E. McIntosh wonders why we don’t adopt American spellings.
There’s probably no single reason Canadian/English spellings remain unreformed. But one obvious reason is resistance from people like you and me.
A few years ago, the Canadian Press (CP) advised those many newspapers that follow CP Style to omit the silent “u” in words like labour and endeavour.
Editors received hundreds of letters of complaint. Readers insisted they didn’t want American spellings in their newspapers. CP backed down and now tells editors to put back that “u.”
I was amused when this happened because I don’t recall a single objection when we began to use simplified spellings for words like encyclopedia (formerly encylopaedia) and pediatrics (paediatrics).
Another probable reason for retaining the spellings we have is the cost of reform. Dictionaries and textbooks would require revision. Teachers would need training. Industry would have to modify advertising and packaging.
Also, there’s no consensus regarding how much reform is required and how to initiate that reform.
But probably the biggest drawback is English’s status as a global language. It would take an immense amount of co-ordination to impose such changes world-wide.
Still, spelling does change albeit slowly. For example, even in England, jail is replacing gaol. However, it seems unlikely that a strictly phonetic spelling system will ever replace the system we have.
The removal of silent letters is one of the goals of spelling reformers, yet most people would consider skool for “school” and wate for “weight” to be illiteracies.
Noah Webster (1758-1843) published The American Spelling Book in 1783, just seven years after the U.S. declared independence from England. While he sincerely believed English spelling needed reform, he also wanted to separate American English from British English. That’s also why he called his 1828 dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language and the speller, The American Spelling Book.
Oxford says Webster’s speller was notable for “its moral and patriotic flavour.”
Still, he had an abiding influence. Much of today’s American spelling originated with him. Such spellings as labor, center, theater, and public can be attributed to Noah Webster.
It’s interesting that public is one of the few Webster spellings accepted by British English. Before Webster, public was spelled publick.
As well, Canadians almost universally have accepted ize spellings that originated with Noah Webster. So we, along with our U.S. neighbours, write criticize and organize. Britons will likely spell those words as criticise and organise.
Noah Webster was a teacher, writer and editor. Educated at Yale, he was admitted to the Bar in 1781.
Unfortunately, he failed to copyright his name and so Webster’s has always been a generic term for a dictionary. Anyone can publish a “Webster’s” dictionary, and “anyone” does exactly that. Although,
today any copyright Webster might have had would have expired, his name has always been “in the
If you own a Webster’s Dictionary, you may or may not have a good word source.
Nevertheless, Noah Webster has had more influence on spelling reform than any other reformer, and there have been many of them.