Accessibility links

June 13, 1999 - English Spelling - 2002-02-01

INTRO: This week, our Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble give some hints on learning how to spell in English.

AA: Let's start with an expert speller. Fourteen-year-old Nupur Lala qualifies. The eighth-grader from Tampa, Florida, won the 72nd annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington.

RS: She won the competition on June third by spelling the word "logorrhea."


Nupur Lala: "May I have a definition."

Man: "This is pathologically excessive and often incoherent talkativeness."

Nupur Lala: "'Logorrhea. May I have a sentence please."

Man: "The patient's logorrhea was indicative of deep emotional problems."

Nupur Lala: "Logorrhea. L-o-g-o-r-r-h-e-a."

Judge: "That is correct."

RS: America's new spelling bee champ, nupur lala, won ten-thousand dollars and other prizes. She is an adolescent inspiration for anyone who may find it hard learning how to spell in English.

AA: John Algeo is a linguist, writer and retired professor from the university of Georgia. He says, don't get discouraged -- spelling is tough even for native speakers of English.


"All of the homophones in English words, which were at one time pronounced differently but have fallen together in their pronunciation, they are often quite small words that are difficult. So, the various 'to's' in English, the t-o, t-o-o and t-w-o are hard for native speakers. Not that they don't know the difference between the words, but that if one is writing quickly it is hard to remember which spelling to put down. And especially difficult for native speakers are words that come ultimately from Latin sources which have double letters in them. One doesn't know which letters are doubled and which are not, because we don't pronounce the double letters, normally. For example, one of the most misspelled words in the English language among educated English speakers is 'accommodation. '"

AA: Which for the record is spelled a-c-c-o-m-m-o-d-a-t-I-o-n.

RS: That's two c's and two m's. You would know that, says John Algeo, if you knew something about the history of the word and its Latin roots.


"Then you know that the first com, 'c-o-m' is the preposition and then the next m-o-d is part of the Latin word 'modis' or 'mode. ' So, once farmilar with the history of the word and the structure of the words, then the spelling of at least those words from Latin becomes easier."

RS: John Algeo tells us that knowing another language helps a lot too.


ALGEO: "German, for example. That's very helpful in knowing the native English spelling patterns. And, of course, if one knows something about the romance languages and particularly Latin which is their source, then a great many of the other words are actually sometimes easier for foreigners to spell than they are for native speakers provided they are from a European background."

AA: "And, what if they from an Asian or African background."

ALGEO: "that's much more difficult. Speakers of Asian and African languages, if they are not familiar with one of the European languages, then of course have a really hard time with English spelling."

RS: And, you might have some trouble understanding why some words in American English are spelled differently from the same words in British English.

AA: Like the word "color." The British favor the French-like spelling with an -ou -- so they spell it c-o-l-o-u-r. Americans, on the other hand, have adopted the single -o, c-o-l-o-r, which is simpler. John Algeo explains how that happened.


"People often think that Americans changed English spelling. That's not the case. Both those spellings c-o-l-o-u-r and c-o-l-o-r were around during the 16th and 17th centuries. It's just that Britain settled on one, and we settled on the other."

RS: That's your spelling lesson for today. We welcome your questions about American English.

AA: With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Spelling Bee Romance"/Darrell Scott