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EDITIONS
Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
This Rticl is very ezi to reed
Can't spell? A new UK-based campaign wants to free up the rules - and myriad exceptions - in English language to make words ezier 2 read and rite.

Ever struggled to remember how many "c's" there are in "necessary"? Or whether you "practise" or "practice" football?

How to freespell
Drop silent letters
Leave out double letters
No apostrophes
Practice on your mobile
Then Richard Wade, a retired broadcaster, wants your support in his attempt to simplify the way we spell.

After all, about 13% of English words are not spelt the way they sound, according to language experts.

On his website, Freespeling.com, Mr Wade suggests simple shortcuts such as dropping the silent "b" in "debt" and replacing the "ph" in photography with "f".

Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I and Shakespeare: Early freespellers
But he doesn't advocate the wholesale adoption of phonetic spelling. After all, pronunciation varies between regions and countries, and this would merely cause - rather than clear up - confusion.

"We should be working towards a consensus to spell for the comprehension, clarity and comfort of the reader - not the freespeller," Mr Wade says.

"I'm getting a lot of e-mails where every word is freespelled - they're impossible to read. People should only freespell the words they find tricky or illogical."

Learn from txt msgs

In three months, the site has had 500,000 hits, had visitors from 39 different countries, and received 50,000 emails from supporters and detractors alike.

Dan Quayle spelled potato as potatoe
Dan Quayle spelt potato wrongly, and became the butt of a million jokes
"The internet is the perfect medium for effecting this kind of change. Publicising this by conventional means would cost a fortune."

His goal is to put up to 20 words a month on the site, have visitors vote on their preferred spelling, and then assemble the chosen versions in an online dictionary.

Although he sees little chance of a global agreement on changing the way we spell, Mr Wade is keen to get the text message generation on board.

"If I can get all the teenagers in California freespelling, then it'll be well on the way."

Fourty or forty?

Mr Wade, formerly the executive producer of the BBC science show Tomorrow's World and deputy controller of Radio Four, says he's an accomplished speller. Yet even he gets caught out sometimes.

Richard Wade
Richard Wade: Railing against rigid spelling
"I celebrated my 40th birthday at Radio Four, and pointed out to my colleagues that they had spelt my age wrong on the card - they'd written 'forty' rather than 'fourty'.

"When someone gently told me that 40 was actually spelled that way, I thought, 'That's just ridiculous'."

Seeing the problems faced by his mildly dyslexic wife and school-age stepchildren also proved to be an eye-opener.

"There's a stigma attached to bad spelling, yet we're very tolerant of accents and bad grammar. I think that's not fair."

Hence he suggests sticking to the established rules when writing for school or work, and freespelling with friends and family.

Cracking the code

According to the Simplified Spelling Society, English spelling had been quite straightforward until 1066.

Then French, Latin and Greek words began to be incorporated into the language, and spelling went all over the place.


To dye, to sleep; to sleep, perchance to dreame, I there's the rub

Shakespeare's first folio Hamlet 1623
So letters do not consistently correspond with sounds, such as in the final syllables of burglar, martyr, actor and injure.

"Yet learners must decode this chaos for reading, and memorise it for writing. Literacy is therefore far harder to acquire in English than in most languages," says an essay on the organisation's website.

Solutions range from the simple - such as Mr Wade's proposal to pick the best spelling of the present alternatives - to the radical, such as scrapping the Roman alphabet, as advocated by the dramatist George Bernard Shaw.

But no matter how good the idea is in theory, David Lister of the Plain English Campaign says such reforms would most likely provoke resistance, if not outrage.

"Changing the language is not like the metrification of weights and measures - you can't just change the rules overnight.

"The English language is one of the things people hold very dear - they know it's illogical, they know it's annoying, but they love it."

See also:

17 Jan 01 | Education
24 Nov 00 | Education
09 Sep 00 | UK
20 Oct 00 | UK
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