5. Failed Reforms for English
Robbins Burling [+]
University of Michigan, (Emeritus)
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 chapter charts the history of English spelling reform worldwide, starting with the proposals of John Hart, who in 1569 published a book called An Orthographie. The chapter continues through the centuries to present day debates.