Spelling-reform advocates take to the streets.
Inside the Grand Hyatt last week, Pratyush Buddiga, a lanky 13-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo., was closing in on victory in the 11th round of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee—a triumph he would seal by correctly spelling “prospicience.” Outside the hotel, sweating in the heat, five demonstrators were challenging the entire premise of Buddiga’s accomplishment.
Bearing placards with messages such as “Enuf is Enuf” and “Spel Different Difrent,” the five had gathered to protest the unfair and irregular ways that English words are spelled. A mild-mannered New Yorker named Joe Little, who has a master’s degree in applied linguistics from Columbia University Teachers College, toted a placard that read, “50,000,000 Illiterates can’t be RONG.” On the flip side: “English spelling, user friendly?”
Little is managing director of the American Literacy Council (ALC), a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to reforming English into something easier to use. In the ALC’s ideal world, the winning word would have been “prospisyens,” instead. “We’ve made progress with ‘donuts’ and ‘thru,’” Little said, “but we’ve got a lot more to go.” So the ALC set aside its usual business—promoting literacy software for homes, libraries, and schools—
to stage its first-ever street demonstration.
How would Little reform his own name? “L-I-T-L,” he said. But, he added, “None of us would change spellings of proper nouns, of course. We’re crazy, not stupid.”
Nearby, ALC member Pete Boardman clutched a placard that read “Speling shuud bee lojical.” There had been, another demonstrator confided, some argument about how “logical” ought to be respelled.
“We now spend two years learning to read and write English,” said a perspiring Alan Mole, ALC’s vice president of technology, “while… foreigners take literally two weeks to learn their own languages.”
Philip Staniczek, a spiky-haired 19-year-old from Stuttgart, looked on in confusion, contemplating a flier he’d gotten from a protester. The English he’d already learned was fine with him. “I don’t want to go back to school,” he said. “German, I think, is harder to spell.” CP