Sunday, September 24, 2006

Feynman on spelling reform

I was terrible in English. I couldn't stand the subject. It seemed to me ridiculous to worry about whether you spelled something wrong or not, because English spelling is just a human convention--it has nothing to do with anything real, anything from nature. Any word can be spelled just as well a different way. I was impatient with all this English stuff.

From What Do You Care What Other People Think?

2 comments:

parsnipgirl said...

Things that are not from nature are still real. Like the Empire State Building, and speed limits. I think you can make a case that kids should learn conventional spellings just because they're conventional and it makes things easier that way.

The problem is when people think there's some kind of moral or other deep importance to spelling rules, rather than acknowledging that they are merely conventional. Learning to spell properly is not at all the same as learning to do division or algebra. Let's not treat it like it is.

liberal elite said...

I think you can make a case that kids should learn conventional spellings just because they're conventional and it makes things easier that way.

Sure, I'm not saying that kids shouldn't learn to spell. But we have to recognize that learning to spell is just learning a convention. And the great thing about conventions is that we can change them (unlike natural laws).

I think it's worth questioning whether we are getting the most out of this technology. If something like 1/3 of American adults have difficulty reading, then maybe we need to reevaluate the spelling system. If I were a publisher, I'd be pissed that 1/3 of American adults can't use my product.

But typically what you get in the "Johnny can't read" discussions is either blaming the victim or blaming the teachers.

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