THE ART OF SPELLING by Marilyn vos Savant

THE ART OF SPELLING

The Madness and the Method

KIRKUS REVIEW

Parade magazine columnist vos Savant takes the reader on an entertaining and illuminating journey into the confused world of English orthography.

Who hasn't complained about the pitfalls of English spelling? The problem, vos Savant suggests, began in the sixth century, when the Anglo-Saxons were converted to Christianity and switched from the runic to the Roman writing system, whose Latin alphabet was inadequate for spoken English. The influx of immigrants during the Middle Ages, periods of French domination, and multiplicity of dialects just made the problem worse, and the stabilization of spelling between 1400 and 1600 did not record dramatic phonetic changes. Though calls for a spelling reform have periodically sounded ever since, lexicographers presume that no imposed standard would capture the dynamics of the language, which is in constant flux. So, brace yourselves for more discrepancies between the spoken and written word. Vos Savant will at least make insecure spellers happy, as she states that there is no direct correlation between spelling performance and general intelligence. However, a reader survey yielding 42,000 responses indicates that spelling ability is linked to some personality traits. For instance, detail-oriented, organized people are likely to be top spellers, and deficiency in pronunciation skills leads to more mistakes in writing. Vos Savant provides several easy tests to enable readers to determine their most typical spelling errors, along with helpful hints for improvement. The book also contains a set of rules and a list of commonly misspelled words. But the author is no fan of computer spellchecking, one of the many forms of modern technology she believes have a potentially negative effect of on spelling.

A boon to all language lovers, as well as those specifically interested in the history of English writing and psycholinguistics—and perhaps a therapeutic and educational read for poor spellers as well.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-393-04903-5
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2000




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