Spellbound - Untangling English Spelling - Robbins Burling

Spellbound - Untangling English Spelling - Robbins Burling


Spellbound - Untangling English Spelling - Robbins Burling

Robbins Burling [+-]
University of Michigan, (Emeritus)
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Robbins Burling graduated from Yale University in 1950 and received his PhD from Harvard in 1958. Between these dates he spent two years in Northeastern India, conducting an ethnographic and linguistic study of an ethnic group known as the Garos. He joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in 1957 and moved to the University of Michigan in 1963, where he taught linguistics and anthropology until his retirement in 1995. His anthropological works include his ethnography of the Garos, a comparative study of political succession, and a general book on the people and cultures of Southeast Asia. In addition to this, his linguistic publications include a grammar of the Garo language, a book and papers on language acquisition and language pedagogy, and the language of African-Americans. His most recent book was an exploration of how language could have evolved in the human species. His interest in spelling goes back to his childhood when he discovered his inability to spell according to convention. He was the first to sit down in every spelling bee, and the red marks on his English papers convinced him that his linguistic aptitude was poor. He solved this problem only by finding others who were willing to type the final copy of his papers and books.


This book has two parts. The first six chapters are relatively general. They review the history of English spelling and the reasons for the many irregularities of our modern language. The author argues that the irregular spelling of English contributes seriously to the disgracefully high rate of illiteracy in the English speaking world. He then reviews some of the many attempts to reform the spelling of other languages. Korean reforms required centuries, but were ultimately successful. Reforms have sometimes been successfully carried out more quickly, but other attempted reforms have been complete failures. During the first half of the 20th century there was a flurry of interest in reforms for English but since then reform has been little more than the object of humor. The reasons for opposition to reform are considered. The second part of the book is more technical. The criteria that should govern the choice among alternative reforms are described with care. The relatively easily reformed consonants and the much more difficult vowels are then considered in detail. Special attention is given to ways of designing a spelling that is equally suitable for the many and diverse dialects of spoken English. A unified spelling could not be perfect for any single dialect, but it could be very much better than our present spelling for all dialects. Possible ways by which reforms might be brought about are considered, but no particular spelling is advocated.

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Burling, Robbins. Preface. Spellbound - Untangling English Spelling. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. vii-ix Jan 2016. ISBN 9781781791318. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=24668. Date accessed: 21 Jul 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.24668. Jan 2016

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