Nancy Gish wrote:
>  This whole discussion is based--if I understand it and I am
> not at all sure I could--on the totally false idea that language "rules" have
> no function or purpose other than to play elitist games.
> Nancy

Sounds right to me. Whatever the _original_ source of spelling
regularization was, as soon as achieved it made possible much more
efficient or powerful arrangements of data, and just in time because the
quantity of information needed to survive day by day began to increase
rapidly just at the time the ordering made possible by (among other
things) regularized spelling emerged. Computer searches, incidentally,
_do_ have to be somewhat flexible, and can be, as has been explained --
but who in their right mind would enjoy or appreciate looking up a bit
of information in a card catalogue, a dictionary, or an encyclopedia
under half a dozen different spellings.

We get through the day successfully because we do _not_ have to think
about most of our choices. Mechanical rules simplify living and make
possible time spent on choices that are worth extensive thinking.

Incidentally, a fairly regularized spelling must have become established
in the late 17th century, because in the first couple decades of the
18th century various writers are using misspellings to carry
information, which couldn't have happened with the loose spelling
practiced by Shakespeare, Donne, & Milton. About 60 or 70 years ago
Helen Darbishire wanted to make a big interpretive point out of the
occurrence of "he" and "hee" at various places in _Paradise Lost_ -- but
that kind of "symbolism" wasn't available yet in 1665 (even ignoring the
fact that Milton being blind could have hardly proofread spelling).