I am Troy Grisgonelle, editor, and this is my confession. I am not troubled about spelling accurately.

The Australian linguistic heritage is undeniably English. We spell words in French fashion: colour, rigour; metre, centre; and, as Sir Humphrey Appleby noted, Concorde. Why have the English never thrown off this Frankish yoke? Perhaps the reason is their history, which provides sufficient justification for their fear of Continental invasion. And so a small tribute – a slight dilution of the Queen’s English – both soothes English fears and sublimates the French desire to dominate small islands.

This was the language of my youth and I am comfortable with it; yet I find myself inclining to favour North American spelling. This will probably horrify my fellow Australian editors. Despite this, I think that spelling words such as “colour” with a final “owe-are” is more phonetically accurate than “owe-you-are”. And there are also “-ise/ -ize” words like “surprise”, which the North Americans spell in the latter fashion, are more faithful to the original Greek suffix, where “-izō” indicates causation: thus, katarizō means “to clean; to cause to be clean”. Given what I’ve said about French influence on English, perhaps I’m being hypocritical in favouring the Greek suffix; however, what is the source of the “-ise” spelling? And again, the “-ize” spelling seems more accurate vis-à-vis phonetics … which is not spelled with an initial “eff” because of the dominance, worthy or not, of its Greek origin.

From spelling, it seems almost natural to shift to pronunciation. Once more, this confession could mark me as a heretic, but I think the important issue is consistency rather than accuracy. I know that every Australian child should go to “skool” and engineers study “ske-MAT-ix” but I don’t recall any words that begin with “ess-see-aitch” that are pronounced “SH”.

There are instances when there are other influences to one’s phonics. The pronunciation of the word kilometre – specifically, which syllable is emphasised – has been the object of a tug-of-war between people who have literary pretensions and the other 99% of native English speakers, whose power is merely numerical. The first group insist that the word be pronounced “KIL-o-meet-er”: as such it is consistent with other units of distance: “MIL-i-meet-er”, “CEN-ti-meet-er”. As my old maths teacher said, you can murder a mile but you can’t kill-a-metre. The force (such as it is) of this quip is not in the concept but in the sound. On the other hand, the pronunciation “kil-OM-et-er” is consistent with Australian manner of speech, where the accent normally falls on the antepenult.

Ultimately, in spelling and pronunciation, consistency is the key. Not that accuracy isn’t important …

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2008.

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