The English language is the product of war, chance and religion. Over a period of roughly 1,000 years, invasions, bad luck and the
Catholic church cast, forged, and mangled the language into something recognizable as the basis of what we have today.
The spelling is the result of Roman letters replacing the original runes, a somewhat phonetic system evolving and degenerating,
French-Norman invaders stomping on whatever existed in 1066, centuries of inconsistent scribes, typesetters adding letters to
fill space in printing presses, nasty schoolmasters torturing students and finally, early dictionaries fossilizing
the whole mess at the moment of maximum chaos.
Squeezing it all into a few sentences is kind of silly, but to do it justice requires far more time and space than I can
devote here. I therefore highly recommend The Story of English by McCrumb, MacNiel & Cran for everybody.
But if you're generally bored by history and short on time,
The History of English In 10 Minutes Youtube video is amusing and informative.
Reading of all the fascinating events and characters that formed our language can seduce one into believing that this is right;
that it gives us a solid connection with our heritage; that changing it in any way would be an affront to the ghosts of Chaucer,
Shakespear, and the multitudes who lived the language as it grew.
To counter this feeling of nostalgia I offer this: History is NOW. This year. Today. This moment. In 1,000 years
another Story of English will be written. Will this day be a whole chapter or will the entire first century of the millenium be
forgotten due to lack of notable events? To truly be a part of history, we must do something historic.
A word is comprised of three functional components: Pronunciation, meaning and spelling. As one of our greatest natural abilities,
we learn the first two rather easily, but spelling is another matter. It is an invention that requires a higher level
of cognition and some amount of memorization. How this invention is designed determines how much memorization is involved.
An important factor in the design of anything is how well it works with whomever is going to use it. This is the art and science
of ergonomics. Tools, furniture, clothing, the controls of all our vehicles and equipment were designed to work with our physical
form and capabilities. How well a product serves us is dependent on the talent of the designer and makes all the
difference between excellence and junk. The average human hand, for example, gets it's best grip on a rod between 20 and 40
millimeters in diameter, so you wouldn't make a hammer handle only 5 mm even though you'd be saving a lot of weight, or 100mm
just because you had a large supply of fence posts to use up. People could use these hammers, but not very easily. The best
handles are not just a simple rod, but have a cushioned grip formed with bumps and depressions to more closely match the fingers,
thumb and palm. This eliminates most of the effort of maintaining a grip, thus enabling the user to swing
it with far more accuracy, power and endurance.
Designing things that we use in our heads is no different. The better they conform to our mental abilities, the more effective
they are at helping us do what we intend to do.
An ordinary 10 cent CD can memorize the spelling for the half million words of English in a matter of seconds. It could just as
easily memorize millions of random numbers and recall them flawlessly. If we could do the same, there would be no ergonomic problem.
But we can not. Our ability to record and recall random details is absolutely abysmal compared to the cheap plastic disk.
Even after years of rote memorization and decades of daily reading and writing, we still falter on common words that we've seen
thousands of times and need to use a dictionary or spell checker whenever writing something of any importance. Just as hammers
with absurdly fat handles would be poorly matched to our hands, English spelling was not made to work with our brains. It does
not help us do what we intend to do. There is no ergonomic relation between our mental capabilities
and the spelling 'system' we are using.
This ergonomic failure is hugely expensive. As mentioned on the Plain Text pages of this site, it is somewhere in excess of 500
billion dollars annually. This number is so big that you probably dismissed it as a half joking extreme exaggeration. It is in
fact a low ballpark guesstimate. I am not an accountant and make no claim of accuracy, but I believe the following will give you
at least some notion of the magnitude we are dealing with here.
Nearly all jobs these days involve writing to some extent and in more jobs than ever, writing is the primary activity. So we have
tens of millions of people who spend some significant portion of the average 2000 hour work year typing and/or hand writing.
Whatever fraction of their time is spent actually spelling the words is 15 to 20% greater than it should be, due to useless
'barnacle' letters. Add to this the amount of time they spend trying to remember how to spell words, shuffling thru a dictionary,
using a spell-checker and correcting mistakes.
The gross domestic product of the major English language countries is somewhere around 14 trillion dollars.
If the above squandered time averages only 5 minutes a day per worker, about 1/100 of a normal work day,
thats 140 billion dollars wasted annually.
The U.S. spent about 500 billion on education last year. If you say about 1/5 of that went to the grades where basic literacy is
taught and guess about 1/4 of the time is devoted to the subject of spelling, you get 25 billion. If you figure this is 4 times
higher than it should be by comparing it to Italian ( which is fairly close to phonetic & the average student is literate within
9 months ) you are left with about 19 billion. But, this needs adjusting upward, because the rate at which other subjects can
be taught is hindered by the low literacy of the students. The barnacle letter factor increases this and the 'how do I spell?'
factor, which is much higher than for adults, increases it yet again. Figuring 40 billion for America and tripling that to cover
all the major English language countries seems reasonable, so we have 120,000,000,000$ for education.
I couldn't get much of a handle on this, but a look into any of the millions of news stands in grocery stores, gas stations and
Kwik-E-Marts will give you some idea of the number of magazines and newspapers being churned out in English. And you could spend
an entire day in a book store just reading the titles filling the shelves.
A substantial portion of the world's industry is devoted to producing all of this printed material. Millions of trees, tankers of
ink, more tankers of processing chemicals and gigawatts of electricity are consumed to put thousands of novels and periodicles in
front of our noses. Add a few more gigawatts for the text on millions of computer screens and a minimal figure of 500 billion
looks good. If you chop that in half due to pictures and blank space, then about 50 billion
(1/5 of 250 billion) is being squandered on excess letters.
These 3 major factors total 310,000,000,000$. The minor English language countries, the use of English in non English language
countries, at least 1/2 of the entire English 2nd language ( ESL ) industry and much of the translating going on could easily put
this over 400 billion. So we have 4 times what seemed like an insane exaggeration a minute ago.
Beyond this is the very difficult to quantify cost of failiure. English literacy rates lag far behind other languages and this
results in all sorts of zero return expenses to society. Special education, low paying jobs, crime, prisons etc. And where would
you even start counting to put a price on some genius dyslexic washing dishes and living in a trailer park only
because he couldn't make sense of this nonsense?
I invite any competent accountant to come up with a more comprehensive and accurate figure,
whether your intent is to refute or verify this.
The left arrow leads back to the Parent-Teacher page.
The Links will take you to a page that has links to many other language related sites and credits everybody who aided in this
project. The right arrow will take you into the BaTLZON. Since you have read this far, you are either strongly in favor or
against the Nooalf Revolution and probably above average intelligence. Apathy and idiots don't make it past page 2. In either
case, the BaTLZON is the place to go if you are really serious about the future of spelling.
LaST UPDAT oN XIS PAJ oKTOBR 31 2015. TeKST IZ FRUM FeBYQeRE 5 2007