chapter  1
25 Pages

Spelling: learning and teaching

At the simplest level, spelling is the association of alphabetic symbols called graphemes with speech sounds called phonemes, the smallest identifiable sounds in speech. In English we use 44 distinct phonemes out of a possible 70 or so including clicks which have been identified in human speech worldwide. The association of speech sounds with the alphabet symbols is called ‘sound-symbol correspondence’ or systematic ‘phonics’. Phonics permits simple regular spellings such as d-o-g for ‘dog’, and b-e-d for ‘bed’ and so on. It is thought that when the alphabet was first invented several centuries BC, most words could be transcribed thus, but over time this simple correspondence between sound and symbol called one-to-one correspondence has, in many languages, gradually slipped. In this respect Turkish and Italian are more regular than Greek which is more regular than English. In earlier centuries English was more ‘regular’ but this correspondence slipped for a variety of reasons, some of which will have been the ‘freezing’ of the spelling convention at the time of the introduction of the printing press and then again following the publication of Johnson’s dictionary of the English language in the eighteenth century, plus the nature of English itself.