The English Language originates from a Germanic language of the Indo-European family from several local languages brought by 6th century invaders.It has since spread throughout the British Isles and into various regions where Britain held overseas colonies. Today, as the second most spoken language in the world, it has been subjected to multiple prejudices concerning its acquisition, reception and learnability as a second language. As the language of business, science and technology, English should be easy to learn and comfortable to deal with. However, many people complain that English spelling is very hard to learn for foreigners as well as for native speakers. Hence, spelling reform is seen as a need to introduce a logical structure connecting the spelling and pronunciation of words. In this essay, I will discuss the former spelling reforms led by Webster and the others in the past, the reasons behind the numerous attempts in the past to reform English and why these reforms never really succeeded.
Before we look at the different spelling reforms proposed in the past, let us first examine how Modern English spelling system developed and why there are irregularities.
During the Old English period, the Anglo-Saxon were the first writers of English and their basis for their spelling was the Roman alphabet, to which some of the older runes were attached. The spelling system of the West Saxon had very strict rules of parallelism between Old English phonological values and Latin symbols or symbol construction. Having more than one system of spelling, it depends on where texts were written. Although local dialect features were reflected in the orthography of words, there was a certain consistency approach within each dialect area. During King Alfred's reign, only a few contemporary Old English texts existed to allow a clear analysis of spelling. Spelling was fairly standardized and books were produced from a small area where there was little dialect variation. "Thus, Old English has a more accurate representation of current pronunciation than modern orthography does" (English: history, diversity and change, p. 72).
Although the Modern English spelling system is largely phonemic, some letters do not represent any phonological segment. One letter may represent a cluster of two phonological segments. The same letter represents different phonological segment and the same phoneme can be represented by different letters. As a result, it contains many inconsistencies between the spelling and its pronunciation.
Throughout the history of English, these inconsistencies have gradually increased in number. There are a number of contributing factors. The first being the fact that the consistent orthography of Old English was swept away by the Norman Conquest and English itself was dominated by French for three centuries, thus resulting its spelling being much influenced by French, whereby large numbers of words were loaned from French. .
Secondly, there was a group of linguistic changes during the period of Conquest, including the Great Vowel Shift. Thirdly, there are far more distinctive sounds in spoken English than the 24 letters in the Roman alphabet, resulting, a one to one correspondence between character and sound not possible. Hence, diagraphs are used to represent a single sound. However, there is no systematic correspondence between letters and sounds in English. For example, the c in medicine and medical' are pronounced in different ways.
Noah Webster, a famous lexicographer, was one such man who believed that the orthography of the English Language was not regularized before it was standardized. And that a spelling reform is therefore very much necessary. In 1789, Webster endorsed Franklin's plan in his Dissertations on the English Language. In his opinion, the same letters often represent different sounds, and the same sounds are often expressed by different letters. He believed that there...
References: 1. David Graddol, Dick Leith and Joan Swann, English: history, diversity 2002
2. David Graddol, Dick Leith and Joan Swann, Describing Language 2002
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