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Struck by a spell-ing

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QUEEN BEE OF SPELLINGS Kavya Shivshankar’s triumph doesn’t necessarily indicate that all Indians spell well
QUEEN BEE OF SPELLINGS Kavya Shivshankar’s triumph doesn’t necessarily indicate that all Indians spell well

Technology has snatched our ability to spell straight, offering its own illogical alternatives

Indian children abroad have made winning the spell bee contests a rite of passage. The latest, Kavya Shivshankar won the (US) National Spelling Bee 2009 in May is the seventh champion of Indian origin in the last decade. Her final word was laodicean – lukewarm, especially in the matters of religion – which she spelt effortlessly. If spellings are mantras for Indians in the West, back in India however, people have become laodicean to spellings.

A wave of bad spelling hits you like sin every time you step out into the street: “Puncher Shop” umpteen boards announce; “Weregene Mobiles” another pristinely declares, while “Gants Beauti Parleuer” graciously beckons you.

Purists cry blasphemy at the form and turn spellings now take, thanks to features such as spell-check and T9 that make knowing actual spellings of words passé.

“People know meanings of words,” says David Justin, one of the founders of Toastmasters – India, “without knowing the spelling and ultimately compromising language.” “Not really,” says M. Arun Nayak, a final year engineering student from PES Institute of Technology, “Features like Thesaurus on Microsoft Word introduces us to new words, and spell-check corrects words that we spell wrong.”

I have a spelling checker

It came with my pea sea

It plainly marks four my revue mix steaks eye kin knot sea

Geetha Sharma, a teacher of soft-skills at the ICFAI Business School, points out that features that are meant to enhance language have actually contributed to their deterioration. Spell-check, for example, substitutes errors with the closest dictionary word, often with hilarious results. Homonyms and wrong words, spelt right go unnoticed:

Eye have run this poem threw it,

I am shore your pleased to no

Its letter perfect awl the way

My checker told me sew!

Jokes apart, Justin points out that organizations have also taken a lax attitude towards spellings. “Exams such as SAT and GMAT have objective type questions to check vocabulary, rather than essays where words have to explain ideas.

Theatre personality Rathan Thakore, who was dyslexic during his school days says he spells better than most people, “I would have come in the top 10 of any spell bee contest,” he says, laughing. He attributes the irreverence towards spelling to the Internet and the easy access to dictionaries. “People are not reading as much as they used to,” he adds.

Geetha Sharma says that an increasing number of “U”s and “2 B 4go10”s are getting into writing, even when its not on cell phone or chat. “This contributes towards a lack of tone and an improperness of register, which could be misunderstood by others.”

However, technology is not completely anathema to spellings. Miss Spell Check, an iPhone game introduced in May 2009, presents players with a set of 20 words, frequently misspelled by users of Dictionary.com, to set right. The game has a repertoire of 10,000 words and is meant for those who have an urge to pull their hair out every time they see wrong spelling.

But from the scathing remarks of the traditionalists, it wouldn’t hurt the spelling kaffirs to try a hand at this game. Spell Bee software is also freely available on the net; the computer acts pronouncer as you type the right spelling. Guess it’s time technology converted the laodiceans.

(Poem: Ode to my Spell Check, Author Unknown)

NANDINI HEBBAR

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