How to Spell Canglish Better

Canadians jealously guard the idiosyncrasies of Canglish spelling. The way we spell our English is part of history and we’re proud of it. Besides, we hate to be lumped in with Americans, particularly linguistically. Don’t we all know that ‘Murrican Inglish is sliding down the slippery hill to Gibberish? Misspellings, misplaced modifiers, case errors–aarrgghh!

If such a slide is happening, wouldn’t this be a good time to think about how the language should change for the better in the future? How we could encourage simplicity and clarity in the spelling of English/Canglish?

As a cognition therapist, I use the phonemic-awareness approach to help people learn to read English fluently. This involves linking each sound in English, first with its most common code and then with less common codes. It’s the best approach to mastering the hodgepodge of pronunciations that constitute English–there are about four dozen sounds in Canglish but they spell themselves out in hundreds of codes! Crazy!

So, with a despairing eye on the dimming future of literacy and intelligible orthography, I support the use of the most common code for a given sound, wherever possible. Here are some examples.

Or is one of the three most common codes for the sound “er”; our is a far less common code. Thus or gets the nod from me. Honor rather than honour. Labor instead of labour.

The other two most common codes for the “er” sound are er and ir. (Try repeating aloud what the butler said when the dog came in from the rain, to hear how the three codes sound the same: “Her fur, Sir, is wet.”) So, what to do over the 49th-parallel furor over center vs. centre? You can still be a Canadian patriot if you opt for the more sensible center, as it uses the more common code.

Similarly, American-Canadian sibling rivalries aside, the most common code for the sound “z” is the letter z; so I have stopped using the (admittedly more elegant) ise  in favor of ize.

Ie and i-e being the most common code for the long i sound, I no longer need to feel irritated on seeing “nite” instead of “night” (although “sie” for “sigh” wouldn’t work and I doubt the public would go for it).

These changes aren’t easy to swallow for a traditionalist like me but spelling is going to change whether we like it or not. Phonemic awareness is a useful guiding hand toward greater simplicity and clarity.

Count your blessings if English is your mother tongue and you can read it. Starting from scratch with English is a hard and crazy wild ride!

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