Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Spelling is secondary

Before we came to Florida for the winter, my wife, Linda, volunteered a couple times a week in a second-grade class at Taft Elementary School in Ashland, Ohio. A few days ago, she received an envelope full of handmade valentines from these second-graders. Here are a few excerpts from the notes they wrote on these valentines:

"I can't waite to see you."

"Have a nice treip."

"You are the best techer ever."

"Thanks for the neacklits (necklaces). I loved them."

"You are so luky to be up thear in florda in the nice worm sunny Breezy weather and get to go to the beach and swim in that nice cold water and I am haveing a great time in school."

"I am so happy about you that u are having a good time on your vaction."

"I am coat up now because of you!"

"We miss you so much we hop you are having a great vackashan."

"I miss you so much and you are so lukcy."

"You are the best techer ever day You are cute.

"Hope you have a wounderfull time thair."

"How is it up in florda? thank you for helping us on all our work."

I chose these lines from the pupils' letters not to make fun of their writing, but rather to applaud them for being willing to write what was on their minds and in their hearts despite not yet knowing enough about spelling, punctuation, grammar or geography to do it perfectly. I also applaud their teacher, Sally Carr, for leaving her red pen capped and not giving the letters back to the kids to do over. These are, after all, not school papers or even business letters, but personal notes. We all get a little sloppy in personal notes, e-mail and, especially text messages. It's not a crime.

There was a time a few centuries ago, before dictionaries helped standardize spelling, when everyone, even the most educated people, wrote pretty much the way these children wrote their letters. They knew what the words sounded like, and they just guessed how they should be spelled. William Shakespeare, still considered the greatest writer in English ever, apparently didn't even know how to spell his own name. In the existing signatures, Shakespeare twice abbreviated his name as Shakp and Shakspe. Other times he signed it Shaksper, Shakspere and Shakspeare, never Shakespeare.

Robert Recorde is the person credited with devising the equals sign (=) in 1557. He explained his reasoning thusly: "bicause noe .2. thynges, can be moare equalle." We can understand what Robert Recorde wrote, and we can understand our second-graders, too. Good spelling is important, but not as important as having something to say and then getting it down on paper.

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