The Printing Press and Dictionaries Crystallized Spelling

English spelling was at first practically fonetic, like the spelling of Latin, Spanish, Italian, Polish, and most other languages, and changed as pronunciation changed. In its case, however, various causes com- bined to interfere with this orderly process. Among them wer the variations in the early dialects, the dif- ferent spelling sistems of the Norman conquerors, the later different spelling sistem of the imported Dutch printers, the bungling attempts during the Renaissance to make our spelling "etimological," and the continual ingrafting of words from other living tungs in their foren spellings spellings that they retaind with slight modifications after their pronunciation had greatly changed in English speech.

English writers before the invention of printing, and for some time afterward, largely followd their own notions in regard to spelling, but the general aim was to indicate the pronunciation of the spoken word ; and it is possible for scolars to determin with a fair degree of accuracy how English was pronounst at different periods in those days.

With the invention of printing, however, English spelling began to cristalize into more or les fixt forms. This took place gradually thru the action of the "chapels", or printing houses, in selecting from the current spellings of a given word the one that most pleasd the fancy of the master printer, and adopting it as the "office stile". Unfortunately, the earliest printers of English wer nativs of Holland, who, with far too little knowledge of English or of its proper pro- nunciation to fit them to be arbiters of English spelling, nevertheless changed the forms of many words to con- form with their Dutch habits of orthografy. The un- necessary h in ghost (Dutch gheest, but later geest), aghast, ghastly, gherkin, ar examples of this influence, which also produced ghess, ghest, ghittar, etc. in which the h gave place to u under French influence and ghospel, ghizzard, ghossip, etc., from which the h was later simplified away.


Then came Dr. Samuel Johnson. At a time when English spelling was stil unsettld, when etimology was largely based on geswork, and English filology was in its infancy, his literary reputation gave to his diction- ary (1755) an "authority" far beyond that which it or, indeed, any dictionary compiled at that time could possibly merit. His classical leanings led him to pre- fer spellings that pointed, rightly or wrongly, to Latin or Greek sources; while his lack of sound scolarship prevented him from detecting their ' frequent errors and absurdities. A good illustration is his preferring ache to ake. The Middle English verb was ake (Old English acan) ; the noun was ache (Old English aece, ece) , pronounst in Shakespeare's time like the name of the letter h. Altho the pronunciation of the noun had changed to that of the verb in Johnson's time, he speld them both ache on a false assumption that they wer derived from the Greek achos.

Thru whim or indolence he approved in certain in- stances spellings that wer inconsistent with those he adopted for other words of the same general clas. Thus, while retaining the Latin p in receipt, he left it out of deceit; he speld deign one way, and disdain another; he speld uphill but downhil, muckhill but dunghil, instill but distil, inthrall but disenthral. A few of his inconsistencies wer adjusted by later lexi- cografers, but more wer not. In other instances his carelessness permitted him to deviate in the text from the spellings given in the vocabulary.

Johnson's dictionary, with all its imperfections, was nevertheless accepted by printers, scoolmasters, and the general public, as "authoritativ", and its spellings as "correct". It gave standing to an incorrect theory of orthografy, and to a vast number of unhistorical, illogical, and unsientific forms, a large proportion of which stil persist, in spite of the efforts of later and riper scolars including the foremost English lexi- cografers to introduce reforms. Words that hav greatly alterd in pronunciation since Johnson's day continue to be speld as Johnson speld them; and the change and growth of our flexible language has faild to be recorded by an orthografy that owes much of its inflexibility to his influence.


Noah Webster, whose " American Dictionary" (1828) is the basis of all the later revizions and amplifications that bear his name and of some that do not was a radical and outspoken advocate of spelling reform. He set forth his views in an essay on "The Reforming of Spelling", first printed in 1789, and now available in a reprint issued by the Old South Association, Bos- ton. He ventured to simplify several classes of words in his dictionary, and by so doing arousd a storm of protest that gradually died down in the United States as the shorter forms made their way into print and general usage, and now mark the difference between the so-cald "American" and "British" stiles. Yet many, who today habitually use the simplified spellings Webster introduced, regard any deviation therefrom as a mark of illiteracy, and denounce all proposed devia- tions in the direction of further simplicity, and of Webster's recorded preferences, as iconoclastic, fan- tastic, and destructiv of English literature.


Folksonomies: spelling history

/education/english as a second language (0.540121)
/education (0.501426)
/art and entertainment/books and literature (0.479833)

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Dr. Samuel Johnson:Person (0.725464 (positive:0.286802)), Noah Webster:Person (0.501223 (neutral:0.000000)), cografers:Person (0.405174 (neutral:0.000000)), Printing Press:Company (0.402625 (neutral:0.000000)), lexi:Person (0.333782 (negative:-0.253107)), United States:Country (0.332681 (negative:-0.756711)), ary:Person (0.325062 (neutral:0.000000)), Holland:Country (0.320108 (neutral:0.000000)), etimology:Person (0.318182 (neutral:0.000000)), Old South Association:Organization (0.315277 (neutral:0.000000)), tastic:Person (0.312849 (neutral:0.000000)), Shakespeare:Person (0.306906 (neutral:0.000000))

Spelling reform (0.982244): dbpedia
English spelling reform (0.968651): dbpedia
English language (0.958097): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Orthography (0.940606): dbpedia | freebase
Noah Webster (0.830091): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
William Shakespeare (0.772757): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago | musicBrainz
Dictionary (0.771221): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Spelling (0.758794): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 Handbook of Simplified Spelling
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Paine, Hanry Gallup (2009-06), Handbook of Simplified Spelling, BiblioBazaar, LLC, Retrieved on 2015-03-12
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: history culture spelling


    31 DEC 2010

     Arguments for English Spelling Reform

    This schema is a collection of arguments about how proper grammar, with its illogical and inconsistently applied rules, is used by academics and intellectuals to create a privileged class of people who's ideas deserve considering because they have successfully learned the irrational system.
    Folksonomies: phonetics grammar
    Folksonomies: phonetics grammar