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Does spelling matter?

When contemplating the topic of spelling and its importance, I idly wondered how many spelling mistakes appear in journalism. Surely, as examples of high-quality writing composed by the most talented journalists in the country, newspapers, both in their paper and online form, should be free from errors, particularly orthographic errors?

I decided to have a look at the Daily Mail website, and within minutes of browsing articles, I found an error, unless of course I am mistaken and the flashes of light that go hand in hand with thunder are flashes of “lightening”. Some may argue that the spelling mistake does not detract from the information given, and that a reader would still understand what was meant (in this case, that Kate Hudson’s dress has lightning motifs on it). However, surely that does not excuse the error that appeared in a national newspaper? Readers would only understand the word by recognising it as being similar to the correct word “lightning” and realise that this is the intended meaning.

So just how important is spelling? Even though not a single word in the following paragraph is spelt correctly, we can still read it:
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch by the Lngiusiitc Dptanmeret at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

So if we just need the first and last letters to be correct in order to be able to understand a word, does the order of the letters in the middle matter?

When translating text, spelling is extremely important. Correct spelling is necessary in order to ensure that the translator, who will be translating from a language that is not their own, can understand exactly what the author of the text wants to say. One letter out of place could potentially change the whole meaning of a word and therefore a sentence. In addition, for foreign readers, who are making the effort to learn English, it is important that they learn the correct spelling of words. If there is a word they are unsure of, they would presumably believe the spelling that appears in a newspaper, thus incorrectly learning a piece of English vocabulary.

The question of technology should also be addressed. Are computers partly to blame for spelling mistakes we make? With the ever-increasing use of spellcheckers, not just in Office applications now, but also in various email sites, are we becoming too reliant on them? Do we think that we can get away with not learning how to spell correctly, as we know that the computer will correct any errors we commit? Are spelling mistakes in the press merely typing errors? Should we go back to pen and paper and photocopies? Or is spelling not that important after all? In my humble opinion, it is, it is an inherent part of the English language, that is at risk of being compromised due to laziness and lack of care. I think spelling should be one of the most important parts of any English lesson given to school children, so that our language continues to flourish and be passed from generation to generation correctly.

Apologies, rant over… just don’t get me started on apostrophes…

How many words are in your vocabulary?

I have to say, if asked, I would find it difficult to say how many Spanish or French words I know. An article on the BBC website reported that Fabio Capello recently claimed he uses just 100 English words to communicate with players. (more…)

Should the German language use English words?

The question of the introduction of anglicisms into foreign languages is not new, it has long been a polemic, controversial topic about which many feel strongly. Words such as “le weekend”, “das Marketing” and “un hobby” spring to mind. Recently, German linguists have expressed fears that the introduction of more and more English vocabulary could be dangerous for the future of the German language.

The German Language Association, Verein Deutsche Sprache (VDS), makes monthly updates to its “Anglicism Index” to include English words that have been recently incorporated into the German spoken word. They then suggest German alternatives for these words. Recent additions to the VDS list include “follower” and “live-stream”, words for which there also exist German equivalents.

Opinion is currently divided regarding the threat that the introduction of English words carries to the German language. VDS spokesman, Holger Klatte, recently commented: “Particularly in the areas of technology, medicine, the internet and the economy, English is becoming ever more important.” He also stated: “There are not enough new German words being invented, and many people find they are excluded from the conversation because they can’t understand it.”

Not everyone is in agreement with VDS and the threat English poses to the German language. The Managing Director of the Society for the German Language (Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache), Andrea-Eva Ewels, comments that “only 1%-3% of the average German’s vocabulary of 5,000 words is made up of anglicisms.” This Society believes that the inclusion of English vocabulary enhances the German language, rather than harming it. However, the public in Germany seem to be on the side of VDS, with 39% of interviewees questioned in 2008 confirming their opposition to anglicisms.

There are a handful of foreign words that we use in English, such as “déjà vu”, “siesta” and “rendezvous”. How would we feel if more and more foreign words were introduced into our everyday vocabulary? The most important question that this discussion and debate poses is surely: why use an English word when a German word will suffice? Is there a benefit to incorporating a new English word into the language, in place of the equivalent German? Let us know what you think…

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