People’s views on the importance of spelling differ widely.
For instance, one of our team members mentioned they had debated the correct
(UK) spelling of ‘focused’ while drafting an email to a group of contributors
for a blog she was writing – she Googled ‘focused vs. focussed’ and ‘focused or
focussed for UK’, and frustratingly found conflicting results. The consensus of
the Conscious Communications team was that ‘focussed’ was the correct answer –
so eventually the email was sent. Are you, like our colleague, likely to give
far less credibility to the sender of an email that includes a spelling
mistake?

 

At the other end of the spectrum are those who revel in
cutting as many characters out of texts or tweets as possible (or beyond what
should be permitted, past the point of communicating any intelligible meaning
from sender to reader…). We recently heard a young person ask, about a school
examination, “does spelling matter?” and we were, of course, horrified that
anyone would feel the need to ask whether spelling matters – about any written
work, let alone a school examination! Phrases like ‘it’s a slippery slope’
spring to mind, and concerns about ever lowering standards of spelling, grammar,
and the adoption of new words such as ‘binge-watching’ by dictionaries.

Stephen Linstead, chair of the English Spelling Society,
writes: “the
spelling of roughly 35 per cent of the commonest English words is, to a degree,
irregular or ambiguous; … a need to memorise irregularity has traditionally
been regarded as a minor and inevitable inconvenience… But there is growing
evidence that this is not just an inconvenience – it costs children precious
learning time, and us – as a nation – money
.”

More conservative relaxing of standards for spelling can be
seen in global businesses’ communications with customers. Have you recently
noticed that Santander’s website mentions ‘pajamas’ (the American preference,
which isn’t even recognised by Word), and Natwest uses ‘nope’ on its website? It’s
safe to say that neither of these are mistakes; rather, they are evidence of
big brands taking a ‘modern’ stance on the language used to communicate with
customers.

These ‘progressive’ examples show support for the views of Simon
Horbin, English professor at Magdalen College, who explained: “People
like to artificially constrain language change. For some reason we think
spelling should be entirely fixed and never changed. I am not saying we should
just spell freely, but sometimes we have to accept spellings change.

Have standards in English changed remarkably in recent
decades, or is this debate only the concern of those sticklers who run to
defend the language as they believe it should be preserved? The government has
re-introduced spelling tests, believing there has been a lowering of standards
– but maybe Stephen Linstead is right to question, in terms of time and budget,
whether spelling warrants being so high on the school agenda? What’s more, many
people who are committed to using correct spelling now do so with the aid of
technology. Spell-checker and predictive text, for example, enable people to
spell correctly without having memorised the spelling of every word in the
language; should the focus in schools and the work-place be on equipping people
to notice and find correct spellings and in encouraging people to check their
work?

As marketers and PR professionals it is unsurprising that
our team falls in to the ‘of course spelling matters!’ side of the debate, and
we do notice typos and errors and ‘lax’ spelling whenever we come across it.
For people working in other sectors, though, perhaps it really is the case that
spelling doesn’t matter. As long as you can communicate your meaning
efficiently, clearly, does it matter whether you write focused, focussed,
focursed or something else? Probably not… at the time. But, then, the more
different forms of words which are used to say the same thing, the more scope
there is for misunderstanding.

Is spelling impotent? Absolutely not! Is spelling important?
Absolutely! Perhaps the language is evolving naturally, as it always has done, and
to keep pace with the world in which it is used we should keep quiet and let
linguistic evolution continue. Even so, we think that the agreed and approved
spellings should be used by students, workers, businesses and the media, until
such a time as the spelling is updated, by consensus, at which point the
‘sticklers’ should accept the decision of the masses.



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