Caitlin Ahern

English communication in Graz, Austria

Disappearing Letters (or, Disapering Letrs?)

What do you like better: rhubarb, or rubarb? Receipt or receit? (And why not just “reseet,” while we’re at it?) David Crystal, one of Britain’s foremost linguists, predicts that silent letters will disappear from English spelling in as soon as 50 years. (I had the pleasure of hearing David Crystal talk about the changing English language during a recent webinar organized by Marjorie Rosenberg at BESIG – and I definitely recommend these webinars to other teachers!) The reason? As always, the Internet. As reported in The Telegraph:

Prof Crystal said that he started monitoring the word “rhubarb” a decade ago, by typing in the correct spelling into a search engine, and then typing in the word without the ‘h’. He said: “I got millions of hits for rhubarb with the ‘h’, and just one or two without the ‘h’. I did the same job a few years later, and without the ‘h’ got hundreds of hits, and then a few years later hundreds of thousands of hits. Rhubarb is still the dominant one by a factor of 50. But think ahead 50 years – and that this is the time frame over which spellings change – and rhubarb with the ‘h’ and rhubarb without ‘h’ will be equal.”

As we start to rely on Google rather than the Oxford English dictionary when looking up words, the number of hits trumps the quality of information given. So if 5 million people spell “rhubarb” wrong on their websites, it will be easier simply to change our view of the “correct” spelling.

So, should we just go with the flow or fight to save the silent letters? Which side are you on?

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This entry was posted on June 4, 2013 by in Language Materials and tagged , , .
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