Spelling and Grammar

This week, I’ve been running around like a head with the chicken cut off working on various projects, and that’s meant, in practice, that I haven’t done as much grading as I should have.  I did a marathon session last night of about three hours, and I still didn’t finish.

In the course of all this grading, I’ve been correcting a lot of spelling and grammar errors.  A certain amount of these are unavoidable, I suspect.  Yet because of a seventh grade project I did, I’m trying to keep a more open mind about spelling and grammar these days.

You see, this is the 1621 description of the first Thanksgiving:

“our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others.  And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want,  that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.”

And we can see, of course, that the creation of the King James Bible, and other books, has standardized the spelling of a number of words.  After all, if they spelled it that way in the Bible, it’s probably the right way to spell that word. That would be, to the Pilgrim way of thinking, perfectly sensible.

Samuel Johnson didn’t publish the first dictionary of the English language until 1755.  Before that date, books and manuscripts are RIFE (rife, I tell you!) with spelling ‘errors’ from our perspective that would be egregious in most student papers above 7th grade.  Whoever let someone spell “the” as “ye”, anyway?

But maybe it’s time to acknowledge that spelling is a modern convention, and teach spelling as part of its wider historical context.  Words are spelled a certain way for the convenience of the reader and writer, but maybe by including the caveat, “it has not always been thus,” we can help another generation become alert to the nature of spelling and grammar as ‘rules of the road’ which are subject to change.

yr myleage mey varrie, uv corse.

One comment

  1. What’s *really* interesting, if you think about it, is that they spelled it as they pronounced it. So you can imagine how they sounded as they talked… try saying this out loud, pronouncing all the letters (so ‘foure’ would be pronounced ‘fo – urrr – eeh’): “they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside.”

    I read much of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan aloud for myself when I studied it, so I could feel how it felt for him to speak those words. It’s slow, deliberative, thought.

Leave a Reply to Stephen Downess Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.