The Keypad Solution

Article excerpt

There is a long and noble history of trying to change the English language’s notoriously illogical system of spelling. The fact that through, rough, dough, plough, hiccough and trough all end with -ough, yet none of them sound the same as any of the others, is the sort of thing that has been vexing poets and learners of English for quite some time. Proponents of “fixing” this wayward orthography have included some of the most prominent names in American history.Benjamin Franklin suggested changing the alphabet, and Andrew Carnegie provided money for people to study the problem. President Theodore Roosevelt issued an edict in 1906 that gave the Government Printing Office a list of 300 words with new spellings: problem cases like artisan, kissed and woe were to be changed to artizan, kist and wo. Roosevelt was largely ignored by the G.P.O., and the matter was soon dropped.Although this issue has been extensively studied and argued over by these and other eminent thinkers, there has been an almost complete lack of success in effecting any substantial progress.And so it is rather bizarre that the first widespread change in how people spell English words appears to have come from a group of (largely) young people sending text messages to one another with cellular phones and other electronic devices.You may not like seeing the phrase “LOL — U R gr8” on the page, but it is common enough that you are likely to understand it. Why have such inadvertent “reforms” succeeded where generations of dedicated intellectual attempts have not? And will they last?For most of the history of the language, English speakers took a lackadaisical approach to spelling; the notion that a word should always be spelled the same way is a much more recent invention than the language itself.The standardization of English spelling began in the 16th century, and although it is unclear at exactly what point our spelling became set, what is certain is that ever since it happened, people have complained that the rules of spelling, such as they are, just don’t make sense. …