Blogwriting a book about spelling, part 1: what it is about

In the first of a series of posts, I explain here the content of the book I am going to write, here on my blog. In other posts, I will explain its format, my dissemination plans and how I plan to monetise the project. 

Why write about a book about, yawn, spelling?

  • Spelling is a subject that everyone studies for several childhood years, yet our education on the topic stalls  during primary school, leaving us with a very shallow understanding of how the entire writing system works. We learn off a bucketload of spellings but we don’t learn the patterns underlying the peculiarities.  As a result, many of us don’t always trust our spelling judgement (or judgment?). Either you remember how to spell something or you don’t. For some difficult pairs, like stationary and stationery,  you might have some nonce mnemonic for remembering which is which (e.g. stationeris like paper), but such techniques can hardly be applied to every difficult case. So we need to understand the system underlying the peculiarities of spelling.
  • But beyond the nitty gritty, and unbeknownst to most people, creative spelling is a gateway into seeing the world afresh. If you can control your spelling with aplomb then you can apply it in makeyuppie words. And if you can invent words, then you can describe the world anew, helping people to understand life better. The boy Jimmy Joyce understood this better than anyone who has ever lived, hence the relentless bantersmash of Finnegans Wake.
  • My job will be to explain the basicz so that we can all learn the bantersmash, mixing existing words to create new worlds.

What will the book be about? 

From the eye rhyme to the meticulous.

  • In keeping with my long-standing ability to straddle the line between being a dry shite and a mad bastard (see Part 2 of this blogpost), the book will explore both standard and non-standard spelling. The latter parts will explain the fundamental laws of spelling. An <i> for an <e> and a <too> from a <two>. I will be explaining, in agonizing detail, exactly how we know the stuff we know. Why, for example, is <doping> not spelt *<dopeing>? Such yawnsome deets are only interesting if they are adequately contextualised and provide insight into deeper truths, which they will. Building on much existing work, I’ve solved a bunch of problems and I’d like people to know the solutions and how to solve problems themselves.
  • The first half of the book will be about the mad stuff — your names, puns, blends, logos, Google Doodles, abbreviations and punctuations, dialects and idiolects, emoticons and onomatopoems, homophones and heterophones, big words and little, new and auld. It will cover the physicality of writing, its graphic nature, and how marks on the proverbial page are confined to four basic dimensions: colour, shape, size and position. Graphic design. General orthographic exorbitance. The Bantersmash.
  • There’s a lot to write but I have a lot to say.

Riverpun

  • Interest in creative spelling has increased massively this century, as private writings have jumped from paper onto the screen. Creative spelling tends to exist whenever there is a space constraint (remember telegrams?); And it shows up wherever there is a lack of regulation (e.g. graffiti). In text messages, these forces were combined, causing an explosion of creativity, and, while predictive texts have put a bit of a stop to that, you can’t put the collective genius back into the proverbial bottle. Twitter came along with its hashtags. WhatsApp with its slew of emojis. Tabloid newspaper headlines, with their need for brevity and fresh information, remain ahead of the curve. But the rest of us are getting there. Advertising is inundated with puns, and normal punters are waking up to the possibilities of the bantersmash.

Rawmeash (FW 260)

  • All the while, people have become comfortable in using other kinds of technological advancements to further their written expression, so we all pepper our microblogs with pictures, videos, hyperlinks and any other technology at hand. You even see the odd story written with emojis alone. You might think that that’s ridiculous but get used to it, mate. There is a generation of fresh kids coming through and they are gonna shred the language to pieces and put it all back together in new and fleshinating ways.
  • It seems to be that there is a perfect storm abrewing and my job is to tell y’all about how the English writing system works so that more punters have the tools to map the world better. But creativity can only exist by extrapolating from the basics so we need to understand them.

The knitty gritty

  • There is no shortage of details among English spelling which makes it particularly appealing to the butterfly collectors. But we need to understand the method in the madness, answering questions like:
    • Why  to use double consonant letters?
      • Why does editing have one <t> but emitting has two? Why are
    • Why does <saccharin(e)> sometimes take an <e> and why does it sometimes drop it? Why does it have the unlikely <cch> combination?
    • What is the role of Greek and Latin and French and many other languages on English spelling?
    • Why are there so few words with just two letters?
    • And many more fundamentals.
  • All of these questions have been answered / discussed elsewhere but my hope is to provide a more integrated theory of English spelling based on my research, showing how it all knits together.

Different kinds of words for different kinds of spellings

  • I will explain the principles which underlie English spelling and this should help people to work through their orthographic difficulties. For example, simple and complex words are often subject to different spelling patterns. Simple, monomorphemic words like book and table are spelling in accordance with their (erstwhile) pronunciation. By contrast, compound words are formed by fusing together existing spellings, and it doesn’t matter if unusual combinations are thrown up (hence blackcurrant, bookkeeper and hothead).
  • Inflections are also formed by adjoining existing parts, hence need, need-ed and need-ing, but this can result oddities in pronunciation (e.g. jumped, watched, skiing). In such cases, there are no solutions but in other examples, we can double up the consonant letters or drop an <e> in order to form sequences such as: hope, hoped, hoping and hop, hopped, hopping. 
  • Meanwhile,  shortened words may break the usual rules of spelling (e.g. television, telly) while blend words require a mixing of letters that are a little harder to explain (e.g. rockumentary not *<rocumentary>). 

Spelling and pronunciation

  •  Everyone kinda knows that spelling affects pronunciation but no one has put their finger on how exactly. Linguistics lacks an adequate explanation of the phenomenon of ‘spelling pronunciation’, but I have some pretty hard evidence for it and, not only can I explain why there are so many pronunciations of the word omega, but the theory can even predict how pronunciation might vary in the future.

Outstanding questions

  • What is the format of the book?
  • Who is the book for?
  • How will it be disseminated?
  • How to monetise the project

I will be particularly interested in your thoughts on the latter two questions as these are the areas I understand the least.

 

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