05 June 2010

Mr. Mahoney and Spelling Rules

On Fox News today is an article concerning protestors at the National Spelling Bee. In an effort to make the world more comfortable for themselves and boost the spelling self esteem of others, the protestors want to “simplify” spelling by making all spellings semi-phonetic. From the article:
“According to literature distributed by the group, it makes more sense for "fruit" to be spelled as "froot," ''slow" should be "slo," and "heifer" — a word spelled correctly during the first oral round of the bee Thursday by Texas competitor Ramesh Ghanta — should be "hefer."”
Clearly the idea here – though I am only guessing at the motives of Mr. Mahoney and his fellow protestors – is to liberate the masses from the tyranny of formalized language. It is a limiting factor, a repressive construct from which some unknown number of humans must be freed. One may imagine just how many new, exciting ideas would come from the mass of humans suddenly unshackled from the constraints of formal spelling. Or, at least freed from the rules as they are now. Mr. Mahoney might be compelled to come up with his own dictionary. I would, too; you might, as well.

His idea of “new” spellings is semi-phonetic because one may clearly argue that if words are to be spelled purely phonetically, then individuals who pronounce words differently or communities which speak different dialects may well spell words differently. If Mr. Mahoney and his ilk think that spellings are confusing now, he might attempt to consider the social implications of many different spellings across the union. How would a Texan read the words of a Bostonian?

This strange utopian dream – the decimation of formal spelling rules – is truly more senseless than it may seem at first. Surely the purpose of a shared language, both spoken and written, has much more to do with community, not individuality. And even if Mr. Mahoney’s ultimate concern is the voice of the individual, he must surely understand that ideas and language go hand-in-hand. One does not matter without the other. If, as Mr. Mahoney suggests, I have my “own dictionary,” then I might as well share my ideas with myself only. If I share my personal dictionary with a few others, my ideas may matter, but only in my small circle. It would seem that the logical result of Mr. Mahoney’s vision would be a segregation of individuals on the basis of self-styled language, a limiting of dissemination of ideas, and a creation of disunity where there is now at least some unity through shared language.

As a final note, it may be worth considering how often “liberating” individuals from social rules, most notably those rules which bind a community together, tend to isolate individuals and divide communities.

1 comment:

Kristin said...

In his mind, this new form of spelling would be "doubleplusgood" for everyone. What a fool! By the way, my 2nd grader won 2nd place in her spelling bee by missing a 6th grade word - solemn. And the other contestant didn't win until she spelled it correctly. Isn't that quite an unfair advantage now that she knows how NOT to spell it?!?!