Thursday, 18 February 2016

How to make spelling your friend

I was tootling around the interwebs the other day (playing around with ideas for the blog name, actually) and came upon this website.

Dr Bowers (hence why he came up on my search) developed a program for his Grade 4 students looking at cognates and the roots of words to understand their spelling peculiarities.
Instead of studying lists of words, or spelling patterns with countless exceptions, [Bowers and his students] used scientific inquiry to investigate the underlying structures and conventions that link related words with consistent spelling despite changes in pronunciation. For example, if a student asked, “Why is there a <g> in sign?” the class would look for related words containing sign and find words like signal, signature, design and designate. Not only did we find a good reason for that letter <g>, but we discovered meaning connections between words we had never considered before; deepening and expanding our vocabulary in the process. Most importantly, through investigations like this, our class became a team of engaged word scientists. A surprising spelling was no longer experienced as another frustrating “irregular” word to memorize. Now words like does, rough, and business became launching pads for discovery.
And that, boys and girls, is why etymology and word history is useful, as well as interesting! 

It's also why I was dismayed to read that the Académie Française were going to finally implement their decision of some twenty five years ago, and drop the circumflex from many words (and the hyphen from others). The wee hat tells you there used to be an 's' there, like in hôpital (hospital) and coût (cost) and maîtress (mistress).

Of course, English has tried a few times to simplify the spelling of some words, but without an equivalent body to the Académie Française, there's no way of implementing or enforcing the proposals. Some words do change through usage (for example, dropping the extra -me from programme has already happened), but you'll pry the 'i' from friend out of my cold, dead hands.

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