Spelling: the history of spelling

By Mary Morel

The history of our spelling is responsible for such peculiar sentences as:

Because there was no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

Standard spelling was not regarded as important until the 1700s, by which time many irrational spellings had become accepted as ‘normal’.

As Larry Beason, author of Eyes before Ease says:

 ‘ … English spelling rests somewhere between perfection and chaos, yet large-scale reforms would not solve what is typically seen as the fundamental problem: namely, that English spelling and speech do not always match’ (e.g. ss and c have the same sound in admission and appreciate).

‘Attempts to reform and standardise spelling have had very limited success. Noah Webster tried to reform American English with Webster’s Dictionary but he bowed to common usage in many instances.

‘For example, Webster campaigned against silent letters, so cheque became check, but he lost with thumb and examine.’

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