Jan 10th , 2011
Spelling, loosely defined, refers to the activity of forming words from letters, or, conversely, the process of naming the letters that form a word. Every conventional word in an alphabetical language has an acceptable, some say standard, way (or ways) of being spelled (or spelt). In linguistic terms, this means that it is a part of a specific orthography – a dynamic system of signs and rules that represent a language. So when we write, or generally engage in spelling words, what we are most often expected to answer to is the task of presenting their acceptable form.
Spelling is a personal ability, and accomplishing the task of correct spelling depends on the person performing it. Let’s consider the basic case of writing something down, perhaps a small exercise in English spelling. First, spellers face the difficulty of developing an ear for the way words sound in a language. In developing a phonological awareness, they should be sensitive to the way spoken sounds are represented in a language’s alphabet, and acquire the skill of translating them to the page. Second, spellers face the challenge of having to master the structural aspects of a language. Through this morphological awareness, they should become familiar with a language’s grammar, with its punctuation, and, naturally, with the proper spelling of words. Third, spellers must acquire a semantic awareness. This enables to recognize the context in which words appear, and know how their senses can change in accordance. In the end, a speller must develop skills to overcome all of these difficulties and others, in order to make it possible to express a single thought graphically in signs.
One crucial reason for the importance of correct spelling is based on our expectations and reactions to texts. Now, we react to texts in more ways than one. As we read, a text sets our thought and imagination in motion. Many factors influence this process, but one is closely connected to spelling of words. In reading, the reader usually senses, or sketches for herself, a voice and a figure of the author of the text. A text written with spelling mistakes raises doubts in the reader about the identity of the author and his or her writing expertise. The more errors the reader’s eye meets, the less tolerant is his or her judgment of the author, and of the written work. At times, this is true without any regard to the content or the meaning of what is written.