Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Writing for Fun: Mark Twain on Spelling

Revised from Your Guide to Grammar & Composition

Mark Twain had little respect for what he called our "foolish" and "drunken old alphabet," or for the "rotten spelling" that it encouraged. Nonetheless, Twain was not convinced that the efforts of the spelling reformers in his day would ever succeed. As far as Twain was concerned, it was the alphabet itself that needed to be torn up and rebuilt from scratch.

Andrew Carnegie and the Spelling Reformers

The advantages and disadvantes of English are summed up by Harold Cox, Former Editor Edinburgh Review in his essay English As a World Language
(Cox, Harold, http://www.spellingsociety.org/journals/pamflets/ses3.php, accessed Mar 18, 2008)

As compared with most other languages English has the enormous advantage of grammatical simplicity. There are no genders for nouns, and an adjective takes the same form whether applied to a male or female. The conjugation of verbs is also extremely simple. As a result the student of English has practically no grammar to learn. In addition, from the European point of view, English has the great advantage that it more or less represents an amalgam of languages. It is largely Scandinavian in origin, but also embodies a vast number of words directly derived from Latin, and many others coming to us from France and Italy, besides not a few coming from Germany. This language, thus built up from widely varying European sources, possesses a magnificent literature, unsurpassed by that of any other language in the world.

From these points of view English is an ideal language as an international medium. The trouble lies solely in the fact that our spelling and pronunciation have practically no relation to one another. Attention was called to this fact by the late Lord Cromer in a poem published in the Spectator of August 9th, 1902:

When the English tongue we speak,

Why is "break" not rhymed with "freak"?
Will you tell me why its true
We say "sew" but likewise "Jew"?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"Beard" sounds not the same as "heard";

"Cord" is different from "word";

"Cow" is cow, but "low" is low,

"Shoe" is never rhymed with "foe,"

And since "pay" is rhymed with "say,"

Why not "paid" with "said," I pray?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And in short it seems to me
Sound and letters disagree.

For more, visit the Mark Twain on Spelling page at Writing Tips on MoorePartners.ca.

No comments: