Reason for this blog: to start a grass-roots movement of the American public to permanently solve the serious problems that functional illiterates must constantly endure — problems that we would consider a crisis if they occurred to us — which affect a huge number of U.S. adults (see the shocking extent of illiteracy in the U.S.) rather than continuing merely to fight the symptoms of the problem as we have been doing for over 250 years. Merely reading this blog and making complimentary comments will accomplish nothing — readers need to reach logical conclusions from what they read and spend a few minutes to take action to further this important humanitarian project.
This is the third in a series of five blogs on the false excuses people give to avoid making the correction of our spelling which is the obvious way to permanently end English functional illiteracy.
A third and much less convincing supposed disadvantage of spelling reform is that reformed spelling would destroy the etymological or linguistic history of words. Samuel Noory shows that “today’s spelling is in many respects as much an offspring of fancy as of design.” He gives several examples, on pages X-XIV of his book Dictionary of Pronunciation, in which spelling is not based on historical roots. Also, etymologists themselves would prefer to see English spelled phonemically, and thus, from this point forward, have a dynamic history of the language. As it is, we have more than 250 years of repetition of a “snapshot” of spelling the way many words were pronounced 250 years ago — a static history. Adoption of a phonemic spelling of English — as recommended by Dr. Frank Laubach, who is arguably the world’s greatest expert on teaching adults around the world to read — would not result in the instantaneous destruction of all books written in English. On page 48 of Dr. Laubach’s book Forty Years With the Silent Billion, he states, “If we spelled English phonetically, American children could be taught to read in a week.” Dr. Laubach prepared reading primers for 313 languages and devised spelling systems for 220 unwritten languages. He found that adults could be taught to read fluently in from one to twenty days in 95% of the languages and that adults could be taught to read fluently in less than three months in 98% of the languages in which he taught — because 98% of these languages were very nearly phonemic (words spelled the way they sound). In the U.S., almost half of the students never become fluent readers, and those who do become fluent readers require at least two years to do so. This is because there are at least 1,768 ways of spelling only forty phonemes (the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables or words in a language or dialect), and not even ONE spelling rule that does not have exceptions — some of the exceptions have exceptions! Prior to 1750, English was a conglomeration of the spelling of eight languages, the language of every occupying nation in the British Isles. According to page 2 of Henry Hitchings’ book, The Secret Life of Words, English has adopted words (and usually the spelling) from 350 other languages.
As a result, the question must be asked, “How much more static history of a mid-1700s spelling freeze do we need?” A much more pertinent question must be asked. Let us grant for a moment that the etymological history of present English spelling is very valuable. Should we let the desire for etymological data by a limited number of scholars cause us to keep a spelling system that is causing a severe problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world?
No one knows how many facts will be required to get any one person to take action. Reading all of these blogs may not result in the badly needed action. A very careful, honest reading of Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, however, is likely to be very beneficial to hundreds of millions of English functional illiterates by resulting in the needed action — if the reader is at all compassionate about the suffering illiterates. This breakthrough book is available as a no-cost download in .pdf format from our website on ending English functional illiteracy.) This is a 265 page ebook has enough facts and figures to convince anyone who will honestly grapple with the multitude of facts presented. It is offered in the left-hand column of a website which gives a very good introduction to the humanitarian project of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. (two non-profit educational corporations). The home page linked above has five short statement about the serious problem of illiteracy and five short statements about the solution, all of which can be read in about six minutes. The proof of each of the ten statements in given in the “Read More” sections after each statement.