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English Spelling and Spelling Reform

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
It was my fortune in 1906 to be wandering in lands where English is not spoken, when the President of the United States issued his famous order in regard to spelling. Little, therefore, of the comment it occasioned met my eyes, either at the time or long after; little of the clamor it excited reached my ears. But after my return to my own country I had the opportunity to look over no small number of the productions which came out in opposition to it or in criticism of it, whether they appeared in the form of reported interviews with prominent persons, of leaders in newspapers or letters to them, or of elaborate articles in periodicals. Most of these written pieces were anonymous; but some of them came avowedly from men of recognized eminence in various fields of intellectual activity. It is with no intention of conveying the slightest suggestion of disparagement of the authors of these various articles that I say that not one of them contained a single argument which every person who has paid even a superficial attention to the history of English orthography has not been familiar with from the time of his first entering upon the study. Even the jokes and sarcastic remarks of the newspapers were hoary with the rime of age. In the case of these latter something must be conceded to the inherent difficulty of the attack, without imputing the feebleness of it, or the lack of originality in it, to mere barrenness of brain. From the very nature of things it is hard to be jocose upon a subject of which one knows nothing at all. A difficulty of a like nature attended the production of the arguments which were put forth seriously. They brought forward no new ideas; they simply inspired recollections. It is only the fact that the writers of the more elaborate articles seemed to regard the reasons they advanced as novel, if not startling, contributions to thought, which to the mind of the veteran of orthographical wars imparted a certain languid interest to what they said. One comes, in truth, to feel a sort of respect for the continuous incapacity to comprehend the exact nature of the problem presented, which year after year of discussion does not impair, nor affluence of argument disturb. As in a number of the pieces I was privileged to see I found my own name mentioned, I trust it will not be deemed a mark of offensive egotism—egotism of one sort it assuredly is—if I take the occasion of its appearance in these articles to state my views exactly on various points connected with the subject instead of having them stated for me inexactly by others. As confessions seem now to be the literary fashion, it has seemed best to put what I have to say in that form. The method of personal statement enables me also to bring out more distinctly not merely the views held by many, but also the reasons by which their course has been influenced. This consequently may serve as an excuse for a mode of utterance which in the case of one so obscure as myself would be otherwise out of place. Still, while the sentiments indicated may be entertained by numbers, they are here to be considered as nothing more than my own individual opinions. I do not pretend to speak with authority for any person but myself, least of all for any organization which has started out to carry on the work of spelling reform. Some, indeed, of the particular views I express may possibly, or, it may be, will probably, meet with the dissent of those who hold in general the same beliefs.