Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/271

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267
SPELLING REFORM

willing to assume the labor of learning it or to use what would not be a practical means of communication.

And so it is with spelling reform. Men have been free to spell in any way that seemed best adapted to the reproduction of what they wanted to convey. Variety in speech has been as natural as variety in personal character, in dress or in amusement. Inconsistencies in fashion will continue as long as men retain their personal liberty to select idioms, words and spellings that suit the individual fancy of the user. So long as a babel of different languages continues on earth will there be a corresponding babel of spellings. There is no remedy but self-interest. In making ourselves understood we are compelled to recognize the conservation of energy. The man who writes a sentence must consider not only his own thought-machine but also that of his reader. Personal liberty to spell as a writer may find easiest or think best is soon limited by the necessity to make himself easily intelligible. If his spelling is very different from what has gradually become the fashion, the blunderer is soon made aware that he is hard to understand, and self j interest teaches him to avoid interposing obstacles between himself and his constituency.

The printing-press has been the great unifier in the establishment of fashion in spelling. But such fashion is not in the least sacred. In the spelling of the English language the fashion has been set for the most part in the printing office by foremen, or by mere type-setters who were entirely innocent of any hostile designs against orthography, etymology or logic. Professor Lounsbury has shown that the type-setting of the earlier books in our language was done mostly by printers who had come to England from the continent. In the city of Strasburg may be seen to-day a statue erected to the memory of Gutenberg, whose first crude invention of type was long unknown in England. Type-setting was initially and most naturally a German art, and it would have been very remarkable if the conservative and self-satisfied Englishman had been found ready to adopt promptly any art that had its origin outside of England. The intruding German or Dutchman could not be expected to possess much English scholarship, and in the printing room nobody could direct him because no directions for spelling existed even among the authors themselves. The Anglo-Saxon language had grown naturally and healthily. The English language was not then known to have any separate existence or special individuality. It later received a large infusion of Norman-French, and the thought of consistency, of uniformity in spelling or in anything else, had not occurred to anybody. Chaucer was limited by no orthographic conventions, and if his spelling could be improved by the Dutch printer his readers probably recognized the possibility that there might be room for improvement. It was not his fault if the improvement was confided to incompetent hands. His spelling was more consistent than that of to-day.