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Less Reading, Writing Harm Spelling Skills, CUA Linguist Says

1 June 1995


a.gif (1076 bytes)mericans' spelling skills are declining. Computer users are relying on spell- check functions to verify their work. Many people spend less time reading and writing and can't recognize mistakes when they encounter them. And the nation's education system often emphasizes clear communication of ideas over perfect spelling and grammar.

Anca Nemoianu, a linguistics expert at The Catholic University of America who helps train language arts teachers, finds that writers who count on computers to flag errors frequently miss words that sound alike but have different spellings or meanings. In a letter, for example, "Deer John" probably wouldn't be caught because there is no misspelling.

Many teachers and students don't regard spelling mistakes as reasons to lower grades on papers and tests as long as the writing conveys its intended message to its audience, she notes.

Although teachers should encourage students to look up words and use standard spelling, instructors shouldn't go to the opposite extreme of valuing it over clarity of thought, Nemoianu says.

Spelling mistakes that become part of written English are examples of the language's capacity for change, she explains. She cites the confusion between the plural and the genitive, as in "boys" versus "boy's," that will probably lead to one form, "boys," and the disappearance of the apostrophe.

Occasional attempts to "reform" or "simplify" English spelling by making it closer to speech have had varying degrees of success, she says, citing the limited but growing acceptance of "nite" for "night" and "thru" for "through."

"Spelling reformers should be patient and realize that such changes are gradual. After all, the United States hasn't fully adopted the metric system yet even though adherents have been campaigning for its use for years," Nemoianu adds. Nemoianu is available for interviews at 202-319-5256 or nemoianu@cua.edu.

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