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University Professor Wants to Legitimize Spelling Errors

August 9th, 2008

spelling-errors.jpgAfter running across a news article published by Reuters and considering the possibility that it might be a hoax, I confirmed from other sources today that there is a university lecturer in the UK who is seriously suggesting that obvious English errors should now be accepted as legitimate. Interestingly, the Reuters article that I read first appears to have been truncated somewhat, along with many other copies of the same article that appear on other news sites. This version from GlobeAndMail that I found later appears to be the full article.

In any case, I found it quite astonishing that this misguided fool maverick professor actually thinks that we can solve the problems of teaching English by legitimizing incorrect usage. Here is an excerpt from his comments:

“Teaching a large first-year course at a British university, I am fed up with correcting my students’ atrocious spelling,” Ken Smith, a criminology lecturer at Bucks New University, wrote in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

“Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I’ve got a better idea,” he wrote. “University teachers should simply accept as variant spelling those words our students most commonly misspell.”

To kickstart his proposal, Dr. Smith suggested 10 common misspellings that should immediately be accepted into the pantheon of variants, including “ignor,” “occured,” “thier,” “truely,” “speach” and “twelth” (instead of “twelfth”).

Although acceptance of these “variant spellings” might seem like an easy way out for students and apparently even teachers, in the long run it could actually make things more difficult. As an international blogger with the overall mission of stamping out ignorance worldwide, I already need to be aware of British or Australian variants in spelling (for example, “humour” for humor or “jewellery” for jewelry) so that I do not mistakenly label them as incorrect. If we now start accepting spellings that actually ARE incorrect, it will only add to the confusion for publishers, students, and educators.

I can already imagine the never-ending debates among linguists, grammarians, and dictionary publishers over which spellings should be officially accepted as standard. Spelling bees could become contentious affairs as contestants could always challenge the rulings on the basis that their answers were simply variant spellings of the words that were given to them. Textbooks and school curricula would have to be changed, teachers may need to be retrained to keep up with the rule changes, and inconsistent enforcement of the new “variant spelling” rules could lead to many unnecessary conflicts.

Although some people might be annoyed by the so-called “grammar Nazis”, there are valid reasons for having a uniform spelling for words and clearly defined rules for usage. These things make it easier for English users to communicate in specific, unambiguous terms once we have learned the rules and know how to write or speak with proficiency. It also facilitates promotion of the language worldwide; too many variant spellings or constantly changing rules would make it even more difficult than it already is for non-native speakers to learn English well enough to communicate effectively in the international realm.

Ultimately, the bottom line is that we need to make the current rules for standard English as easy and available as possible for those who want to learn rather than complicating things any further by arguing over spellings. We need to be stamping out ignorance as quickly as possible, not adding more to the pile.


5 Responses to “University Professor Wants to Legitimize Spelling Errors”

  1. comment number 1 by: Ireland5

    What a ‘cop out’! You are totally correct in your assessment of this individual’s stupid suggestion. If he’s that desperate to make his job easier, he needs to retire. He is actually serious- ? - this was not ‘tongue in cheek’? Good grief! Your last sentence says it all…

  2. comment number 2 by: Richard McLaughlin

    I am cognizant of the utter futility in my excessive literary expressions and have ceased to utilize said disproportionate verbiage with the exception of instances where it evidently behooved my tertiary use of euphemisms and henceforth shall continue my herculean efforts, shall the Great Lord Almighty grant me the wherewithal to accomplish such a insubstantial, nonetheless uncomplicated, undertaking, I know not and have not the courage to judge with my insubstantial humans trepidation of misspeaking.

    This does lead me to believe that although you think you understand what you thought I said but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

  3. comment number 3 by: Angelika

    Are you sure we aren’t being punked by this dude?

  4. comment number 4 by: Ireland5

    I also checked into it - his article in the Times Supplement is here: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=403092

    The comments to the Times article are worth reading.

  5. comment number 5 by: Elle

    As long as I draw breath, I will defend correct and competent spelling. Variant spelling my left eyeball!

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