Saturday, March 16, 2013

3703 The demise of communication

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The major difference between a thing that might go wrong
and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when
a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong 
it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair. 
-- Douglas Adams --


There's a guy running around loose out there who has been advocating for decades (predating texting and tweeting) that we do away with "correct" spelling, that instead, all spelling should be phonetic, and furthermore that there be no "correct" phonetic spelling, but that everyone should spell a word exactly as they pronounce it.

Gah!  Despite his years of advocacy I don't think he has thought it through.  What about regional accents?   How would you look up the meaning of an unfamiliar word?   Assuming that you could figure out the word anyway?  Could a Bostonian understand a note from Arkansas?

I found the article by him a few weeks ago, and of course now I can't find it again.  When I searched for it today I found several articles about schools that no longer teach spelling.  The theory is that kids will naturally absorb spelling in their reading materials.

Yeah, sure.  Bull poopy.

Phonics is essential to learning to read and to pronunciation.  Often it helps with "correct" spelling.  But given the way people routinely mispronounce even simple words (library/liberry, athletics/altheletics/atletics, etc.) if you allow people to spell words the way they (themselves, individually) pronounce them (libry? liebree? lybree? libery?  lybreree?), we won't be able to fully understand anything anyone writes.  If the spelling of a word isn't standardized, it would be so much work to read the written word that eventually people would give up reading.

And yes, the guy really does mean individually invented spelling - no standard phonetic combination of letters for a particular phoneme, which would result in "correct" spelling of a word again, which he doesn't want..


From Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll:
'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they're the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

'Would you tell me please,' said Alice, 'what that means?'

'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

'That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

'When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'I always pay it extra.' 
I am distressed by the large number of professional writers, educators, and presenters who seem to think Humpty had something there - that a word can mean whatever you mean it to mean.  Unfortunately, that leaves the folks who do know what the word is supposed to mean wondering what the user means.  If you know what I mean.

At this rate, no one will be able to understand what anyone else really means, ever.

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