That's What They Say
8:12 am
Sun March 17, 2013

Spelling bees just got a whole lot easier: simplified spelling

On this week's edition of "That's What They Say," host Rina Miller discusses our resistance to change the spelling of certain English-language words with Professor Anne Curzan of the University of Michigan.

Curzan says that this resistance comes hand-in-hand with complacence.

"In the end, people are quite attached to the spellings that they know. They've spent a lot of time learning those spellings, and we're used to the way they look," says Curzan.

So when it's suggested that "have" drop the e to "hav," and that "dogs" be spelled phonetically, "dogz," our comfort level drops out of equilibrium. But is there a happy medium between maintaining our comfy spelling rules and making spelling in English simpler? According to Curzan, such conventions have already been successfully implemented.

"Noah Webster, when he created his American Dictionary in the early 19th Century, he believed we should have an American language," explains Curzan, "and part of having an American language was having American spelling that would be different from British spelling."

Traditional American spellings of color, theater, defense, or realize are all examples of this, but these new conventions largely caught on because they further declared American independence from Great Britain. 

"It was a very patriotic project to say 'we're going to have American spellings,' and remarkably it worked," says Curzan.

Since then however, new spelling reforms of English words have come under much scrutiny and ridicule; however, Curzan explains that currently there are some words on the fringes of the English language which are adapting their simpler, colloquial spelling.

"I notice 'doughnut' spelled 'donut,' a simplified spelling. Or 'lite' for things that are low-fat," says Curzan. "So we're getting these little spelling reforms around the edges."

One thing's for sure: keep up these simplifications, and spelling bee contestants around the country will rejoice.