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Spelling reform or a parody of Mark Twain?

September 28, 2010

I don’t know if someone is pulling my leg, I am going crazy, someone else is going crazy, or I am just being boring and conservative. Somebody tell me which it is. I’m talking about this piece of news:

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/202150/French-fury-at-move-to-make-English-the-language-of-Europe

Now the part about the French crying out against the Anglicization of Europe makes perfect sense: it’s an eternal rivalry, and the fact that English has come ahead in the battle for global and European domination cannot possibly please the French. The argument that French is ‘more precise’ I believe is ridiculous, but they had to say something to belittle English anyway.

The part that makes no sense to me at all is the suggested ‘language reform’ (at the end of the article in italics). I was so shocked that I actually set up an account on Express.co.uk in order to comment on the article. Here is what I wrote:

I wonder if this is anybody’s poor joke or plagiarism of Mark Twain? Or both? Here’s Mark Twain’s proposal – could it be that someone didn’t notice he had his tongue in his cheek?

A plan for the improvement of spelling in the English language

By Mark Twain

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter “c” would be dropped to be replased either by “k” or “s”, and likewise “x” would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which “c” would be retained would be the “ch” formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform “w” spelling, so that “which” and “one” would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish “y” replasing it with “i” and iear 4 might fiks the “g/j” anomali wonse and for all.

Generally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeiniing voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez “c”, “y” and “x”— bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez —tu riplais “ch”, “sh”, and “th” rispektivili.

Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.”

I still hope the italicized part of the article was a joke. If not, I think the time has come for me and others to campaign for the preservation of the English language. I’ve been lamenting the loss of minority languages but it’s English that is in danger.

Folks in the UK familiar with Daily Express, is it prone to joking like that?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. jacobtullos permalink
    September 30, 2010 1:27 am

    Wow, I agree that English spelling is pretty bad, but I don’t think transforming it into another language altogether is any smarter.

  2. October 1, 2010 12:34 pm

    Jacob, I actually read some positive comments on the Daily Express page later, and some people seem to approve of the idea. Well, I wouldn’t mind some facelift of English spelling (I mean I would still mind it but I wouldn’t consider it crazy), but planning to maim the language like this in several years – I don’t understand it at all. Also, the similarities to Mark Twain’s joke are striking so I am honestly curious whether someone could put forward such a proposal with a straight face.

  3. Michael Farris permalink
    October 1, 2010 10:55 pm

    This looks like an update of an old internet joke (which not everybody got) from the 90’s.

    http://www.toytowngermany.com/lofi/index.php/t2515.html

    My own estimate* is that some changes to the spelling of about 10 % of words would reduce about 90 % of the difficulties in learning English spelling. And by som chainges I meen som relativly minor things that woud not make older printed materials unreedabel at all)

    But the way that most English speekers ar sistematicly kept ignorant of basic linguistics meens that the issiue cant be discussd rationally.

    *and by ‘estimate’ I mean ‘wild guess made on the basis of having no evidence’

  4. October 2, 2010 1:11 pm

    Thanks for the link Michael, so apparently it’s an old joke, somebody plagiarised it from Mark Twain a long time ago, changing it a little, and it was then re-printed many times. I wonder why the Express would paste it in without any introduction.

    Seriously, though I agree that a few minor changes would remove most of the difficulties and it’s not necessary to mutilate the language beyond recognition. Even so, I’d be reluctant to change anything because these irregularities are the soul of the language to my mind. It’s better if everybody in the EU learned Esperanto to communicate instead of trying to ‘improve’ English! (I can’t believe I just said this!)

  5. October 2, 2010 1:16 pm

    Speaking of newspapers that bring us the most truthful information, you may enjoy listening to this. I did!

  6. April 21, 2011 6:54 pm

    Mark Twain WAS an advocate of spelling reform. He did NOT write that piece of scare-mongering drivel. I find it comically bizarre that Americans and Britons are united in opposing spelling reform and yet happily spell differently from each other. It’s a miserable spelling system and an utter disgrace common sense.

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