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Political initiative for spelling change

Political initiative for spelling change

Almost exactly 50 years after a spelling reform bill was approved by the British House of Commons, a comparable move is being made in New Zealand.

The Oamaru branch of the Labour Party is putting a remit before the Otago-Southland regional conference of the party in Dunedin on March 29 and 30 asking that the Government hold an inquiry to see if current English and American spelling is a handicap to learners and users of English.

It asks that the inquiry compare English with other languages, some of which have a central authority that monitors and revises spelling, and that it considers the desirability of New Zealand calling a world conference of English users to look at making spelling improvements under an international authority.

In February 1953 the House of Commons passed the second reading and committee stages of the Spelling Reform Bill. It was eventually withdrawn when it was realized the House of Lords would reject it, and as a compromise the secretary of education agreed to an inquiry into the place of spelling in learning to read and write.

This inquiry, carried out by two respected educational institutions, London University's Institute of Education and the National Foundation for Educational Research, found an experimental initial teaching alfabet markedly improved learning rates in reading and writing.

"It is good to see a political party here at last addressing this problem," said Allan Campbell, of the Simplified Spelling Society. "We English-speakers just do not realize the unnecessary burden our spelling puts on children learning to read and write. Pupils take up to two years more to learn these skills than do children in other European languages, mainly because of our spelling.

"In English, spelling is a big deal: we mistakenly judge people's intelligence on their ability to spell, and we consult dictionaries for spelling rather than just for meanings and derivations," he said.

His society hoped the Oamaru initiative would be a first step towards a much-needed change.

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