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The Simplified Spelling Board was an American organization created in 1906 to reform the spelling of the English language, making it simpler and easier to learn, and eliminating many of its inconsistencies.

Contents

Founding

The Simplified Spelling Board was announced on March 11, 1906, with Andrew Carnegie funding the organization, to be headquartered in New York City. The New York Times noted that Carnegie was convinced that "English might be made the world language of the future" and an influence to universal peace, but that this role was obstructed by its "Contradictory and difficult spelling".[1] Carnegie committed $15,000 per year for five years to get the organization off the ground.[2]

The initial 30 members of the Board consisted of authors, professors and dictionary editors, among them Supreme Court Justice David Josiah Brewer, President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University, Dr. Melvil Dewey (inventor of the Dewey Decimal Classification), Dr. Isaac K. Funk (editor of The Standard Dictionary), former United States Secretary of the Treasury Lyman J. Gage, United States Commissioner of Education William Torrey Harris (and editor-in-chief of the 1909 Webster's New International Dictionary) and author Mark Twain.[1] Offices were obtained at the Metropolitan Life Building at 1 Madison Avenue and Brander Matthews was selected as the Board's Chairman.[2]

Charles E. Sprague of the Union Dime Savings Institution, the board's first treasurer, noted that the group was careful to keep the word "reform" out of its name and gave the word "believe" as an example of a word that would benefit from elimination of its unneeded "i", stating that "If believe were spelled 'beleve', I think it would be a good change."[3]

On March 13, 1906, The New York Times editorialized in support of the Simplified Spelling Board's efforts, noting that 90% of English words are "fairly well spelled", but that "a vast improvement could be effected by reducing to some sort of regularity the much-used tenth that makes most of the trouble."[4] An editorial in the following day's edition noted that opponents of the Board's efforts had suggested that the language be kept as is only taught better, but that the membership of the Board would respect the language's history in its improvement efforts without hiding or distorting it.[5] Brander Matthews, the group's Chairman, emphasized that the Board's primary mission in simplifying the language was to eliminate unneeded letters, noting that "[s]implification by omission - this is its platform; this is its motto."[6] Isaac Funk wrote to The Times on March 20, 1906, emphasizing that the Board's first aim was "a conservatively progressive evolution, aiming chiefly at the dropping of silent letters", accelerating a process that had been going on for centuries. This would be followed by the use of a phonetic alphabet developed by the American Philological Association and including the 40 basic sounds used in English. Phonetics would be taught to children in Nursery or Kindergarten.[7]

The first 300 words

The Board's initial list of 300 words was published on April 1, 1906. Much of the list included words ending with -ed changed to end -t ("addressed", "caressed", "missed", "possessed" and "wished", becoming "addresst", "carest", "mist", "possest" and "wisht", respectively). Other changes included removal of silent letters ("catalogue" to "catalog"), changing -re endings to -er ("calibre" and "sabre" to "caliber" and "saber"), changing "ough" to "o" to represent the long vowel sound in the new words altho, tho and thoro, and changes to represent the "z" sound with that letter, where "s" had been used ("brasen" and "surprise" becoming "brazen" and "surprize").[8]

Digraphs would also be eliminated, with the Board promoting anemia, anesthesia, archeology, encyclopedia and orthopedic. The Board noted that the majority of the words in their list were already preferred by three current dictionaries: Webster's (more than half), the Century (60%) and the Standard (two-thirds). In June 1906, the Board prepared a list of the 300 words designed for teachers, lecturers and writers, sent out upon request.[9]

In June 1906, the New York City Board of Education received a report from the Board of Superintendents recommending adoption of the 300-word list, and would pass on the recommendation to the Committee on Studies and Textbooks for approval.[10]

In August 1906, President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt had supported the plan, signing an executive order at his home in Oyster Bay, New York, mandating the use of reformed spelling in his official communications and messages to Congress.[11] Prof. Matthews stated that he had received no advance notice of the President's order and had been taken by surprise when it was issued.[12]

Roosevelt tried to force the federal government to adopt the system, sending an order to the Public Printer to use the system in all public federal documents. The order was obeyed, and among the President's special message regarding the Panama Canal was printed using the Board's word list.[13]

The New York Times noted that the New York State Commissioner of Education thought the state would not support the Board's proposal as "he did not believe that the State educational department should tell the people how they must spell." By August 1906, The Board reported that over 5,000 individuals had pledged to use the words on the initial list, with another 500 to 600 agreeing to use some of the words, but objecting to others.[2]

While the London press viciously mocked the executive order, the Board received a significant spike in interest in the word list following Roosevelt's edict.[14]

In response to the mounting criticism from British newspapers, the Board announced the additions of James Murray, the Scottish lexicographer and primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, along with Joseph Wright, an Oxford University professor of comparative philology and editor of the English Dialect Dictionary. Combined with the earlier naming of Walter William Skeat, editor of the Etymological English Dictionary, the Board could claim it had the three top English language dictionaries from both the United States and United Kingdom on its side.[12]

The press had a field day with the "reform spelling crusade" and editorials and cartoons abounded. The Supreme Court entered the fray and directed that its opinions should be printed in the old style. Finally, Congress had the last word when Representative Charles B. Landis of Indiana, Chairman of the House Committee on Printing, introduced a resolution on December 13, 1906: "Resolved, That it is the sense of the House that hereafter in the printing of House documents or other publications used by law or ordered by Congress, or either branch thereof, or emanating from any executive department or bureau of the Government, the House printer should observe and adhere to the standard of orthography prescribed in generally accepted dictionaries of the English language." The motion passed unanimously. The President let the Public Printer and the Nation know that the old style was reinstated.[15]

Roosevelt ultimately decided to rescind the order. Brander Matthews, a friend of Roosevelt and one of the chief advocates of the reform as Chairman of the Spelling Reform Board, remonstrated with him for abandoning the effort. Roosevelt replied on December 16, 1906: "I could not by fighting have kept the new spelling in, and it was evidently worse than useless to go into an undignified contest when I was beaten. Do you know that the one word as to which I thought the new spelling was wrong — thru — was more responsible than anything else for our discomfiture?" Next summer Roosevelt was watching a naval review when a newspaper launch marked "Pres Bot" chugged ostentatiously by. The President waved and laughed with delight.[13][16]

References

  1. ^ a b "CARNEGIE ASSAULTS THE SPELLING BOOK; To Pay the Cost of Reforming English Orthography. CAMPAIGN ABOUT TO BEGIN Board Named, with Headquarters Here -- Local Societies Throughout the Country.", The New York Times, March 12, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c "NEW YORK MAY NOT FOLLOW.; Mr. Draper Doesn't Believe in Telling People How to Spell", The New York Times, August 25, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  3. ^ "SIMPLE SPELLERS START WITH 300 PRUNED WORDS; They Want to Avoid Scaring People at First. NOT REFORMERS, THEY INSIST Col. Sprague Thinks Many Persons Object to the Term -- Some Publishers and Editors Enlisted.", The New York Times, March 13, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  4. ^ "TOPICS OF THE TIMES", The New York Times, March 13, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  5. ^ "TOPICS OF THE TIMES", The New York Times, March 14, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  6. ^ "TOPICS OF THE TIMES", The New York Times, March 22, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  7. ^ Funk, I.K. "Letter to the Editor - SIMPLIFIED SPELLING.; Two Lines of Work, Requiring Patience and Discrimination.", The New York Times, March 25, 1906.
  8. ^ "START THE CAMPAIGN FOR SIMPLE SPELLING; Managers Issue a Circular Showing Method to be Adopted. ANOMALIES ARE REGULATED The List of 300 Words Spelled by the New System Is Received with Favor.", The New York Times, April 1, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  9. ^ "SIMPLE SPELLERS ISSUE A LIST FOR BEGINNERS; It Includes 300 Words, Mostly Having Dictionary Sanction. MORE IF MORE ARE WANTED Thousands Have Promised to Use the New Forms, the Board Says -Inquiries Welcomed.", The New York Times June 18, 1906.
  10. ^ "Simplified+Spelling+Board"&st=p "SIMPLIFIED SPELLING FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS; Board of Education Adopts a List of 300 Words. CHEAP LUNCH PLAN REJECTED Police Will Take a Census of the School Children -- Needs of the Normal College.", The New York Times, June 28, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  11. ^ "SPELLING REFORM BY EXECUTIVE ORDER", The New York Times, September 25, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  12. ^ a b "PRESIDENT SURPRISED EVEN SIMPLE SPELLERS; Prof. Brander Matthews Didn't Expect Executive Aid. LEXICOGRAPHERS IN LINE Editors of Leading Dictionaries Here and in England Favor the Proposed Reform", The New York Times, August 28, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  13. ^ a b Pringle 465–7
  14. ^ "ROOSEVELT SPELLING MAKES BRITONS LAUGH; London Newspapers Turn Their Humorists Loose. PHONETIC WAIL IN THE SUN It Says Karnegi (or Karnege) and Ruzevelt (or Rusvelt) Mite Leve (or Lev) the Langwidge Alone. ROOSEVELT SPELLING MAKES BRITONS LAUGH", The New York Times, August 26, 1906. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  15. ^ MacGilvray, Daniel R. A Short History of GPO, United States Government Printing Office. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  16. ^ Roosevelt, Theodore. "Letters to Kermit from Theodore Roosevelt 1902 to 1908", Kessinger Publishing, 2005, via Google Books, p. 110. ISBN 141799400. Accessed September 11, 2008. "Roosevelt had just endorsed simplified spelling, and they flitted through the traffic in a disreputable motor-boat with a streamer on each beam labelled 'Pres Bot.' Roosevelt liked that."

See also

English spelling reform

Further reading

  • Pringle, Henry F. Theodore Roosevelt (1932; 2nd ed. 1956), full scholarly biography
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