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October 2002


Peter Rabbit celebrates his 100th birthday in October this year (again! - and why not?).

First created in a letter from Beatrix Potter to young boy in 1893, (anniversary commemorated by Beswick with a porcelain figure in 1993), Peter Rabbit was later developed into the story now known and loved the world over.

At the time, however, the author was rejected by no less than 6 publishers and had the story privately printed in 1901. It was not until 1902 that Frederick Warne agreed to publish the tale and that is the anniversary that is commemorated this year.

Celebrate Peter Rabbit's centenary by visiting Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey where Beatrix Potter lived, worked and gained inspiration for her beautiful illustrations in the tales.

Meet John Harrold, the official Rupert Bear illustrator for the Daily Express annuals, when he signs copies of this year's Rupert Annual during Canterbury's 2002 Rupert Bear Day, Saturday 9th November 10am-4pm, Canterbury Environment Centre, St. Alphege Lane, Canterbury.

Plus sale of Rupert books, artwork and memorabilia by the country's leading Rupert booksellers. Organised by the Followers of Rupert and sponsored by Stella Books and Canterbury City Council.

The PBFA are holding their annual specialist Childrens and Illustrated Book Fair on Saturday 26th October. The venue in the Crown Hotel in Harrogate. Open 10.30am - 5.30pm. Stella Books will be exhibiting.

from Philip Lund

English as She is Wrote

Instead of an article on the authors or contents of books this month, here is a small contribution on how we put our language and thoughts into print on the page.

Browsing, as one does, in my Oxford Companion to the English Language one day a few months ago, I came across the entry on spelling reform. It was quite an eye opener. It appears that over the centuries Italian, French, Spanish, Russian, German, Dutch and many other languages have all had their spelling systems reformed either by language academies, government departments or international conferences. Only English has remained virtually untouched (apart from some minor adjustments in America) since Dr Johnson's dictionary.

And given that written English combines the spelling systems of Norman French and Old English and has a substantial body of words imported wholesale from Scandinavian, Latin, Greek and then everywhere else in the world, it makes for one of the most difficult and complicated orthographic systems of any language presently used. Which is ironic, considering it is one of the most widely used languages in the world, both as a first, and a vital second, language.

Now I don't myself have many problems with the spelling of English. As a child I waltzed through spelling tests. But many people do. One of the reasons English is the prime international language is the simplicity of its grammar. But the difficulties of its spelling impede the literacy of English speakers worldwide, and set up a real barrier to non-native learners of the language.

Many people have made suggestions as to how we could reform. In 1908 the Simplified Spelling Society (SSS) was formed. Over the years its members (who have included such luminaries as H G Wells and Archbishop William Temple) have campaigned to 'bring about a reform of the spelling of English in the interests of ease of learning and economy of writing'. All to no avail, so far. Systems which demanded new letters of the alphabet, or radical changes which are confusing to look at and feel silly or childish (e.g. The bote is cumming into the shaw.) have been recognised as non-starters.

Since the early 1990s the SSS has taken up the idea of the Australian psychologist, Valerie Yule, of Cut Spelling as the way forward. The idea of Cut Spelling is that very little is changed to the eye, but in practice texts are shorter, more consistent, and easier to learn. There are three rules (which are applied sensibly, not rigorously).

Rule 1. Letrs ar cut from words where they hav nothing to do with how words sound. Many ar obvius, like the B in debt or the G in foreign.

Rule 2 cuts unstressed vowel letters, usually in the last sylabls of words - e.g. chapel - chapl, curtain - curtn, washed - washd.

Rule 3 cuts dubld consonants. Accommodate becomes acomodate (but note that holly stays as it is, to avoid confusion)

There are also three substitution rules - use F instead of GH or PH (e.g. cof for cough and fotograf); use J instead of DG or G where they are pronounced as j. (e.g. juj, brij); Y is substituted for IG in words like sigh and sign and right (sy, syn, ryt) and for IE in words like replied (replyd).

Its al quite simpl, not to controversial, and wud make life a lot simplr for milions of peple. And those of us ho hav grown up speling the oldfashnd way would stil be able to read the new texts without much trubl even if we kept on using the old spelings ourselvs.

The Simplified Spelling Society can be found at http://www.spellingsociety.org/index.html

J. K. Rowling's fifth book in the Harry Potter saga, promised for a while now, is hoped to be available in time for Christmas 2002. The book has a title, 'The Order of the Phoenix', and the beginning, middle and ending are established but she describes herself as a perfectionist and wants a bit more time to 'tweak it'.

Note: A survey conducted by the educational booksellers 'Kumon' has revealed that 'Harry Potter and the Philosphers Stone' is the most popular children's book 'of all time'. There's no doubt that it's very good but it does make you wonder what their definition of the span 'of all time' was?

The six shortlisted novelists for the 2002 Man Booker Prize have been announced. They are Yann Martel with "Life of Pi", Rohinton Mistry with "Family Matters", Carol Shields with "Unless", William Trevor with "The Story Of Lucy Gault", Sarah Waters with "Fingersmith" and Tim Winton with "Dirt Music".

Next Month:
In November 2002 the featured article will be a surprise!

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