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Writing systems and how they change

Tuesday 16th April 2013 | 11:16 AM

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"Writing systems and how they change" is an original look at the options for how language can be written.

All major writing systems of the world have advantages and disadvantages. Almost all except English have updated in major or minor ways in the past 150 years. Writing systems tend to be adapted to the languages they represent - but curiously, most fail to be ideal matches in one way or another. Humans may muddle through, but rarely to perfection.

The two great contrasting writing systems of the world are ‘whole-word' symbols for ideas, and ‘alphabetic' symbols for sounds. Syllabic writing (characters for syllables) is possible for some languages. Japanese and Korean scripts are two fascinating solutions, which both, in different ways, mix all three major types of writing system within their orthographies. ‘Ideal' writing systems have been designed from scratch in modern times for languages that have never been written down before. New invented languages that seek to be international also include new writing systems.

Although the English language changes like other languages change, English spelling has become static, unlike most other writing systems. Radical reforms have been proposed, which are impracticable, but updating the present spelling is more achievable, useful and maintains our culture. Today, people follow trends in change in the Internet, commercial advertising, text spelling, past changes in dictionaries and in how children spell naturally, but spellcheckers have put a stop to official changes in print.

Spelling can be an assistance or obstacle to learning literacy. At present, English spelling gives opportunities to the elites - the few who excel in spelling bees. It can be made a better fit to all users' abilities and needs. The unnecessary difficulties are a barrier to the disadvantaged, dyslexic and foreign-born. (The author's grandson Patrick aged seven saw the sign MOBIL at a gas station and cried, ‘Look, it says OIL and has two silent letters!') The cost of spelling is measurable in dollars, by the economic cost of illiterate adults, and of the long periods to learn and remediate. English is the world's lingua franca but spelling threatens its historical position.

Writing systems cannot be considered unchangeable by human interference more than any other form of communication except the language itself. Experiments are set out which anyone can try. Readers can then look at English spelling with fresh eyes.

About the author:

An academic, teacher and psychologist, Valerie Yule experimented to show how weaknesses of learners and adults were exacerbated by English spelling. Her research doctorate was Spelling & Society: Orthography & Reading. The present book "Writing systems and how they change, with particular reference to English spelling" results from 40 years of investigating world writing systems including our own spelling. She has published 9 books, 17 chapters in books and over 300 article on social matters.

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Dr Valerie Yule, MA, PhD, DipEd, MBPsS. Academic positions at Melbourne, Monash and Aberdeen Universities in departments of Psychology and Education; Teacher at all levels, from preschool to adult and migrant literacy; Clinical child psychologist at the Royal Children's Hospitals, Melbourne and Aberdeen; Schools psychologist chiefly but not only in disadvantaged schools, Present research on imagination and literacy.

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Press release published by Seeking Media.

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