Oxford professor asks for grammar pedants to relax

A leading Oxford University academic has implored “the grammar police” and spelling pedants to be a bit more relaxed about changing standards of written English. “Is the apostrophe so crucial to the preservation of our society?” he asked. This is from the Telegraph…

To gasps of shock from an audience at the Telegraph Hay Festival, Simon Horobin, an English professor at Magdalen College, Oxford said it was not sacrilegious to suggest that “they’re”, “their”, “there” could be spelt in the same way, he also indicated that “thru” or “lite” might not be such a sin.

He explained: “People like to artificially constrain language change. For some reason we think spelling should be entirely fixed and never changed. I am not saying we should just spell freely, but sometimes we have to accept spellings change.”

Prof Horobin, said that it was a “comparatively recent phenomenon” that we all stuck to a standard form of spelling, pointing out that in Middle English there were 500 different recorded spellings of “through”, including: drowgh, trowffe, trghug, yhurght. “Such” and “shall” were also spelt in numerous different ways.

The Coalition government has announced it wants to uphold standards of spelling in English primary schools. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has published a list of 162 words which all 11-year-olds would be expected to spell correctly.

Prof Horobin pointed out that Mr Gove’s department managed to misspell “bureaucracy” in the accompanying white paper. “The idea behind it is that spelling is fixed. There is a right and a wrong. It’s nice and clear cut and you go back to rote learning – learn it, recite it, get it right. It’s tangible. But the problem is what is the value of that? It teaches you how to spell 162 words, it doesn’t take you beyond that. It doesn’t mean you understand what they mean.”

He added: “Spelling is not a reliable indication of intelligence.”

More at:  Oxford professor asks for grammar pedants to relax

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  1. Polly

    The Professor says that spelling a word correctly doesn’t lead to an understanding of its meaning. If we spelt “they’re, their and there” all in the same way, THAT wouldn’t lead to understanding the meaning either! They all have different spellings precisely so that we can understand what is meant.  Of course spelling is not an indication of intelligence, but unless we spell correctly, how are we to understand, which surely is one of the main uses for language.

  2. cia262

    SchoolsImprove Grammar matters. The change is due to poor education standards as opposed to natural linguistic evolution per se.

    • paul_d_stevens

      LaraWCoaching I haven’t calmed down enough to say yet. Or should that be “carmed”? What’s that stupid “l” doing there anyway?

        • paul_d_stevens

          LaraWCoaching As someone who spent 17 years checking other people’s spelling and grammar, I think the professor is talking out of his… hat

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