Scripps National Spelling Bee 2013: Does spelling matter in the age of technology?

M.02. 2GTBT. B4YKI, EWBA.*

With the Scripps National Spelling Bee coming up May 28-30, dare we ask: Does anybody really need to learn to spell in an age of spell-check, auto-correcting cell phones and text-messaging abbreviations?

AAMOF,** yes.

Even spell-checkers don't catch every Miss Steak, and most educators agree there's a critical minimum of words literate people have to know on cite. They're called Dolch words, after an early 20th-century linguist, William Dolch. They have to be recognized because they can't all be sounded out using sound-to-letter phonics rules. By third grade, you're supposed to know "laugh" without trying to pronounce the "g."

"The main reason (spelling is important) is that spelling automaticity is very clearly related to reading automaticity," said John Edelson, founder and mayor of VocabularySpellingCity.com, an online spelling-game site based in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Can you guess what famous works of fiction these quotes are from, as translated into text messages? Keep reading for all six quiz questions, and the answers at the end.

Question 1: U may trod me n the vry dirt, but still, lke dust ill rise.

"If you have to sound it out -- so if you look at 'the' and are struggling with 'tee,' and trying to sound it out -- you'll never understand what the sentence is about," Edelson said.

Last year, the Bee's youngest-ever speller, then-6-year-old Lori Anne Madison of Woodbridge, Va., told reporters she prepared for the contest using SpellingCity games.

Question 2: Fter all, tmrw is nother day.

Educators who teach spelling point out that each time you encounter a word that is spelled strangely enough to be unrecognizable, you must stop and try to figure out what it means -- up until the point you don't. Without a dictionary and the correct spelling, you might fail in deciphering the word at all, losing all meaning. Learn to spell and that problem disappears, you old sew-and-sew.

Question 3: It wuz the best of times, it wuz the wurst of times.

And then there's the purely egotistic reason to spell correctly: Poor spelling makes people wonder whether you're bright enough, or meticulous enough, to be taken seriously. Along these lines, some people find adding extraneous prefixes to words makes them sound sophisticated, irregardless of weather that's true.

"Of course spelling is important, but it's more or less important depending on the context," said Dan Gillmor, a technology writer and director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Studies at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

"So if someone writing a resume misspells the name of the company they work for or the university, that's indicative of sloppiness, and highly relevant," he said. "A misspelled text where I completely understand or, more likely, an abbreviation -- completely fine."

Question 4: Theres no1 thing thats tru. Its all tru.

Asked if the English language itself is changing in response to the new forms of communication, Gillmor said, "Language is always changing, and always evolving." But of the influence of autocorrect, he only half-joked that its "main impact" is "to cause hilarious mistakes -- hilarious and/or embarrassing." (See autocorrectfail.org.)

Some schoolteachers find that texting has had a deleterious effect on spelling, but academic-journal articles on that subject show the jury is still very much out.

John H. McWhorter, a linguist and scholar at the conservative Manhattan Institute in New York City, gave a TED ( Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk in Long Beach, Calif., in February, in which he called texting "an expansion of the linguistic repertoire" and "a kind of emergent complexity," and not evidence of decline in communication or writing skills.

Question 5: So we drv on 2 death thru the cooling twilit

He explained that in the 19th century, speechmakers spoke the way writers wrote -- in long sentences, punctuated with clauses. Texting allows instant written communication and takes the form of spoken language.

"Now we can write the way we talk," he told his audience.

There are whole catalogues of acronyms for getting a message through by text and a whole new vocabulary not a decade in the making to accommodate the new communications medium. Think LOL, BFF.

Some academics suggest that familiarity with text's newfangled terminology and classroom spelling exercises gives students a form of bilingualism that is intellectually broadening.

After all, spelling English words is tough. "Alright" used to be one word; now it's two. The British spell "defense" with a "c," and both are correct in their proper contexts. Sometimes it doesn't make cents.

Then even if you do spell correctly using today's technology, the auto-correct feature on most smartphones can change what you intended into something absurd. A site called DamnYouAutoCorrect.com lists the 15 most popular switches, including "cross-dressing" for "cross-country" and "pajama" for "Osama." The unintended double entendres and apparent Freudian slips can paint a texter as a pervert, or worse.

Question 6: There wuz thngs he strtched, bt mnly he tld the trth.

Sometimes the true test of modern spelling proficiency comes down to knowing when not to tap "send."

There are also arguments for not taking formal spelling skills too seriously. For several years, a hunk of text has made its way around college English departments.

"Aoccdrnig to rscheearch by the lngiusiitc dptanmeret at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in what oredr the ltteers in a wrod are; the olny iprmoetnt tihng is that the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae."***

NUFF.****

Footnotes:

*My two cents. Too good to be true: Before you know it, everything will be acronyms. -- NetLingo

**As a matter of fact.

***According to research by the Linguistic Department at Cambridge University, it doesn't matter in what order the letters in a word are; the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place."

****Enough said.

Quiz answers:

1. Maya Angelou, "Still I Rise."

2. Margaret Mitchell, "Gone With the Wind"

3. Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities"

4. Ernest Hemingway, "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

5. F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Great Gatsby"

6. Mark Twain, "Huckleberry Finn"

 

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