Thursday, September 17, 2015

This Book Spells Out Everything About Our Language

English has been described as a Germanic language, with almost half of our words steeped in Germanic origin. However, English is a polyglot language that has always borrowed from almost every other language in the world.  Our language reflects the diversity of people who have lived in the United States.  However, because the language has many influences and is constantly changing and expanding we find that the correct spelling of words has been deemphasized.

We see it with social media and email.  We see it with the cultural challenges of Ebonics and Spanglish.  We see it with the impact of foreign tourists and the influx of immigrants. We see it in our classrooms, where kids merely memorize spelling lists but fail to grasp the rules and guidelines that tell us how and why to spell a word.  Our nation suffers from bad spelling.

Have no worries.  One man hopes to solve this problem.  Meet John Fulford.  He recently launched a site called  He also penned a book, The Complete Guide to English Spelling Rules.

He writes in his book: “This book attempts to show that English spelling is not na illogical mish-mash of sounds and letters.  On the contrary, English spelling does indeed have logical rules that govern how the words are spelled.”

I’m not sure if I agree with is assertion that: “English is a simple and uncomplicated language that is easily learned and, when used correctly, permit s clear communication with little chance of serious misunderstanding.”

More than 75% of the world does not speak a word of English, but English is a universal language for business and trade.  Could that be supplanted by Chinese or Spanish one day?  Perhaps not in our lifetime, but as we see from history, nothing stays the same.  The ruling language of a thousand years ago was not English.

Noah Webster single-handedly reformed the modern North American English when he published his dictionary nearly 200 years ago.  He built on an earlier dictionary from Dr. Samuel Johnson, and had a standard for converting from British English to American English.

He used these guidelines:
1.      A change of spelling is permissible if it removes superfluous letters from the original word.

2.      Simplifying a word is encouraged if it doesn’t alter a word’s meaning or create another homophone or homograph.

3.      In all cases, new spellings must conform to the spelling rules.

4.      It should resemble, as closely as possible, the original word.

I can’t imagine what it was like when the new dictionary came out. It must have initially caused confusion for writers, readers, and teachers.  It must have taken a generation to transition styles and to clean up published works.

Fulford writes: “This common working man, who was most in need of a better education, was not asked for his opinion of the work of the spelling reformers.  The most violent criticism of reform came from newspaper editors, writers, and statesmen, all of whom saw it as an attack on that which they valued the most – their excellent grasp of English and their hard-earned knowledge of its intricacies and subtleties.”

His book clearly lays out, with examples, all of the many rules we should have learned in grade school but either never did or forgot years later.  One misuse we often see is that of the apostrophe.  “Never use an apostrophe when a plural is intended,” he writes.  "The possessive apostrophe indicates ownership: the president’s speech.  If we mean ownership of the plural, use it after the “s”: “the trains’ manufacturer failed.”

When going through the book, you realize how much there is to know:

·         The silent e and its usage
·         Contractions
·         Plurals
·         Past tense
·         Prefixes and suffices
·         Double the consonant
·         Change y to i
·         I before e
·         Using less and ness
·         Hyphens
·         Acronyms

Fulford uses clarity and simplicity to address the challenges of the language. His book is based on two decades of serious research and over 40 years of teaching students from kindergarten to college prep, as well as adult education.  So whether you are unclear on the proper use of ence or ense or you need to be reminded that q must always be followed by a u and a vowel, you’ll enjoy The Complete Guide to English Spelling Rules.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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