for a stânderd ênglish orthàgràfy

It’s PISA time!

No, not pizza time, PISA time: the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment is a series of standardized tests for K-12 education. In the most recent results Finland has again topped the overall tables (Canada, if your curious, was 2nd in reading, 6th in math and 5th in science, out of 31 OECD countries). An interesting story on the BBC World site goes into some of the reasons while glossing over one huge one: the standardized way of writing in the Finnish language.

English, in linguistic terms, is rather promiscuous. Words are borrowed, tweaked, transliterated and compounded. We use verbs with Greek or Lating stems. And because the various local dialects of the language vary widely, pronounciation is all over the map. So to speak.

So is spelling. Roughly there are two traditions to English language spelling: British and American. Persons living in the former British empire use variants of British; the US, Canada American. So within the language there’s often multiple ways to spell words (colour/color; counsellor/counselor). There are event verb forms differences (learnt vs. learned).

Having two broad standards means there isn’t a standard. If that’s not enough of an issue, English’s orthography–how we write in English–is a total mess.  They’re there and their sound the same. To and too too. And we have multiple ways to write out the same sound: think meet, obsolete, cheat, piece, happily and pizza all having the same “it” sound.

For native speakers, learning how to read and write English is vexing. For non-native speakers even more so. Finnish’s orthography is standard and phonetic: letters or groupings of letters always have the same pronounciation (borrow words excluded). The extended Slavic version of the Latin alphabet used in Slovene and Croatian achieves the same thing by adding accents to letters. Learn the orthography and learning how to read and write is rather straightforward. Well, as straightforward as learning a new language can ever be…

So…is it time for English to develop a standard orthography? No–it’s long past the time when this should have been done. But better late than ever.

About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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