Friday, 4 December 2015

Johnson, Bouma shape & Common usage

It's seeming more and more these days as if spelling is obsolete. While there is a value in correct spelling (evidence suggests fluent readers probably read more quickly by being able to identify the Bouma shape of a word at a glance) for the majority of people who read phonetically, homophones & spelling are relatively unimportant, as long as their meaning is clear.

Regularised spelling has only been with us since the 18th Century. Before that time, spelling was phonetic, and a matter of opinion. Even then regularised spelling took some time to gain traction - some texts of Jane Austen preserve the original (irregular) spellings showing that even sixty years after Johnson's Dictionary spelling could be whimsical. So, in 4000 years of writing, we've had perhaps 200 years when spelling was regularised.

For the overwhelming majority of people then, it doesn't matter if Johnson's legacy continues.

For me as a lover of the written word, I'm glad to have lived at a time when regularised spelling allowed me to read much quicker than I otherwise could have, and I'll bemoan the loss of clarity and ease of communication that phonetic spelling and the acceptance of common usage brings.

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