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English Spelling Reform of Walter W. Skeat

english spelling reformWalter Skeat was one of those wonderful people who tried to make everyone’s life simpler. He did it in his very own way – by proposing a Spelling Reform in 1906. He was not the pioneer – the first request for making the spelling easier was made in 1881. Some linguistic magazines in USA even supported the proposal and printed the papers using “new orthography”. Inspired by Henry Sweet, Skeat decided to switch from good old complex spelling to phonetic spelling – and well, though his Reform failed, it was a very interesting suggestion indeed.


Main Proposals of Spelling Reform

Skeat’s work on Spelling Reform consists of 18 pages and his main point is incredibly simple: spelling should come to the point, where letters directly represent sounds. Back in Skeat’s times, schoolboys had to study Latin for 6 years and one of his main arguments for the necessity of Spelling Reform was the fact that it would be easier for boys to learn Latin pronunciation without Anglicizing it. This argument does not work now (thanks God, no one makes poor children study the “dead” language for 6 years), but its absence doesn’t make the Spelling Reform any less comfortable. For example, Skeat proposed the following spellings of the words: hav, liv, abov; agreev, aproov, solv, freez, jepardy, bredth; cumfort, tuch, writn; acheev, beleev; num; lookt, honor and etc.


Two Biggest “Acheevments” of It

According to Walter Skeat, two very important achievements could be reached by the Spelling Reform:

“The first is that those partial reforms would necessarily involve the disuse of a large number of useless letters. In this way more matter would be got into a page, and some labour in the compositions of the type would be saved; and as this would happen in every case, …it might very easily save every printer and publisher a considerable sum of money. It would not be surprising if the aggregate savings, in the course of a year, throughout the British Empire, were to amount to a considerable sum of money. [He projected the economy of thousands of pounds.]… The second is that the task of learning to read would be considerably simplified, and the time taken to achieve that task would be considerably shortened…. In this case there can be no doubt at all that the sums thus saved would be very considerable.”

So why did the Spelling Reform fail after all? There were two significant causes. Firstly, after learning hard options of how to spell some hard-to-remember words, people simply did not want to give up their accomplishments. They would rather torture their innocent children with horrors of old English grammar than losing their own privileges of knowledge. Secondly, simplified spelling somehow stank of Americanism to English people. So, unfortunately, Spelling Reform was considered a threat to pure English language and therefore got rejected.

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