Simplified spelling

Always been a bit of a spelling snob - the sight of poor spelling, American spelling and txt spk n da hse offend my spelling sensibilities. So when I heard Kim Hill interviewing Marsha Bell (16mins) about English spelling problems I firstly found it fascinating and then started thinking about the merits of simplified spelling. Is English spelling a usability issue?

Apparently “spelling bee” competitions only take place in English because spelling is so consistent and easy in other languages that no meaningful competition would be possible. The wonderful film “Spellbound” shows this off to absurdity (incidentally, the official site is a great example of gratuitous use of Flash).

One of Marsha Bell’s concerns is that students get hung up on spelling right and may alter answers and ideas towards ones which they know they can spell correctly. What do we want? Ideally, cogent answers and thought that are spelt correctly - but if that wasn’t possible would we prefer cogent or correct?

Usability guru Donald Norman makes a distinction between experiential and reflective cognition. Crudely, experiential cognition is thought about what you’re doing, managing your experience and reflective cognition is thought about why you’re doing it, what it means, where does it lead to, what’s the bigger goal? Broadly, when interacting with a usable environment, interface, or tool the amount of cognition you have to apply to the experience is low and your brain power is free and available for reflective cognition.

With an unusable spelling regime, how much effort goes into learning, editing and correcting spelling that could be more profitably applied elsewhere?

One of the reasons we don’t want to change to simpler spelling is that it looks ugly. But why does it look ugly? We’ll look at that soon.

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