Spelling Matters?

Julia Sallabank julia at TORTEVAL.DEMON.CO.UK
Wed Sep 17 20:11:22 UTC 2003

Dear Andre and everybody

I think that this reasearch is probably correct, given what is known about
reading processes. Fluent readers do not usually decode each letter of every
word, but use word-recognition to take a mental snapshot of words and
phrases, and fit them to a schema of what they think the text is saying
(Wallace 1992: 40-42). But more random spelling is a different matter and
does interfere with processing.  Fluent readers of English can see how
difficult it is to decode random or unexpected spelling by trying to read
the following extract from 'Feersum Endjinn' by Iain M. Banks:

Well, Ergates sez (& u can juss tel she's tryin 2 b payshint) aside from the
fact that it is folly 2 fro away even 1 life out ov 8, & thi eekwilly
sailyent poynt that in thi present     emerginsy it mite b fullish 2 rely on
thi effishint funkshining ov thi reeincarnative prossess, ther is my own
safety 2 think about. (Banks 1994: 18) (The whole book is written like

This is relevant to endangered and minority languages which have no support
from the establishment, as it leads to yet another disadvantage for those
who wish to express themselves in their language.

I have written a paper on 'Writing in an unwritten language' in Reading
Working Papers in Linguistics 6 (2002)
(http://www.rdg.ac.uk/AcaDepts/cl/slals/wp6/index.htm). There is no
accepted, consistent standard spelling for the langauge I'm studying,
Guernsey Norman French. Although there is a dictionary that many speakers
say they follow if they write in GNF, an analysis of recent writings shows
that in practice they do not follow it. Since GNF is very low-status and is
not taught in schools, nobody has had any literacy training in it; it is not
uncommon to find the same word spelt several different ways on the same
page. 'Feersum Endjinn' is in fact more consistent than many GNF texts.

Mauvoison (1979), commenting on the multiplicity of spellings suggested for
Norman, points out that a standard spelling makes it easier to decipher what
is meant when reading. This is perhaps a rather obvious point, but it is
even more true if the reader is not a native speaker and has to guess at the
structure and pronunciation due to the lack of a standard spelling. The lack
of consistency in spelling makes it particularly difficult to develop
fluency in reading. I myself find it easiest to read works in Guernsey
French aloud, in order to gauge the pronunciation and then mentally match
what I have read with phrases I have heard spoken and thus decipher them.

I would be grateful if you could give the full reference for the research
you cite.

Best wishes



Mauvoisin, J. (1979). Principes essentiels d'orthographe normand. Parlers et
traditions populaires de Normandie 45 (reprinted on
www.multimania.com/bulot/cauchois/ Principe.html)

Wallace, C. (1992). Reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 ----- Original Message -----

From: "Andre Cramblit" <andrekar at NCIDC.ORG>
Sent: Tuesday, September 16, 2003 6:23 PM
Subject: Spelling Matters?

> Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't   mttaer in
> waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is  taht
> frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses
> and you can sitll raed it wouthit  porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed
> ervey lteter by itslef but  the wrod as a wlohe.

More information about the Endangered-languages-l mailing list