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Is It Time to Abandon UK Spelling?

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Those who know me will consider me to be a stickler for proper spelling and grammar (a stance that I expect doesn't make me popular amongst my students). As writer of various columns and author of several psychology books, expressing myself well in written form in of utmost importance to me. As a University lecturer, I am determined that my students too, understand the value of proper written communication in order to prepare them for the world of work. To this end, I teach first year students written communication skills, with an emphasis on spelling, grammar and punctuation - and I expect this to be reflected in the coursework they submit.

So, I am probably the last person anyone would expect to be advocating for a relaxing of the rules. For heavens sake, I even correct people's Tweets (again, probably not something that raises my popularity levels).

But, I've had enough. I'm fed up of correcting American spelling in my students' work. In fact American spelling has become so ingrained that even I am starting to ignore it at times. Indeed, many American spellings are now so commonplace that they are perfectly acceptable even in published UK work; for example, recognized and organization are now just as conventional as their UK counterparts (recognised and organisation). Other words are half-heartedly accepted; for example 'program' when used to describe computer applications is fine but 'programme' should still be used to describe training events one might attend - a distinction which even to me seems slightly ridiculous. And then there are words that few in the UK seem to even know the correct English spelling for anymore, such as analog (analogue please), anesthetic (anaesthetic), artifact (artefact), defense (defence), ton (tonne), jail (gaol), license (licence) and siphon (syphon).

The final straw for me came this week when an academic journal I submitted a research paper to asked me to resubmit it using US spelling. Fair enough if this had been an American journal, but it is published in the UK. Apparently UK spelling is 'distracting' for American reviewers.

And so, I am finally holding my hands up and admitting that maybe we can no longer hold back the tide of Americanisation (Americanization?) flooding over our written word any longer. Internationalisation (internationalization?) means that we are increasingly all one community and it is making less and less sense to insist on our own way of spelling things (even if it is our language). We have to accept that American English is dominant; spoken and spelt far more than UK English ever will be again. By clinging to words like colour, flavour and centre, we risk alienating ourselves from the rest of the world and whilst at best this could be viewed at quaint, at worse we could find ourselves being dismissed as parochial and out of touch with reality.

It saddens me then, as a proud UK academic to say this, but it is probably time to abandon UK spelling and to adopt a standardised (sorry, standardized) format across the English-speaking world. UK English is set to go the way of Shakespearean English and continued resistance is probably futile.

And, it would mean I can stop worrying about my students' American spellings and concentrate instead on their Twitter and text-speak (which, for the record, I will NEVER advocate for!!)

Around the Web

British and American spelling - Oxford Dictionaries (US)

British Spelling | Resources - Spelling City

British, Canadian and American Spelling

Spelling quiz: how good are you?