Monday, 8 September 2008

Cant spel wont spel

According to the Telegraph, John Wells, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London, thinks irregular English spellings should be abandoned because they "hold back schoolchildren".

Awww, the poor little darlings! If the dumb little bastards - and, increasingly, their teachers - can't get to grips with the basics of the language, we should dump them instead. But it doesn't stop there! In perhaps the finest ever argument against phonetic spelling, Prof Wells thinks it would be really, really cool to drop the apostrophe altogether and replace it with a space.

WHY? If, as he suggests, this is to make life easier for the brainless morons who don't know where to put it, won't that just leave them equally puzzled as to where they should insert the corresponding space? I'd have thought so, but then I'm not a Professor of Phonetics.

Come to that, what, exactly, IS a Professor of Phonetics, and why do we need one? His UCL home page is here, but it doesn't tell you very much. His personal biography page is slightly more interesting, but, although it's big on promoting what he does, and what he thinks he's achieved, it doesn't tell us why, or what use it is in the real world.

Which, I suspect, says all that needs to be said on the subject. The purpose of language is communication, yet natural languages, as used by real people, are inherently ambiguous. In the written word, punctuation and spelling moderate ambiguity to derive definite meaning from uncertainty. With definite meaning comes ease of unambiguous expression, allowing the accurate transmission of ideas from one person to another, and so the purpose of communication is fulfilled. Far from being an encumbrance to this process, correct grammar, spelling and punctuation are fundamental to its operation.

It is this essential tool that the learned Professor wants to sweep away, in favour of making life easier for the dimwits who don't know where to put an apostrophe, and who probably don't have anything of any significance to say anyway. And they say standards in education aren't declining!

Billy Seggars.

No comments: