Return to Video

Do we need a new spelling? | Karina Galperin | TEDxRiodelaPlata

  • 0:10 - 0:15
    We have lost a lot of time
    at the school, learning spelling.
  • 0:15 - 0:21
    Kids are still losing a lot of time
    at school with spelling.
  • 0:22 - 0:26
    That's why I want to share
    with you a question:
  • 0:27 - 0:31
    "Do we need a new spelling?"
  • 0:31 - 0:33
    I believe that yes, we do.
  • 0:33 - 0:38
    Or even better, I think we need
    to simplify the one we already have.
  • 0:38 - 0:43
    Neither the question nor the answer
    are new in the Spanish language.
  • 0:43 - 0:47
    They have been bouncing around
    from century to century
  • 0:47 - 0:52
    since 1492, when in the first grammar
    of the Spanish language,
  • 0:52 - 0:58
    Antonio de Nebrija set a clear and simple
    principle for our spelling:
  • 0:58 - 1:01
    "Thus, we have to write words
    as we pronounce them,
  • 1:01 - 1:04
    and pronounce words
    as we write them."
  • 1:04 - 1:07
    Each sound had to answer to a letter,
  • 1:07 - 1:10
    and each letter had to represent
    a single sound,
  • 1:10 - 1:15
    and those which did not represent
    any sound should be removed.
  • 1:17 - 1:19
    This approach, the phonetic approach,
  • 1:19 - 1:23
    -the one that says we have to write
    words as we pronounce them-
  • 1:23 - 1:27
    it is and it is not present in the basis
    of spelling as we practice it today.
  • 1:28 - 1:34
    It is, because the Spanish language,
    in contrast to English, French or others,
  • 1:34 - 1:36
    always had a strong resistance
  • 1:36 - 1:41
    to writing words too differently
    to how we pronounce them.
  • 1:41 - 1:44
    But it is not present, because
    when in the 18th century
  • 1:44 - 1:47
    we decided how we would
    standardize our writing,
  • 1:47 - 1:52
    there was another approach which guided
    a good part of the decisions.
  • 1:52 - 1:55
    This approach was the etymological one,
  • 1:55 - 1:57
    the one that says we have to write words
  • 1:57 - 2:00
    according to how they were written
    in their original language,
  • 2:00 - 2:02
    in Latin, in Greek.
  • 2:02 - 2:06
    That's how we're left with silent H's,
    which we write but don't pronounce.
  • 2:06 - 2:10
    That's how we're left with B's and V's,
  • 2:10 - 2:12
    that contrary to what many people believe,
  • 2:12 - 2:15
    were never differentiated
    in Spanish pronunciation.
  • 2:16 - 2:20
    That's how we're left with G's,
    that sound hard as in "gente",
  • 2:20 - 2:23
    and other times soft as in "gato".
  • 2:23 - 2:26
    That's how we're left
    with C's, S's, and Z's,
  • 2:27 - 2:31
    three letters that in some places
    correspond to one sound,
  • 2:31 - 2:33
    and in others to two,
    but nowhere to three.
  • 2:35 - 2:40
    I'm not here to tell you anything
    you don't know from your own experience.
  • 2:40 - 2:43
    We all went to school,
  • 2:43 - 2:48
    we all invested big amounts
    of learning time,
  • 2:48 - 2:53
    big amounts of that plastic
    and childlike brain time
  • 2:53 - 2:55
    in dictation,
  • 2:55 - 3:00
    in the memorization of spelling rules
    filled, however, with exceptions.
  • 3:00 - 3:04
    We were conveyed in many ways,
    implicitly and explicitly,
  • 3:04 - 3:06
    the idea that in spelling,
  • 3:06 - 3:10
    something fundamental
    of our upbringing was at stake.
  • 3:11 - 3:13
    Yet, I have the feeling
  • 3:13 - 3:17
    that teachers didn't ask themselves
    why it was so important.
  • 3:17 - 3:20
    In fact, they didn't ask themselves
    a previous question:
  • 3:20 - 3:22
    what was the purpose that spelling played?
  • 3:23 - 3:26
    What do we need spelling for?
  • 3:28 - 3:31
    And the truth is that when someone
    asks themselves this question
  • 3:31 - 3:34
    the answer is much more simple
    and less momentous
  • 3:34 - 3:36
    than we'd usually believe.
  • 3:36 - 3:43
    We use spelling to unify the way we write,
    so we can all write the same way.
  • 3:43 - 3:47
    So it is easier for us to understand
    when we read each other.
  • 3:48 - 3:51
    But opposed to other aspects of language,
  • 3:51 - 3:53
    such as punctuation,
  • 3:53 - 3:59
    there is no individual expressive ability
    involved in spelling.
  • 3:59 - 4:01
    In contrast to punctuation.
  • 4:02 - 4:06
    With punctuation, I can choose
    to change the meaning of a phrase.
  • 4:06 - 4:11
    With punctuation I can impose
    a particular rhythm to what I am writing,
  • 4:11 - 4:14
    but not with spelling.
  • 4:14 - 4:17
    When it comes to spelling,
    it's either wrong or right,
  • 4:17 - 4:20
    according to whether it conforms
    or not to the current rules.
  • 4:21 - 4:26
    But then, wouldn't it be more sensible
    to simplify the current rules
  • 4:26 - 4:32
    so it is easier to teach, learn,
    and use spelling correctly?
  • 4:33 - 4:37
    Wouldn't it be more sensible
    to simplify the current rules
  • 4:37 - 4:43
    so that all that time we devote today
    to teaching spelling,
  • 4:43 - 4:46
    we can devote it
    to other issues of language
  • 4:46 - 4:50
    whose complexities do deserve
    the time and effort?
  • 4:52 - 4:57
    What I propose is not
    to abolish spelling,
  • 4:57 - 5:01
    not that everyone writes as they like.
  • 5:01 - 5:06
    Language is a tool of common use,
    and therefore
  • 5:06 - 5:10
    I believe it's fundamental that we use it
    following common criteria.
  • 5:11 - 5:13
    But I also find it fundamental
  • 5:13 - 5:18
    that those common criteria
    be as simple as they can be,
  • 5:18 - 5:21
    especially because
    if we simplify our spelling
  • 5:21 - 5:24
    we're not leveling down;
  • 5:24 - 5:27
    when spelling is simplified,
  • 5:27 - 5:31
    the quality of the language
    doesn't suffer at all.
  • 5:32 - 5:36
    I work every day with Spanish
    Golden Age literature,
  • 5:36 - 5:39
    I read Garcilaso, Cervantes,
    Góngora, Quevedo,
  • 5:39 - 5:42
    who sometimes write "hombre" without H,
  • 5:42 - 5:45
    sometimes write "escribir" with V,
  • 5:45 - 5:48
    and it's absolutely clear to me
  • 5:48 - 5:53
    that the difference between those texts
    and ours is one of convention,
  • 5:53 - 5:57
    or rather, of a lack of convention
    during their time.
  • 5:57 - 5:59
    But not one of quality.
  • 6:00 - 6:02
    But let me go back to the masters,
  • 6:02 - 6:05
    because they are key characters
    in this story.
  • 6:06 - 6:11
    Earlier, I mentioned this slightly
    thoughtless insistence
  • 6:11 - 6:14
    with which teachers
    pester and pester us
  • 6:14 - 6:15
    with spelling.
  • 6:15 - 6:19
    But the truth is that,
    being things as they are,
  • 6:19 - 6:21
    this makes perfect sense.
  • 6:21 - 6:27
    In our society, spelling works
    as a privileged index
  • 6:27 - 6:31
    that tells the cultured from the brute,
    the educated from the ignorant,
  • 6:31 - 6:36
    independently from the content
    that's being written.
  • 6:36 - 6:40
    One can get or not get a job
  • 6:40 - 6:42
    because of an h that one put or did not.
  • 6:42 - 6:45
    One can become an object
    of public ridicule
  • 6:45 - 6:48
    because of a misplaced B.
  • 6:48 - 6:50
    Therefore, in this context,
  • 6:50 - 6:55
    of course, it makes sense to dedicate
    all this time to spelling.
  • 6:55 - 6:57
    But we don't have to forget
  • 6:57 - 7:00
    that throughout the history
    of our language
  • 7:00 - 7:02
    it was always teachers
  • 7:02 - 7:06
    or people linked
    to the early learning of language
  • 7:06 - 7:09
    those who promoted spelling reforms,
  • 7:09 - 7:11
    those who realized that in our spelling
  • 7:11 - 7:15
    there was often an obstacle
    to the transmission of knowledge.
  • 7:15 - 7:17
    In our case, for example,
  • 7:17 - 7:22
    Sarmiento, together with Andrés Bello,
    promoted the biggest spelling reform
  • 7:22 - 7:25
    that effectively took place
    in the Spanish language:
  • 7:25 - 7:29
    the Chilean one in mid-19th century.
  • 7:31 - 7:35
    Then, why not take over
    the task of those teachers
  • 7:35 - 7:39
    and start making progress
    in our spelling?
  • 7:39 - 7:43
    Here, in the intimacy of us 10,000,
  • 7:43 - 7:44
    I'd like to bring to the table
  • 7:44 - 7:48
    some changes that I find reasonable
    to start discussing.
  • 7:50 - 7:52
    Let's remove the silent H.
  • 7:52 - 7:57
    There where we write an H,
    but pronounce nothing,
  • 7:57 - 7:58
    let's not write anything.
  • 7:58 - 7:59
    (Applause)
  • 7:59 - 8:02
    It's hard for me to think
    what sentimental attachment
  • 8:02 - 8:07
    can justify to someone all
    the hassle caused by the silent H.
  • 8:07 - 8:10
    B and V, as we said before,
  • 8:10 - 8:12
    were never distinguished
    in the Spanish language,
  • 8:12 - 8:13
    (Applause)
  • 8:13 - 8:17
    let's choose one, it could be either,
    we can discuss it, talk it over,
  • 8:17 - 8:20
    each will have their preferences,
    each can have their arguments.
  • 8:20 - 8:23
    Let's keep one, remove the other.
  • 8:23 - 8:26
    G and J, let's separate their roles,
  • 8:26 - 8:31
    G should keep the soft sound,
    "gato", "mago", "águila",
  • 8:31 - 8:34
    and J should keep the hard sound,
  • 8:34 - 8:39
    "jarabe", "jirafa", "gente", "argentino".
  • 8:40 - 8:45
    The case of C, S, and Z is interesting,
  • 8:45 - 8:49
    because it shows that the phonetic
    approach must be a guide,
  • 8:49 - 8:52
    but can't be an absolute principle.
  • 8:52 - 8:57
    In some cases, the differences
    in pronunciation must be addressed.
  • 8:57 - 9:00
    As I said before, C, S, and Z
  • 9:00 - 9:03
    in some places correspond
    to one sound, in others to two.
  • 9:03 - 9:09
    If we lower it down from three letters
    to two, we're all better.
  • 9:10 - 9:14
    To some, these changes
    may seem a bit drastic.
  • 9:14 - 9:17
    They are not so much.
  • 9:17 - 9:20
    The Royal Spanish Academy,
    all of language academies,
  • 9:20 - 9:25
    also believe that spelling
    should be progressively modified,
  • 9:25 - 9:30
    that language is linked to history,
    tradition and custom,
  • 9:30 - 9:34
    but that at the same time
    it is a practical everyday tool
  • 9:34 - 9:39
    and that sometimes this attachment
    to history, tradition and custom
  • 9:39 - 9:44
    turns into an obstacle
    for its current usage.
  • 9:45 - 9:48
    Indeed, this explains the fact
  • 9:48 - 9:54
    that our language, much more than
    the others we are geographically close to,
  • 9:54 - 9:58
    has been historically
    modifying itself based on us,
  • 9:58 - 10:01
    for example, we went from
    "ortographia" to "ortografía",
  • 10:01 - 10:06
    we went from "theatro" to "teatro",
    we went from "quantidad" to "cantidad",
  • 10:06 - 10:08
    we went from "symbolo" to "símbolo",
  • 10:08 - 10:13
    and slowly some silent H's
    are being stealthily removed,
  • 10:13 - 10:16
    in the Dictionary of the Royal Academy
  • 10:16 - 10:21
    "arpa", "armonía" can be written
    with or without H
  • 10:21 - 10:23
    and we're all okay.
  • 10:25 - 10:28
    I also believe
  • 10:28 - 10:34
    that this is a particularly appropriate
    moment to face this discussion.
  • 10:35 - 10:39
    It's always said that language
    changes spontaneously,
  • 10:39 - 10:41
    from the bottom up,
  • 10:41 - 10:44
    that users are the ones
    that incorporate new words,
  • 10:44 - 10:48
    the ones that introduce
    grammatical changes,
  • 10:48 - 10:52
    and that the authority,
    in some places an academy,
  • 10:52 - 10:56
    in others a dictionary
    in others a ministry,
  • 10:56 - 10:59
    a long time after, accepts them
    and incorporates them.
  • 11:00 - 11:04
    This is true only
    for some levels of language,
  • 11:04 - 11:07
    it is true for the lexical level,
    for the level of words,
  • 11:07 - 11:11
    it is less true for the grammatical level,
  • 11:11 - 11:15
    and almost, I would say, it is not true
    for the spelling level,
  • 11:15 - 11:19
    that has historically changed
    from top to bottom.
  • 11:19 - 11:25
    Institutions have always been those
    who set the rules and proposed changes.
  • 11:26 - 11:31
    Why do I say this is a particularly
    appropriate moment?
  • 11:31 - 11:33
    Until today,
  • 11:33 - 11:39
    writing always had a much more restricted
    and private use than speech,
  • 11:39 - 11:44
    but in our time,
    the age of social networks,
  • 11:44 - 11:47
    this is going through
    a revolutionary change.
  • 11:48 - 11:51
    Never before have people written so much,
  • 11:51 - 11:56
    never before have people written
    for so many others.
  • 11:57 - 12:00
    And in these social networks,
    for the first time,
  • 12:00 - 12:04
    we're seeing at a large scale
    innovative uses of spelling
  • 12:04 - 12:09
    where even people of impeccable,
    more than educated spelling,
  • 12:09 - 12:15
    when using social networks,
    behave a lot like the majority of users
  • 12:15 - 12:17
    in social networks behave.
  • 12:17 - 12:21
    That is to say, they loosen spellchecking
  • 12:21 - 12:25
    and prioritize speed and efficacy
    in communicating.
  • 12:26 - 12:31
    For now, over there, there are
    chaotic, individual usages,
  • 12:31 - 12:34
    but I think we have
    to pay attention to them
  • 12:34 - 12:37
    as they're probably telling us
  • 12:37 - 12:41
    that a time that assigns
    a new place to writing
  • 12:41 - 12:45
    is asking new criteria for that writing.
  • 12:46 - 12:51
    I think we'd be doing wrong
    in rejecting them, in discarding them,
  • 12:51 - 12:56
    because we identify them with symptoms
    of the cultural decay of our times.
  • 12:56 - 13:01
    No, I believe we have to observe them,
    arrange them, and channel them
  • 13:01 - 13:07
    within a regulation more related
    to the needs of our times.
  • 13:08 - 13:12
    I can anticipate some objections.
  • 13:13 - 13:15
    There will be those who'll say
  • 13:15 - 13:20
    that if we simplify spelling
    we'll lose etymology.
  • 13:21 - 13:24
    Strictly speaking, if we wanted
    to preserve etymology
  • 13:24 - 13:26
    it wouldn't be enough with spelling,
  • 13:26 - 13:30
    we'd also have to learn Latin,
    Greek, Arabic --
  • 13:31 - 13:36
    With a simplified spelling
    we'll go to recover etymology
  • 13:36 - 13:41
    to the same place we go now,
    to etymological dictionaries.
  • 13:42 - 13:45
    A second objection will be that
    of those who will say:
  • 13:45 - 13:47
    "If we simplify spelling,
  • 13:47 - 13:49
    we'll stop distinguishing between
  • 13:49 - 13:52
    words that now are different
    in just one letter."
  • 13:52 - 13:56
    That is true, but it's not a problem.
  • 13:56 - 14:01
    Our language has homonyms,
    words with more than one meaning,
  • 14:01 - 14:03
    and we don't confuse
  • 14:03 - 14:07
    the 'banco' where we sit with the 'banco'
    where we deposit money,
  • 14:07 - 14:10
    the 'traje' that we wear
    with the things we 'trajimos'.
  • 14:10 - 14:16
    In the enormous majority of situations,
    context dispels any confusion.
  • 14:17 - 14:20
    But there's a third objection,
  • 14:22 - 14:28
    to me the most understandable,
    even the most moving,
  • 14:28 - 14:32
    that is the one of those who'll say:
    "I don't want to change,
  • 14:32 - 14:36
    I was brought up like this,
    I got used to this way,
  • 14:36 - 14:42
    when I read a written word
    in simplified spelling my eyes hurt."
  • 14:44 - 14:49
    This objection is, in part, in all of us.
  • 14:49 - 14:51
    What do I believe we have to do?
  • 14:51 - 14:54
    Do as is always done in these cases,
  • 14:54 - 14:59
    changes are made onwards,
    children are taught the new rules;
  • 14:59 - 15:04
    to those of us who don't want to adapt,
    they let us write as we're used to
  • 15:04 - 15:08
    and it's expected that time
    will cement the new rules.
  • 15:09 - 15:15
    The success of every spelling reform
    that touches upon such rooted habits
  • 15:15 - 15:21
    lays in caution, agreement,
    gradualism, and tolerance.
  • 15:21 - 15:25
    But we still can't allow
    the attachment to old costumes
  • 15:25 - 15:28
    to impede us from moving forward.
  • 15:28 - 15:34
    The best tribute we can pay to the past
    is to improve upon what we received.
  • 15:35 - 15:38
    So I believe that we must
    reach an agreement,
  • 15:38 - 15:43
    that academies must reach an agreement
    and clear our spelling
  • 15:43 - 15:49
    of the habits we use because we received
    them, even if they are useless.
  • 15:49 - 15:53
    I'm convinced that if we do that
  • 15:53 - 15:57
    in the humble, but extremely
    important sphere of language,
  • 15:57 - 16:02
    we'll be leaving a better future
    to the next generations.
  • 16:03 - 16:04
    (Applause)
Title:
Do we need a new spelling? | Karina Galperin | TEDxRiodelaPlata
Description:

How much time and energy do we devote to learning spelling? Is it worth it? What options do we have? Karina has a proposal that might surprise us.

Karina holds a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures from Harvard University, in addition to degrees in Letters and Political Science from Universidad de Buenos Aires. Now, she's a professor at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella and the director of the MA in Journalism UTDT/La Nación.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

more » « less
Video Language:
Spanish
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDxTalks
Duration:
16:24

English subtitles

Revisions