Knowing that Professor John Wells is president of the Spelling Society might lead you to believe that he is a fusty phonetics perfectionist.
Not so; Professor Wells actually advocates a revolutionary "freeing up" of spelling in English: "Let's allow people greater freedom to spell logically. Text messaging, e-mail and internet chat rooms are showing us the way forward for English."
Free spelling? Chat rooms showing us the way forward? Wow. Wells also believes that teaching spelling to students is a waste of time. In The Times, he maintains that English words contain so many irregular and illogical spellings, "modernizing" our vocabulary only makes sense.
Though hearing a prominent academic talk this talk is novel, my guess is that U.S. citizens would consider these changes somehow un-American. Competitive spelling bees are beloved here, even though they're unheard of in most countries. For instance, there are no spelling bees in Italy; nobody would ever get eliminated, because words are spelled pretty much the way they should be.
But taking into consideration the emotional damage wrought by spelling bees, I'm starting to like this free spelling idea. I still get choked up remembering how I was ousted from a 4th-grade spelling bee by the word “caterpillar." Stupid larvae!
But Professor Wells lost me when he called the apostrophe a "waste of time." He asks, "Have we really nothing better to do with our lives than fret about the apostrophe?" Thus, he proposes abolishing the apostrophe.
You can have my apostrophes when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers! (On the other hand, apostrophes do suffer regular abuse...)
Some of Prof. Wells' Other Recommendations:
—Double consonants: Allow double consonants when the preceding vowel sound is short: River becomes rivver; model becomes moddel.
—Danger, Anger, Hanger: Replace the soft g with a j: Danger becomes danjer.
Use a double g after the n if the sound is hard: Anger becomes angger.
Use a single g if the sound is elided: Hanger remains hanger.
—Their, there and they’re: They all sound the same and the meaning is unlikely to be lost if we just use “there” in each case.