that the above suggestions.

    Altering a feature of a culture and society for the ignorant and the stupid is not progress. We should raise the standard to force those far below it to improve their game. Incorrect spelling, grammar and syntax should not be tolerated. Where it is lacking, it needs to be addressed.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Plus ca change...

    How does this differ from the 'phonetic spelling' pushed in schools in the mid-seventies? The problem there, as with this misguided piece of rubbish, is that parents cannot understand the 'new' method and cannot get involved with their children's schooling - which suffers as a result.

    The English language will evolve, but slowly; major changes are doomed to failure. Just look how long it's taken (taking) to introduce the metric system. I learned no imperial measures at school (1975 onwards) but we still use miles and only relatively recently have got rid of avoirdupois weights.

  24. Andy H

    Not a good idea

    The problem with changing the way English is spelt is, once leant most people don't read the actual word, only the shape.

    This can be proven by those emails that go round every now and again, with the middle letters of the word of the email mixed up, but as long as you keep the first and last letters the same the brain can guess the word from it's shape and the context used.

    So if people start changing the length and lopping off letters off words it becomes difficult for existing English readers to read fluently and they will have to relearn the shapes of the words.

    & as 4 tx spk U snd lik a ttl twt whn red bck.

  25. Aron A Aardvark
    Thumb Up

    Run for the hills

    The English language fundamentalists are predictably appalled by this proposal. However, the English language has never needed formal change; it just happens.

    Frankly, the sooner the god-awful 'manoeuvre' disappears the better. And let's adopt the American spelling of 'center' while we're at it.. I for one do not pronouce 'centre' in its French form i..e. 'son-tray'. 'Centred' doesn't even look correct in my book. (All the reversed '-re' endings on such words come from a Victorian Francophile fad.)

    However, txt spk is the mark of the 'tard. Let us pray this bastardized twat talk never becomes the norm.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Save the double-entendre!

    Oh get knotted, why does everything have to be made easier and easier? Some things are worth taking the time to learn properly, even if they appear overly complicated at first.

    Currently going through the fun of teaching my little ones how to read. The only niggles that I have come across are the variations of sound, the schools teach kids by phonetics, simple example being a word like "bath", which our northern friends have phonetically right, strong "a" sound but we southerners pronounce "barth", or "Y" sounds different in a word as opposed the end of most words where it sounds like "i". Heavens above, you simply have spend time with them, reading lots until it clicks. If a 5 year old can apply some basic syntactic rules, I sure the rest of us can manage.

    I appreciate some foreign languages don't have the ambiguity that English has, but it's that very ambiguity that ensures we have great "institutions" like the double entendre!

  27. Paul

    Or perhaps...

    both sides could take a deep breath and relax a little?

    One thing though, some American spellings are closer to "old" English than ours are.

  28. Ash
    Thumb Down

    First Surveillance...

    ... Then ID Cards...

    ... Now NewSpeak.


  29. Anonymous Coward

    Professor John Wells...

    ...obviously doesn't practice what he preaches. Should be "Jon Iuels" surely?

  30. Kevin Whitefoot


    I have always written organize not organise. Ize is not just American it is perfectly ordinary Oxford English. See The ise version is a variant beloved of newspaper style manuals because their hacks can't be relied upon to remember that some words don't descend from Greek.

  31. TeeCee Gold badge

    @Tony Green

    I thought the scouse for "book" was: "Fing wit werds in, like".

  32. Slik Fandango
    Thumb Down

    Never ever ever!

    Fine spelling on texts in that way - but as mentioned already - regional dialects?? No one would understand anyone!!

    BTW - I just read of a case on the BBC News site where a guy was convicted of murder - conclusive evidence was given by his texting - quite interesting to read all the texts...

    Recently I looked at the sites where messages were left for the young girl murdered in the Shropshire fire. All text speak... where's the emotion?

    Maybe I'm just too old?

  33. Steve Evans

    Typical (tipecal?)

    The continued downfall of civilisation continues.

    For years the mathematics exams have been getting easier as the teachers fail to compete for attention with TV and games consoles. It was only a matter of time before some idiot decided to make the language easier.

    Can we quickly form an academy Anglais, shoot this idiot, and then dissolve the academy again please.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    "Dumbing down"?

    Look, people. Every other country in the world has allowed their spelling to change to match pronunciation, slowly, carefully over many years.

    The only reason that proposals such as this look so radical is that this reform has to make up for 200 years of refusal to allow the natural progression of languages.

    "love" and "prove" are so spelt for a reason: in Shakespeare's time, they rhymed. (Willie's scripts were written to be spoken, not to be read, so anything in a rhyming position we *know* rhymed.) But they have changed and now are pronounced differently. Any "smart" language would reflect this.

    Really. The Egyptians, the Chinese and the Sumerians invented pictographs to encode meaning thus write their languages. The Indic people and the Semitic peoples refined this to make syllabaries that encoded the sound system to better write their languages. The Europeans went one further and invented alphabets to encode the full phonetic description of a language as accurately as possible. The current orthography of English misses the point of the alphabet entirely. We are reducing our language to something no more sophisticated than ancient hieroglyphics.

    So who is the one that proposes "dumbing down", the man who proposes an academic, phonetic script or the man who seeks to preserve a prehistoric pictographic way of writing?

  35. Matthew

    It's illogical: live with it!

    English regularly has some nutter proposing this kind of change; and they always fade into the sunset with everyone ignoring their misguided rants. Take time to read Bill Bryson's excellent book, 'Mother Tongue', which lists several previous proponents of such changes...

    The facts are that English retains numerous illogical constructions but they are so entrenched that to propose change represents the worst option. Would the prof also suggest abolishing the words 'children' and 'oxen' on the basis that they use the archaic '-en' plural rather than tack an 's' on the end?

    Where these arguments always fall down is that they need universal acceptance. The millions of people for whom English is a second language frequently demonstrate a better understanding than native speakers: a clear indictment of poor education rather than issues with the language. Even when there are national standards bodies, such as in France, the language's evolution continues in its own direction. I don't recall 'le weekend' and 'le jumbo jet' being approved...

    P.S. I'm with Sarah Bee on the apostrophe issue.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    An answer he'll understand

    Phuq oph!

  37. Liam


    this is a brilliant idea

    why also not teach kids that 2+2 is anything they want

    if kids are too thick to learn to spell why not make it so they dont bother doing maths either?

    tell you what - just let them do music, art, acting and media and sack everything else off? since that is what 90% of kids seem to do at degree now (i.e. pointless degrees that millions of people have already and cant find work)

    all this and many scandenavian kids can read and write 4 or 5 languages better than most english kids can write English. and we wonder why we have the most stupid kids in europe.

    just watching things like match of the day you realise how many people still dont understand the simple principle of tense.

    i never understood the problems with apostrophes - whats the big deal? its not rocket science is it? it helps the reader get a better idea of what is meant.

    as mentioned above phonetic simply wont work in places with strong accents such as newcastle, various parts of yorkshire, birmingham & liverpool

    i, myself, come from lincoln. thats about smack bang in the middle of the country - to the right hand side. in my opinion its got the least noticable accent of anywhere ive been in the UK (most major towns and loads of little ones) - i dont pronounce the silly way the southerners do (grass isnt pronounced grarse) but dont have a northern accent either - its very neutral. phonetics would work ok round here but so many regions completely make their own pronunciation up

    maybe if we had a decent education system we would be ok - in sweden they dont start school until 7 but by the age of about 10 they can speak several languages and are probably more intelligent than most english 12-13 year olds. how the hell does that work? in 3 years they learn more than english kids can in double that!

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Sarah Bee

    I agree with the sentiment and appreciate the irony.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good idea

    One problem, we have letters with more than one sound associated with them and others which only provide sounds already provided by other letters ('c') so can we expect a whole new alphabet before this goes through?

    Here's a better idea. Let's all move to speaking Lojban as the native language of the UK.

  40. This post has been deleted by its author

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    It gets my vote

    It's a shame to see progressive thinking knocked down in this way, after all, if people with nothing to say don't have an easy way to criticizes people who do then what will become of the academic and class structure. Perhaps you lot would rather we went back to using Latin so criticism of the church would once again be outside the reach of the masses.

    Still discrimination against dyslexia seems to be rather popular amongst insecure people who need at least one way to feel that they are better then everyone else. It's what you say not how you say it that's important and all your diatribe is telling me is that you have nothing to say.

    P.S. E_Nigma

    Over the summer I saw a wax work of Vuk Karadzic and his wooden leg, a true academic revolutionary if ever their was.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    I do hope Sarah Bee was joking

    In other news: As other posters have pointed out, there is a precendent for this, and in the field of linguistics, "descriptive" rather than "proscriptive" grammars have been in vogue for some time now.

    However, simply because something is hard doesn't mean it should just be abandoned. It's where the rule is obsolete, or simply holding back the development of an entire nation that it should be changed.

    Example of the first instance: the French dropping the little cedilla that used to hang off the botom of the "c" in (e.g.) "francais". Whilst it upset some purists, it wasn't necessary, and in fact the use of the cedilla was confusing and inconsistent within the language. It also required different keyboards, character sets etc. Why not trim it, especially as language evolves over time. An example of the second instance: the (mainland) Chinese adopting a simplified character set in the mid 20th Centruy, rather than the full form (as used in HK and Taiwan), in an attempt to get the peasantry literate*, and to drive forward education outside a small, predominantly urban populace, bringing forward higher standards of living for all.

    The silly sod in the article is simply advocating making shit easier so, like, fings are simple, innit.

    He's right in one way: Ignoring the literacy problem isn't going to make it go away, but I'm not convinced his way forward is a good one.

    Orwell had it right- a full rich language allows people to express their thoughts an ideas with grades of subtlety and nuance, and also with economy. Take away those tools and our ability to reason atrophies with our vocabularies.

    Also: I watched "Idiocracy" at the weekend, which seems a pretty accurate view of what lies ahead for us all....

    *or: to prevent the peasantry reading anything published prior to the Cultural Revolution. Take your pick.

  43. Wyrmhole
    Thumb Down

    Flawed thinking

    I live in a country whose native language is spelled phonetically. One can easily observe this "feature" of the language doesn't prevent bad writing and lousy spelling as a result of poor education.

  44. David Harper

    What next, simplified maths?

    What can we expect once this truly half-witted idea has been adopted?

    How about Simplified Maths, in which we only teach the little darlings to count up to 10, because that's how many fingers they have and anything larger will only confuse the poor things ...

  45. Soruk
    Dead Vulture

    @Sarah Bee

    Your apostrophe's what?

  46. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: It gets my vote

    >>Over the summer I saw a wax work of Vuk Karadzic and his wooden leg, a true academic revolutionary if ever their was.

    That is the single greatest sentence ever committed to a Reg thread. It works on so many levels.

  47. faibistes

    Dyslexia (there are few chinese dyslexics)

    Quoting wikipedia:

    "Some studies have concluded that speakers of languages whose orthography has a highly consistent correspondence between letter and sound (e.g., Italian) suffer less from the effects of dyslexia than speakers of languages where the letter-sound correspondence is less consistent (e.g. English and French).

    In one of these studies, reported in Seymour et al., the word-reading accuracy of first-grade children of different European languages was measured. English children had an accuracy of just 40%, whereas among children of most other European languages accuracy was about 95%, with French and Danish children somewhere in the middle at about 75%; Danish and French are known to have an irregular pronunciation."

  48. Anonymous Coward

    A turkey voting for Christmas

    Amidst all the vitriol, nobody else seems to have noticed that this guy is the president of the Spelling Society, which, if his ideas were put into practice, would presumably cease to exist.

    As he gave this speech at their centenary dinner I am fairly surprised that he got out alive.

  49. Christoph

    Throw away the past

    Once everyone only knows the new spellings, they won't be able to read anything published before the change.

    It will be like trying to read Chaucer in the original - only specialists will bother.

    So we will chuck away all those accumulated centuries of culture.

    Oh, and we won't be able to read what English speakers in other, more sane, countries write.

    Yes! A perfect NuLab plan!

  50. E_Nigma

    @Mike Hall

    It is true that many words were spelled differently a few centuries ago, but that was partly because the spelling for them had not been standardized. At Shakespeare's time (since you already mentioned him), several different spellings were used for a number of words, including the Bards own last name. So it was the spelling of individual words that changed over time as it was standardized, not the entire spelling system. Still, does the proposal make sense in a way? Yes. Would it really make things better? Probably as much as DVORAK layout improved our typing speed and ease compared to QWERTY, which is why it became so popular over the 72 years it's been around. ;-)

  51. Paul Isaac's
    Thumb Down


    A fantastic film highlighting the stupidity of dumbing down. We've achieved so much in a structured society, would we achieve more in an unstructured one? I doubt it. Let's have phonetic programming languages and see if we all spell the same code in the same way and let the compiler then try and work things out...

  52. Bad Beaver


    We've been through this in Germany over the last decade or so. Apart from exposing those with a working aesthetic sense to eye-watering constructs (fancy three consecutive f's in a single word or other nightmares?) it produced the following, highly desirable results:

    - anyone professionally involved with the written word over the age of about 25 is in dire trouble to conform with "official" rules unless they willingly gave in to having long-learned rules in their heads replaced

    - certain publishers of certain dictionaries etc. suffer from broken backs due to carting the money away as EVERYTHING had to be replaced. Everything.

    - half the nation cannot spell properly according to "official" rules and happily relies on spellcheckers if they bother at all. It will stay this way until these people are all dead, so come back in 70 years or so. Or next week, if that Hadron-thing goes haywire. Wait a minute, there might be no next week...

    We called this a "reform" and it was supposed to make things better. I am not qualified to say whether this was achieved, but as a fact, adapting orthography etc. to current needs every now and then is fine. It happens all the time and reflects languages being in a constant flux of change. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between making changes that make sense and making changes that make dumb.

  53. Torben Mogensen

    Has been done elsewhere

    Many languages have had spelleing reforms that aim for simpler spelling closer to the pronounciation. Norway did so, and have spellings like "sitron" and "bensin". Romania did so and have a more phonetic spelling than before (the grammar is still horribly complex, though).

    But, seriously, while English has no logic in spelling, its grammar is a lot simpler than, say, Finnish that other posters lauded for having simple spelling or Romanian that I mentioned above. Compared to teaching children grammar of that complexity, teaching them English (or Danish, which is just as bad) spelling is a breeze. Besides, a major overhaul of English would require agreement between all English-speaking countries, since going alone on this will definitely fail. And I can't see this happening. The examples I mentioned of language reforms have all been for languages spoken in just a single country, which makes it a lot easier.

    Rather than changing English spelling, it would probably be a lot easier to make people pronounce words the way they are spelled, making each letter have a single consistent sound and not combine letter pairs into special sounds. So, for example "sound" would be pronounced "so-und" and "bomb", "comb" and "tomb" would rhyme. This has the advantage that past written works (like Shakespeare's plays) would be immediately readable to new generations, which they will not if they grow up with spelling words like they currently sound. But that idea will probably offend language purists even more than a spelling reform. :-)

    But to prove I'm as much a grammar Nazi as anybody: Sarah Bee wrote

    "Pry my apostrophe's from my cold dead hand's, Prof."

    That should be "apostrophes" and "hands", since green-grocer's plural is not considered correct. But then again, Sarah probably knew that and was just making fun.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Good idea!

    Then we can change mathematics and other "difficult" subjects so that if the answer "looks right" it is!

    That will solve all our skills-shortage problems in one go, and without anyone having to pay more or work harder.

  55. David H
    Paris Hilton

    Leave it out

    Leaving out the apostrophe in some cases would actually improve some people's grammar and spelling under the current system; people typing "it's" when they should be typing "its" instead has now become common to the extent that they are now incorrectly appearing in advertisements and other more important printed articles - the apostrophe means that there's something missing ("it's" = it is, NOT "its").

    Paris, because she has something missing.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    <no title>

    I gue's's a's other's have 'sugge'sted it may ju'st be publicity 'seeking, but I interpret thi's 'sort of thing a's yet more evidence that tho'se with any po'sition to do anything are 'simply too inept to actually allow them to do 'so. A's time goe's on I de'spair more and more about human 'society.

  57. Hollerith

    English is easy

    Rudolf Flesch, in his influential book 'Why Johnny Can't Read' and its sequel, points out that over 85% of English words follow very simple structural rules. Children, according to modern research, have brains wired to understand these rules. That's why teaching them effectively results in children and adults being able to read and spell without difficulty. This is done phonetically using real words, i.e. 'enough', not 'enuf'. My mother used Flesch's method to teach one-on-one remedial reading (saving children from second-rate educational methods) for years and never had a failure.

    Once you have been taught your language, you can appreciate the richness of its heritage and enjoy it. I like 'manoeuvre', just as I like 'mutton and 'threshold' and 'gamut'. To 'regularise' spellings it to say that most people are stupid. It's insulting to the people of this country.

    If you want to read 'phonetic' or 'regularised' English, just read G. B. Shaw's reviews or a novel with 'country' characters' speech written as the writer hears them: 'Well, zerr, I dain't know much aboot it, yer zee' and that sort of horror.

    Apostrophes: without them, what is the difference between its (noun) and its (= it is)? How to tell the difference between 'dogs bark' (they do) and 'dogs bark' (the bark of the dog)? A little space? Why is 'dog s bark' easier to understand than 'dog's bark'?

    These cranks raise their heads every so often and we all get into a tizzy over their foolish pronoucements, but the flurry never lasts for long, thank goodness.

  58. Jolyon Ralph
    Thumb Up

    @ Evil Graham

    Won't it be called the speling society now?


  59. Niall Wallace
    Paris Hilton

    Well, Well or Well

    While his example of its would work as it is pronounced the same regardless of whether you are meaning its mine, it is stupid, it has broken down.

    The well example? It could be Well as in thing you get water from / feeling or it could be We will which is pronounced differently. He says We ll might work but then if Well has a short E then We Will must be Weell which is similar to the How you feeling well in Scots (not SSE)

    And then if you adjust spelling do you adjust it to English English, Scottish Standard English, Hiberno English (See Wikipedia entries for the differences).

    Something that continuously annoys me about Dickens work is forcing me into reading an An before a H. So will House be officially as it is to me a House or will it be An Ouse (isn't that a river in Yorkshire?) as it is to others. And again we hit a pronounciation problem unless the River becomes Oose. Or we could adopt Umlauts so that would be Öse.

    The simplest answer to the apostrophe problem is to ban them, no more short cuts. Write what you mean in full and there is no more problems understanding them.

    Oh yeah and it's Haitch.

  60. Marc Savage

    death to apostrophe's

    God how I hate the stupid things.

    Whats the point. Its instead of it's would be so much easier. The reason we say It's in stead of it is; is to make it easier and quicker to say.

    the rest of course is utter tosh. Never will I spell colour in the american way unless I am using a forum opr html.

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Listen up Frenchy

    It is comical that we who propose modernising the language are painted as 'nutters'. Tis such a dangerously threatening idea clearly. Perhaps my friend, you should take your fundamentalist flag-burnings elsewhere.

    It is also laffable that the defenders of the language circle their waggons and hoist the irrelevant straw man by suugesting that children only be taught to count to ten. We're talking about English not Mathematics morons!

    On a side note, the French are frequently held up as some lofty ideal of language purity. Perhaps they could learn to spell London correctly and discontinue using the absurd 'Londres'. I don't write 'Marsay' or 'Neece'. Perhaps I should start.

  62. Adam Foxton

    English is hard

    to the point that a lot of mentally disabled people, drug addicts and even Dundonians can manage to spell correctly. Well, at least with commonly used words. How thick is this guy if he can't manage to spell properly?!

    All this from an Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London, or Emmarishus prohfessah o fonehtix @ you-knee-ver-city kollidge Lahndan as I'm sure he'd prefer it to be known.

    And with all those extra letters, can you imagine the trouble a dyslexic would have? Or a kid moving from Liverpool to London?

    Personally, I'm very happy leaving the English Language pretty much as it always has been- changing naturally and in response to social pressures rather than because some jumped up academic t*at has decided that he wants his 15 minutes of fame now rather than when he's done something to deserve it.

    I'd sign this off with bad english, but I actually speak as I spell. I'd even discern between river and rivver in speech.

    Spelt "traditionally" so it's clearly highly complex, technical content.

  63. Matthew
    Thumb Down

    just lower the bar

    If people are failing, then just lower the bar? very cleaver..

    That way no one will be stupid!

    He should be shot!

  64. Aron A Aardvark


    Anyone else find themselves cringing when BBC news readers start mangling 'Arfgarnistarn' and 'Parkistarn'? They sound like a right bunch of hawty pryckes.

  65. Marco van de Voort
    Gates Horns


    +1 for Bad Beaver's post. It has been exactly the same in Dutch, with two such reforms.

    (And English is general simpler than German or Dutch)

    The example for the apostrophe alone is ludicrous. You still have to know that there is something special about it, or "we'll" will change into "well", or alternatively (after Dutch model) if you make it "weel" (because it sounds long), you have to still tell it apart from "wheel", and

    "We'll wheel the wheel into the wheel well" becomes:

    Weel weel de weel in to de weel wel

  66. Mike Crawshaw

    @ Torben Mogensen

    "Rather than changing English spelling, it would probably be a lot easier to make people pronounce words the way they are spelled, "

    I can't help it.

    "I blow my nose at you, so-called "Arthur King," you and all your silly English Ku-nig-hits."

  67. Simon Painter


    "Pry my apostrophe's from my cold dead hand's, Prof."

    Please let that be ironic. PLEASE!

  68. Andy H

    @Adam Foxton

    Where is this Lahndan you speak of? The shurley kaptul sitee of the UK is Lundun.

    Which is another problem with the Emeritus prat's idea. Whose pronunciation are we going to use as the phonetic base?

  69. mh.
    Thumb Down


    The old "why don't we standardise spelling to match pronunciation" thing comes up every so often. It usually goes away again pretty quickly when someone points out you need some way of differentiating between words that are pronounced the same but spelt differently, such as cede, seed and the final syllable in supersede. I wonder if Professor Wells will be changing his name to Profesor Jon Welz and telling everyone he studies foanetiks.

  70. John H Woods Silver badge

    spelling or punctuation

    i think it is safe to just let spelling drift naturally, in fact i am sure that any attempt to move it deliberately will fail - there is just so much extant and new writing in english that attempting an artificial consensus appears doomed to failure.

    how about punctuation? i think the use of the apostrophe, except where needed (i'll, we'll) should be considered optional (although those who insert it innappropriately should be given the usual punishment for inserting things inappropriately).

    for myself, i would abolish capital letters in almost all contexts. that would piss off the bebo kids who capitalize every word (sometimes every other letter!) - and the germans, which is always a plus. capital letters are only needed in certain circumstances for disambiguation - in other cases they just exacerbate one's carpal tunnel syndrome. i'm quite happy to keep full stops - but who needs the capital letter afterwards?

    if you don't like my use of the lower case first person pronoun, please ensure you capitize the second person one when you reply. or do you think you are more important than i?

  71. Jonti

    The One True and Timeless Spelling System for English

    Isn't it amazing how a bunch of 17th Century philologists managed to devise The One True and Timeless Spelling System for English.

    A fantastic achievement to have created something so perfect that it needs no tweaking, even after a couple or three centuries.

    Kudos to Johnson's "harmless drudges".

  72. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: @Sarah

    It's not ironic at all. Why, what do you mean?

    O ye with your little faith, honestly.

  73. Sooty

    If this is the way forward

    "Text messaging, email and internet chat rooms are showing us the way forward "

    Then why does it take me 4-5 times as long to decipher txt spk, than it would to read something written properly. The language has evoloved to where it is today, because of the need to convey what comes across in tone and inflection for speech. Different languages have different ways of distinguishing this, so they can be simpler to write.

    The rules for the English language are mostly logical, with a few exceptions. Once you have learned those few exceptions you know all you need to know.

    Then again I may be unusual, I actually read books! I find it astonishing that people I work with will have to ask how to spell something and aren't 'just able to'. I couldn't tell you the rules, I just know when something is spelled incorrectly* I learned it that young.

    Also, as to the idea of spelling phonetically, spend some time in Birmingham, Scotland, etc. In fact anywhere with strong accent. We could regress the language back to where it was hundreds of years ago where no-one could understand the language outside their own region.

    *don't want to get into typing errors here, there are a lot of people, myself included, that know how to spell things but get them wrong due to typing too quickly.

  74. Frank
    Thumb Up

    @faibistes re. Dyslexia (there are few chinese dyslexics)

    (We'll let you off quoting from Wikipedia ;) since it's generally ok for 'dry' knowledge)

    Could it be that the noted differences between English. Italian, Danish etc have anything to do with the quality and consistency of teaching methods in schools in those countries? Also, was any account taken of the 'social norms' for these countries as regards interaction between parents and young children , e.g. reading stories to them, taking an interest in their school work etc? Just a thought.

    As for 'there are few Chinese dyslexics', that is a bit of a puzzle because the orthography of Chinese characters has little if anything to do with their pronunciation. Based on a comparison of the research results you quoted, this should result in Chinese children having an 'accuracy' of 0%. It may be that the neural condition that we call dyslexia does in fact cause problems for people who try to make the association between letter-word-sound whereas the Chinese child goes down a different mental route in learning to pronounce and read.

    (Waits for a response from someone who knows more about it).

  75. John P


    Is he seriously saying that the language that has been tought to millions of people around the world for the last 2K+ years is too difficult for today's children.

    May I suggest that the government pay a better wage to teachers so the good ones stay on, give the teacher benefit of the doubt over the word of some snotty-nosed little happy-slapper, and provide those teachers that do stick around with the resources to teach kids and the ability to slap the little gits who cause trouble.

    For years the government has been insisting that there is nothing wrong with our education system. The very suggestion this guy is making proves that to be a load of twoddle(sp?).

    If my mate who harmed himself, got his girlfriend pregnant at 15 and who was otherwise completely devoid of intelligence or common sense, can sufficiently master the English language without knocking out random letters, then I'm sure that today's kids can be made to.

    Mine's the one with the English dictionary in one pocket and the tazer for 'aiding learning' in the other.

  76. Peter Thompson

    New definition

    "Emeritus Professor" = "senile twat".

  77. Frumious Bandersnatch


    Spelling has nothing to do with literacy problems. English's quaint spelling is only really a problem for non-native speakers trying to learn the language. Kids are equipped to acquire language skills, and if they're not learning it's surely the fault of the educational system. I'm glad to see that the majority of Reg readers see this proposal as the steaming pile of manure that it is (metaphorically speaking, obviously).

  78. Andrew Ridge

    what a numpty

    I vote we make English more complicated, the more apostrophes the better. Then maybe people with daft ideas like this won't get into positions where they are able to suggest things like this

  79. Britt Johnston

    @ dyslexia: mistakes related to complexity?

    An alternative explanation for the differences could be the school age. British first graders are young compared to the continent's.

    Chinese would confirm this, it takes a lifetime to learn.

  80. The Fuzzy Wotnot
    Thumb Up


    Bang on the money! Happy to allow a small amount of change to the language as it evolves, especially as we head towards the "global village", of course we need to evolve a little here and there. What of the rich history we all have in our languages? Only the academics will be able to enjoy our rich literary heritage, we will need thousands of new bookshelves to hold all the newly translated books in the new "Simplified English".

    Unless you have enforced structure and standards people will pretty much be writing out whatever they feel, in any fashion they feel like at the time. A newspaper would be like be like one of those poorly printed, multi-language instruction sheets from B&Q. You'd get the general idea but the details would be lost, perfect for your average Daily Mail reader I suppose.

  81. C Ridley


    @Marc Savage

    Get rid of apostrophes, you add ambiguity to an already ambiguous language (Cf. Hollerith's post a few above yours).

    @AC 'Perhaps they could learn to spell London correctly and discontinue using the absurd 'Londres'. I don't write 'Marsay' or 'Neece'. Perhaps I should start.'

    Londres is French for London just as Genoa is English for Genova, Rome for Roma, Venice for Venezia et cetera ad infinitum, so shut your mouth.

    English is in constant evolution, 'horror' used to be spelled 'horrour' (see Jane Austen), again etc., so a natural progression will be for labour to become new labor and colour to become color. This will inevitably happen, but what is the point of forcing change to a naturally evolving system which has worked for centuries, and working well mainly thanks to its changing, adapting, adopting nature? This man Well's should also shut his mouth.

  82. Bruno Girin

    Simplified spelling?

    Simplifying spelling is not a bad idea in itself. However, phonetic spelling won't work in English for a number of reasons that the prof has decided to ignore:

    As mentioned above, English has a huge variety of accents that make phonetic spelling virtually impossible. Should you spell differently between London and Newcastle or should you devise phonetic spelling based on the South East and ask everybody else to learn a new spelling that is not phonetic for them?

    English has a lot of variation in vowel pronunciations, including long and sort vowels, diphthongs, etc. By contrast, Spanish and Italian, as cited as examples, each have exactly 5 distinct vowel sounds that correspond to letters a, e, i, o and u. Few diphthongs and no difference between short and long vowels. If you were to devise phonetic spelling for English, you'd need to introduce a large number of new letters or new letter combinations, possibly some diacritics as well, just to reflect the range in pronunciation.

    @AC: Listen up Frenchy: in the same vein should English speakers say Roma and Munchen rather than Rome and Munich?

  83. Anonymous Coward

    No surprises here

    He is a professor at UCL. Clearly neither of the proper universites would allow such a fool.

  84. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    it's changing fine all by itself thanks.

    there's no problem here. dictionaries and school-teaching have always just reflected "what people write and what they mean", albeit with a slight time drag. and this is changing faster than ever thanks to (a) messaging (text messaging especially) and (b) english becoming the de facto second language of the world's peoples. spelling will become simplified, if not exactly phonetic, all by itself, thanks, in time, and teaching will follow that usage.

    write how you want to write, let others write how they want to write, and stop telling them they're "wrong". you were taught one set of rules at school; the generation after you a different set, the generation before a different set. the idea that your set of rules is somehow "right" is therefore clearly ludicrous.

    it's just another lie that you were taught. so stop it. yes, different spellings and grammar may cause certain members of your audience to ascribe different import to your message, or to infer something about you -- but that is different from any "right" or "wrong". be happy about your own powers of language, by all means, but that's all.

  85. Chris Cheale

    Problem -> Solution

    Here's the thought process...

    "kids can't spell, the education system is failing..."


    "I know, we'll do away with spelling and then everyone wins - HUZZAH"

    Let's try the same idea with maths...

    "kids can't add up, the education system is failing..."


    "I know, 134 + 243 = whatever the hell you like, everyone wins - HUZZAH!"

    Phonetic spelling is doomed to epic fail - play pictionary with a geordie and you'll soon find that "pour" is pronounced very differently to "poor" ('poo-er')... so how do you spell it phonetically? "poor", "por", "poo er", "paw"?

  86. Daniel

    what utter tosh.

    It's not that hard. The human brain is well adapted to recognising patterns of groups of letters. That's how the English language works.

    My daughters are bilingual - Dutch first, English second. Once the eldest was reading Dutch successfully (you can also get 90% Dutch pronounciation from letter sounds), I sat down with her to have a go at "Town Mouse and Country Mouse". Consider the spelling of the first sentence ... :

    "Once upon a time there two mice ..."

    First run, she didn't get it at all. Confusion. A week later she came back for a second go. Was reading it successfully 3 days later, and has never looked back. It just took a little while for the different rule set to sink in.

    Come and tell me I'm wrong, if you think you're hard enough, Prof. Apologists for ignorance do well around here.

  87. James Bassett

    Moronic Stunt

    This is clearly a moronic publicity stunt. I'm sure the man himself is horrified by what he is being forced to do in order to raise funds for his department. Yes, of course, the English language changes all the time. Pronunciation, spelling and the introduction of new words ensures that the English language evolves with mankind in order to continue to be the most useful language we have. That's why it is the undisputed language in international communication.

    However, there are many reasons - all known to our Professor - why spelling cannot be overhauled in the way he suggests. Many are mentioned above. Another I did not see mentioned (might have missed it so appologies) is Homophones.

    The English language has thousands of examples of words that sound the same but have different meanings. Currently, they are differenitated by context and spelling. If you remove the different spelling then all words must be differentiated by context OR you have to go to great lengths to ensure the reader is sure which meaning was intended.

  88. Simon B

    jon welz

    jon welz pleez get a liyf and stop anuying evreewon. dum fuc

  89. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Niall Wallace

    "The simplest answer to the apostrophe problem is to ban them, no more short cuts. Write what you mean in full and there is no more problems understanding them."

    Which is why things should be written in formal English. As i was taught any published work should be written in formal English. In fact, anything other than a quick note to my friends should be based on what i was taught. The only time any publication should use "it's" instead of "it is" is when it is quoting the spoken word.

  90. David Pollard
    Thumb Up

    @ Liam

    In Sweden they don't start to teach reading and writing until children are six or seven, and this approach seems to work rather well. When they start they can learn quickly; and rapidly attain or exceed that standards of those who started earlier.

    Perhaps the repeated calls for simplified English are tied into the UK's misguided educational policies. To expect all children to be reading books at the age of three or four does not prepare them for life. Infancy is too precious to waste it on being adult.

    Ah me, I suppose that as well as 'educational' DVDs for toddlers we should soon expect to see computers specially designed for the under-fives.

  91. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Wrong end of the stick......

    So much debate over something so simple, people. This can really take off. Consider "2B / NOT 2B ?". Bill, right but shortened to the n-th degree. It still has the same meaning "To be or not to be" with "that is the question" reduced to a mere "?". Piece of piss, really.

  92. Dave

    @Text Messaging

    Many kids have realised that you can type much faster on a mobile if you use predictive texting. This, allegedly, has actually meant an improvement in spelling for these individuals, as the prediction fails if you can't spell, creating a mental re-enforcement of the error.

  93. Simon Breden

    ive neva hurd aneething so ridikulus in all my life

    But it lookz familear:

  94. Anonymous Coward


    I don't mind "Americanized" spelling of words, but I must protest at such a foolhardy plan.

    As has been noted above, pronunciation would affect the spelling.

    Is it "Glass" or "Glarse" ?

    Not only that, can you imagine the awful standard of writing we could expect in the future?

    It's a terrible idea and whoever suggests it should be set on fire.

  95. Britt Johnston

    write how I say, not how I do

    Although German writing is phonetically more consistent than English, it does have large regional differences. But it is possible to manage multiple phonetics. Wikipedia takes some account of this, with a regional search and regional editions, like the Allemanic

    Even if someone got it right, and everyone agreed, it would only take an R-less broadcaster or a lisping king to introduce new chaos. The last good standard was Latin, which went downhill for 1500 years, and took two centuries to finish off after it was recognized as useless.

    English speakers are paying a heavy price for not learning languages, allowing others in to simplify the rules and otherwise mess it up. English is doomed to go the way of Latin.

  96. Anonymous Coward


    Are you e e cummings in disguise?

  97. Anonymous Coward


    WITH will now be WIV

    THREE will now be FREE

    THOUSAND will now be FOWSAN


    I'm really looking forward to this.

    Why don't we just cut to the chase and move entirely to text representations? :)

  98. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    is it a kar or an otomobeel?

    David Harper re: simplified maths - base 10 as in decimal; The funniest bit it kids are even worse at maths now that it has been dumbed down^H^H^H^H^H^H simplified.

    Andrew Ridge re: make it more complicated - OFFS STFU mate; do you want to encourage AmanfromMars?

  99. pete

    Did he mention...

    Did he mention lappy and mobe by any chance?

    This fellow's plan would fail dramatically here in the US also, and for the same reasons. Thankfully, I was raised with a love of literature. So much, in fact, that moving my book collection involves hiring a truck (lorry).

  100. Steve Glover

    @AC - *not* Mark Twain

    or even GB Shaw - the original version of the piece you're quoting was by Dolton Edwards, and is called "Meihem in ce klasrum":

  101. Anonymous Coward

    Is it me?

    Why can't anyone interviewed on the TV or radio in this country use the correct tenses anymore?

    English is becoming a joke - how many alternate sub-classes of English are listed during the install of any modern computer O/S?

    I blame the Americans!

    ...and the Aussies.

    ... and especially the South Africans.


  102. BOBSta

    Replace him



    With Sir Stephen Fry!


  103. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Trubbel Wiv Fonetiks.

    Iz that thez stil mur than won way to spel the wurdz. Espeshali iv yuv got an aksent.

    Is it Fonetic, Fonetik or Fownetic?

    How do I spel foren wurds tu? Lyk Phoenecian? Foneshan?

    Wi duz e av "rivver" speld wiv tuu v's az wel? Y not just won 'v'?

    (I'm sure that's a big improvement amongst our large dyslexic contingent.)

  104. oliver Stieber

    well if you know what it says.

    Thn I dont realy giv 2 shits about how its spelt

  105. Anonymous Coward

    Emeritus professor of phonetics?

    In "History today" style:

    See that senile old twat with nothing better to do?

    I am aware of his presence

    That's you, that is! That's you at your cleverest because you couldn't get a proper job.

    Rowley Birkit Q.C. makes more sense than this numb-nuts!

    P.S. Didn't the Phoentians die out during the Trojan wars?

  106. Anonymous Coward

    Look, you don't get it at all.

    Everyone here keeps talking about not interfering and letting English change naturally.

    We can't.

    Why not?

    Because the teachers and editors insist that we spell stuff like the dictionary says. We Are Not Allowed To Let The Language Evolve.

    And here's the killer: the guys at Oxford never intended to tell us how to write -- they only wanted to make a record of what people were doing. Had they expected to be taken as the Gospel According to Oxford by the writing classes, they would have selected the more "regular" forms as headwords.

    The OED was written to help you recognise unfamiliar words in print, not tell you how to write them!

  107. Ian K

    @Evil Graham

    It's not too surprising he got out alive; "The Spelling Society" ( are a bunch of like-minded loons. They've been spouting their tosh since 1908, so guess the masterplan's not proceeding as quickly as they'd like.

    Amusingly their web site's written in regularly spelled English, with apostrophes and everything - presumably because they realise no one would make the effort to wade through it if they used the semi-literate rubbish they'd like everyone to switch to. Courage of your conviction, eh guys. :)

  108. Danny

    Email him

    I tried but his page at the UCL has had the email address removed. Guess (Ges, Gess, Guez? All valid with an accent) his idea is none too popular and he doesn't want any more mail explaining why he is an overpaid fuckwit.

  109. Miami Mike

    Now that the smoke and fury have clamed down a bit (right) . . .

    Spelling is nothing more than a tool. Yes, we are accustomed to our strange spellings, and we take some pride in them, tradition and so forth.

    Roman numerals are not used any more, Arabic numerals have totally replaced them, except for cornerstones on pretentious buildings and on movie credits.

    Roman numerals and notation were a tool, but a clumsy one. I am absolutely sure that ancient Romans everywhere railed against the newfangled Arabic numerals, and also complained that if *anyone* could cipher, that would dumb down mathematics, the world is going to hades in a handbasket.

    Standard transmissions in cars are the same thing - any random a-hole can drive a car with an automatic (many do), and this is dumbing down driving, the world is going etc.

    When a better tool comes along, only a fool clings to old methods - this is called doing things the hard way. (no, not invoking the Paris icon, sorry). Anyone here complaining about the drastic decline in journalistic excellence because we now use computers instead of typewriters or even Cunieform? (I doubt it - journalists are and always have been total twats and wankers.)

    The burden of proof is on the new method - it has to PROVE it is better than the old one, and once it does, it gets adopted.

    The sorry state of education is another matter entirely. Their biggest problems are HOW things are taught, not so much WHAT is taught. Much of education is totally irrelevant, so of course the munchkins ignore it - they have not become adult enough to shut up and eat crap just because the teacher says to.

    And I am sure there are Germans pining for the good old days (die gut alten tagen) of Fractur, and Chinese who spend their whole lives learning to spell sufficiently well to tell some bill collector to **** off in writing. Times change, language changes, what is the problem with making things work better than they do? "We've always done it that way!" is a weak excuse.

  110. Anonymous Coward

    I'm not arguing for this

    But plenty of countries have simplified their language in order to promote literacy. As an obvious example, shortly after the First World War and the Turkish War of Independence, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) changed Turkish from using the Arabic script to using a Roman one. The change was done in a very short period of time, 3 months if I remember correctly, and contributed greatly to a general improvement in literacy. The Arabic script, by virtue of being cursive, is extremely hard to learn.

    Anyway, this idea is silly for many other reasons. The most notable is that if you try and cause dramatic changes to a language, you tend to make the archaic versions far less accessible to people. Nowadays, children find studying Shakespeare relatively hard, partly because of archaic spellings. If you massively update the language, you could find the same problems with Dickens, Steinbeck, Tolkein, or many other classic relatively recent authors.

  111. Pierre

    Phonetics? FAIL

    There's a reason why languages are used. They're meant to carry a meaning, not only sound (I'll exclude Paris H. and friends for the purpose of the demonstration). Even if you don't know a word, you can have a n idea of its meaning by looking at its roots. It's what makes neologisms possible, and it's necessary for the language to evolve smoothly. Of course, there is some "phonetic" simplification going on as well, but it's slower. Now replace the meaning-based evolution with a completely sound-based simplication, and you turn a semi-coherent language into a completely incoherent collection of unrelated words. The result is that learning the letters is completely irrelevant and useless, because you have to learn each and every word individually. That's more or less how a few "far east" languages work, and they are amongst the most difficult languages to learn.

    Also, in the case of English, it will lead to a very ambiguous situation where words with very different meanings will be made one, and most words will have several possible writings. Good luck with that, pals.

  112. Steve May
    Thumb Down


    Try reading Feersum Endjinn by Iain M Banks and see how long it takes for your head to hurt. (Considerable portions written in "phonetic" fashion) Sheer madness.

  113. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Miami vice

    miami mike - YOU'RE nothing more than a tool

  114. DZ-Jay

    For those hoo dinn unnerstan:

    modern spelin translayshon:

    "tex mesgin, emale and inernet chat rooms are showin us da way fowar for english. les allow peepol grater freedom to spel logicly. is time to remove da fetish that sez that correk spelin is a principal mark of bing ejukated."


  115. Jared Earle

    Noah Webster

    This is precisely what that twunt Noah "spacktard" Webster did.

    Yeah, let's not.

  116. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Last one out turn off the lights please?

    "Text messaging, email and internet chat rooms are showing us the way forward for English. Let's allow people greater freedom to spell logically. It's time to remove the fetish that says that correct spelling is a principal (principle?) mark of being educated."

    How much is this retard being paid to spew forth such inane stupidity?

    Who appointed this retard to a professorship and who authorised it?

    Of course this fits in with the Gordongrad plan to have the sheeple re-educated to a level of stupidity where language as used by the likes of Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw and Orwell (to name but three) is no longer understood.

    I suggest appointing this Professor to a post more reflective of his witterings - Professor of Crapology/F**kwittery/Retardedness/Stupidity (pick your own or add a new department).

  117. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Miami Mike

    Arabic numerals were preferable because they greatly simplify mathematics.

    Dropping standardisation doesn't simplify anything. Regarding car transmissions, shouldn't any car maker feel free to decide which pedal is the brake, clutch and accelerator? After all, what if there's a better layout that hasn't been tried?

    All this reminds me of the bad old days of the connector conspiracy where everything had the same electrical connections and the same protocols, but a different plug so every bloody thing needed an adaptor.

  118. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Hundreds of years of learning should just be thrown in the skip ? Who gets to say what the correct spelling of any word should be ? Science will be ruined as you need precisely defined terms to describe anything. But science is doomed in the UK anyway, from what I can see.

    I really take issue with the "I can't do it so *it* must be wrong" attitude of today.

    Here is an amusing excerpt I found the other day. It's not related to spelling but math's :


    The following examples may help to clarify the difference between the new and old math.

    1960: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of this price. What is his profit?

    1970 (Traditional math): A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. What is his profit?

    1975 (New Math): A logger exchanges a set L of lumber for a set M of money. The cardinality of set M is 100 and each element is worth $1.

    (a) make 100 dots representing the elements of the set M

    (b) The set C representing costs of production contains 20 fewer points than set M. Represent the set C as a subset of the set M.

    (c) What is the cardinality of the set P of profits?

    1990 (Dumbed-down math): A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Underline the number 20.

    1997 (Whole Math): By cutting down a forest full of beautiful trees, a logger makes $20.

    (a) What do you think of this way of making money?

    (b) How did the forest birds and squirrels feel?

    (c) Draw a picture of the forest as you'd like it to look.


    I was educated under a mix of 60's and 70's type tuition. Fractions don't scare me.

    The dumbed down math's from the list above scares me. Multiple choice is an idiotic testing system. Making decisions in the real world requires an understanding of the subject involved, not just being able to recognise the "correct" choice in a list.

    I recently read something my niece wrote. There were several words that were spelled differently each time they appeared. This is not newspeak, this is laziness, and it is endemic in modern UK society.

    And I'll tell you another thing - any job application that I see with bad spelling or obvious errors due to laziness will get thrown in the bin.

  119. Anonymous Coward

    @ Frank re. Dyslexia (there are few chinese dyslexics)

    "Could it be that the noted differences between English. Italian, Danish etc have anything to do with the quality and consistency of teaching methods in schools in those countries? Also, was any account taken of the 'social norms' for these countries as regards interaction between parents and young children , e.g. reading stories to them, taking an interest in their school work etc? Just a thought."

    Mostly irrelevant. Dyslexia is, first and foremost, an auditory phenomenon, with the child's ear (well, brain, actually) being unable to distinguish between certain sounds, hence many dyslexics mispronouncing the name "Dominic" as "Donomic".

    This weakness in the brain is in many cases linked to certain genes. I'm not sure whether there have been any statistical studies comparing the prevalence of this gene across borders, but it's important to note that this gene is a pre-indicator of susceptibility, not a guarantee that a child will develop an auditory weakness.

    It seems a bit unlikely that occurence of dyslexia is linked to spelling.

    As far as I see, there are three possible sources of the perceived differences in figures (and the truth could be a mix of all three):

    1) Pre-school exposure to spoken language. One might suggest that the tonal nature of Chinese languages helps develop that part of the brain. Meanwhile, my dyslexic sister was brought up partly by a French babysitter who nasalised some vowels and couldn't pronounce TH. Was my sister's brain ever going to look for a difference between T & TH and D & TH if my mum said "this" and the babysitter said "dis", and my mum said "thought" and the babysitter said "taught"?

    2) The genes that are linked to dyslexia are more common in the UK and certain other parts of Europe. England was possibly invaded by Danes (the Jutes), it was certainly invaded by Danes (the Vikings), then later by Danes who had invaded France (the Normans) along with some of the French people they had invaded. As such, it isn't outwith the realms of possibility that it's all the Danes' fault.

    3) We've been misdiagnosing bad spelling as dyslexia. Certainly, there's no reason to ascribe French children's problems as auditory/phonetic in origin when the consonant clusters that they frequently confuse are phonetically identical.

    "As for 'there are few Chinese dyslexics', that is a bit of a puzzle because the orthography of Chinese characters has little if anything to do with their pronunciation."

    Not really, because all reading is auditory -- when we read something, we hear it in our heads. (Demonstrated by brainscans.)

    If a Chinese person couldn't hear the difference between "zh" and "sh" in speech, then when he saw the Hanji for "zhú" he might hear/read it as "shú".

    As a minority of Hanji characters are pictorially descriptive, dyslexia would certainly be a problem for a Chinese reader.

  120. Jonathan Richards

    'Free up' from what or whom?

    The Prof. has got a long struggle on his hands; the OED doesn't have the force of law, and there is no central authority for spelling. So he can advocate what he likes, but what practical change does he propose? An Act of Parliament to Codify English Spelling? It would take longer than any single Parliament to draft it. An Act of Parliament to Forbid Spelling Corrections? Good luck with that one in the manifesto.

  121. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @Ian K

    Thanks for that, I didn't realise that the Spelling Society was actually a spelling "reform" society. I get it now.

    Interestingly on their website they make the same arguments that various people here have used, i.e. about how quickly Italian children can learn to spell.

    That may be true, but I have to say it doesn't seem to be holding us back economically, as we have a significantly higher GDP than them (for a comparable population). So maybe we aren't raising a nation of thick kids after all, or maybe the extra effort of learning to spell makes them really efficient businessmen in later life.

    Or maybe it's all a load of bollocks.

  122. Paul

    Wow, what a tard

    So, let me get this straight: this blithering idiot is suggesting that we can solve the problem of people being semi-literate by reducing the standard for literacy?

    Isn't that like saying "well, everyone drives at 90mph on the motorway anyway, let's just raise the speed limit to 100, bish bash bosh, problem solved! Pay raise for me, w00t!"

    Anyway didn't they try this phonetic spelling nonsense a couple of decades ago in Leftpondia, and all it achieved was to create a generation of kids who either can't spell, or had to teach themselves how to spell later on? Bit of an impediment when writing your CV unless you aspire to packing shelves at Walmart for your entire life.

    Yes, the language should be allowed to evolve, but this isn't evolution any more than chopping one's leg off and calling it "advancement of the species" would be.

  123. chris

    +1 for the "meaning not sound" school

    "apostrophes - whats the big deal?"

    epic lulz!

    How come when Jim Kelman wins the Booker Prize for a novel written in Scots vernacular he's pilloried, but if there's a plan for to make folk adopt a phonetic (presumably South-East England) spelling, it can come from that same quarter?

    I suspect the Spelling Society were needing a bit of publicity boost, having missed the boat on that panda book.

  124. John

    I was taught phonetics at primary school

    ahh beh cuh duh ehh fuh guh huh luh muh nuh oh peh qu reh teh vuh wuh x (I never worked that one out) zuh. Good for speech, but rubbish when I hit the real world of reading and writing.

  125. ThinkingOutLoud
    Paris Hilton

    Here we go again...

    An earlier Pedant remarked that English has evolved into a language not matched by any other for variety and subtelty. As an original Spanish speaker I now struggle to revert to it because I cannot convey my message with the same degree of detail. (Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue is a good way to learn more but other books are available.)

    The demands for change being proposed by many have nothing to do with an expansion of our vocabulary or foreign influences. They are only made to lower earlier standards to meet the inability of our education "professionals"* ability to teach, combined with an overall social breakdown - if we can't get the little sh*ts into school, how can the teachers succeed?

    Gloomy? I despair when interviewing job candidates, their literacy failures matched by their numeracy. Why should universities need to run cath-up courses for successful (!) applicants?


    No, really: GGRRRRrrrr....

    Paris because she really has good reasons not to care about her academic achievements...

    * I struggled with placing an appropriate apostrophe here but after three large glasses of wine I'll let you figure it out for yourselves! E&OE

  126. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How People Read

    Only children, first learning to read, habitually use spelling to puzzle out a word. A literate person reads a word by taking in its overall shape, and "knowing" the word. He doesn't do a phonetic decomposition.

    That's how literacy works.

    If every word has a unique shape, then reading speed is increased in the literate population. Meaning is conveyed by the word, rather than by the word+context.

    There is a good reason for a phonetic alphabet, though. A phonetic alphabet has a democratizing effect on general literacy by allowing those with limited access to education to learn to read more or less on their own.

    However, as has been noted earlier, this benefit is limited by regional variations in pronunciation. If enforcing uniform pronunciation is not practical or desirable, you either choose a single written language based on word shapes (as in Chinese), or else you allow regional variation to develop into completely new languages (as in Europe).

    Now, literacy in each of the United States and the United Kingdom is 99%. I'd say that therefore there is sufficient access to education to make literacy generally available to the population under the current circumstances.

    So what's the benefit of further phoneticizing English spelling? If we assume that John Wells is a language scholar, then the only logical conclusion is that (1) he is trying to force English dialects to split into separate languages, and/or (2) he has concluded that general accessibility to education is on the decline.

  127. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Proper spelling conveys nuance of meaning lost in "txtng"

    Spelling and Grammar help make the English language so useful and powerful.

    Creating nuance is something that requires proper spelling and grammar. Without it, English loses much of it's precision. The precision available within the English language is what has made it the language of science and medicine internationally.

    Take this as an example: "Even the simple apostrophe is a very useful contraption for the construction of a contraction."

    Modern (read: idiotic) spelling: "eevin da simpul uhposstruhfee is a verry yusefull kuntrapshun 4 da kunstrukshun uv uh kuntrakshun" destroys all the visual clues to the meaning of the statement, makes it actually LONGER to write, and loses nuances of pronunciation as well.

    There are reasons that the key words all begin with "con", and all in "tion"

    There is a difference between pronunciation of "shun" and "tion".. the first is simply "shunn".. the second is more like "shee-unn".. but the "ee" part is only barely perceptible.

    There are fine nuances of meaning in simple words such as "its" and "it's".. one of which is a possessive noun, and the other a contraction of the phrase "it is." Are they going to suddenly mean only one thing, or is the surrounding context going to be the only clue?

    How about "Their," "There," and "They're" ?? One is is a plural possessive noun, the second is a noun that means something completely different, and the third is a contraction of the phrase "They are."

    Again, there are VERY slight differences in the pronunciation of these three.

    "Their" is pronounced properly with the beginning of the word starting at a higher pitch than the nominal pitch of the speaker's voice, which then "falls" into the second half of the word.

    "There" is properly pronounced with the entire word at the nominal pitch of the speakers voice.

    "They're" is properly pronounced with the same raised pitch at the beginning of the word as in "their" and a slight elongation of the middle of the word where the "y" is.

    Go ahead and say (out loud!) "They're not home right now, but their house is over there."

    These very slight variations in cadence make it much easier to pick out which of the meanings should be ascribed to the pronounced word, without having to extrapolate from the current context of the word. This makes communication of meaning significantly faster and more accurate.

    Still further, if you extend this nonsense into other languages, things such as the French, "Voila" become "wallah" and then are drastically mispronounced. (since the pronunciation of the French is vwah-lah, not wah-lah.)

    The article seemed to state that French and Spanish spellings were not as dependent and they don't need spelling bees in either of those languages.. but those are two of the most closely related to English. (English being close to 50% Germanic, close to 50% Latin-root, with a mix of Gaelic, Norse etc.. etc.. thrown in for good measure.. and both French and Spanish being true Latin-Root languages, with some other influences.)

    i d nt wnt to c dis knd uv nonsens.. I would much rather read something intelligently put together! If one cannot learn to structure one's thoughts, one will be a poor communicator and hence a poor learner, and the entire world will suffer for it!

  128. Daniel B.
    Thumb Down

    Nice examples....

    "...once you have learned the letters, you know how to spell, so it would be ludicrous to hold spelling tests. In countries like Italy and Spain it's similar."

    I suppose this guy doesn't know about the complexities of Spanish then. y and ll sound the same, so do s, c and z; h has no sound, b and v same sound ... and that's without adding up that the Spaniards talk like snakes when using the s/c/z letters.

    Oh, and may I add that Spainiards insist on writing Mexico as "Mejico", when they were the guys who decided to mash up the x, j and sh sounds into the "x" letter! Weeee!!!

  129. Kevin Kitts

    @ Miami Mike

    until telepathy is invented/discovered, we need language to get our point across. It's a set of syntax rules. You either learn the rules, or you don't. You either learn to communicate, and get heard, or you fail to learn how to communicate, and you are ignored by society at large (for literally being ignorant). English works, and it can evolve. That's "evolve", not "devolve". The last thing we need is some Orwell sympathizer who wants to remove words (or symbols) from the dictionary - that would force a re-write of the entire language, including all stored information, just because some people don't want to learn the syntax.

    To summarize:

    One ignorant person learning English takes a lot less work than re-writing every book in existence and retraining every English speaker in the world. Stop being silly, please.

  130. tom

    Here, I'll modernize that for U

    Wells will declare: "TXT messigin email N inturnet chat rooms R showin us teh way forward 4 english lets giv peeple greatur freedom 2 spel laik they hear stuf its tiem 2 git rid uv the fet-ish that sez speling things write is a principul part uv bein ejucated srsly lol"

    Finally, Wells intends to sound the death knell for the bothersome apostrophe, suggesting: "insted of N (apostroffe?) single quot thing we kin just leave it out its could becom its or leave a space so we'll wud become we ll hav we rly nothin better 2 do wit our livs then fret about teh single quot??/?!?11"

  131. Mark Menzies

    Wot a pile of.....


    Get a real job ya tossa...

    Bloody academics............


  132. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a tw*t the guy is

    The guy should read "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss - as well as being a right good read, it has some good reasons why apostrophes, commas, capital letters and proper spelling etc are pretty much essential for getting the right message across.

    Or should I say

    thu gie shud reed eets shoots and leevs bie lin trus az well az beeing a rite gud reed it haz sum gud reezunz wie apostrofeez commaz capital lettuz and propper speling etc ar pritty much esenchil for gettin the rite mesij acros.

  133. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Sounds like he's been reading 1984 again!

    Stop trying to support your argument by saying "How god intended it." it means nothing to me and make you look like a fool to me.

    Some of what he says makes sense. Some of it seems a bit stupid. Put a space in instead of apostrophe doesn't make it easier. Just lets use remove one character from the keyboard. So the quote mark will be all lonesome. Mind you apostrophe is used in quotes as well so it should still remain. Also apostrophe in its and it's denotes a different meaning. I can understand give being giv. but river being rivver doesn't make sense at all. I do agree there should be some standard English globally, but if so it should be determined through easy and agreement and not "do it the US way." But having said that, the swapped use of S and Z internationally is ok since in your own country it's fairly uniformly one or the other.

    Despite my agreement in some of it, he has no credibility with me and will be ignored!

  134. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    He has some good ideas for modest reform

    Lots of British posters here. You can always spot them in language discussions because almost all British people are ignorant about language matters, but still insist on spouting lots of embarrassingly arrogant bluster on the subject. I guess they've been so indoctrinated with notions of class superiority for so long that their minds are twisted into painful knots and they can't think rationally anymore.

    If you really want a traditional, blue-blood language, maybe you should just stick with Classical Latin and let the rest of us get on with reading and writing in our vernacular, like Petrarch and Chaucer did.

    The professor's proposals are fairly reasonable, I think. They are modest. In the past, attempts to reform English spelling have failed, but this was generally because they were too radical. In the US, which is more progressive on this front, a number of reforms have been made, but reactionary British spelling makes it hard to move forward without risking a divide between the British and American systems that harms our ability to use both conveniently.

    There is really only one compelling argument against English spelling reform, and that is the massive amount of material already printed using the old system. If reforms would lead to difficulties in accessing older material, it would be a major loss. Would properly educated people have to learn to competently use two systems, the old and the new? (For an example of such a break, look at old Russian writing before the Lenin-era reforms.)

  135. Justin

    Academics r smrt

    "It's time to remove the fetish that says that correct spelling is a principal (principle?) mark of being educated."

    Uh. How about removing the dismally retarded situation that correct spelling is all it takes to appear educated? Yes, English is a huge tentacled beast of a language, but spelling is NOT that difficult.

    Also- Professor of Phonetics? What the hell kind of ultra-niche field is that and why allow such a vague generalist to speak toward English specifically? Sounds an awful lot like a Professor of Cybernetics trying to give electrical engineers 'professional advice', pathetically hoping their legitimate study can prop up his self-congratulatory field.

    *getting my lab coat, wearing it means I'm almost like a real doctor!*

  136. David Shanahan

    No Surprises Here

    To all those who seem to think continuing to make English spelling difficult, illogical, and utterly unreasonable is somehow a good thing, character building and other such absurdities, all I can say is I'm not surprised - the British still can't see the advantages of adopting the metric system, the Americans could see the advantages of partially reforming their spelling many years ago now, but lost their bottle when it was only half done and have totally failed to adopt the metric system also. And you wonder why the world is increasingly passing you by...

    Ossified societies incapable of making even such logical and advantageous changes as spelling reform and metrication have little hope of making the much bigger and harder changes required to survive in the 21st Century, such as carbon reduction, giving up their oil addiction, coping with biotechnology and so forth.

  137. Dan Skriv

    Yes, lets stop moving forward...

    Lets keep all those awesome extra letters in words whose sole purpose was to make scribes a little more gold. Maybe this is another sort coming of the education system on your little island, but in the dark ages the few educated enough to read and write that were not part of the religious institution (which actively kept people dumb and scared so they would pay for 'redemption' of their sins) usually charged per letter for their services. As these people were not dumb, they started tacking on letters that did not effect the phonetic reading of the words but brought in some extra money. So if you're all for keeping the spelling of ancient scammers maybe you should check your inbox and ask your current scammer how things should be spelled, and while your at it maybe buy that penny stock they've been trying to educate you on. Or maybe your all just fear change because you don't actually understand what is being proposed..... bunch of tards.

  138. Wim Morrison

    He does not go far enough!

    Just google for "Meihem in ce klasrum"

  139. John Benson

    looks like the subjunctive has already bit the dust...

    This article starts out with "is proposing English adopts a phonetic approach".

    I thought it had to be something like "is proposing that English adopt a phonetic approach", or perhaps "is proposing that English be spelled more phonetically".

    P.S. A less-than-phonetic spelling standard means that the same idea can be read anywhere regardless of local pronunciation practice. You say tomaytoes, I say tomahtoes, we spell tomatos. If it's not broken, don't fix it.

  140. Dai Kiwi

    Taking the bait - or is that Tykin tha byt?

    Since it was the Spelling Society's centennial dinner the flameworthy subject was probably a foregone conclusion, so my only additions to the comments are:

    1. Which accent should we standardise spelling to outside the UK/US

    2. Which accent should they standardise spelling to inside the UK & US

    3. Some accents will require more use of an apostrophe if written phonetically - eg the glottal stop in London or Pacific Island speech

  141. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    C**t or K**t

    It's all the same to me, when dealing with this kind of idiocy.

  142. MarkJ
    IT Angle

    Aren't we...

    ,,,mostly the type of people for whom spelling and indeed all forms of 'logical' consistent behaviour are very important.

    'Press any key' means something quite different to 'press ANY key' to most IT workers but not to your average person.

    For those not in the know, one is an instruction to press any key you like, the other is an instruction to press a specific named key.

  143. Liam


    @ He has some good ideas for modest reform

    "Lots of British posters here. You can always spot them in language discussions because almost all British people are ignorant about language matters" - or maybe its because its an english website? <sigh>

    "In the US, which is more progressive on this front, a number of reforms have been made, " - you mean the yanks can't spell so now our language (the one seemingly known now as international english) has been so bastardised by the merkins we should all suffer. NO! you take our language - fuck it up then expect us to change... who is the ignorant one here?

    the fact there is so much confusion is that YOU use a different version of english to the rest of the world - if bloody MS didnt insinuate that US english was proper english and international english was some weird variation we wouldnt be in this predicament.

    im happy for some reform - such as the rule 'i before e except after c' - well and loads of other examples that come to mind! this does seem stupid to me.

    does this also mean we have to speak like core america and seemingly use so many double negatives in a sentence that the meaning is lost. 'i aint never done nothing' springs to mind frequently as well as 'i ain't never'

    if we dumb down the spelling now will kids know the differences from there, their they're etc? the english language, as said before, is full of nuances and subtle variations. surely any dumbing down just alienated the vast amount of people who have master the language already?

    @ Dan Skriv "Maybe this is another sort coming of the education system on your little island" - erm england isnt an island - britain is - but we arent talking about british language are we? talking about britain we would have to include gaelic (the language spoken by 2 people in scotland (polish is more widely spoken up there)) and that farcicle language that is welsh... :)

    @ "bunch of tards." - yes, lets all talk txt spk - mch btr innit?

  144. Nick Pettefar


    He omits to mention that by the time the average Finnish kid has finished school, they are almost fluent in English and Swedish too! Can you imagine our kids having their "normal" education and also being tri-lingual? The mind boggles! Mielessä aivan liian kauheaa! Sinnet svindlar! (Courtesy of Google translations). I am currently working in Brussels and the people here are also tri-lingual. I really pity our kids struggling to learn just English.

  145. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a communication dilemma, but not just written txt

    I had a phone call last night about 9pm... didn't understand a word of what was being said but, without a doubt it was delivered with a heavy indian accent. I assumed another bloody call centre. Since 'withheld' was displayed on the mobile handset I was completely unable to work out who was talking or what about. So I asked if they would please speak in English. The response was, "Eu, D U nt spik ingish?". I put the phone down.

    The phone rang again and after struggling for the best part of 15 minutes I found myself apologising for my earlier rudeness, since it was the local hospital asking if I had suffered from any injuries or illnesses since my last visit, given the temporal linear proximity of my forethcoming operation.

    There are only two routes for this to take. Either we protect our ability to communicate by maintaining some standards to which we can all aspire (and the odd mistake is permissible since 'context' will normally assist in our understanding)... or we give up entirely, burn the dictionary and revert to a bastardised form of either Americanizms or EuroMash (Djew U wnt Frites wth tht?). I blame the BBC for employing the contents of the deep bin of the speech impaired, tongue impeded and semi-literate retards as DJs and presenters.

    As a society, we used to aspire to "the Queen's English", deliberately making our communicators easier to understand by adopting and promoting a level of consistency (despite her being German in origin - Gawd bless you Ma'am). Now we're trapped in a battlefield to help a generation of badly educated children get jobs ... and what's all this crap about enlisting more scribes for exams because the standard of handwriting has deteriorated so much. Shirley, if one is incapable of communicating effectively, one should not be employed in a position where one's ability to communicate is a primary requisite. Mind you, government's full of people who don't know how to think. Should we perhaps start enlisting Life Guards who don't know how to swim?

    Phonetics is a valid tool to aid understanding in special cases. Sign language is also a valuable tool, complete with it's own local dialects. The single extended finger (junior 's peaceman's salute - see Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers) is a particularly apt sign in this instance.

  146. TeeCee Gold badge


    It's already been done. The first mass-produced car (the Ford Model T) had three pedals, but one of these was the gear selector. So you had clutch, footbrake and gears at your feet and a hand operated throttle.

    Conversely and more recently, a friend in the car hire business says that a certain large hire company has stopped purchasing Volkswagen Passats. The reason is that too many of them come back with a shunt in the back and a damage claim from whatever was behind them at the time. The problem here is that while the action of engaging the "electric switch" handbrake is intuitive, few people (in the absence of a manual in their native language) get that it disengages automatically on drive takeup. The rear end damage is an inevitable consequence of the unpracticed attempting to perform "heel and toe" hill starts on the footbrake, as the handbrake can only be manually disengaged with the footbrake depressed.

  147. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo

    It is not a question of literacy

    The problem is slovenly speech. If we spoke correctly than there would be no issue about apostrophes. It is abbreviations that are the challenge, I'n't it gov', sorry gov'nor, sorry governor. Why bother, sorry bover, sorry bovver? Anarchy. Chaos. Sorry: Anerkey. Kaos. I know that Terry Pratchet used a character called Soak = Kaos backwards but that was humour and he is clever enough to get away with it. But daily use? It is the end of the world as we know it.

    I can tell you that the spell checker has been very busy in this piece.

  148. Samantha Clinton

    @ How People Read

    Now, I hate to pick you up on statistics (there are lies, damn lies and statistics) but I'd really love to know where you got your figure of 99% literacy in the UK? Working for an adult learning provider I can tell you that the figure is a hell of a lot lower than that.

    We use all sorts of methods to teach adults how to read and write but we teach them to read and write English as the majority of us, and other English speaking countries, understand it.

    Also, strange that this story came out on what was National Literacy Day. Yes, I probably only know that it was because of my job...

    JonB, you've gone quiet on the Malta front...

  149. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @TeeCee & Liam

    Exactly my point, you see the value of standardisation.

  150. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A weird idea of logic.

    "Text messaging, email and internet chat rooms are showing us the way forward for English. Let's allow people greater freedom to spell logically"

    What an idiot. Most of the current spelling is logical: it follows the grammatical rules that allow the language to make sense. Once you get rid of apostrophes, or stop bothering with the differences between their, there and they're, that is when spelling stops being logical.

    Re: Finland - they might speak Swedish by age 12, but they generally forget all about it by age 20 ;)

  151. Chris Harrison

    Phonetics are rubbish.

    If Phonetics are so good can this prof tell me how to spell phonetics?

    What a nob.

  152. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @ Samantha Clinton

    I concur. I suspect that 99% of people, when given a copy of the King James Bible will point and be able to utter the word "buk". I was not aware of National Literacy day, however I am rather proud now to read back on my "a communication dilemma" - I hope the spelling was correct.

  153. Christopher E. Stith

    phonetics are fine for two things

    You can teach someone to read with phonetics and context. Just remind them that certain letters can make different sounds in certain situation. The other is to help kids learn to spell a good deal of words. Again, exceptions must be kept.

    It seems this guy wants to get rid of exceptions. That's pretty nice in theory I guess, but I don't see how it would ever work in the real world.

  154. BioTube
    IT Angle

    We need that apostrope

    English does need a spelling overhaul, considering how many spellings were phonetic five hundred years ago. Some words even had their spellings updated right when the pronunciation changed. However, chucking the apostrophe for contractions is ridiculous - the confusion between "its" and "it's" goes awway when you remember that "its" is in line with "his" and "hers".

    Simply put, new spellings good, removing apostrophes bad.

  155. Anonymous Coward

    A language designed by Bloody stupid Johnston

    Perhaps if we didn't have a language designed by Bloody stupid Johnston then teachers might not have to spend three months teaching kid's "Which witch is which?". Children might even not be turned away from expressing themselves by the red pen of mutual incomprehension. Thank God we don't have to worry about the gender of inanimate objects (unless of course your neighbor caught you on video going at it with a garden table).

    I HATE Star Trek but if you don't admire the logic of Spock then you should become a bean counter an leave IT to the people that do. They might even give you an ink pad and a rubber stamp so you can apply your arbitrary rules of bureaucracy to your withered little hearts content, I will always prefer a logical approach to expression and believe with a passion that the current rules of spelling are an abomination.

    The countries that have adopted phonetic spelling do actually have regional variations in pronunciation. (learn to understand BBC English and learn to spell, you can still make a trip to the pub sound like you sneezed if you really must)

    Historic texts CAN be translated into a modern phonetic script. (Haven't you heard that Shakespeare's plays are actually more poetic in translation then they are in their incomprehensible English 'original'? you don't even need footnotes or an old English lexicon to explain the jokes)

    If you accept the English language as it is you are a Philistine (a Lover of chaos) and should leave computing to the people who do not love but understand and appreciate the symmetrical beauty of order.

    Go on become an accountant, you will not be missed.

  156. Adam Foxton

    @"Bloody Stupid Johnston" AC

    I'm guessing you're drunk or not much of a user of English.

    Your style of writing makes English look chaotic; correctly written and punctuated English is very structured.

    Surely a true IT-o-phile would be starting a campaign to have everything structured with a similar layout to C, or to encourage the use of boolean algebraic expressions in modern language? The second example would, at least, eliminate any need for "one or the other or both" and other such clumsy sentences- you could simplify it to "one xor the other".

    The rules of English are not hard to follow. Equally, it's not neccesary to follow these rules in a large number of situations. For example, starting a sentence with "And" is normally accepted.

    Mixing up Effect and Affect, however, should be a criminal offence and should be punishable by death. Painful firey-death, hence the icon.

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