Chi Luu (see this post) has a JSTOR Daily piece about a much-discussed topic, the English spelling system and the many attempts to reform it. It begins with Gerard Nolst Trenité’s “The Chaos,” a poem showcasing the absurdities of English orthography which I posted about almost a decade ago; continues with Patrick Groff’s 1976 paper “Why There Has Been No Spelling Reform,” his own preference (which I share) for keeping the historical forms of English spelling in place, and Anatoly Liberman’s cranky opposition to that view (“What sentiment? What value?”); and finishes up with a paean to the orthographical playfulness of the internet:
So are these deliberate misspellings a sign of English orthography simplifying organically, or deteriorating rapidly? The early constraints of mobile phone text messaging gave rise to short form spellings–which inevitably gave rise to a moral panic about literacy rates decreasing in young people. However, studies have shown that text-speak actually improves literacy, as users receive more exposure to language and different word forms, improving their reading development. According to David Crystal “there is no evidence that texting teaches people to spell badly: rather, research shows that those kids who text frequently are more likely to be the most literate and the best spellers, because you have to know how to manipulate language. […] If you can’t spell a word, then you don’t really know whether it’s cool to misspell it. Kids have a very precise idea of context – none of those I have spoken to would dream of using text abbreviations in their exams – they know they would be marked down for it.”
In Young People’s Everyday Literacies: The Language Features of Instant Messaging, the analysis of a 32,000 word corpus of college students’ instant messages shows how IM users employ rich linguistic features to convey paralinguistic cues and clarify conversational contexts. One of the main features was eye dialect spellings and other simplified spelling forms. So deliberate misspellings are being used all the time, not because users are necessarily illiterate but because they know how to manipulate language in the right contexts. These new spellings are productively used and widely shared, quite unlike a spelling reform drafted by committee and applied by edict.
Lots of good stuff in there; thanks, Paul!