chapter  2
99 Pages

Literacy and English spelling: Methods and Problems

It would be quite feasible, though far from easy, to describe the English writing system without referring to speech. Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters are examples of writing systems that were originally designed to encode meanings directly, without indicating what the spoken forms were. Even when a writing system is based on an alphabet, as is English, the written form of the language can be studied as an independent system of purely graphic signs. This is obviously true of those signs in the English writing system which are not made up of letters: written signs such as <$>, <%>, <+>. The ampersand <&> was originally a manuscript ligature of Latin <et> 'and', but for present English users, it is just a single squiggle. For ordinary silent reading, we do not need to know a way of saying these signs as /'dob/, /pa'sent/, /pks/ or /<end/. Indeed, in the case of <@> we probably do not know a way of 'saying' it. These signs, like numbers and scientific symbols, are international and independent of speech.