An added comment. ALL spelling is artificial, in the very good sense of
allowing us to recognize an artifice. It does matter--regardless of class--to
distinguish fare from fair or bow from bough or lie from lye. Spell checkers
cannot, which is why they are such an annoyance. They only know if a
word is a word and sometimes not even that. They split compound words,
reject names, and change words to what they recognize--one changed my
word "clitoridectomy" to "coldheartedness." An amusing slip but really not
what I needed to write.
The apparent assumption by Peter that non-standardized spelling is
somehow "natural" or better is simply false.
It is also false that "literacy" is a class phenomenon in some exclusive
way. It is just as much a gender phenomenon (in nearly all times and
places male literacy has been higher than female because women were
prevented from learning), a race phenomenon, a geographic phenomenon---
a poor American of any race or gender is more likely to read than a
reasonably well off person in an oral tribal society.
But also "literacy" is not only print literacy. There are many literacies. A
poet in the 8th century who had committed the equivalent of Beowulf to
memory but did not write was hardly illiterate. One learns to be "literate"
in visual cultures like film or other media.
And I find Jennifer's care for precision a great relief from the apparent
equation of "oral-nonstandardized-contemporary-GOOD" and "print-
standardized-ancient-BAD." Surely we need not debate such a simplified
and, frankly, insulting dichotomy.
The reiterated ranting at anyone who cares about language (on an Eliot list
yet) as "elitist" is wearing thin.
Date sent: Tue, 20 May 2003 06:53:41 -0700
Send reply to: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From: Jennifer Formichelli <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Barbarians at the Gates (was Re: Journey of the Magi)
To: [log in to unmask]
Any future such as you describe would, as Eliot once said of the method of
Gertrude Stein (around 1920), be the future of the barbarians. In fact,
given that someone who espouses such a view as this:
> the remaining
> exigencies of social use of standardised spelling for which
> we must prepare our students.
is in fact a teacher to young people, I should think they were already at
Thank you for summarising so summarily the history of spelling, print,
literacy and class. I hope you should not think that I were showing my
absence of a sense of humour (rather than my deprivation of it) to suggest
that the 'old convention' of paragraphs might be useful in presenting your
ideas more clearly.
Whilst it is true that conventions change, it takes some time for a
convention to form, in fact to become conventional; usually one does
not drop dead and another spring up in its place. Convention has also an
essential relation to expectation and form; and is linked thereby very
strongly to literature. So too tradition, which, Eliot reminded us in 1920
('The Possibility of Poetic Drama'), 'by losing', 'we lose our hold on the
I for one should not so easily relinquish the just keeping of my words.
On Monday, May 19, 2003, at 11:29 PM, Peter Montgomery wrote:
> Given that literacy was a class characteristic
> so standardised spelling became a class characteristic.
> Standardised spelling became a matter of class snobbery
> and variable spelling became mis-spelling, where it remains,
> except now the wealthy classes are becoming less and less
> literate. Standardised spelling is an artificiality. a matter
> of convention. Conventions change. I fully expect this
> new medium to change that convention. All the earmarks
> (to retrieve an old convention) are there.
> In the mean time we put up with academic snobbery, and the remaining
> exigencies of social use of standardised spelling for which we must
> prepare our students. Mostly spell checkers have taken over that task,
> except for homographs. I'm sure that problem will be solved soon.