Spelling Reform 2: An Axe/Ax to Grind #SpellingReform

Introduction

Fax, lax, max, pax, sax, tax, wax. Furthermore, box, cox, fox, lox, Knox, pox. Additionally, hex, mix, nix, tex, tux. Therefore, ax.

What?

Okay, the slightly less abridged version.

How should we spell ax/axe? The American way (ax) or British (axe) way?

The Bases of Spelling

People often think that spelling is just based on deep principles of phonemicity. However, it is actually (at least in the case of English) based on a combination of phonemicity, etymology, and, significantly, analogy.

On phonemic grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. After all, the word rhymes with tax, not aches.

On etymological grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. After all, the Old English form was æx, and the word has never ended in a “e” sound — or that of any other vowel for that matter.

On analogical grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. You can clearly see this from the list of words I began this article with.

Indeed, axe didn’t even really get popular until the nineteenth century, and then not in America. So it doesn’t even have vintage calibre. In fact, axe is such a mental spelling, that even the Oxford English Dictionary condemns it.

The spelling ax is better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, and analogy, than axe

The Curious Case of the Three Letter Rule

The only reason to keep that e in axe is in order to maintain the curious “three letter” rule, which is in fact more of a tendency than a hard-and-fast rule. This “rules” refers to a word requiring a minimum of three letters unless it is a grammatical word. That is why we write “add” instead of “ad” (compare: bad, not *badd), bye but by, too not to, and so on. The first items of each pair, unlike the second, are non-function words.

However, the <e> is still superfluous if we wish to follow the three letter rule! For the purposes of spelling, “x” is counted as if it were two letters, not one. That’s right. For example, we write taxed, not taxxed, whereas we do write mapped from map; there is no need to double the letter <x> in order to maintain the “short” vowel pronunciation when an affix is added, because <x> functions as if it were two letters. Basically, <x> is what we could call a “compound letter”.

Additionally, as mentioned, this famed Three Letter Rule is more of a tendency. There are many cases where it doesn’t hold. For example, ox. Despite the plural even being oxen(!), we neglect to put the final <e> in the singular.

In Conclusion…

Therefore, as much as it breaks my patriotic heart, axe needs to be binned in favour of ax.

But don’t for one second, dear Americans, sit back smugly and assume that your spellings are superior. Very often, they aren’t. More on that in a later post.

References

“axe | ax, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016. Web. 20 December 2016.

© 2015-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-T4eehMjd09w/Th24O1Gr6cI/AAAAAAAAAqo/UOtTwFnT0CA/s1600/ax-grinding-jig.jpg

Spelling Reform 1: Program(me) #SpellingReform

In the UK we use the spelling programme, whereas in the US they use program. Which is better?

It’s not this straight-forward. The spelling program is used in the UK in the computer sense. Furthermore, program in all senses is becoming more prevalent in Australia, so much so that programme is now marginal and not favoured by the media or official sources. Canada only uses program and New Zealand more-or-less follows British usage: program for computing, programme for everything else.

So proud British and Commonwealth citizens should stand up and fight for our programme? Not quite.

Firstly, nationalist pride has nothing to do with how good the spelling is.

Secondly, programme isn’t that British in any case.

The Greek word γραμμα ‘gramma’ is regularly borrowed into English as gram: anagram, chronogram, cryptogram, diagram, epigram, hexagram, ideogram, kilogram, logogram, monogram, pentagram, telegram. Therefore, programme is irregular and goes against all analogy.

The word was originally borrowed into English, in the UK, as program. It largely kept that spelling in Scotland, even after senses of the word got borrowed from the French form of the word programme. Even in England, the spelling program was dominant up till the early nineteenth century; it wasn’t fully ousted till the late nineteenth century. Such English luminaries as Henry Sweet can be seen using it as late as 1892:

A less ambitious program would further allow of greater thoroughness within its narrower limits.

H. Sweet New Eng. Gram. Pref. 9

Therefore, program is the original and “true” British spelling.

And on phonemic grounds, –am is infinitely more justifiable than –amme. Compare: clam, cram, dram, flim-flam, glam, ham, jam, lam, mam, Pam, pram, sam, slam, tram, and of course, gram.

In conclusion, the case for program is overwhelming, the case against boils down to two things: the first, a sound but hardly convincing argument; the second, a non-argument. First, is there any other way to pronounce the spelling “programme”? Probably not. So why bother respelling it? It would seem a lot of effort for little-to-no gain (However, there is a case that the French -mme ending might imply a syllable final stress). Second, a factually inaccurately-grounded show of support in favour of the UK and British-associated practices is not a sound basis for spelling.

For what it is worth, I am a very homeland-loving kind of fellow, yet no matter how it smarts my British pride, program really is the only justifiable spelling. Therefore, I adopt it.

References:
“programme | program, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016. Web. 20 December 2016.

Program vs. programme

© 2016-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.thrashermagazine.com/mediaV2/k2/items/cache/2d35c8d2685f6803c5a2fed1fd2d6b0f_L.jpg?t=1448907778

YouTube Video: University Dissertation Research Project: Pronunciation of British English #VolunteersNeeded #HelpPlease

Link to the Study.

© 2018 Bryan A. J. Parry

University Dissertation Research Project: Pronunciation of British English: Participant Informed Consent Form

To take part in this study, it’s necessary to sign the Informed Consent Form. It can be downloaded in .doc (click here) and .pdf (click here) formats.

University Dissertation Research Project: Pronunciation of British English: Participant Personal Information

Participant Personal Information Form

 

Name:

 

Date of Birth:                      (day/month/year)

 

Gender:           MALE/FEMALE/OTHER (please specify)

 

Nationality:

 

Region of origin within UK:

 

Did you spend your childhood (ages 4 – 15) living in the United Kingdom?       YES/NO

 

Occupation:

 

What is your ethnic group?

White

ENGLISH, WELSH, SCOTTISH, NORTHERN IRISH, OR BRITISH
IRISH
GYPSY OR IRISH TRAVELLER
ANY OTHER WHITE BACKGROUND, WRITE IN:

Mixed/multiple ethnic groups

WHITE AND CARIBBEAN
WHITE AND AFRICAN
WHITE AND ASIAN
ANY OTHER MIXED OR MULTIPLE ETHNIC BACKGROUND, WRITE IN:

Asian/Asian British

INDIAN
PAKISTANI
BANGLADESHI
CHINESE
ANY OTHER ASIAN BACKGROUND, WRITE IN:

African/Caribbean/Black/Black British

CARIBBEAN
AFRICAN
BLACK BRITISH
ANY OTHER AFRICAN, CARIBBEAN OR BLACK BRITISH BACKGROUND, WRITE IN:

Other ethnic group

ARAB
ANY OTHER ATHNIC GROUP, WRITE IN:

University Dissertation Research Project: Pronunciation of British English: Participant Script

Participant Script

Below are nineteen short passages. Please read them through a couple of times to yourself so that you are familiar with them. Then, please record yourself reading them out aloud. Please take a few moments between saying each passage. Try to read the passages as naturally as possible; do not try to “perform” the passages. Use your own natural talking speed; do not read the passages quickly or slowly. You can send your recording to Bryan.Parry.16@ucl.ac.uk. 

 

  1. The garage is one kilometre away.

 

  1. You’re very rude. Don’t patronise me!

 

  1. I’ve been singing that tune all week.

 

  1. The Caribbean is incomparable! Have you been?

 

  1. Hong Kong and Pakistan are both in Asia.

 

  1. The tennis player hit the spectator with a racket.

 

  1. It’s ordinary to harass politicians, but it’s not right.

 

  1. We will research the increase in the native falcon population.

 

  1. The refund policy is only applicable if you still have the receipt.

 

  1. Cate Blanchett was President of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Jury in 2018.

 

  1. I have great recall, but I can’t recall when I began to patronise this restaurant.

 

  1. I hope I rebound from my sickness in time to see them baptize my grandson.

 

  1. Her boyfriend left her and straight away she got with someone else on the rebound.

 

  1. I will dictate the words in English. You must translate them into either Spanish or French.

 

  1. New research shows that smoking one cigarette a day can increase the risk of birth defects.

 

  1. The translator cannot schedule me in for this week, but her schedule is more open next week.

 

  1. Digital currencies, like Bitcoin, are still a niche market and the regulatory framework is not fully developed.

 

  1. There was controversy in 1982 when the Soviet hockey player, Alexander Mogilny, wanted to defect to the United States.

 

  1. Hundreds of people are gathering to protest the visit of the President. One protester called the President a “dictator”. This protest is the biggest since 1972.

Next Step in Blogging? #newyearsresolution @resolutions #SMART

haveyouseenthismancropped

Me: I’ve got a blog
Other Person: Ooh! What do you blog about?
Me: Err, y’know, I’unno: stuff I’m interested in. Language, politics, atheism and religion, healthy living, films, err, sport…
Other Person: Err, okay?
Other Person’s eyes glaze over and they look bored and disappointed

I’ve had the above exchange loads of times.* Apparently blogs need one overriding, dominant theme. Yet I’ve always thought of this blog as being like a (admittedly crappy) newspaper or magazine: of course plenty of different topics will be dealt with.

But apparently I’ve misunderstood how blogs are supposed to work. Therefore, I’m guessing this blog needs to focus on one topic. It can bring other random stuff in it, but it’s got to be 90% one thing. After all, my YouTube channel — which I kind of view this blog as the written version thereof — is probably 75% atheism/religion, 25% everything else, and my subscriber base bears that out.

The problem: I’m interested in too many things. I don’t want to limit this blog’s content!

So maybe I need to keep this blog as my kind of “core” or “hub” blog, but spin off various other blogs which solely focus on my topics of choice.

But this approach has a problem, too.

I simply do not have enough time to post, say, four blog entries a week, one for each of my prospective blogs (e.g. the Health and Lifestyle Blog, the Religion & Philosophy blog, the Languages Blog, the Film Review Blog). I’m barely finding time to do one blog entry a week. But that’s the sad and frustrating thing:

I have so much waffle to say and not enough time to say it. Gah!

So one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 has to be to massively increase my time spent blogging. It would help if I could get some residual income from my articles! That would give justification (to my wife!) for me to devote such extravagant amounts of time to the endeavour.

Let’s see if I can crack on with this in the new year.

*I was going to say “cottrels of times”, but apparently “cottrels” is a dialectal word that nobody’s ever heard of. Who woulda thought that an insular and undiscovered dialects existed in West London, eh!

© 2016-2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

Spelling Reform 2: An Axe to Grind

Introduction

Fax, lax, max, pax, sax, tax, wax. Furthermore, box, cox, fox, lox, Knox, pox. Additionally, hex, mix, nix, tex, tux. Therefore, ax.

What?

Okay, the slightly less abridged version.

How should we spell ax/axe? The American way (ax) or British (axe) way?

The Bases of Spelling

People often think that spelling is just based on deep principles of phonemicity. However, it is actually (at least in the case of English) based on a combination of phonemicity, etymology, and, significantly, analogy.

On phonemic grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. After all, the word rhymes with tax, not aches.

On etymological grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. After all, the Old English form was æx, and the word has never ended in a “e” sound — or that of any other vowel for that matter.

On analogical grounds: ax makes more sense than axe. You can clearly see this from the list of words I began this article with.

Indeed, axe didn’t even really get popular until the nineteenth century, and then not in America. So it doesn’t even have vintage calibre. In fact, axe is such a mental spelling, that even the Oxford English Dictionary condemns it.

The spelling ax is better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, and analogy, than axe

The Curious Case of the Three Letter Rule

The only reason to keep that e in axe is in order to maintain the curious “three letter” rule, which is in fact more of a tendency than a hard-and-fast rule. This “rules” refers to a word requiring a minimum of three letters unless it is a grammatical word. That is why we write “add” instead of “ad” (compare: bad, not *badd), bye but by, too not to, and so on. The first items of each pair, unlike the second, are non-function words.

However, the <e> is still superfluous if we wish to follow the three letter rule! For the purposes of spelling, “x” is counted as if it were two letters, not one. That’s right. For example, we write taxed, not taxxed, whereas we do write mapped from map; there is no need to double the letter <x> in order to maintain the “short” vowel pronunciation when an affix is added, because <x> functions as if it were two letters. Basically, <x> is what we could call a “compound letter”.

Additionally, as mentioned, this famed Three Letter Rule is more of a tendency. There are many cases where it doesn’t hold. For example, ox. Despite the plural even being oxen(!), we neglect to put the final <e> in the singular.

In Conclusion…

Therefore, as much as it breaks my patriotic heart, axe needs to be binned in favour of ax.

But don’t for one second, dear Americans, sit back smugly and assume that your spellings are superior. Very often, they aren’t. More on that in a later post.

References

“axe | ax, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016. Web. 20 December 2016.

© 2016-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry