Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

You are hereby urged to hie to the latest article on the LEX web site. In it you will read of spectacular strides in real scholarship achieved by the undergraduate students in a university course on English orthography led with inspiring flair and uncompromising rigour by Gina Cooke.

A principal cause of the lamentably vapid state of what passes for spelling teaching in English language schooling is the supine deference accorded to the pronouncements Big Names (of both publications and people).

It is a characteristic and pusillanimous habit of denizens of the schooling industry to discuss concepts and ideas by an associated name rather than by the concept itself, and verification of evidence, if any, that is supposed to validate it. Such personalization of discussion posing as scholarship is anathema. It's the ideas and understanding that are supreme, not the bearers of them.

Here is how the LEX article introduces its content.

Through the course of the semester, my students and I repeatedly encountered statements and claims about spelling — from experts and from the broader culture alike — that are demonstrably contrary to fact. We kept bringing ourselves back to two guiding principles when considering these statements and when speaking of orthography ourselves: (1) Is it accurate? and (2) How do you know? My students took readily to my repeated suggestion that they interrogate experts and resources rather than just consulting them. As they became aware of the myths, ideologies, and errors “out there” about English spelling, they quickly became sticklers for pursuing and providing orthographic evidence. 

The body of the article centres on Big-Name-published and unchallenged allegations that the words <science> and <discipline> are etymologically related by sharing the Latin root <scire> “know”.

In the course of a joyous journey into the real etymology and historical semantics of <discipline> you will witness a demonstration of real orthographic scholarship in all the invigorating exactitude and inspiring cognitive stimulation that is human thought made visible as text. And the bonus is that the article is written with elegant clarity that is itself a celebration of the English language itself.

Here is the conclusion to the LEX article. 

If there is one thing I hope my orthography students will carry forward from our semester together — even more important than understanding that English spelling makes sense — it is that discipline at its heart is about learning, not about knowing. Knowing is overrated. Finding evidence, seeking, searching, is where the value is. The most interesting words — learn, investigate, question, interrogate — are all about seeking, asking, tracking, not about having answers fed to us, not about knowing outright. Regardless of the original question or what precipitated it, we always learned more, my students and I, when we undertake a disciplined investigation together than when we rely on the pronouncement of a single expert or a single resource.

And if there is one thing I hope Shane Templeton and others might carry forward from this blog post, it’s that any science’s ability to know is only as good as its willingness to learn.


Is It Accurate? How Do You Know? That is the title of the LEX article. I can think of no better candidate for the real spellers’ resolution for 2012.

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