Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling

By David Wolman

When did ghost gather its silent h? Will our on-line world kill the single in rhubarb? And was once it fairly rocket scientists who invented spell-check?

In Righting the mummy Tongue, writer David Wolman tells the cockamamie tale of English spelling, in terms of a wordly event from English battlefields to Google headquarters. alongside the best way, he joins spelling reformers picketing the nationwide spelling bee, visits town in Belgium—not England—where the 1st English books have been published, and takes a highway journey with the boss at Merriam-Webster Inc. Wolman punctuates the adventure with spelling wars waged through the likes of Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster, Theodore Roosevelt, and Andrew Carnegie.

Rich with heritage, popular culture, interest, and humor, Righting the mummy Tongue explores how English spelling got here to be, lines efforts to fix the code, and imagines the form of tomorrow's words.

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Crystal and such a lot linguists take the view that language is usually altering and that the aim of linguistics is to explain how phrases and ideas are used, to not inform humans the way to use them. other folks think that the traditions of language that they realized in class exist for a cause, and for that reason might be taught and enforced. The technical label for this contrasting procedure is descriptivism as opposed to prescriptivism. sixty six VA L I A N T E X T E R M I N ATO R S O F D I A L E C T I C A L V E R M I N The extra benign type of prescription in linguistics doesn’t relatively trojan horse someone. It lays out basic principles for grammar and spelling, which aid to make written language as generally and simply intelligible as attainable. the place the sparks start to fly is out at the outer edge, the place prescription necessarily seeps into concerns of style, political correctness, and socially applicable utilization. Or, as Crystal places it: The absolutist, “zero-tolerance attitudes that begin to sound like George W. Bush. ” those hard-line prescriptivists, those “valiant exterminators of dialectical vermin,” to borrow a word from Benjamin Ide Wheeler, think in a transparent dividing line among right and incorrect language. they suspect it’s the accountability of educators, lecturers, writers, and editors to direct using language with a view to inoculate destiny texts from sentences that result in prepositions and forestall high-schoolers from ever announcing “between you and that i” once they suggest “between you and me. ” To descriptivists, “between you and that i” and “between you and me” are either attainable. either convey the specified nugget of data with no hitch and in point of fact humans these days are utilizing either expressions. Strict prescriptivists in flip decry this kind of swap as facts of additional mangling of the language, waving copies of Strunk and White’s the weather of favor to say the correctness in their perspectives approximately correctness. (That “little book,” writes linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, “has performed greater than the rest to cajole people who the complete topic of utilization should be decreased to a couple pithy maxims . . . ”42) Disciplined use of language, they argue, makes for readability of expression, reaping rewards author and reader alike. Descriptivists then fireplace again to assert they honor readability too, yet are looking to distinguish among phony and bonafide principles that confirm it. A grammatical test that confuses a sentence doesn’t sixty seven RIGHTING the mum TONGU E do a lot sturdy, and so much all people consents that principles to aid steer clear of such confusion make feel. With spelling, even though, the statement is shakier. while humans confuse dam and rattling or inventive and ingenuous, utilization referees are correct to throw a penalty flag. those are varied phrases that suggest various things. this sort of slipup invitations confusion, as do different homophones, like praise and supplement, desk bound and stationery, booze and boos, pedal and peddle, and such a lot of others. yet to insist that utilizing supercede rather than supersede inevitably bolsters readability seems like a stretch.

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