There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

Can technology enforce AND break spelling conventions?

An Trubk is a profesr @ oburln univrcity hu pend a post @ wyrd intytld Proper Spelling? Its Tyme to Let Luce!. Trubec maad sevrl points in her post. Her mane point:

Standardized spelling enables readers to understand writing, to aid communication and ensure clarity. Period. There is no additional reason, other than snobbery, for spelling rules.

She noats dat “proper spelling” is a resint convenshin:

“The phrase ‘bad speller’ rarely appears in English-language books before the 1770s,” Jack Lynch notes in his book The Lexicographer’s Dilemma. Until William Caxton used a printing press in 1475, English words were reproduced by scribes in scriptoria. There were no dictionaries (or Google) to check for “proper” spelling. Most words were spelled several different ways—there were at least 114 variants of through. (Even the spelling of something as personal as a name was inconsistent; there are six surviving instances of Shakespeare’s signature, and they’re all spelled differently.) Even after the advent of print, variant spellings were the rule.

And wial 1 kan klame dat gootinburgs printing pres helpd to enfors a cohmun set of speling konvenshuns, othr teknologikl advanses r also helping to obliteraat them:

The most widely used American word in the world, OK, was invented during the age of the telegraph because it was concise.

@ u no that new conventions have arisen due to tech:

More recent textisms signal a similarly creative, bottom-up play with language: “won” becomes “1,” “later” becomes “l8r.” After all, new technology creates new inertia for change: The apostrophe requires an additional step on an iPhone, so we send text messages using “your” (or “UR”) instead of “you’re.” And it doesn’t matter—the messagee will still understand our message.

But not everyone agrees with Anne Trubek. Wired’s copy editor, Lee Simmons, took issue with Trubek’s position:

So if you want to chat in leetspeak or use cutesy abbreviations in your texts, go crazy. You’re talking to your own tribe; they know the code, and they’re willing to indulge your affectations. And let’s be honest: A lot of that intentional misspelling, like the argot of any subculture, is meant to exclude outsiders—such as nosy parents. It’s a badge of membership in your little clique….

But having gained a yard or two for laissez-faire spelling in narrow, private circumstances, Trubek proceeds straight to the touchdown dance, proclaiming without further ado that the very idea of standardized spelling is an “outdated dogma” of the “print era.”…

Trubek observes that civilization got on for centuries without spelling rules, and she implies that it worked just fine. Sure—if you like confusion and inefficiency. To give just one example I’m painfully familiar with, the wasted man-hours that actors, directors, editors, and scholars still spend debating what the hell Shakespeare meant in this or that crucial passage would make an economist weep.

After reading Simmons, I have to say that I agree with Trubek. For one thing, as I’ve previously noted, one of the main interpretation issues with Shakespeare doesn’t have anything to do with the way that the particular word (nunnery) is spelled.

Now I am paid to adhere to particular spelling rules – for example, when we adopted a new version of Microsoft’s style standards, I have had to learn to remove the dash from the word email. However, I found that despite my decades of practice of proper spelling, it was relatively easy to write the first few paragraphs of this post and spell things any way I liked. And I suspect that most of my readers were able to understand exactly what I was saying.

At least in the United States, it’s probably a stretch to say that there is one “standard American English” and a bunch of different tribe dialects. Our society is so large and diverse that any attempt to reach common agreement on a standard American English is next to impossible. An educated person in Massachusetts is going to communicate differently than an educated person in Georgia, or an educated person in California. And style guides (including those that discourage sentences beginning with “and”) can result in wars that make the Android vs. iOS wars look like child’s play.


Single Post Navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: