Is It Time to Change the English Language?

August 20, 2008 11:26 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Some professors are advocating for changes to the English language to make it easier for students and adults to learn and use, but others strongly disagree.

Worthy Challenge or Waste of Time?

According to Time magazine, criminology lecturer Ken Smith of Bucks New University in Buckinghamshire, England, is so fed up with his students’ misspellings in papers that he has proposed “doing away with certain spelling rules altogether.”

Smith is taking a page from Mark Twain, who in 1906 lobbied for the use of phonetic spelling, according to Time. Other non-English-speaking countries, such as Spain and Hungary, have reformed and simplified their language “for centuries,” Time reports.

But spelling is not the only difficulty entrenched in the English language. A BBC interview with linguist and professor Vivian Cook spotlights another tricky aspect—pronunciation—which Cook calls “a problem for children and adult learners.” In addition, the expansive vocabulary and mysterious grammar of English make learning it and perfecting it extremely difficult.

Even so, Cook is against altering English, and feels doing so would be costly and harmful to children learning to read. He believes English is “full of features that seem illogical but add up to a whole that works,” reports the BBC.

Like the aforementioned Ken Smith, Alan Mole, president of the American Literacy Council favors “an end to ‘illogical spelling,’” reports the Boston Globe. Mole uses German and Spanish as examples of languages more easily learned by children “in weeks instead of months or years as is sometimes the case with English,” said the Boston Globe.

For Smith, technology is intrinsic to the discussion of English. “In the 21st century, why learn by heart rote spelling when you can just type it into a computer and spell-check?” Smith asks. 

For now, it seems, the debate will continue spelling itself out. 

Background: Spelling Society and Ken Smith on same page

Related Topic: Hungary alters language

Opinion & Analysis: The Sound and the fury


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