I was discussing the ‘gaol’ vs ‘jail’ spelling debate in Australia with a British friend the other day, and how we now call our jails ‘correctional facilities’ as a result. ‘That’s funny’ he replied, ‘we just call our correctional facilities “Australia”.’
As the blind man said to the brick wall, I walked right into that one.
We’ve all from time to time come across elements of English that are just begging for improvement. The old ‘why do we even need the letter k/c’ question is forever being mulled over by anyone who cares to give the topic a moment’s thought, as is the need for multiple words with the same spelling/pronunciation, or, even worse, spellings that just make no gosh darn sense (take ‘one’ for example).
But the obvious dilemma is who do you turn to for reform? The masses? The dictionary? The classroom teacher? Surely any attempt at serious change is bound to fail at the feet of wider cultural adoption. So it is because of this that I am simultaneously delighted and a tad palmfaced to learn about an attempt by none other that my own government, the government of Australia, to reform English through the addoption of the reform standard SR1.
The changes were unsurprisingly shortlived in a country where most national linguistic influence is primarily driven by outside forces, but for a short time the ‘Ministry of Health’ became the ‘Ministry of Helth’ and any wry student could get away with spelling ‘through’ as ‘thru’ and ‘draught’ as ‘draft’, assuming his or her teacher were to agree with the direction of their Union, and I suspect many did not.
Not all of the reform’s changes were sensible or palatable, no doubt playing a part in the eventual downfall of the adoption itself, but oddly the standard is far from dead. At least one of the proposed mechanism of the contraction is alive an well in the online world today, the digital world being a notorious driver for all spellings bastardised, even if it is ironic in delivery. Users can be seen to ‘laf’ until they’ve had ‘enuf’ and going even further than any standard of reform would dare, the digirati are forever asking ‘wat’ or ‘wut’ of their predicaments.
Some might disagree, some will inevitably lament it, but it seems for the English language reform many of us dream of, there is yet hope, albeit from the unlikeliest of places.
[Might I point out that in writing this article in my browser, the spellchecker has faulted me on the words ‘draught’ and ‘bastardised’, but not ‘wat’ ‘digerati’ or ‘thru’.]