Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why Spelling Matters, One More Time

NOTE: As I am trying to fix all the links in my essays, and the links to articles in "Random Notes" no longer work, I have reproduced this article because it is cited in "The Grammar Nazi Versus George Lucas".

Some have questioned why I care so much about spelling and grammar. Usually taking the form of "If you can understand it, what does it matter?" However, my response is that, unless you abide by agreed standards, how can you know if it is intelligible to everyone or not? We have standards of spelling and grammar because they convey information. For example, though most don't realize it, in general the "-us" sound at the end of a word is spelled "-us" in nouns and "-ous" in adjectives. The spelling itself provides a clue as to the function of unfamiliar words. 

But the reason I am posting today is I have found a second perfect example. While reading the IMDB boards, I found this post:
THIS TV SHOW HAS GONE IN *beep* SINCE TEHY INTORDUICED TIM TRAVEL!! THIS SHIOW HAS CU M [space inserted to foil TH language filters, not present in original] SO CONFUSEING THAT THE INTAREST OF MANY PPEOL HAS BEN LOST!! WTF ARE THEY DONIG NOW!!! THEY ARE GOING BAK TO AFREIKIN ISLAND THAT TEY HAZ ALREDDY FOUND BEFOREEE!!!! WAQHT IS THEA POINT!! HAS IT HAS NOT LLOST UR INTAREST THAT THEY R RUNING AROUND IN SIRCLES!! AND Y IS THEIR DIFERANT TIM ZONES TAHT R 3 YEARS LATTER!!! I ACTULLY NEVER LIKD THIS AND IM GONNSA STOP WATCHING IT!!!!
And the perfect reply:
WTF ARE THEY DONIG NOW!!! THEY ARE GOING BAK TO AFREIKIN ISLAND THAT TEY HAZ ALREDDY FOUND BEFOREEE!!!!


He tries too hard. I can't work out if it's supposed to be African island or a freakin' island. 
And this makes my point for me. If people can't even tell if you are trying to say "a freakin'" or "African", then you must see how abiding by rules of spelling and grammar matter when trying to get your point across. Just as my previous example showed how the word "monker" could cause endless confusion, surely this makes the same point even more clearly.

And thus concludes this digression into English teacher territory. I now hang up my amateur teacher hat and return to my amateur pundit role.

POSTSCRIPT
As always, I confess I am not perfect in my writing. However, my own imperfections do not mean grammar and spelling are irrelevant, nor that I am a hypocrite, only that I sometimes fail to meet my own standards. Or do you call batters who strike out "hypocrites" because they should always hit home runs?

POSTSCRIPT II

I have an alternate argument I am surprised I have not made before. As an amateur historian, I have read many reproductions of original texts, and the one thing that stands out is the difficulty reconciling names. Usually the texts themselves are easy to understand, as context makes the irregular spelling mostly comprehensible. But once it comes to names, all bets are off. For example, Anna Comnena, in the Alexiad, refers to a crusader "Isangeles". Had not countless historians done the spade work for me, it would have been some time before I guessed it was a reference to Raymond of Toulouse, also know as Rayomond of Saint-Gilles.And it only gets worse from there. From the translation of Byzantine Greek place names (often coming themselves from Syraic or Phoenician) into Arabic and then being heard by Frankish* ears (sometimes from Armenian informants), it is quite difficult to reconcile names in the crusader chronicles with known locations, especially when mention is made of relatively unimportant locations such as small streams, hills or other minor geographic features. (Thankfully, the Byzantines who accompanied them managed to correctly name many landmarks, and, of coruse, in those lands the crusaders occupied, the Frankish names were used for decades, making them easier to identify.)

Actually, there is an even better example. Anyone who ever studied Latin beyond the first year has run into the Roman penchant for abbreviation. Now some are standard, such as the list of allowed first names, Gn or Cn for Gnaeus, M for Marcus, G or C for Gaius, A for Aulus and so on. But once we leave that familiar territory and deal with inscriptions on monuments and coins, all bets are off. Thanks to the total lack of standard abbreviations, often what we see is a jumble of one or two letters clumps standing for individual words. And, as a result, often even the experts cannot agree what "A M V AC T M Q" means. (I made that up, but it does represent pretty well what appears on some coins.) Sometimes external evidence helps, identifying a mint mark or naming the sovereign who issued the coin. Sometimes the image helps a bit. But often the exact meaning of Roman abbreviations is uncertain, or at least open enough to result in rather vigorous debate among numismatists. 

All of which is a lengthy way of pointing out once more that standardization exists for a reason, and we allow deviations at our own peril. As, once you allow that "spelling isn't important" it is but a small step from confusing "your and "you're" to "ur" and form there to the total gibberish we see regularly on the internet.

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* I use "Frankish" as that was the Byzantine description, and seems more appropriate than using the term "French" to describe French speaking lords from lands not subject to the King ruling on Ile de France. I know they were no longer truly Franks, but as most spoke some variant of French, the term "Frank" seems most appropriate, suggesting a linguistic and cultural similarity, while not lending them an anachronistic national identity.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/02/17.

NOTE (2014/11/03): It appears the passage of time has obliterated the posts cited in the early parts of this essay, or at least broken the links. Archive.org and Google did not do any better than my manual search, so you will just have to take it on my word such posts existed.

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