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A NEW LOOK AT AN OLD SPELLING SYSTEM By Alleen Pace Nilsen, A Discouraged Professor of English Education PowerPoint Presentation
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A NEW LOOK ATAN OLD SPELLING SYSTEMBy Alleen Pace Nilsen, A Discouraged Professor of English Education

NOTE: My work on spelling was inspired by a senior English major who is getting ready to student teach next year and made 51 spelling errors on a four-page short-answer written exam.

another bit of evidence that teaching spelling is a challenge for our times
Another Bit of Evidence That TeachingSpelling is a Challenge for Our Times
  • The most frequent error found on the papers of college freshman is: “WRONG WORD—often due to acceptance of automatic word replacement by computers”
  • For example: definitely  defiantly

noting  nothing

united  untied

From a 2006 study conducted by Andrea A. Lunsford and Karen Lunsford

as an update to a 1986 study done for the St. Martin’s Handbook

and cited in Getting It Rightby Smith and Wilhelm, 2007, p. 65

so how did we get to this point
So, How Did We Get to This Point?
  • One obvious factor is people’s over-reliance on computers to check their spelling, but computers also encourage streamlined spelling for identifying ourselves, creating new passwords, naming our files, and sending text messages.
  • Students have grown up seeing original spellings in brand names because companies are not allowed to register trademarks that would take a “regular” word out of the language.

We have new attitudes about learning and memorizing, e.g. few parents have time to go over weekly spelling lists with their children.

  • Those who do are the ones home schooling their children.
  • Winners of state and national spelling bees are often home schooled and/or have “foreign” sounding names.

Most schools no longer have spelling bees because they provide practice for only a few of the best spellers in the class. The others sit on the sidelines feeling like “failures.”

  • I am not wanting to reinstitute spelling bees, but we need to realize that this change in teaching strategies affects lifelong attitudes towards the importance of spelling.
  • We are so accustomed to amazing improvements in communication technology that some people think – perhaps even subconsciously – that we will soon have a phonemic spelling system which will solve all the current problems.
but do we really want to have a purely phonemic spelling system
But, Do We Really Want To Have a Purely Phonemic Spelling System?
  • Before you sign any petitions or skip over any spelling lessons, here are some things to think about.
  • PHONEMICS refers to “sounds”
  • MORPHOLOGY refers to “meanings.”
  • We presently have a MORPHOPHONEMIC spelling system which does a “pretty good” job of representing the sounds of our words while also doing a “pretty good” job of communicating the basic meanings of particular sound combinations that get recycled through word families.
if we should get a purely phonemic system we would have to
If We Should Get a Purely Phonemic System, We Would Have To:
  • Increase the size of our alphabet from 26 characters to more than 40.
  • Replace all of the materials now printed in English.
  • Provide new symbols or reassign the symbols on all of the computers, and other high tech equipment now coded in English.
  • Teach all speakers to pronounce each word exactly the same or tolerate as much difference in writing as there is in speech.
why this isn t likely to happen
Why This Isn’t Likely to Happen?
  • English is now a world language with more people speaking it as a second or third language than as a first language, and the way these speakers pronounce English is influenced by their native languages.
  • The more varied are the speech patterns, the more important it is that we have a consistent spelling system.
  • Just in the United States, we hear different accents and different dialects. Even people who think they do not have an accent make different distinctions among such sets of words as pin/pen, caught/cot, witch/which, Mary/marry/merry, and mourning/morning.

With a purely phonemic system, the differences in written words would work against the idea of English as a world language.

  • The enormity of getting agreement on what letters communicate what sounds is hinted at by the different ways parents spell the names they give to their children. We assume they are trying as hard as they can to communicate the pronunciation of their child’s name, but yet for one of the shortest and easiest-to-pronounce names we have these variations: Amy, Aimee, Amey and Aimi.
benefits of invented spelling and places where it is appropriate
Benefits of Invented Spelling and Places Where It Is Appropriate

In children’s writing—Of course we do not want to limit kids to just the words they can spell.

In commerce—Original product names are created not only for trademark protection but also for succinctness and for persuasion in ways that companies cannot be held legally responsible.

In literature—Creative writers such as J. K. Rowling use original spellings for many literary purposes.

In pop culture—People who send text messages, create graffiti, and make puns and jokes rely heavily on invented spellings or on pointing to “inconsistencies” in standard spelling.

but let s look at some of the benefits of our present morphonemic system
But Let’s Look at Some of the Benefits of Our Present Morphonemic System
  • It is more efficient to recycle familiar sound patterns and spellings than to create unique sounds for every possible concept.
  • Think of how hard it is for you to pronounce and remember the name of a person you meet whose name does not fit into English sound patterns.
  • Semantic relationships are made apparent in words that not only sound the same but are spelled the same.
different spellings indicate different meanings
Different Spellings Indicate Different Meanings
  • Mary sewed on a button, while her husband sowed his fields.
  • All four golfers shouted “Fore!”
  • It is best not to cut the knot in tangled shoelaces.
  • A hurt heel can take a long time to heal.
  • When he dug the hole, he ruined the wholeeffect.
  • I can’t believe I ateeight cookies.
same spellings of morphemes indicate related meanings
Same Spellings of Morphemes Indicate Related Meanings
  • The pedestrian was hit by a moped.
  • Joe sued his doctor for malpractice because the doctor did not reveal the malignancy.
  • This is not the century for a bicentennial.
  • A formal resignation usually needs to be signed in front of a witness.
  • A pitcher in a baseball game and a pitcher on the table both throw something forward.
  • Your hand pulls something when you draw the drapes and when you draw a picture.
an awareness of morphemes can help us remember how to spell related words
An Awareness of Morphemes Can Help Us Remember How to Spell Related Words
  • For example, to, too, and two are frequently misspelled, but the one that means “too much of something” is spelled with “too many o’s.”
  • The number word of two is related to twin, twice, twist, twelve, twenty, and twilight.
  • This same concept is the foundation for the grammatical rule of using between when talking about two people and among when referring to more than two.
morphemes recurrent partials are the smallest bits of language that carry meaning
Morphemes (Recurrent Partials) Are the Smallest Bits of Language that Carry Meaning
  • These range from the obvious trans as in transcend, transcribe, transfer, transform, transfusion, transgress, transient, transit, transplant, transition, transitive, transparent, transpire, transport, and transpose.
  • To the less obvious cis meaning “to cut or trim something down to its essential parts,” as in scissors, incisors, concise, incision, precision, and precise.
zero grade consonants silent letters reveal historical and semantic relationships
Zero Grade Consonants (silent letters) Reveal Historical and Semantic Relationships
  • For example, although we do not pronounce the b in thumb, we do in thimble, which lets us know these two words are somehow related.
  • And what about the p in cupboard?
  • And can you figure out the semantic relationships between such words as acknowledge/knowledge, autumnal/autumn, debit/debt, designate/design, malignant/malign, receptacle/receipt, and signal/sign.
in conclusion what i am asking
In Conclusion—What I Am Asking
  • Please don’t give up on teaching students to spell. Make it part of your writing.
  • Tie spellings in with meanings.
  • When you teach vocabulary and spelling, work with related sets so you can have something to talk about with the words.
  • Use hands-on activities so students can practice with each other and have repeated experiences that will be more than sheer drudgery.