February 11, 2007

A Bit of Whimsy

Over at Staring at Empty Pages, Barry has a post about how our instant communication has changed the way we spell words and the frequency of letters used in our writing.

One printing-related thing I learned, which many people learn in other ways, is “ETAOIN SHRDLU” — the twelve most common letters in printed English, in decreasing order of frequency. We used to pronounce it "eta-oyn shurd-loo".

I don't know whether they consider slang when they come up with such frequency distributions. If so, ETAOIN SHRDLU might be nearing the end of its life.

Why? In the new slang creative spelling is all the rage. To see where Barry thinks this might go, do read his piece.

Barry's post reminded me of this Mark Twain's classic:

A plan for the improvement of spelling in the English language

By Mark Twain

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.

Generally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeiniing voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x"— bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez —tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivili.

Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev alojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

What do you think Mark Twain would make of today's spelling?

Posted by Mary at February 11, 2007 12:11 PM | Random Mumblings | Technorati links |

I was frustrated by how little Barry understood online "creative spelling." The capitalization- and apostrophe-free spelling common to email, the abbreviation-heavy but otherwise correct Usenet argot, and the even more abbreviated spelling used in IM or on IRC are completely different beasts. Even within the last, "l33t-speak", IRC, and AIM are mutually incomprehensible dialects. And at least in my experience, the different media don't tend to bleed into each other.

Posted by: sean at February 12, 2007 06:14 AM