I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I do not think that a Bill of this kind comes into this House very often, because this is a case where a man has devoted the whole of his life to one seemingly impossible object. From being a lone voice crying in the desert without any followers but for more than 40 years ploughing a way through upsets, despair and disappointments, I have at last brought my idea into this House of Commons. That is no small achievement. I am accompanied by the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of people, who now believe that some such thing should be done, while perhaps not agreeing with the pioneer's scheme, but definitely convinced that there is something right in what he proposes before this the highest forum in the British Empire and Commonwealth.
It is the custom in this House, in moving such a Motion as I am doing, to declare one's interests, and of course I have interests in this matter. There are books which I have written and which still bring me a small profit. Probably now they will bring me in a larger profit. I hope so. I have written many other books and pamphlets, and a grammar which has gone into 30,000 copies. Here is a book called "The Influence of English" written purely on this matter of a change of English spelling, how it could be done and the advantages and disadvantages. This is already selling a little better since I started my campaign.
I have done everything there is to be done with languages. I have studied them, learned them and taught them, and I had my own school of languages which was, in the end, probably the finest language institute in Europe. That is not propaganda. My school unfortunately was destroyed by enemy action the same night as the House of Commons. It may even have been by the same plane. The enemy were not going for my school. The Air Ministry was a little further down the street, and my school was in the way. It is now a carpark. One does not learn many things in a carpark, though one may be able to add a few words to one's vocabulary if one listens carefully to what happens in a carpark when it comes to paying for repairs or for work that has to be done.
Those are my interests, and before proceeding with my speech I ought from this place to thank one or two people who have helped me considerably and encouraged me not to lose hope but to go ahead with this project. First in the line comes that great literary genius, philosopher and cantankerous recluse, Bernard Shaw. In his own peculiar way he helps people. He is untiring in his help and he has helped me more than I can possibly say. The next is a smaller man, a Parliamentary Correspondent, William Barkley. For years before I came into this House I knew him, and we have had the most friendly intercourse and have been of mutual help to each other. I should like also to thank a fellow Member who sits on the opposite side of the House, and with whom, since I have come into this House, I have worked most amicably. He is the grandson of a very great man and bears a great name. I refer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman).
Lastly, there is one whose name is rather under a shadow on account of a temporary aberration. He was most helpful. He took the Chair at many of my meetings in different parts of the country. People really came to see him, but they stopped to listen to me, and so the conversion went on. I am speaking of a man who has paid a very high price for his foolishness, but we cannot lose brilliant people like that. I am referring to Professor Joad, who has paid the price. I feel very indebted to him, and I am making this statement here.
We come now to the preamble of this Bill. In my maiden speech in this House I rather surprised hon. Members by introducing a subject that had never been discussed here: the possible beneficial effects to be derived from a world language. This met with a welcome acclaim and I have often been told that it was the most publicised maiden speech ever known in this House. As a result we called a meeting of Members of the House, and 230 attended. All more or less expressed some sort of sympathy with the aims and aspirations of the idea. We started a Spelling Reform Committee in this House and we have been very active.
First, we went to see the Minister of Education. He will not like what is coming now, but we promised to take the gloves off in this scrap and to be friends afterwards. We have to fight clean, but we are going to have some plain speaking, too. First, a delegation of us called on the right hon. Gentleman and we received a most hearty welcome. His enthusiasm was surprising. He even proposed. although he has since denied it, that he would set up a committee to inquire into the possibilities and advantages of the reform of the English alphabet. It is no good his denying it, because the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Alex Anderson) was there, and it is a case of one man against two. He did deny it, but it was nine months before he did so. We were encouraged by such a welcome and such enthusiasm, and we thought he was a very enlightened and progressive Minister of Education. I have even been to speak for him in his division.
From there we went to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman who was then the President of the Board of Trade and who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He listened to us, one after the other, for a good three-quarters of an hour, so he must have been interested. Nobody came in to say he was wanted outside. He did not close the meeting: we closed it; we said all we had to say. He was inscrutable: he did not come out all gushing like the Minister of Education; but at the end he said, "I am in entire sympathy with this, and I want to have representation of the Board of Trade on the committee." We were satisfied with that. We were not expecting so much.
Then we went to see the Foreign Secretary. There again, there was nothing but welcome and acclaim. He himself, said, "I want to have representation on this Committee." I know it was a bit of a ghost committee, but we were thriving and active. We even received the name of the representative who was to sit on the committee, Mr. Orton—I spell it for the benefit of the House. That spelling does not change according to my scheme. Finally, we went to see the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and there again there was enthusiasm.
I am stating this very carefully, because the Government are opposing the Bill, but I must point out that the Minister of Education recanted like Cranmer—but does not put his hand in the fire. I must point out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for the Colonies all gave us welcome. The Home Secretary himself has said that he thinks that some change ought to take place in English spelling, although I do not think he likes my scheme. However, he says some change ought to take place. Now I come to the Lord President of the Council. He says in a letter to me "I could learn that system in an hour, but why should I?" I do not know why he should, but I am quite sure that 14 million children who are wasting their time in school over this drudgery—this time-wasting drudgery—would know why he should. Lastly, I come to the Minister of Pensions. I am talking of this Government who are opposing this Bill. I say they have no right to oppose it.
Lloyd George knew what he was talking about. I repeated those words to his son, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George), the night before last, and he said, "My father often said that." So I said, "I suppose, then, that you will be going into the Lobby with me on Friday." He said, "I have not made up my mind."
He said he had not made up his mind. Well it was a good thing we had his father here in 1916 and not the son, for the father knew how to make up his mind, and the son does not. Perhaps, the ghost of the father may be listening to this very speech today, the speech of one who wants to carry out the aspiration that he himself had.
What would be the advantages of this change? In the first place, in school nobody ever learns spelling. They waste time at it. It is horrible drudgery. But they never learn it. I defy any hon. Member of this House—and we are supposed to have here a certain standard of culture —to get up and say he always knows when a word should end in "ise" or "ize."
The other day a Committee of this House wasted a quarter of an hour arguing whether the word "nationalised" should be spelt _with an "s" or a "z." That is true. That is what our spelling does for us. Amongst Europeans generally one of the greatest laughing stocks is our game of SpellingBee. They ask, "Do not you people know how to spell your own language?" And the fact is we do not. This streamlined alphabet would make it unnecessary—completely unnecessary—for any children at school ever to waste time on dictation, spelling, reading—because those exercises are exercises in spelling.
I have never seen a spelling-book in Spain. Spanish people do not learn how to spell. Their language has an alphabet so methodical that they do not have to learn spelling, for once they know the alphabet they know how to spell. I have never seen a spelling-book in Germany, although the German alphabet is not quite so perfect—not quite so nearly perfect—as the Spanish. If we could introduce something similar into this country of ours, we should simplify the achievement of the mastery of our language.
I am not trying to force my own scheme into this Bill. I have purposely left my own scheme entirely out of the Bill. If, as I suggest in the Bill, we have a Committee to prepare and publish a scheme for rational spelling, the committee will decide what sort of scheme it will be. It may be the scheme of the Simplified Spelling Society, which the hon. Member for Bath so nobly represents. It may be my scheme. There are 50 or 60 schemes in existence. It may be a combination of them, or it may be just some simple reforms cutting out the stupidity of our spelling. That would be left to the Council. I think that at least 90 per cent. of the House believes, and thoroughly believes, that some reform ought to be undertaken. I have a letter from Mr. Walters, the general manager of "The Times," and he definitely says so. I have also a letter from the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan). He says:
It is against my heart, but from my head I know you are right.
Of course, it is right; how can it not be right to save at least two years of drudgery and of dulling the senses of children at school? I even went so far with the Minister of Education, knowing what a recalcitrant Lancastrian he is, to water down this Bill. I said that we would be satisfied with Part I, and we would cut out Part II and Part III, where the compulsions are, because we are not compulsionists. I believe that if we were to introduce this system of spelling, or some system of reformed spelling, we should not want any compulsion. People would rush to learn it. I put the saving down at two years on a child's life at school; other teachers say it is nearer three years, but two or three years is a very. long time, especially when this Parliament has extended the school-leaving age for one year and we have not the organisation or the teachers or the equipment, although we may have all in time. In Loughborough, there are still sometimes 50 pupils to a class.
Nonsense. If my hon. Friend had said in "some classes," I would not mind, but I do not want it to go up from this House that we are in such a state that there are 50 children in every class in Loughborough.
I said "to a class"; that is one class. Now it is said "some classes," which is better. I think that this two years' saving on a child's life at school could be used in a better way without all this extra paraphernalia. Why cannot the Minister of Education now agree to this Council? I do not know why he cannot, because he did formerly.
From the foreign affairs angle, there are several viewpoints. There is the value of English as a world language. English has become an international language. There are many nations who speak English. The British nation, the American nation, the Australian nation, the Canadian nation, all speak English. The international language of Asia is English. At the conclusion of the RussoJapanese war in 1905, the Treaty of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was written in English because that was the only international language that all the people concerned understood. It is by far the most spoken language in Europe of all foreign languages. Six million new students every year learn English in Russia. That is a formidable total. Ten per cent. of the Norwegians and Swedes speak English to a certain extent—some very good, some not so good and some perfectly. Ten per cent. of a great nation is a very large proportion.
Why is English so adaptable and easy for foreign nations to learn? Our words are all very short; in fact, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. E. P. Smith) and I had a discussion one evening about this very fact. He is present and I do not think that he will deny it. I said to him that only 10 per cent. of the words in English are over three syllables. He was surprised and did not believe me, but he had in his pocket one of the books which he had written. He said, "We will look it over." We looked it over, and he found that I was right. Of course, I was right. I am a language man and he is only a writer. It is a fact that only 10 per cent. of English words are over three syllables. It is a terrific advantage in learning a foreign language if the words are short. That is the great difficulty with German and Russian—their long words. One learns the beginning of them and cannot remember the end. I have learnt and taught languages. I know something of these language difficulties.
Our grammar is the simplest imaginable. One can write the whole of English grammar on half a quarto sheet of paper. The verbs have only three inflections, and one can use the present tense right through quite comfortably if one wants to. We have some verbs in English that do not even admit of a past tense: for example, the verb "to put" —I put, I put, I have put; the verb "to cast"—I cast, I cast, I have cast; the verb "to split" —I split, I split, I have split. The irregular verbs are most of them of one syllable. They admit only of a very small variation. The English syntax is almost fixed. In many languages the adjectives change according to the gender, number and case. In English a man is masculine, a woman is feminine and all objects are neuter; but in foreign languages, and even in Welsh, objects have gender. That is one reason why we cannot accept Welsh for spelling reform.
When we come to the pronunciation of English, the pronunciation is all right because there is not a difficult sound in the English language, but it is the harmonising of the pronunciation with the spelling that is absolutely impossible, because the spelling does not agree with the pronunciation. That is what I want to put right. Clear out this bugbear, this obstacle, and we have our world language over night, without compulsion because it is so simple. I am making this speech without notes, and so if it becomes a little jumbled and chaotic, it is because I am doing it entirely from memory, and it is a long and difficult speech to make.
Sinclair Lewis states categorically that Russian grammar is frightfully difficult; German syntax is impossible; and French pronunciation is never achieved. But they are all simplicity itself compared with this disharmony between English spelling and pronunciation. I shall not go into the words ending in "ough"; perhaps I will deal with them presently. They are rather simple compared with words like "phlegm" and "rhythm," and similar difficult words. If we could even slightly modify our alphabet so as to wipe out this disharmony, that would be something. I do not mind what system is adopted, whether it be mine or somebody else's, as long as something is done about it. I do not mind how little is done, as long as a beginning is made. That is all I ask. Once a beginning has been made we shall not stop until we have finished the job. All I am asking for is the setting up of this Council.
There is another function which this Council might inquire into. In this country we have nothing compared with the Academie Francaise or the Deutsche Sprach-Verein. We could do with it, because in this House only a couple of weeks ago, when we were debating the Tribunal procedure, hon. Members were pronouncing the word "tribunal" in half a dozen different ways, and yet we in this House are supposed to be in the forefront of culture. The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. A. Allen) and myself attended a conference last Saturday in Ashby Wold, which about 50 other people attended, all of whom were versed in the question of subsidence; their lives were taken up with the question of subsidence, yet they pronounced "subsidence" in all sorts of funny ways, although they used it every day of their lives. I cannot remember all the ways in which they pronounced the word; there must have been half a dozen. It would indeed be helpful to have a guide on pronunciation and accentuation.
I now turn to the principal objections raised against the introduction of spelling reform. The first is that I shall spoil Shakespeare. I have as much love for and devotion to English literature as most people. A great part of my life has been spent amongst it; I have taught it; I have learned it; and I have written some books.
It is objected that I shall spoil Shakespeare; but that is not true. The spelling used in schools for the teaching of Shakespeare is not the spelling used by Shakespeare himself. The Director of the British Museum procured for me a first folio to consult, and in it I saw that the word which we spell "coughing" is spelt by Shakespeare "coffing." I do not know why we now use the "ough," because it is certainly not an etymological word, it is an onomatopoeic word. Shakespeare's spelling of the word "coughing" is much nearer to the right spelling than our present spelling. In the famous monologue "To be or not to be," "heartache" is spelt "hartake." What is wrong with my spelling? The word "sour" is spelt "sowre;" "blood" is spelt "bloud." That is the original spelling in the first folio of Shakespeare. Why should we be chained to a spelling which came out centuries afterwards, and which has been driven into chaos ever since by not having some guide to lead us?
I hope the Minister of Education is listening, because here I am particularly addressing him. The next objection is that there must be the root; that interference with the spelling will blot out the root value of the word; but it does not. Let us consider English words which derive from the Greek, in which we get "ph," such as "sphere" or "sphinx." There was no "ph" in the Greek words. The word "sphere" comes from the classical Greek. I see a classical scholar in front of me, so I shall be corrected if I am wrong. The word "sphere" comes from the Greek óø aî ă There is no "ph" in it at all, because the Greeks could not have pronounced an aspirate in that word, and today they could never get an "f" sound out of it. Why not go back to the "f" in all those words? They came into the English language through Latin, which changed them into "ph," through the French and on to us. But the very nation which has descended from the Latins, the Italian, has gone back to the "f," so that their word for telephone is written "telefono," and their word for telegraph "telegrafo." What is there to prevent our going back? There is no etymological reason at all.
In the Greek "sphinx" was writtenăøíy§ There is no sign of "ph" in that. When we come to words like "chaos" and "chasm" which both come from the same Greek word xaívw, which means "to gape." Both are derived from the same word in the Greek, so why is this chaos? They both start Xá yet we pronounce them differently. Then we come to words where we have gone over to the "f." We have the word "fantasy" and the word "phantom." Both come from the same classical Greek word, so why should we spell one with an "f" and the other with "ph?" Why not go right over to "f," the same as the Italians and Spaniards? What is wrong with that? We should not be interfering with etymology, but reinforcing it. Therefore, I say that the argument on etymology is a false one.
I hope I am not boring the House by going on so long. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Then let me pass to the objection that I should be interfering with the historical development of the words. That again is wrong. Consider the two words "draft" and "draught." They are pronounced the same, but they are written differently; they both come from the word "draw," and sometimes I am confused to know which of the two to use. The word "draw" is derived from the word "drag," and the word "drag" comes from the German "tragen" and "tragen" comes from the Latin "trahereê." Therefore, I do not interfere at all with the historical development of the word. From the same Latin word "trahere," we get "train," "traction," and "trait." The only difference is that the word "drag" comes into the English from the German, and the words "train," "traction," and "trait" come into the English over the French from the Latin.
I have to apologise to the House for taking up so much of its time, but I have spent over 40 years on this subject, and I claim the right to be heard. We are not the only country faced with this problem. The Dutch have had the same problem. Right from the beginning of the century, there was an agitation to reform Dutch spelling, and in 1917 they commenced a reform on rather a wide scale. At first, people objected to it, in the same way as ignorant, indifferent, intolerant people object in this country. But they found it was useful, and they pushed ahead with it. In 1948, they introduced it by legislation so that today no one in Holland is allowed to use the chaotic system of the old Dutch; they have a good clean streamlined system.
The last person to use the old Dutch spelling was Queen Wilhelmina in her abdication, and the newspapers published it. She would not give way; she was one of those old-fashioned people. I am one of the modern ones. As I say, she wrote out her abdication in the old system of spelling, and although the newspapers published it, one newspaper said "This is the last time this newspaper will publish anything in the old system of spelling." Norway introduced a new system, and it has proved so good that the Danes have had to follow because their language is so similar. After the Revolution, the Russians introduced a new system.
What I will now tell the House is very peculiar. I wanted to go to Russia last year because I am forgetting my Russian. I wrote to the Russian Embassy for a visa, only to be told that Moscow would not give me one. I did not want to forget the language; a language is a valuable and difficult acquisition, and I am of an age when, if I forget it, I cannot re-acquire it. Therefore, I advertised in "The Times" for a person with whom to speak in Russian, and I received between 50 and 60 replies. Not one of those people in their replies used the old Russian orthographical system; they had all taken to the new system. They may have been counter-revolutionaries, or what you will, but when it came to an easier system for writing Russian, they adopted it, and not one of them could have been back to Russia since 1914. That is marvellous. It just shows how people will go after an easier and more logical system. Roumania turned over from the Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin alphabet.
Before I sit down, I should like to give the House a warning, and one to which I want people to listen. It concerns our Commonwealth and Empire. We have noticed in the Union of South Africa that slow moving away from Britain. I was there in 1906, and never heard a word of Cape Dutch or Afrikaans: it was all English. That was shortly after the Boer War. I was there again in 1939 with the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon). I said to him, "Sir Pat, it is very funny"—[Laughter]—we are friendly; I call him "Sir Pat"—" but we hear a tremendous amount of Afrikaans in Cape Town today which we never heard before. "He said, "Yes, I have noticed that, too," because he had lived in Cape Town. I was there again last year and heard more Afrikaans than English in Cape Town; and where one's language goes, there goes one's loyalty.
I have had letters from South Africa on the subject, and I would not have brought this matter to the House if it had not been for a letter I received from Canada. The writer said that the reason was that the boys at school will not be bothered with English spelling when they have a straightforward spelling for Afrikaans. They learn Afrikaans and we are losing a part of the Empire because of that. That should be sufficient reason for hon. Members of this House to go into the Lobby tonight to defy the Government and to vote for this Measure, because, in voting for it, they will be helping the Empire and the Commonwealth. Members of the Government may be opposing this Bill, but they cannot be conscientiously opposing it, for the simple reason I have given.
Before I sit down I want to tell the junior Burgess for Oxford (Sir A. Herbert), who is going to be the principal speaker against me, how much I appreciate his kindness. He has given me a page and a half in that well-established, very British publication "Punch." I think that the Minister of Education and many right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench would like to have a page and a half in that publication. I do not doubt for a moment that hon. Members opposite would be honoured to have a page and a half. I got a page and a half, and I want to thank the junior Burgess for Oxford for giving me a page and a half. It is true he was taking the mike out of me, but that does not matter; that is permissible. I said to him, "How ever did you learn to write that?" He said, "Oh, it is easy." Then why, in the wide world is he opposing it. Opposing it is merely prejudice, ignorance and indifference.
I was speaking in the tea-room the other day to a Scottish Member who was sitting at a table with about ten other Scotsmen. With the exception of one hon. Member, they all agreed with me. He said, "I think it is rubbish." I said, "Do you know anything about it?" I do not know whether he is here this morning. He said, "I have a bookshop full of books on basic English and nobody wants them." "But," I said, "this has nothing to do with Basic English." "Oh," he said, "it is rubbish." That is the indifference, the ignorance, the prejudice and the intolerance that we have up against us.
I am asking every hon. Member in this House today to remember the struggles I have made for this thing, and to remember how I have stood up for it, even in this House, against ridicule. I am asking them to go in my Lobby tonight, which is also the Lobby of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman), who bears a great and honoured name in this country. I ask the House to go into the Lobby with me to defeat the Government. After all, what is the good of giving us Private Members' Bills if the Government intend to oppose them themselves? Surely the object of a Private Member's Bill is to sense the feeling of the House on a contentious Measure. This is a contentious Measure. The Government ought, in this case, to respect the arbitration of the House. That is all I am asking for: I am asking all those who believe with me to vote with me today. I am not asking for much; I am not asking for a definite scheme. I am asking only that a Council should be appointed with a view to introducing some rectification of our present misery.
The nation, the whole of the English-speaking world and, indeed, the world itself is very fortunate that the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) has been lucky in the Ballot, and that he has been so persistent in what is an extremely important subject. This is a simple Bill. It consists of three parts. Part I sets up a committee and requires them to produce a comprehensive, simple and consistent style of spelling. It lays down terms of reference, and they have to do that by 30th December, 1950. Part II contains 15 Clauses, and provides for submission of the scheme by the Minister of Education to the House of Commons and House of Lords; it also provides for the machinery of compulsion, which becomes operative only if the House of Commons and the House of Lords approve. Part III consists of eight Clauses and deals with regulations, etc.
I call the attention of the House to the fact that Part I is wholly constructive. It produces something—a system—which is new and authoritative. If a new system for the King's English is to be produced there is enormous value in its having been produced by three of His Majesty's responsible Ministers. That scheme also includes a plan for its gradual introduction and sets up a council to advise the Minister in this task. That constructive action offers a service to everybody in Britain, indeed, throughout the world, because the system, having been propounded, they can then try it out and use it, so that there is a basis of information on which the two Houses of Parliament can work when doing their duty under Part II of the Bill. It is a "free behaviour test" during the period between the working out and publishing of the scheme and its submission to the two Houses of Parliament.
Part II provides for submission to Parliament, and, if approved, it then invokes certain compulsory machinery. It is very gradual. Under the Bill it is a series of progressive steps, starting from the first appointed day, which is, roughly speaking, September, 1951, but there is provision for it to be postponed until September, 1959. The first day applies only to Clause 5 (1), which is for schools. I should like Members to know that under that Clause all that is required is that instruction shall be given in the system. Instruction may be given in history, or any of the ordinary subjects of the curriculum. This is not a compulsory change in the curriculum of education at all; it is just the medium by means of which the existing curriculum is to be taught.
The second appointed day comes either in September, 1956, or, if there is a postponement, in January, 1964, and this day affects the Government in two respects. Under Clause 5 (2) it affects schools and under Clause 8 it affects all Government announcements. It also affects institutions. Clause 6 affects films and Clause 7 affects advertisers. It also affects private people to a small extent, in that aliens who wish to be naturalised will be required, by the second appointed day, to have learned the new spelling as well may be as the old. They will have to pass their examination under Clause 17 that they have a sufficient knowledge of the new spelling.
The third appointed day is very distant—September, 1961, or possibly, January, 1969. The Government would then be compelled, under Clause 10, to produce court records in the new system and also Acts of Parliament and, by Clause 13, to produce all Stationery Office publications in the new system. Institutions and private persons may be covered by Clause 11 which deals with statutory advertisements and undoubtedly a person would have to come under Clause 14 for copyright, Clause 15 for patents and Clause 16 for petitions under the Bill of Rights.
I need not deal with Part III of the Bill, but I think something more ought to be said about Part I, which is constructive. It puts on to a Minister, particularly the Minister of Education, the constructive job of research and production. I believe it is also a very wise piece of politics to do it this way, because there always have been objections from Ministers of Education on two grounds: (1) that the public does not want the new system: (2) alternatively, or both, that the new system is not the best that can be produced. If Member will read the correspondence which I sent around, between the Simplified Spelling Society and previous holders of the high office of Minister of Education, they will see that we were blocked first on the one hand and then on the other. It seems to me quite right that Part I should postpone the issue of whether the public wants the new spelling. That will come up under the Bill, and will be fairly done when the scheme is submitted to both Houses of Parliament some time hence.
There will be plenty of time to mobilise public opinion. The scheme will be known by then, and people will be voting on what is a known set of recommendations. Therefore, I hope that today we shall regard as irrelevant the point whether the nation wants spelling reform. I believe that the correct time to discuss that is when the subject matter of the Bill is referred for the second time to Parliament. The issue at the present moment, as I see it, is whether it is in the best interests of the nation that this committee should be set up, and that it should work out a scheme so that the nation can look at it and see what it desires.
In regard to the argument that this is not the best system, I am glad that the hon. Member for Loughborough has made it clear that no particular system is at issue in this Bill. It is to be the Minister's system only. I also hope that there will be no discussion of systems. That would be appropriate and timely some time hence, but no particular scheme is advanced at present. That again is wise because it puts on to the shoulders of the Minister what is really his responsibility. As I see it, his responsibility is not to turn down other schemes but it is quite properly within his sphere to work out what is the best system to be considered. Therefore, it will cut away from all future criticism the possibility that the system chosen is not the best. It will be the Minister's system and he will not be able to say otherwise.
Similarly, I think that this Bill is wise and statesmanlike in associating with the Minister those people who know most about this subject, people who most use the recorded word. The 24 people on the Council are to be carefully chosen as those people who are most likely to be critical of any new system, and who ought to be implicated in it if it is to be the best system. There are the newspapers. It is wise to consult them at an early stage so that if any system results from this Bill which they do not think is the best system, they can be asked why they did not, by virtue of their position on the Council, advise the Minister so that the best system was prepared.
That leads me to Part II of the Bill and to the question of compulsion. The extent to which compulsion is desirable is a very interesting point. There are three kinds of compulsion. There is compulsion on the Government themselves in such recorded matter as they issue. There is compulsion on teachers in schools, who are largely paid out of Government money. Finally, there is compulsion on the individual. As the hon. Member for Loughborough has stated, we are not fundamentally compulsionists. In fact we do not believe in compulsion. We would far rather proceed the other way; in other words, we would genuinely be satisfied, if the Minister says that it is his wish or if the House says that it is its wish so to amend the Bill, to cut out compulsion in Committee upstairs, if the Bill goes upstairs. We think however that we are doing service to the House in parading the problem of how any new system is to be introduced.
Secondly, the dilemma has to be posed between some compulsion and laissezfaire. I do not think that the hon. Member mentioned Turkey. The Turkish system was the most compulsory and dragooning of all the systems of introduction there have been. He mentioned Norway. I think that at the other extreme there is not the slightest compulsion in Norway. There is a great deal to be said for a non-compulsory method in this country. Private Members, however, have great difficulty in introducing Bills in this Parliament, and it is far better for them to lay before the House the most rigid scheme and then in Committee tone it down rather than work in the opposite way, which could be said to be misleading to the House. I hope, however, that anyone who feels that this Bill is too compulsory will save his or her breath for the Committee stage, where we undertake most readily to provide for the abolition of compulsion.
We should like to press at the same time for assistance and protection against victimisation if anyone wishes to carry out an experiment and to teach in this way. We do not want them to be victimised in relation to their examinations or engagement for a job by reason of the fact that they have been taught in one way and spell one way rather than another. That is a negative form of compulsion which the House will doubtless agree is reasonable.
At this stage I must say that with such a responsible committee, with such excellent advisers on the Advisory Council, we can clearly assume that the scheme will be a good one, and if it is, I think we can now say definitely that any person who is now literate and can read fluently will be able to read the new system within ten minutes. Within an hour such people will have forgotten that they are reading new spelling, and will be taking an interest in the story or the argument which the new spelling is setting forth. In other words, it is like looking through a window. One can look at the window and be conscious of it but after a time one looks at the view and forgets the window altogether.
I want also to make a point that Master and Miss New Speller as I shall call them will equally be able to read the old. Do not let us think that we shall be scrapping any of the existing books—literature or anything else—or that even after the introduction of new spelling people will not be able to read the old spelling. Master or Miss New Speller, provided that they are really fluent readers of the new, will be equally able to read the old. It will take them a little longer, they will pause over words like "yacht," but they will have the context. English spelling is misleading but is not all that misleading. One does not fail to be carried along by the context. Nor will Master or Miss New Speller. I hope that some Member will cover the point that ready conversion of those taught new spelling to the old has been established in experiments. Of that I can assure the House.
Equally, I wish to make the point that in altering conventions there is no reason in this case why the two conventions cannot run concurrently for many years—20, 30 or 40 years. If we wish to alter the convention of driving on the left of the road, the new conventions of driving cannot run concurrently with the old, or there will be a head-on collision. In this question of reform spelling there is no reason why the two should not run concurrently. I know the Minister's sympathy in this matter. He was extraordinarily forthcoming and sympathetic to the Simplified Spelling Society when we asked to be allowed to conduct, with the co-operation of voluntary teachers, students and parents, under the best possible factual aegises, an investigation into this matter. I hope that the Minister will realise that Part I of this Bill gives him the ability to do that with far greater authority, and that if our case is made out it really is the duty of the Minister of Education to find out about teaching reading and writing. It should not be left to private subscription to do really important work of that kind.
I strongly urge the Minister to accept this Bill on Second Reading, and in Committee stage upstairs to make it what he desires. We are not pressing for a particular system or compulsion but for the general principle. Mr. Bernard Shaw has often said that the two will run concurrently and that the best will eventually supersede the present system. All he wants is a 40-letter alphabet. To my certain knowledge he has offered the whole of his estate to the Minister of Education for the financing of just the sort of thing about which I have been speaking, provided that it is in the 40-letter alphabet.
The House might be interested in this letter sent to me this week by Mr. Bernard Shaw:
The Bill as it stands with its compulsory and exclusive items is impossible; but it can be made practicable in Committee; and its defeat would be an international calamity. Nevertheless the House will be frightened off as it always has been by the cost of replacing scrapped printers' plant and typewriters, rearranging and reprinting dictionaries and encyclopedias, transmogrifying the Bible and all the masterpieces of our literature. It has never taken into account the hard fact that a British alphabet of 40 letters would make it possible by rational spelling to save 20 per cent. per minute in time and labor, and that 20 per cent. per minute is more than half a million per cent. per year. If that figure does not make Sir Stafford Cripps as keen on spelling reform as Mr. Follick nothing will.
But a beginning can be made with existing plant. The addition of 14 letters to the present alphabet can be obtained provisionally by handsetting with 14 of the letters turned upside down or with borrowings from the Greek alphabet which all considerable printers stock. By this device school primers can be rationally spelt and children enabled to spell as they pronounce and have their mispronunciations corrected by their teacher.
Although I did not begin writing plays until I was 40, I have written 17 more plays than Shakespeare did besides bulky political treatises bringing Socialism up to date, and a mass of critical essays in Art and Science, to say nothing of letters to 'The Times.' Such an output would have been utterly impossible had it not been drafted in Pitman's 40 letter phonographic alphabet. Keep your eye on your father Isaac;"—
I think he really means my grandfather—
and he will pull you through. But perhaps you had better not mention this in Debate as hon. Members may not be quite unanimous in regarding my activities as a boon and a blessing.
Why is it that Mr. Bernard Shaw can reasonably say that the defeat of the Bill today would be an international calamity? The answer is that the beènefits of the Bill will be a colossal contribution to humanity, possibly as great as that made by the invention of printing. Let us look at the matter from two points of view, that of the British people and that of other peoples in the world, dividing these latter into the English-speaking and the speakers of other languages. In the English-speaking category of the other people of the world
we must consider that great republic the United States of America. Do not let any hon. Member feel that there is any danger on technical grounds of our failing to carry the two nations together.
That point has been proved already by several systems of Shorthand in common use in both countries. I have here a letter which I received this morning, written by Dr. Godfrey Dewey, chairman of the Simpler Spelling Committee, Lake Placid Club Education Foundation, and Secretary of the Simpler Spelling Association. He says:
I speak, therefore, for the organised spelling reform movement in this country, in assuring you of our hearty support of your present efforts.
He goes on to say:
A committee such as that proposed by your Bill should be able to work out a scheme of rational spelling acceptable to both countries, with incalculable benefit to all English-speaking people, and indeed to the whole world.
I want to establish the point, and I could establish it in regard to Canada and elsewhere, that there is fundamentally no objection technically to the two systems running side by side, and to our accepting whatever is best. Turning to the British people—
I said that there was no question of a different pronunciation of any kind making one system not appropriate to the problem of Canada although it is appropriate to the problem over here. I hope that I have made that point clear and that I have not misled the House. I am not seeking to say that all Canadians are in agreement with the Bill or that they even know about it. I would not claim that in the slightest. I am saying that whether the Americans pronounce the word that we call "God" as "Gard," or as "Gawd," presents not the slightest difficulty. All those people who are interested in this problem have assured me in every place to which I have been that technically there are no objections to any part of the English-speaking world reforming on the same basis and at the same time.
From the point of view of the British people may I speak first of the advantage to them as taxpayers. There will be some and can be great savings in money and time to the whole population, or for the whole population which reads and writes. That saving takes the form of ink and paper as well as of labour. Leavng the economic advantage and turning to the human, there will be great savings in the schools and a great enlargement of human opportunity and I hope that it will not be turned into money. I do not think that there is any suggestion that time saved in schools by this method would be used for anything other than better schooling in other subjects and for raising the standard generally.
The learners of literacy in Britain can be divided into three categories. First, there are the really brighter ones. They have had to learn to read and to write under our present spelling system, so that system, despite its great disadvantages, does work. They did not learn quickly or speedily to read and certainly not quickly or speedily to write since they spent on this necessary exercise one or two years at school. It may not be too much to claim that most of that time has been spent in mastering a purely arbitrary spelling which has no justification other than convention, and which there is no means of learning other than by pure rote, just as the Chinese learn their language. The other point which is of importance to the brighter children is that it has been proved that under a reformed system their ability for self-expression in writing is developed much earlier. There are no inhibitions and the change is psychologically of tremendous value. The brighter children can go straight away into composition and can write as easily as they talk.
Now let us look at the not so bright children. Their difficulty in learning to spell is a great handicap throughout school and throughout life. We talk sometimes in this House about parity of esteem in schools. Do we realise that the parity of esteem arising out of the style of a letter and the way in which it is written and spelt is a constant and crippling handicap to thousands, we may say millions, of people in this country? The hierarchy of spelling is one of the remaining prejudicial, class privilege barriers which is keeping people down right through their lives, if they are among the not so bright. Hon. Members get letters from their constituencies, but they do not know the number of letters they did not get because some constituents were afraid to write and to show up their wicked and faulty spelling. These products of the schools hide themselves away. They can, however, with any consistent system learn to read with fluency easily, to write easily and to spell easily, and that will be of terrific value to them in life.
I now turn to the duller. Do we realise the terrible failure of education in this country? This is no fault of the Minister and no fault of the teachers. I should like hon. Members to refer to the February, 1945, issue of the "British Journal of Educational Psychology" where they will find a report by Sir Cyril Burt on illiteracy and near-illiteracy in the British Army and in the nation as a whole. I should like to read the first point of his summary. Near-illiterates are people who can just spell out words but who cannot write a letter and who cannot read a passage for meaning unless it has no more than a few words in a sentence.
Recent surveys have shown that the amount of illiteracy among adults in this country is unexpectedly large, and provides a pressing problem for the educationists. Taking the borderlines for illiteracy and semi-illiteracy as indicated by reading ages of about 6½ and 8 years respectively, it would appear that by the age of about 21, 1½ per cent. to 2 per cent. of the population of this country are illiterate and 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. semi-illiterate.
In other words a total of 16½ percent. to 22 percent. are illiterate or semiilliterate.
This is solely because of the spelling. Hon. Members will say that it is because of home surroundings. There is enough evidence, I am glad to say, to show the way in which people from homes where they did not stand a chance in life can get literacy and can get to the top. The way in which the people of this nation have overcome home surroundings, obtained literacy and climbed is a most creditable story. Equally it is not an issue of heredity. British stock is sound and good everywhere. The best people come out of homes at all levels. The real cause of the 16½ per cent. to 22 per cent. failure in our educational system is the initial thwarting of the young mind which leads it to believe that it cannot read, and from that moment onwards we cannot do anything with it.
The hon. Member is drawing deductions from statistics relating to individuals. How many of the 22 per cent. illiterate and semi-illiterate were literate at 14 when they left school? Is the assumption that our difficulty in spelling leads to a falling off between the ages of 14 and 21?
Whom does one call "literate"? Does one term "literate" somebody who can read and write a little or someone who really does read and write? Lots of people learn to read and write when they. are at school but when they get out of school they are so sick of it that they write and read no more. Are they "literate"?
I know that the Minister has read this passage. He knows the report. He knows that it is written by a man of considerable standing, in fact one might say the leading man in the nation in this particular field. It is undoubtedly true that between 14 and 21 these people go back. That is because they have not got a skill for reading or a skill for writing. It is like bicycling. If one really learns to bicycle, one can always do it, but if one is in a wobbly stage so that one can just pass an inspector, one can return to it 20 years afterwards without that skill because one has lost it in the meantime. This is a good instance of the sort of fact into which the Minister will have to look if the Bill is passed. It is something which ought to be looked into. If on examination the Minister finds that, as I am alleging, it is the spelling which is at fault, surely the whole object of the Bill is justified hundreds and hundreds of times.
If I am not boring the House—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Go on."]—I should like to refer to juvenile delinquency and crime. The extent of the correlation of illiteracy with juvenile delinquency and crime is astonishing. Psychologists say that self-esteem is of tremendous importance in enabling people to go straight, and that if one is suffering a sense of shame in one's self-esteem it is very hard for one to live a good life. Illiteracy is a shaming thing. It drives people underground and makes them hide their heads, and the only way in which they can assert themselves—I am talking of the bad ones now —is to live a life of violence. Do not let us under-estimate the value of reading as an outlet. When we see a boy reading a penny blood, let us encourage him. He is probably in a Canadian lumber camp fighting bears and all sorts of things. He is living a life of synthetic experience which is of immense value to him additional to his own life. Equally, do not let us omit to value the outlet which writing gives. Just think of a boy who is engaged to be married and is separated from his girl being unable to write to her. The whole question of communication in a civilised country is psychologically of tremendous importance. When the Home Secretary looks into this he will find that his crime troubles begin in this illiteracy and the Minister of Education will find that his educational troubles have begun at the outset of the child's life because of the basic difficulty of the spelling which the Minister is trying to teach.
I now turn to the issue of language speaking. Everything that I have said applies right through our great English speaking Dominions, and America, where the problem of illiteracy is even worse than ours. There are literally millions in the Commonwealth and Colonies who want to learn English. The Latin language and the Roman Empire have been along this path before. The Latin language was the common language of the home metropolitan nation and was introduced as the current language into countries speaking a languages other than Latin. What has happened to Latin in those countries? It has been split up into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Romanche, and in each case the language has so departed from the original stock, that the original is completely unintelligible.
The same thing has happened in exactly identical circumstances to the British language, to English. Within the British Empire now one can be taken to sections where the English that is spoken is quite unrecognisable to oneself, and one's English is quite unrecognisable to them. Of course the tolerance of recognisability over dialect within Britain is another thing altogether from the complete mispronunciation which takes place in these foreign-speaking outposts of Britain.
I want to make clear that our spelling is accelerating the natural causes of disintegration of our language. Remember, that we now have a new way of learning language, not by ear from somebody who speaks the language, but by a black mark on paper. When a foreigner sees "H.A.S."—"Hăz"—and then sees "W.A.S." he naturally pronounces it "Wăz." Why not? If any hon. Member here is shocked by any specimen of the reformed spelling, will he please recognise that that is a precise measure of the degree to which our spelling is misleading to anybody who is learning our language from a text book. The printed page ought to direct and help, not mislead.
I have here a letter from a famous director of education in West Africa. He says:
In Africa, as in many other places, the difficulties in combining in a limited time a knowledge of the written language, as now spelt, with the spoken, are immense. If rational spelling was introduced, these difficulties would disappear and English, which is already becoming a world language, would become even more pular…rational spelling would hasten the disappearance of 'pidgin' English and various regional variants in pronunciation.
From the point of view of avoiding what happened to the metropolitan language in the Roman Empire, there could be nothing more important than that we should reform our own spelling, because the other speaking language man, the foreigner, insists that he learns English as the English write it, he will not take anything different. We must put ourselves right before we can give him the benefit of that.
What is the opposition to this? It seems to me that it lies on two mistaken ideas, first the idea that we are asking anybody to change his habits. We are aiming only at the young and coming. Any adult who is literate can continue to write in the old way; he will have no difficulty in reading the new and his writing will be understood. There is no intended change of habit for anybody who has a habit instilled. That is of tremendous importance. So far as that is concerned, we are anxious, as I explained before, to remove the compulsory Clauses, but we think it is advisable to start with the worst and come down, rather than the other way.
Secondly, opposition arises on confusion of thought between symbols and realities. Opponents of this Bill will bring arguments about etymology and about beauty and about history. In point of fact those are none of them in any way relevant, because it is not the reality that is being altered, it is the symbol for the reality. I think the best example of that would be if I were to read one verse of Gray's Elegy:
Now it is true that in the spoken language the English language is sonorous and fine and glorious. Those symbols are glorious, but the visual symbols for the spoken symbols are much less important and are really of no significance at all; they are just a means by which we can communicate across time. Writing is a record. It is made in order that at a later date people may have the same association of ideas which the words at the time produced. I should like to make the point that Gray's Elegy could appear equally as a groove on a disc, on a gramophone record. It could appear equally as a sound track beside, if one liked, a film of the English countryside. It could appear as a magnetic tape and, finally, it can appear as black marks on paper. At this point I would stress that we have already running parallel two systems—there is the cursive "B." and there is the printed "B," both in an upper and lower case. There is no similarity between the capital "B" and the two other "b's"—there are three different, distinct "B's" altogether, and so with other letters. There is nothing against parallelism of this kind. The point we are discussing today is that we want the best system for recording words in order that they may remain there permanently and operate across time.
Over 100 years ago my grandfather published the Bible which I hold in my hand. It is written in a system based on a 40 letter alphabet. He gave endlessly for this very purpose we are discussing, and I count myself lucky that, by the grace of God, I am here today to support what the hon. Member for Loughborough has said in moving this Bill by an equally miraculous draw out of the Ballot at a time when, it seems to me, it is right to tackle this question of spelling.
I beg to move to leave out "now," and at the end of the Question to add, "upon this day six months."
I have never heard a Bill introduced into this House in a more disarming fashion than this one. I think it must be unique in the history of Parliament that the mover and seconder of a Bill should explain that they are only too ready to scrap 23 out of its 26 Clauses. Really one cannot but remember the rhyme about the child who died in infancy:
If I was so soon to be done for,
I wonder what I was ever begun for.
While accepting the complete sincerity of the hon. Members concerned, I must deal with the Bill before us, because how can we tell that they will succeed in removing 23 Clauses out of the 26 if this Bill should get a Second Reading and go upstairs. If it does get a Second Reading, it can only get it because the eloquence of the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) has inspired some covenanting spirit in hon. Members of this House, and it may well be that he has inspired in them such a spirit that they will turn and rend him upstairs and refuse to take these Clauses out of the Bill. So I must deal with the Bill as it is.
Yes, it is the principle of the Bill that matters, and we must confine ourselves to the Bill that is before us. If we could cast our votes purely out of our affection for the hon. Member for Loughborough, that would be a different matter altogether, and if I could cast my vote purely out of affection for my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) I should be very glad to do so, because I remember that my hon. Friend and I sat on the same bench at the age of nine doing dictation together in very simplified spelling and with blood and sweat and tears our spelling got steadily more and more complicated through the years.
May I state first the things on which I agree with the hon. Member for Loughborough. I agree with him that peace is more desirable than war, I agree that it is a very good thing that there should be a universal language, and that the claims of English to be that universal language are enormously stronger than those of any other language. I certainly favour the adoption of English as the universal language if only for the reason that it would be very convenient to me. Nor can I oppose a reasonable amount of spelling reform in straightening out some of the difficulties about the "oughs" and such like things. On the other side, I must say that I do not believe that this Bill in itself will make any contribution to the problem of peace. History gives no reason to think that we would cease fighting one another merely because we talked the same language. I do not think we would like M. Molotov any better if we understood everything that he said.
On the arguments for a universal language, my position is that I am opposed to this Bill because I think it would deal a damaging blow to the chances of English being adopted as that universal language, because we have to face the fact that this House only has jurisdiction over a small proportion of the people who speak the English language, and the great danger, if we accepted this scheme, would be that we might become a kind of isolated Tibetan island writing a quite different sort of English from that written by the rest of the English-speaking world. I remember that I once had the temerity to tackle Mr. de Valera with, the argument that he and the Sinn Fein movement had lessened the influence of the Irish race in the world by their insistence upon the Irish language, which had the effect of separating the minority of Irishmen in Ireland from the majority of Irishmen in the rest of the world. I think there is a great danger that we might make a similar mistake in adopting this Bill.
I would remind the House that we are not primarily concerned with spelling reform, but with the Spelling Reform Bill, which is what I really want to consider, rather than the general question of spelling reform. The assumption of the two hon. Members who have proposed this Bill, is that it is tolerably easy to find some system, or scheme as they call it, which would be accepted and that would settle the matter. It would. I think, be easy to find some scheme which would be acceptable to the people who are not interested in spelling reform, but it would be quite a different business to find a scheme which would be generally acceptable to the people who are interested in spelling reform. The hon. Member for Loughborough, with characteristic courtesy, has sent me a copy of the correspondence which has passed between the hon. Member and Mr. Bernard Shaw, but I cannot see how that correspondence in any way strengthens his case, because it was obvious that each of these distinguished people who thought that a scheme of simplified spelling would be a good idea each thought that the other's scheme would make spelling a great deal more complicated. On what principle is either the Minister or anybody else to tell us what is a rational scheme?
I will cover that point later. For the moment, the hon. Member for Loughborough wants a scheme of simplified spelling which will take less time to learn, for which there is something to be said. Mr. Bernard Shaw wants a scheme which will take less time to write, for which there is also something to be said. But the two principles are entirely different principles. These ideas would produce two quite different schemes of spelling reform.
My hon. Friend now poses as arbitrator between the claims of the hon. Member for Loughborough and those of Mr. Bernard Shaw. The hon. Member for Loughborough does not agree that what Mr. Shaw wants is simpler, and Mr. Shaw does not agree that what the hon. Member for Loughborough wants is simpler, and who am I to arbitrate between the two? I am reminded of the old rhyme of Jacobite days:
We are told in this Bill that we must set up a rational scheme of spelling. Of course, we want to be rational, but to say that is merely to say that we want to be right. But what is rational is the whole question which has surely troubled the metaphysicians since the beginning of time, the question which baffled the intellect of Aristotle, with which Dante wrestled in the very presence of Omnipotence itself. It is this question of what is reason which has been the greatest of all mysteries since the beginning of time, but now at last it is to be settled, if this Bill becomes law, by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education once and for all and not later than 31st December, 1951. I think a great compliment is being paid to the right hon. Gentleman, and far be it from me to say that it is not a deserved compliment, but it certainly does place an enormous responsibility on him. I do not see how he can settle what is a rational scheme until we have some more definite terms of reference on what constitutes reason.
We are told that, as a general principle, we must try to spell as we pronounce, and there is a great deal of common sense in that, though this is not as complete a single principle as some people believe. Mr. Bernard Shaw makes a calculation of the time wasted by people putting a "b" at the end of the word "bomb", but, if we had not spent time in putting a "b" at the end of the word "bomb", just think how many worse things we might have been doing. But that second "b" is not wholly purposeless because the second "b" at the end of the word makes it easier for the learner to learn the relationship between "bomb" and, say, "bombardment" or "bombardier". Yet I see a certain amount of common sense in the maxim that we should try to spell as we pronounce, but the difficulty is that people pronounce English entirely differently from one another, and the reason why they understand it is only because they all spell it the same.
According to this Bill, this scheme has to be settled by the Minister of Education, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland, but it is quite obvious that these three right hon. Gentlemen pronounce the English language entirely differently from one another. So where are we? The hon. Member for Loughborough, in one part of his speech, gave an example of the way in which different people pronounce the words "tribunal" and "subsidence", and, if they pronounce it differently, I cannot see how they can all spell it the same way. The more it becomes likely that the English language is to become the universal language, the more wide will be the variations in the pronunciation of it by the people who speak it.
There is no necessity for all people to adopt the standardised spelling. Take the word "stork": whether it is to be spelled to rhyme with "stalk" as in the South, or "stork" as the Secretary of State for Scotland would say. Either way, the Southerner or the Scotsman will be right, since they actually pronounce it in different ways. There is no difficulty in speech and none in spelling.
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point, but I cannot see how that is a simplification. It seems to me to make it much more complicated. At present we pronounce the word differently but we spell it in the same way. To spell it differently does not seem to me to simplify it; it is a complication.
What we are concerned with today is not so much spelling reform as the Spelling Reform Bill. I feel strongly that there is no weight of opinion which in any way justifies us in indulging in legislation on this matter. Certainly let us be permissive. I do not wish to pass any law to prevent the hon. Member for Loughborough spelling "bomb" as "bom" if he wants to. I do not think that he should be liable to a fine of not more than £100 or six months' imprisonment if he does so. Indeed, I do not believe that my hon. Friend the Member for the Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory) should be asked to refrain from spelling that word "bom," but I must remind him that under this Bill, although he could do so in this country, he would not be able to do so in Northern Ireland, until he had got a resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland.
I entirely appreciate what hon. Members have said about their not being wedded to these compulsory Clauses, though why they have put them in the Bill if they do not want them I cannot imagine. So I will not delay the House by going through the compulsory Clauses in any detail, but I must say that Clause 16, by which we should be forbidden from petitioning His Majesty after a certain date unless we used this new spelling, seems to me a very grave breach of English custom.
I am still more surprised by Clause 14 about copyright, though in some ways it does not do me personally as a publisher any harm. It is quite a new thing to establish a form of spelling in copyright, and it seems to me that if this appointed day should come and this Clause should still be in the Bill, all I would have to do would be to sign up a contract—indeed I hope to do so anyway —with my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) by which he would write me a book and I would promise to pay him 15 per cent. royalty. I should then spell three or four words differently from the way in which the Minister of Education would spell them; my hon. Friend would not notice, and I would then say "I am sorry, old man; there is no copyright in this. I need not pay you 15 per cent. royalty." I cannot think that that would be a desirable situation. I am rather surprised that so distinguished and experienced a publicist as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) should allow his name to be upon the back of this Bill, as certainly if the Bill were passed into law his journalistic contributions would become both unintelligible and unremunerative.
In conclusion, I would like to pay a very sincere tribute, if he accepts it as such, to the hon. Member for Loughborough. The greatest glories of the English race are the great company of English eccentrics such as we find in the pages of Chaucer or of Dickens, and there are people who feel that in this too hurried age, perhaps in these days of a Socialist reégime, that great company is dying out from among us. We are very glad to have the assurance that it is not dying out—not even in the Socialist Party. I say that in all sincerity about the hon. Member for Loughborough.
As for this Bill, I cannot think that it would be proper for the House to give it a Second Reading. If all that is really wanted is that the hon. Member for Loughborough should be able to interest his three right hon. Friends in spelling reform, that is admirable. If he likes to do so, let him go ahead, but it is not necessary to have an Act of Parliament about it. Let him ask them to lunch.
I beg to second the Amendment which has been so ably and wittily moved by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis). I, too, should declare my interest, because I am a humble professional writer and I earn my living by selling the copyright of my works to newspapers, in books and on the stage. Whatever may be the intentions of the promoters of the Bill in Committee, I am rather disturbed by Clause 14 if it is going to mean that between nine and 13 years from now I shall not be able to sell my copyright in the language which I love and know, for the benefit of small children at school and for downcast criminals and spivs who have been driven into the cellars of Soho by their inability to spell. However, I am not a selfish man and I am quite prepared to put aside my own interests if it is for the public good.
But we should consider whether the Preamble has been proved and whether I ought to surrender and change all the tools of my trade for the purpose of avoiding drudgery in schools, saving space and making the English language a world language. There is, of course, a case here: but I have never heard a case so overstated as this has been today. Really, all this talk about the crime in this country being practically due to people not being able to distinguish between "cough," "rough" and "bough," and so on, is going a bit too far. While some hon. Members may have bleeding hearts about English children in English schools, I turn my bleeding heart to some of the poor little devils in schools in other countries.
Take France, for instance—our nearest neighbour and my favourite foreigners. Look at the French language. It is not true that our language is the only one with all these anomalies and inconsistencies. Take the letters AI in French. There is the AI in "faim" and "main"—I do not know what the Official Reporters are going to make of this—then we have "maison," "malître," "maillet," and "maire"—five different ways of pronouncing AI. But nobody is going about complaining how illogical and appalling the French language is. Take the letters EI; there is "reine"—"queen," and. "rein" —"kidney." They are exactly the same vowels. Then take the letters ENT. There is "evident" and "ils existent" and "ils avaient" where the "ent" is not sounded.
This is as bad as anything that we have got in the English language, but nobody is rushing about appealing for a Spelling Reform Bill in Paris. All this is very difficult for me because my French is not very good; and I apologise to the Official Reporters. Let us take some words which to me at least, sound very much the same. There is "temps" (time) and "ton" (tone) and "thou" (tunny fish) and "tant" (so much). Then there is the word "content." So far as I am concerned, those are all practically the same sounds but are spelt differently. What an astonishing thing! How sorry we must be for the poor French children! Take all those silent D's and S's and other letters which are never sounded at all. There is "pied," where the "d" is not sounded, whereas in "sourd" the "d" is sounded. Take the "e" in "pied" and compare it with the "e" in "petit." Let us also compare the two "t's" in "petit," where one "t" is sounded and the other is not, with the "t" in "addition," which is practically an "s." It is horrifying to think what the children of France have to go through. When one thinks also of their tiresome habits in the matter of genders, of feminine "hands" and masculine "feet," it is a wonder indeed that there are 40 million Frenchmen going about speaking the French language with comparative fluency and facility.
Take the Spanish language, which has been held up almost as a model by the hon. Member for Loughborough. I made a little study of that language when I went to the Argentine last year. The House will be astonished to hear that by a happy accident the first word I learned in Spanish was the word for "beer." It is spelt "cerveza." The "c" is pronounced like "th," and the "z" is also pronounced like the "th" in "with." That is a nice simple thing for Spanish children. Take a word like "sincerity." It is spent "sinceridad," and is pronounced in Castilian—after a fortnight with Hugo I spoke pure Castilian, of course—"sinsairidath." Take the word "publication." We are always being told how silly we are to have a hard "c" here and a soft "c" there. Here, in the Spanish language, in the same word, we find the same thing. It is true the soft one is sounded like "th," but that does not add to the simplicity of the language. "G" before "a," "o," or "u" is pronounced like the "g" in "garter." "G" before "e" and "i" is pronounced like the "ch" in "loch." "H" is always silent, and "j" is always guttural, again to make "ch" in "loch," which I for one am quite unable to pronounce.
Take "ll"; that is a wonderful cross for the Spanish children; "ll" is pronounced in the Castilian—a word like "calle" meaning path or road "calyay" but when one goes to the Argentine it is something different—"cajay," which is again an admirable example of the simplicity and consistency of a language which has been held up by the hon. Member for Loughborough as an "almost perfect" language. I make these points to show what an awful lot of nonsense goes with the quite large amount of sense when people talk about the difficulties of children and others learning our spelling. Of course, there are anomalies. I. for one, have no objection to people spelling the word "through" as "thru" or "though" as "tho" if they wish. There is no law to stop them. In America they do it a lot. Let them run a paper which will so attract children and grown people by its consistent, simple spelling that, perhaps, nobody will buy "The Times" any more.
I think the fundamental fallacy of the whole argument is this. It has been stated in various ways today, and was stated in a very interesting article in, I think, the "Sunday Times" last Sunday. It interested me, for one thing, because the writer said that he had been working for years on simplified spelling, and had corresponded with about 50 people all over the world, and that generally towards the end he found they were in mental homes. That is a very discouraging aspect of the matter. However, he said that the function of the printed or written word was to represent the spoken word. But, as the hon. Member for Devizes said. that is an over-simplification of the thing. The true function, surely, of the printed or written word is to convey meaning, and to convey the same meaning to as many people as possible. Take the word "water," which I personally pronounce "worter." I think the hon. Member for Loughborough proposes to spell it "uootur." Some of the Cockneys leave out the "t" and say "wa'er." The Americans say "iced wotter." But how do the Scotsmen say it? Is there a Scotsman in the House who can tell us?
Well, there are four different pronunciations for the word "water." When we see the word, we all know what it means, but if we spell it as all these different gentlemen pronounce it, chaos and confusion will be general and perpetual. Where are we going to stop this phonetic system? It is all very well for the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) to say there are no technical difficulties about American, Canadian, English and Lancashire people working this thing together. If it is going to be phonetic, that must be nonsense. A Lancashire lass says "luv"; I say "love"; but when I write, "I love you" on paper, the general sense is conveyed. But if the Lancashire people are going to spell phonetically, and I do the same, I do not know where we shall be.
If the hon. Gentleman is really seeking information, possibly I can help him on this. The real point is that these differences of pronunciation iron themselves out. He gave the example of the word "love." We need to say that the sound of this vowel "o" is used as in the example "much" so that when the Lancashire, "gal" sees that sign in the word "love" she says "luv." We do not have a deficient system because the pronunciation varies: each person puts his own interpretation on all the representations of that particular vowel.
But that, surely, is the present position. We all spell "love" the same way and pronounce it as we like, and we get on very well. About the famous "o," for example—"love," "move," "grove" and so on—the real phoneticians want to use four or five different "o's"—the ordinary "o," an "o" with two dots over it, an "o" with a line through it, an "o" with a squiggle running out of it, and sometimes a large "o", like the Greek Omega. I think we ought to say proudly what a streamlined, economical, and efficient language ours is that we are able to get along with only one "o."
I am not, of course, saying that all is absolutely perfect: but now we come to the difficulty. What is the "rational" reform which we are asked to commend? It is all very well for the hon. Member for Loughborough, who circulated the whole House with a copy of a very interesting article which he had in the "Manchester Evening News," to say that the system outlined there is "not in the Bill." I studied it very carefully. It is the only system before us.
Well, I have taken the trouble to study the system sent to me by the proposer of the Bill. I do not wish to mock it, but I think that for purposes of the information of the House, and for the purposes of record, we ought to look and see what kind of a system it is. It has certain merits; it uses the present alphabet, although it cuts out a couple of letters, and it uses our good old latin type. That is, it does not have any of those horrible repulsive signs which the really scientific phoneticians would like—for example, that most unpractical thing, referred to by the hon. Member for Bath, an "e" upside down. How is the ordinary person in a letter, to write an "e" upside down? And in print how would one be sure that it was not a printer's error? All these things added together make a page of print look like a very old cheese under a very high powered microscope. There are semi-colons in the middle of words, aspirates before and after letters, and the whole thing makes one's flesh creep.
One merit of the system proposed by the hon. Member for Loughborough is that he does use the ordinary letters, leaving out "q" and "x," and "y"—though I do not know why that should be. I took the trouble to transcribe the Preamble and the Long Title of this Bill into the language which the hon. Member for Loughborough proposes. I have done it quite honestly, though I may not have got it right. On page 1 the word "a" is going to be "ei." There is not much saving of space there for we have two letters instead of one, but we get that back on the word "Bill" which is spelt with only one "1." Then we get the word "to" which is to be "tw" —a gesture, I understand, to the Welsh. Then we come to "set up a Committee"—again the word "a" becomes "ei" and next we get the word "Committee." That is to be spelt "komitti."
Well, if there is only one "t" how on earth are we going to pronounce it "committee"? I can see that many children will get into trouble over that.
Then we have the word "to" which will read "tw," and then the word "introduce" which will be spelt "introdius." Next we have the famous word "rational" which is to be spelt "rashunal." On the subject of phonetics by the way, I entirely deny that I pronounce "rational" and "national" as "rashunal" and "nashunal." The sound is different. Then follows the words "system of" which will be spelt, "sistem ov." The word "spelling" is the same, but with only one "I." "With" is difficult, because one of the things it seems, which drives our children mad and sends foreigners to other countries is that the "th" in "thin" is pronounced differently from the "th" in "that," or "there." In order to save everyone this kind of trouble "thin" is to be left as. it is but "there" will be spelt "dhere," with a "d." That would help our children a lot. So "with," I think, is "uidh." If the hon. Member for Loughborough is here—I do not see him at the moment—I hope he will correct me if I am wrong. I hope he is back in time to vote.
Then comes "a view to making" which would read "ei viu tw meiking." The hon. Gentleman the Member for Loughborough, by the way, says that all our long vowels are diphthongs. But I venture to deny that my long vowels are diphthongs. When I say "go" I do not say "go-u." Or do I? The word "language" becomes I think "languidj." "Eliminate" is the sort of word the French would recognise here, for they have "eéliminer."But the word" eliminate" is to become "ilimineit." If that does not make the English language a world language, I do not know what will. The word "unnecessary," which, again the French would recognise as it stands, is very difficult and I do not know whether there are two "n's" or not.
It then becomes "unesesari." "Drudgery" is "drudjeri," and "waste" is "ueist." "Time" becomes "taim" and "school" would be "skwl." That is another word to help the Welsh.
Now, as to space; in the original Bill there are 145 letters in the part which I have read, and in the transcription, which I have done quite honestly so far as I can, according to the system of the hon. Member for Loughborough, there will be 144. We have saved exactly one letter. I have also done the rest of the Preamble but I do not propose to read it. There the score is 299 letters in the original and 298 in the reformed, rational, simple system. I have done that all as honestly as I could, and on the ground of saving there is clearly nothing to be said for it. In phonetic spelling, of course, there may be a saving of space; but if there are to be 40 letters in the alphabet and all these squiggles and things—what I call the "tadpole language"—I do not see that we shall save a great deal of printer's time and trouble.
I must conclude what remarks I have to make very soon. I just want to say a word about all this so-called drudgery. I think it is grossly exaggerated. I do not know of anything worth learning that can be learned without some drudgery, which means "distasteful toil." Think of the agonies of learning the piano. In music there are all these "A's" and "B's" and keys, "A" sharp the same as "B" flat and so on. It is all a kind of drudgery, but worth it. What about the drudgery of arithmetic? Look at "1." That is very simple, but if there are two together it becomes 11. Put a dot between and it is 1 decimal 1. Put a line under the 1 and a 2 under the line, and it becomes a half. That seems pretty obvious to us but it is very surprising to the child. If a thing like a crane is put over it, it is the square root of one. Put a little two up on the starboard side, and it is one squared. Or if a line is put over the top it is a mantissa, the beginning of a logarithm. These things are not learned without drudgery, but no one is coming forward to relieve the poor children of these.
At any rate, the hon. Member must agree that the system of numbers is consistent and rational and does not change the value of the numbers. "Two" does not have any different value whether it is below or above the line. It is always "two."
We know that: but I am thinking of the children. I agree that that is a fair point which has been made by my hon. Friend, but I must hurry. Surely it is really a matter of application. Consider the Danes. I went to speak to the Anglo-Danish Council, at Copenhagen, under the auspices of the British Council, and I addressed them at the Anglo-Danish Institution for one hour in English. They never speak a word of Danish at their meetings, whether Englishmen are there or not. There is nothing but English and they are able to pronounce it perfectly. They may, for all I know, have trouble with the spelling but they made no complaints about it to me. They make the learning of English a principal study, and they enjoy it. Anybody who puts his mind to it can do it I think.
If they have, then all foreigners could do the same, and this Bill is wholly unnecessary.
Now I come to all this talk about a world language. I do not know that I am so keen about English being a world language—much more than it is at the moment. We could, perhaps, seek to make this island a world island by importing foreigners to live all over the country and modifying our ways for their benefit. I think it would be a pity, for we should spoil this country, and make it something quite different from what it is. But if we want English to be a world language, why? Do we want it to be so for our benefit, for horrible jingo motives? If it is to be for our benefit we must be quite sure we are to get something back for it. If, on the other hand, it is to be for the benefit of the world, we must be sure that it is a fit language to be a world language, and from all the comments I have heard on the language even if all this stuff is put into it, it will not be.
Of course, the truth is that it is already very much a world language. But what are the supporters of the Bill proposing to do? It is a world language not only because of its grammatical structure and because of its short words, and all that, but because it contains a multitude of words of Greek and Latin derivation which are common, at least, to all the languages of Latin descent. Take, for example, the phrase "United Nations." The hon. Member for Loughborough would spell "united" in this way "iunaited." I suppose the Americans will obstinately continue to call their country U.S.A., and we shall be calling it "I.S.A." That will be a promising start to the world-language. But, more important, let us consider the word "nation." That is a word which comes from Latin. In French it is pronounced differently but spelt in the same way. In Spanish it is "nation." In Italian it is "nazione." In Portugal they go a little further and have it "nacaon," with horrible cedillas, and something over the top. But when the peoples of those nations look at this Bill and see the word "nation" they know what it means, or, at least, they have a fair idea of what it is. I have taken this one word as an illustration of what is true of hundreds, of thousands of words. How does the hon. Member for Loughborough propose to spell it? He proposes to spell it "neishun." How is that to help to lead other people to understand English? This is a fundamental point. The hon. Member for Loughborough and his hon. Friends propose to take away the very elements which make English at the moment really a world language.
Then there is this very plausible suggestion that, little though we may like what is suggested by the Bill, little though we may like the really penal Clauses, still we should allow the Bill to go to Committee. The answer to that is, I think, that the reformers really must put their own house in order. As the hon. Member for Devizes said, they have no idea what they want, and there is no reason why they should not get together and work out what they want before they come to Parliament. My good friend William Barkley, to whom reference has been made, wants to spell "no" as "noes" The hon. Member for Loughborough wants to spell it "nou." The learned gentleman whose book I had intended to bring with me spells it with a long "o" like the Greek Omega. Mr. Barkley wants to spell "a" "ae." The hon. Member for Loughborough would spell it, "ei." The other learned gentleman would spell it "e." Mr. Barkley wants to spell "like" "liek." The hon. Member for Loughborough would spell it "laik." That is rational spelling! But which is rational?
Quite seriously, I should be quite prepared to support the reformers if they would ask for a Royal Commission. Generally, I am against Royal Commissions because they are usually about subjects about which every hon. Member of Parliament knows quite well what are the facts and what ought to be done—and Government Departments certainly ought to. Here, however, is a case, about which, obviously, we do not know very much, and I suggest that the reformers get together—the same people, perhaps, as are mentioned in Clause 3 of the Bill—and hammer out a joint system, and then go to the right hon. Gentleman and ask for a Royal Commission. Were they to do that I should be quite happy to sup port them, but as the Bill stands—and I have given it very serious attention: I hope nobody will think I have dealt with this subject, most seriously introduced, in anything but a serious spirit—it ought to be rejected by this House. After most serious consideration of the Bill, that is the conclusion to which I have reluctantly but firmly come.
I should like to bring the House back from the very delightful speech to which we have just listened to the actual subject under discussion. All that we are asking for in this Bill, which I wish to support, is that there should be some kind of guiding committee which should guide the changes that are already taking place in the English language. In a live language pronunciations and spellings never remain absolutely constant. Unfortunately, Dr. Johnson in England and Webster in America, with their dictionaries, established the idea of a "correct" spelling with the contrary idea of an incorrect spelling; in the Victorian era school teachers felt it was very much a part of their job to drive home what was the correct spelling, without any idea of what the origin of the spelling was or the justification for that particular spelling. I think myself that Dr. Johnson, although he did definite benefit to our language in many other ways, did a great disservice to it with this idea of a "right" spelling, which was accepted by school teachers and used by them throughout the Victorian era.
Despite the fact that our language has suffered from this idea that there is an established, sacrosanct spelling from the eighteenth century up to the present day, nevertheless, there has been a considerable change in pronunciations and to a lesser extent, in spellings going on throughout that period, and more particularly since universal education came in in this country. We need to take only place names and the modern pronunciations of them to perceive the truth of this—to see how the pronunciation of them has changed enormously in the last 50 years. This is partly due to people travelling about the country in motorcars, and with foreigners coming here, and so on; small local pronunciations are dying out and giving place to pronunciations more generally accepted.
Let us take London, for example. When I first came to London I resided in Lamb's Conduit Street off Theobalds Road. Fifty years ago they were called "Lamb's Cundit Street" and "Tibbalds Road." Nobody dreams of using those pronunciations today. Out on the borders of Essex and Suffolk there is a town that everybody now calls Haverhill. Once when I was inquiring my way near there an old man whose help I sought exclaimed, "Oh, you mean Averill'." No young man nowadays in that neighbourhood would dare to drop the two h's. In Gloucestershire, my native county, Cirencester used to be called "Cissister" or "Cister," and by all sorts of variations, but they are dying out. The tendency everywhere now in the country is to bring the pronunciation into harmony with the spelling. The B.B.C. very wisely, when they established their station there, spoke of Daventry according to the spelling, and not according to the old local pronunciation, "Daintry."
I should like to make a further point and that is that the change to the actual written pronunciation is not always an advantage. Some of the abbreviations were brought in because it was the easiest way to say something; but to change the pronunciation back to the actual spelling is not always to the advantage of the language. Unless we are prepared to change the spelling, that is what is going to happen even more than it has done already.
Some years ago I did research work in the county records of Gloucestershire. In the 17th Century the word Gloucester was spelt "Gloster." A bishop with antiquarian ideas put in a "c" and an "e" and some one else added the "u", no doubt with the idea that they were trying to produce something old which had not in fact been generally used in the past at all. That sort of thing can only be prevented if we are prepared to spell the word "Gloster" as it generally was spelt at the end of the 17th Century in official forms and as nearly all Gloucester people write it now. The pronunciation "Glauster" has already appeared and it will not be long before "Gloucester"—pronounced as spelled—comes into use if the spelling is not officially changed. In the case of Exeter, which was at one time spelt "Excester", no one fortunately attempted to try to revive the old spelling. That is one kind of change which has been taking place in the last 50 years, and which I think will go further and justifies this idea of having some authority which, in certain cases, will be prepared to recommend a change in spelling to prevent the revival of an earlier form of pronunciation which is rather clumsy and not on the whole desirable.
Turning from place names, since the middle of the last century we have brought back the "h" into words like "humour" and "hotel". When I was a boy I was taught to say "dipthong" and "diptheria". Nowadays the words are pronounced as spelt. In the 19th century the "g" at the end of "hunting", "shooting", etc. was dropped quite widely. Most people here now pronounce their final "g's ". "Girl" has driven out the old pronunciation, "gel", "often" has driven out "ofen" and "again" is driving out "agen". The tendency is towards bringing the pronunciation into line with the spelling. I do not quarrel with that.
During the last 30 years the English language has not borrowed at anything like the rate it did in previous periods from foreign languages. Borrowing from the French has fallen off with the decline in the use of French as a second language in all parts of the world. We have not made any large borrowings from the French since the end of the 1914–18 war. The last big borrowings from the French were the words in connection with the film, airplane and motor car; a large number of words were brought in in connection with these French inventions.
Now most of our borrowings are coming from other English speaking people, particularly the Americans. We have borrowed from the Americans since the 17th Century and many wellestablished words in English are of American origin. Borrowing from the Americans is very continuous and strong at the present time. There is also the borrowing of words from this country by the Americans, which some people seem to forget. This borrowing from other English-speaking people, in opposition to the earlier practice of borrowing words from the French and non-English speaking people, has had a big influence on pronunciation. The decline in the borrowing of words from the French has meant an increased tendency in the last 30 years to Anglicise French words or to replace them by long established English words with the effect that more words are now being used which are pronounced phonetically than was previously the case.
In the field of motor cars, the word "driver" is now driving out the French "chauffeur," "motor-coach" is driving out charabanc," "garage," is now pronounced "garidge," instead of "garaaj," and "naivety" is replacing naivet?x00E9;. All the tendency is towards bringing our language more closely into line with the pronunciation of the spelling. There have been certain attempts by one public body to give some kind of lead in these changes—the B.B.C. The editor of the "Radio Times," in its earlier days, made a small contribution to spelling reform. His idea was that people would be more appreciative of music if the words they read about it looked English. He knocked the final "to" out of words like "quartet" and "quintet" and fixed as the established English spelling the shorter version. He also knocked out the dash from words like "today," "tonight" and "tomorrow," which has now become the general practice in the daily papers, except "The Times," and is now widely used by publishers.
These changes are definitely the result of action taken by the B.B.C. The B.B.C. also set up a committee on pronunciation, of which Mr. Bernard Shaw was one of the members, to advise their announcers on the pronunciation of difficult words, and some of their pronunciations have become accepted, such as "robot." Some of their other attempts did not have the same success, such as trying to persuade people to sound the "t" at the end of "ballet." After doing a lot of useful work in guiding pronunciation in a number of ways that committee was dropped. I do not know why.
I understand that the Publishers Association—I do not know whether officially or whether on the initiative of certain publishing firms—have given a good deal of thought to this matter, and have tried to see whether they could not agree amongst themselves to certain reforms that might be made in spelling, which they could all bring in at the same time. So far, they have not reached agreement. Many publishers, I think would appreciate the existence of somebody who would give them a lead. The Cambridge University Press has made quite a number of changes. They decided that in all cases where there were two or three different ways of spelling words in English, they would adopt the simplest and most phonetical, such as "ize" for "ise" in words like "organise," and use "e" instead of the diphthong in the middle of words like "medieval." All their books are now published in this way, unless the author insists on his own way of spelling. The fact that publishers have thought about this, and that one important publishing press has introduced this scheme, shows the need for some kind of official lead in the matter.
I am not a supporter of any particular schemes put forward today. I think that this is a thing on which we have to move fairly slowly, but that there should be some body giving a lead. I am quite certain, myself, that we should find it followed in other English-speaking countries. In America there are a certain number of changes taking place from what we recognise as established American practice. I was horrified to see the "night" of night club written "nite" everywhere in America. There does not seem to be much point about that sort of change, but it is the kind of thing that happens if there is nobody to give a lead.
I take the view that if we, as the centre of the English-speaking peoples of the world, were to have a committee which could give a lead in this field, it would only be a question of time before arrangements were made for Americans, Australians and others to come and share in the job. During the war agreement was reached, through discussion between the Americans and ourselves, about the introduction of new words such as "radar." At first we used one word and the Americans another, but it was felt that it would be of advantage to use the same word, and after discussion agreement was reached about a word to take the place of the two words which were coming into use on different sides of the Atlantic.
I am quite certain that, if an official body were set up to give a lead on these changes we could get our publishers and newspapers to follow and they would soon come into general use in the country. It would be easy to get the Americans and other English-speaking peoples to join in the work of such a body, which would be of common advantage to all English-speaking peoples. I hope the House will support this Bill today, even though they may not agree with all its proposals, because I do believe that a lead ought to be given, and that there are many sections of thinking people in the country who would welcome such a lead and follow it.
The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick), in a witty and amusing speech, said that he would deal in it with the objections of those who oppose this Bill. In point of fact he did nothing of the kind; he omitted a great many. He went on to say that he had spent 40 years studying this subject. If the House will forgive a personal note, I should like to say that it is now 25 years since I had the privilege of studying English language and literature at Oxford University, and what remains in my memory of that inspiring experience compels me passionately to oppose the hon. Member today, because I believe that this Bill is arbitrary, pedantic, and capable of infinite mischief.
I further believe that, far from achieving its declared purpose, it would bedevil international relations, that it would create difficulties within the Empire, that it would destroy a great deal of culture, and that instead of eliminating drudgery in our schools it would add new burdens to our school children, rob them of much of their heritage, and by decree keep people mentally in a kindergarten.
The whole Bill is based upon the fallacy that there exists some kind of standardised pronunciation, and that in consequence we can get a standardised notation for it, whereas in fact language is an evolving and developing thing, as the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), who supported the Bill, admitted by implication. Our spelling is based upon phonetics, and to ignore the infinite variety of dialect, accent and intonation is to impose a straitjacket of uniformity upon our language. There is variety in nature, and to be varied is natural. Yet a council or committee is to be set up arbitrarily to decide how men are to spell, and in consequence how they are to pronounce.
Yes, for pronunciation is involved in spelling. This Committee is arbitrarily to say how men from Aberdeen, from "Zumerzet," from Lancashire, and from the B.B.C. are to spell, and in consequence to pronounce.
I should like to repeat this point. The whole point is one of symbols for the language, and if in Lancashire they pronounce the "a" vowel differently from people in Somerset, then each will spell it and pronounce it differently. The point is that if the "a" is pronounced as in the word "hat" the sound is represented by the appropriate symbol; but somebody else, who pronounces it "hate," will put the appropriate sound symbol wherever it occurs. It is quite consistent.
I believe the hon. Member to be quite mistaken in believing that spelling and pronunciation can "rationally" be separated, and I shall presently try to show him where this is so.
The hon. Member does not seem to know anything about what is happening in other languages. In Spain they have a Castilian dialect, an Andalusian dialect and a Valencian dialect; in Italy the language has Florentine, Sicilian, Venetian and Genoese dialects; there is nothing to prevent it. In fact, one of the greatest Italian writers never wrote a word of Italian: he wrote in the Venetian dialect.
I know the hon. Gentleman is of opinion that the spelling of a language can be altered without altering its pronunciation. I profoundly disagree with him on that; I believe him to be mistaken.
In so far as English has contributed to international good will and understanding, I believe that this Bill would bedevil international relations and promote misunderstanding between the United States and ourselves and the Dominions and ourselves. The spelling of a language cannot be altered without altering its pronunciation. We in this country talk about "a dollar and a half," whereas in the Middle West they talk about what to us sounds like "A dahlar and a hef." There is no "rational" spelling which could put those two forms of pronunciation into anything but the uniformity of a strait jacket.
This Bill would be unkind to all Pakistanis, all Indians, to all Sinhalese, to all Chinese, and Malays in Malaya and to all Bantus and many Englishspeaking Africans in our African Dependencies, because they have taken a great deal of trouble to learn English as it now is.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but he made a very long speech; he spoke for an hour, and I do ask him, even if he disagrees with what I am saying, to listen to my point of view. That is a very good thing to do in this House of Commons. Even if hon. Members opposite do not agree they should realise that there are other points of view than those they themselves hold and that such opinions can and do exist.
The point I am trying to make is that this new writing would be pronounced differently. Indeed, it would do more than that. Over a period of years it would undoubtedly tend to create a new language, and in the long run to alienate both the United States and the Dominions from ourselves, and of course discourage foreigners from learning English. I believe that the new language it would tend to create would differ as much from English as we know it today as English today differs from Middle English, and Middle English from Anglo-Saxon. English is, in fact, the language of diplomacy, it is, in fact, the world language today, and it does not need this Bill to make it so, even though this Bill impudently claims that that would follow. If the future of the English language as a word language is in doubt by the promoters of the Bill, all I can suggest is that they should spend the next 40 years studying how to simplify Russian still further.
I would have greater sympathy with the promoters and with my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) if they were to come forward with a Bill suggesting that in order to save space all our books and newspapers should be produced in shorthand. Even then I would vote against him because I understand that to be proficient at shorthand constant practice is necessary. If all papers and books were printed in shorthand it might happen that a Governor, returning by banana boat, slowly, from the Leeward Islands, would arrive at the Colonial Office urbane, delightful, eccentric may be, but quite illiterate.
If you rationalise spelling you rationalise and truncate the English language and you cannot truncate our language without truncating the English mind. The whole proposal is a fatal over simplification. To admit only certain sounds is to put the clock back with a vengeance. It would make our language what it has never been and is not today—artificial. Englisih spelling is England's pride. It reveals the richness of our culture and the many-sidedness of the potent and prolific English genius. Granted that the English language is complicated, that complication testifies to the richness of the English mind, sensibility and imagination, in short, to the English genius. It is impossible to simplify genius; it can only be liquidated. The hon. Member for Loughborough overlooked the fact that our language is a living organism; it is not a convention which has been created. It is something which has taken shape over the centuries, independent of the efforts of individuals. If it is tampered with it can be liquidated——
If you tamper with it you may easily mutilate it by amputation.
If any man is such a Simple Simon as to believe that this problem can be approached as if it were a Gordian knot which could be cut quite easily then he is like a schoolboy in the lower form. But I give the hon. Member for Loughborough full marks for his ingenuity in producing this Bill because he has handed over the main problem—which neither he nor my hon. Friend the Member for Bath mentioned—which is the difficulty which arises the moment anyone starts to deal with our vowels which cover an immense range of sounds. Here the reformers get into a morass of dilemmas and inescapable difficulties, arbitrary decisions, and arbitrary selection of accents.
Why incidentally should there be an arbitrary cutting down of the English language? "Academic" can be pronounced as it is usually pronounced or with the accent on the "e," to make the "ee" a long vowel sound. Why should we have a council to say that from now on that word and others should be pronounced in only one way? When the hon. Member for Loughborough talks about the intolerance of those who are opposed to this Bill what is more intolerant than the setting up of a council to say that there is only one way in which to pronounce a certain word, and that that way is the correct way? When he talks about the need for standard notation he might have a look at America where "honour" is spelled "honor," and "colour" is spelled "color." Has this in fact taken them very much further? Some considerable time ago a Turkish Sultan thought he would simplify the Turkish language by doing away with all irregular verbs. The result was to create a vacuum; an enormous number of new idioms came into the language so that the final result was that Turkish became far more complicated to learn than ever before. This Bill of the hon. Member for Loughborough reflects not the "modern" mind to which he laid claim but an obsolete 19th Century schoolma'am mentality, which insisted that "an" instead of "a" should be used before every word which begins with "h." Indeed it must do so since "hotel" would be spelt "otel." We read that "Laybur Partee" leaders have been to Shanklin for a week-end in an "ostelry" and if they indulged in a little music they will have heard that music on a "narmonium" and "an 'arp." The English language is a great heritage of our past, which is incidentally not an inglorious one. It is the result of mental activity and effort of emotional and imaginative processes, of a rational sifting, scrutinising, ordering and arranging which compares favourably with other evolving and struggling cultural units in space and time which we call geography and history. I can understand foreigners being envious of our heritage, but I cannot understand Englishmen who despise our heritage, even if it be only in words, in language, merely because they themselves are not the authors of that language or spelling. There are those who recognise this Bill as vandalism. There are men in the world who like to profane things for the love of it, and sometimes in order to prove to themselves that their omniscience is on a par with their omnipotence. But in the long run King Canute got his feet wet, and I believe the promoters of this Bill will get theirs wet, too.
If we do mis-spell there is usually not much harm in it. Perhaps it is even salutary. Perhaps it is, for some of us, a healthy reminder of our individual limitations. Perhaps it is a little less easy to claim omniscience and omnipotence if we are not absolutely certain how to spell both words: In short English spelling helps to keep us in our proper place.
The English language may be difficult but, as my hon. Friend the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) pointed out, all things that are worth doing are difficult. This Bill would not relieve our children in our schools from the burden of learning spelling. Indeed, it would inflict new and added burdens upon them, because they would have to learn the new spelling as well as the present spelling. They would have to adapt themselves to the different forms which the new spelling would be bound to take. Even the teachers themselves would have to learn it, and perhaps pass examinations.
The Bill brought forward today would make the classics difficult to learn and would make the Romance languages more difficult to learn that at present. Business men learning a smattering of Spanish in two or three months would have to take double or treble the time to learn that language if this system became universal throughout this country. Latin words presumably would be spelled as the Romans spelled them, and in addressing himself to absorbing them Smith Minor would be confronted with the additional and gratuitous difficulty that his own language which could have helped him so much in words derived from Latin would now be spelt so differently as to add to his own difficulties.
The Bill will involve the republication of millions of books. It is quite obvious that a great number, probably the majority, many of them of great value, would never be published again. Not only that, but there, is the vast number of pamphlets. I was reading last week-end some of the Elizabethan pamphleteers. "Have with you to Saffron Walden, by one who dares call a dog a dog" is perhaps not inappropriate. All our text books and reference books would have to be reprinted, and at a prohibitive cost. How much paper would be left for printing any other books, or reprinting our own classics? I say that our children would be robbed of much of their heritage. If they have to learn the new spelling who can really believe that they would ever again read Shakespeare or 'Spenser's "Faerie Queene."
In any event, neither the hon. Member for Loughborough nor the hon. Member for Bath so much as mentioned the interim period which is inescapable, in which children will have to learn both the new and the old spellings. Just imagine the confusion in which they would find themselves. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Bath to say that any of us could learn this new spelling in an hour. All I can say is that I tried to read a paragraph of what the hon. Member for Loughborough so kindly sent me through the post, with the present spelling in the opposite paragraph, but in spite of the fact that I went to Oxford I failed to read and understand it. There would be complete chaos and muddle and confusion among our children, who would, as I said, have to learn both spellings or else be completely cut off from the majority of books in the English language, and certainly cut off from all current newspapers.
This is a Bill to kill classical influence, culture, poetry, philology, style and taste, rhythmic prose and innumerable prayers until translated and printed at prohibitive cost in the new "syllobology," as I suppose that we would have to call it. That is true of the Bible, Shakespeare and also if you will, Karl Marx. With regard to the Bible and the Prayer Book, if we began spelling "I believe" as "I beleev," and if we altered the whole spelling of our Prayer Book and Bible we should, so long as the present generation is alive, cause a sense of discomfort and give affront to many religious people, because it would introduce a comic element where we certainly do not desire to find it. I repeat that there would be millions of manuscripts that would be lost in the sense that further generations would be unable to read them. That would be a pity.
In conclusion, it is the syllables of our language that are evocative of associations and memories, and if new syllables are to be arbitrarily substituted these will not draw out the same field of reference through the overtones of emotion and association. It is only the colour blind or the tone deaf to emotional and literary associations of language who could support a project for the transformation of the subtle English language, with all its wealth of culture and tradition, into an artificial and endless concatenation of linguistic monstrosities.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner) has certainly torn a passion to very complete tatters. He seemed to imagine that if we had some simplification of English spelling the whole of our civilisation, our culture and historic heritage, would collapse. I can lay no claims to omnipotence or omniscience, but I rise to support at least the idea which is behind this Bill. I do not agree with the whole of the Clauses of the Bill. I should not support the compulsory Clauses in it, and I hope that during the Committee stage they will be removed. But speaking not as a Victorian schoolma'm but as a Victorian schoolmaster, and I think so far the only exteacher who has spoken in this Debate, I warmly welcome any proposal which will bring about a simplification of our present system of spelling.
The English spelling is full of the most absurd anomalies. There are more anomalies in English spelling than are to be found in any other language. It is true, as the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) said, that there are anomalies in the spelling of the French language. I was made aware of that fact when I was a private soldier in the British Army during the 1914–18 war. When I was serving on the Western Front my fellow privates often brought letters from their French sweethearts for me to translate. I discovered to my astonishment that the working-class French girl spelled their own language very badly indeed—"amais" for "aime,& cute;" and they made various other spelling mistakes. But though there are anomalies in the French language and spelling, there are by no means as many as in our own. There are certainly far fewer in the spelling of the Spanish language than are to be found in our own.
Because there are so many absurd anomalies in the spelling of the English language, teachers have to spend a great deal of time in endeavouring to train their pupils to master those absurd anomalies, time which could be much better spent on some other subject if the worst of those anomalies were removed. In spite of the great amount of time spent in our schools in teaching English spelling I do not suppose that at the most optimistic estimate more than 50 per cent. of our pupils master English spelling. As the Minister of Education has himself admitted in this Debate, many of those who spell fairly well when they leave school at the age of 14 or 15 are no longer able to spell a few years later. The letters we receive bear witness to that. So, from the point of view of saving an immense amount of time in schools and an immense amount of useless drudgery so far as the children are concerned, there is a strong case for some simplification of our English spelling.
There is not the slightest doubt that it is our spelling that is the chief obstacle of foreigners easily mastering the English language. There is hardly any grammar in the English language, and what there is of it is more or less ignored by about 60 per cent. of the English-speaking population. Our vocabulary is easy for Europeans to learn because it contains so many words which are of cognate Romance and Teutonic origin. But when one tells the unfortunate foreigner that "cough" spells cough, and that "through" spells through, that "tough" spells tough and that "hiccough" spells hiccough, it certainly leads to a considerable degree of perplexity and makes the meaning of our language much more difficult to understand than it would be if we had some simplified form of spelling.
I do not believe that we can have an entirely phoneticised type of spelling in the English language because there are so many different kinds of provincial accents in the British Isles. The Minister of Education has been making a large number of speeches on education in the country during the past two years. I am informed by those who have heard them that they are invariably eloquent and generally witty. I have also had to deliver a number of speeches on education in the country during the past two years which I need hardly tell the House have been singularly lacking in both wit and eloquence, but because the right hon. Gentleman was born in Lancashire and I was born in Sussex we both speak with a different accent, and though we are speaking about the same thing we use different accents. I expect that when we talk about "classes" and "school" we pronounce "classes" and "school" differently from each other. There is no likelihood of these provincial accents being eliminated, nor is there any real desire that they should be.
We also have in this country a phenomenon which I think does not exist in any other language, or at all events to anything like the same extent. We not only have provincial accents in this country but class accents. Some hon. Members on the other side of the House and several of the junior Ministers who sit on the Government Front Bench speak English with an accent different from mine and that of other union Members in the House. Of course, it has been pointed out that this difference in class accent might serve a very useful purpose in the future. If the Communist Party were ever successful in getting into power in this country and were to set up a dictatorship of the proletariat, a commissar would stop a person in the street and would say to him: "Comrade, pronounce "how." If the person in the street pronounced "how" as I do, the commissar would say: "Pass, comrade, all's well." If the person pronounced "how" as do some of the junior Ministers on our Front Bench, the Commissar would say "Off with him to the guillotine," and the necessary process of liquidation would be considerably expedited.
The class accent will remain for some considerable time to come in this country whatever we do in the way of teaching elocution in our schools. I remember that some nine or 10 years ago I was teaching in a school next to a girls' school. One of the teachers in the girls' school was a very highly trained and enthusiastic elocutionist, and she had taken a great deal of trouble to teach her pupils to speak correctly. One day she brought one of her girls into our assembly. This girl recited some poetry and although she was a working class girl she pronounced "how" as if she had spent some considerable time at Eton or Harrow. When the assembly was over I said to my boys: "I wish you would talk as nicely as that girl whom you have just heard talk." The boys replied at once, and almost in chorus: "You ought to hear her talk in the street." So even if we did succeed in teaching the Oxford accent in schools, our pupils would only speak it in the schools and not to one another.
For those reasons we could not have a phoneticised system of spelling in this country, but is there any reason why we should not get rid of some of the worst anomalies in our spelling? I have spent hours of my life trying to teach little boys and girls when to write "there" and when to write "their," but with very little success. What is the value of the letter "c" in the English language? It is either pronounced like "k" or like "s," but in the word "concentrated," it is pronounced both as "k" and "s" Those anomalies could be very well eliminated. What is the value of the letter "q"? It is always "kw."
Then we have many words with double vowels, different combinations of two vowels. The combination gives the same sound in both cases, such as "beet" when it means the sugar vegetable and "beat" when it means flagellation; "bear" when it means and animal and "bare" when it means nude. Why should not both words be spelt in the same way? Let us take the words which end in "ed" and which have a double consonant, as in "dropped," "dipped," and "slipped." Why should not they be spelt simply with a "t" as "dropt," "dipt," and "slipt"? That would be a very easy simplification. Then we have the words ending in "our," like "labour" and "honour," which could very well be spelt "labor" and "honor," as they are today in the United States of America.
It might be argued, and sometimes is argued, that if we spelt words pronounced the same in the same way although they had different meanings, there might be some confusion. I believe that the context would eliminate any confusion. Suppose, for example, we spelt "their" and "there" both "ther." I think that would be a sensible thing to do. Then we read this sentence:
Ther' are several fellow-travellers in the Parliamentary Labour Party and 'they' opinions cause great pain to the sensitive heart of Mr. Morgan Phillips.
The context would show the meaning of the two different words "ther." Suppose now we read a sentence in which we spell the words "beat" and "beet" both "beet," and that the sentence is as follows:
In the sugar 'beet' controversy the Minister of Agriculture can always 'beet' the Opposition speakers in argument.
Again, the ordinary meaning would be perfectly clear. Now suppose that we spelt "bear" and "bare" in the same way, "ber," and that then we read this sentence:
Mary went a'walking with her little ber 'behind.
I think it would be quite obvious which was meant, and that Mary in her perambulations was followed by an animal of the ursine species, and not that she had become a convert to nudism. The hon. Member for Basingstoke, in the course of tearing a passion to tatters on the ground that a revised spelling would mean a loss of culture——
Something that the hon. Member said goes to the root of the matter. He has suggested removing certain particular anomalies as distinct from having a system on a phonetic basis. I would like to ask him whether it really is possible to describe a system which is not related to a phonetic basis as a simplified system, comprehensive and rational? There is a good deal to be said for the hon. Member's suggestion but it does not seem to me to be essentially what is proposed in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) has put too many adjectives into his Bill. I should be quite satisfied if spelling was "simplified," and we could leave out the rest of the qualifying words. The hon. Member to whom I was referring said that there would be a loss of culture. The young gentlemen and the young ladies who report our speeches in the Press Gallery and turn our halting utterances into readable prose.
It may be immortal in the case of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), but it is very ephemeral in the case of my own speeches. Those reporters take down the speeches in a phonetic system, and they are certainly not lacking in culture. I would also point out that the most cultured aristocracy that we have ever had in this country was the Whig aristocracy of the 18th century. If we read the letters of the great ladies of the Whig aristocracy of the 18th century, we see that those ladies were very shaky in their spelling indeed. Those ladies might have been too free and easy in their amorous relationships and from time to time they might have offered too much incense on the altar of her who formerly
rose foam-crowned from the Cytherean sea,
but they were all ladies of considerable culture. We can say that there would be no degradation of culture if we had a somewhat more simplified system of spelling.
What I was trying to say was that if we had a generation of children who had grown up under the new spelling only, they would not be able to read enormous numbers of books and plays which are about 300 or 400 years old. Spenser's "Faerie Queene" and works of that kind might be reprinted but there would be thousands of manuscripts which would not be reprinted and in practice would never be read.
The transition would take place gradually. We should not abolish the old spelling one week and have the new spelling the next week. The transition would take place over a number of years. The books, as they came to be reprinted, would be reprinted in the new spelling. Anyhow, a person of average intelligence would soon be able to read the old spelling just as a person of average intelligence today can soon learn to read and understand Middle English.
I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and that a Committee will be set up to make recommendations about the revision of our spelling. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) asked if anybody could define what was reasonable. My answer is that we can define "reasonable" as something upon which a large number of reasonable people are agreed. I hope that as a result of the setting up of the Committee a number of reasonable people will be able to agree on some simplification of our spelling in order to lessen the drudgery our people have to pass through, a drudgery for no useful purpose.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough is to be congratulated on introducing the Bill. I understand that my hon. Friend has passed his life in the pursuit of knowledge. Contrary to the usual experience, in his case that pursuit has not been altogether unremunerative. He has done well by his country in introducing the Bill. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education will not dismiss the Bill out of hand, but will allow it a Second Reading so that Amendments can be made in Committee. If he does that, he will go down to posterity as the Minister of Education who initiated a reform in English spelling and saved the children of the future a great deal of drudgery. He will be known as the Minister of Education who made one of the greatest single reforms any Minister of Education can make.
Right at the commencement I ought to say that, speaking on behalf of the Government, I ask the House to reject the Bill. I shall attempt to give reasons for taking up that attitude and to answer some of the statements made by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick). They were not questions, for the hon. Member for Loughborough does not ask questions but answers them. Although I am asking the House to reject the Bill, I thank my hon. Friend for bringing it before the House. It has given the House an opportunity of discussing on a very high level—up to now; I may alter that—an important educational subject. We so seldom get that opportunity that my hon. Friend is entitled to our thanks.
I can understand the hon. Member's enthusiasm and his gratification, because very few people have had an opportunity to ride a hobby horse for 40 years and then bring it to the House of Commons. Many have prayed for the opportunity but it has not come their way. I could mention at least a dozen people who would almost give their lives for an opportunity to introduce a Bill on this subject, but it would not be the hon. Member's Bill. I could also mention a few other individuals who for 40 years have tried to get across what they consider to be a really good idea who would also almost give their lives for the opportunity which he has had today. I can, therefore, understand his enthusiasm, but when he says that all of His Majesty's Ministers have been enthusiastic about this and have promised to give it support and have then ratted—I do not know whether "ratted" is the correct word to use——
Well, that is my Lancashire interpretation of what the hon. Member suggested. It may be that that is another argument for the simplification of the language if the meaning of that is not understood. When he suggests that I enthusiastically received him, he ought to know that I enthusiastically receive anybody who comes to me with what they think is a good idea and who asks me to give encouragement in forwarding it. I would not say I received him enthusiastically, but I hope I received him and his friends courteously. Also, I had nobody waiting outside to say that I should be wanted somewhere else after five minutes.
I promised that I would consult my own people and consider setting up a committee inside the Department to advise me about this, but I never made any suggestion or gave my hon. Friend any assurance about setting up a departmental committee upon which there would be representatives of other Government Departments and giving him carte blanche to go round the Departments collecting the names of individuals who would be on the committee. We cannot appoint a member, even if we know his name, to a non-existent committee. I have been charged today with having given a promise to do a certain thing and then not doing it. However, the fact that I did inside my office get a number of people to advise me on this very difficult subject is an indication of the fact that I was in earnest about it and wanted to know what my hon. Friend and the members of his deputation had to put before me.
Those who have tried to wrestle with the English language will be aware of some of the anomalies which have been referred to today. However, I feel that the anomalies are like many other things in this country, and that we talk about them as being anomalies and refer to them as being other than logical when, after all, we are underneath it all secretly proud of them. We may call them anomalies, but we nevertheless take a certain pride in them and enjoy explaining them to others. While listening to the discussion, I was reminded several times of the Frenchman who was learning English and decided to leave France and come here in order to improve his pronunciation. He arrived at Victoria Station while we were holding an exhibition, and he discovered a poster which said, "Exhibition—pronounced success." The story goes that he went and shot himself. I am not surprised. In view of the intricacies of our language, he would find it difficult to realise that the three words meant what we knew them to mean. I question, however, whether he was half as surprised as I was by some of the things they brought me when in a Scandinavian country I asked for a ham sandwich. It was due not only to my pronunciation but to my insufficient knowledge of the language I was trying to use. I probably thought just as badly of their language as they might do of ours.
So when I am asked, as I have been asked several times today, to accept this because it is logical and reasonable, I cannot agree. What the Bill is telling the committee which it wants set up, in effect, is to bring in an English language something like Welsh. It may be that Welsh is based upon all that its supporters say it is, that it is phonetically right, that it is logical and so on, but it is no easier to me because of that.
I am not falling for the suggestion that has been made this afternoon that if we change the spelling of a few of our words because they are anomalous, everyone in every other country in the world will be able to learn the language overnight. The languages of other countries which have been prayed in aid are not simple to the individual who does not know something of the language. For instance, I do not know a single foreign language, and whatever the simplification of the spelling of a foreign language, I could not begin to understand it overnight. One hon. Member made a perfectly fair point when he suggested that this question had been over-simplified and that the promoters of the Bill had tried to prove too much in too short a time.
We have heard a great deal today about Mr. George Bernard Shaw's unwearied championship of the idea of a rationalised spelling. Not all Mr. Shaw's ideas have proved acceptable to the people of this country, but that does not mean necessarily that they are not good ideas. I should be the last person to suggest that in the realm of language and literature his opinion is one that should be lightly disregarded. In recounting Mr. George Bernard Shaw's argument for the reform of our spelling, some of my hon. Friends have not given due consideration to his views on the question of legislation. Perhaps the House will allow me to quote from a letter which Mr. George Bernard Shaw wrote to my Department four or five years ago. He was discussing a scheme:
to defray the cost of designing and introducing a British alphabet, transliterating the masterpieces of English literature and our school reading books into it and publishing the transliterations, advertising these publications and propagating their desirability, and, always without tampering with the existing alphabet, launching the other in competition with it until one of the two proves the fitter to survive. Official adoption or compulsion must wait upon prevalence; any attempt to begin with them would only prove the political inexperience and incompetence of their advocates.
That is Mr. George Bernard Shaw, not me. What he says about legislation in this direction is a far better way of explaining it than I could. He points out that any attempt to begin would prove the inexperience of those who sought to apply it.
Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? I would emphasise the point that Private Members are at a great disadvantage in bringing in a Bill of this kind, and that it is better to start with the compulsory Clauses and say that one is willing to take them out, than to do it the other way. Our proposal is what Bernard Shaw in that letter has submitted to the Minister.
I shall come to that aspect of the argument later. Might I suggest that it is impossible to introduce an Act of Parliament unless some compulsion is implied. My argument in resisting this Bill is that we have not arrived at the stage at which we can begin to apply compulsion, even if we had what I would call an acceptance on the part of the people who were promoting the Bill of what it is they want to promote.
The hon. Member for Loughborough went to the trouble of sending a telegram to every hon. Member of the House in order that we should not be prejudiced, informing us that this Bill was not intended to promote the scheme about which he had been instructing us. Everybody has suggested that what they want is some simplified form, but just what it is to be, is left for somebody else to find out. The only purpose of the Bill is to introduce that measure of compulsion by making it an Act of Parliament, for the compulsory part does not apply only to those following Clauses in the Bill relating to the dates at which this should be in operation, but in the setting up of a committee and the naming of the members of such a committee, and of an advisory committee which is to advise that committee on what sort of a scheme has to be introduced. I shall come later to the other- point with regard to it.
I would, however, commend especially to the House the last point of Mr. Shaw that "official adoption or compulsion must wait upon prevalence." There in a nutshell, expressed with his inimitable brevity and logic, is the main reason why the Government do not favour legislation on the lines of the Bill we are discussing. A little later on Mr. Shaw underlines this point when he says the adoption of a rationalised spelling
for official publications and national records, and its tuition in public schools; in short, its virtual enforcement for general use, will not occur until its utility enforces itself. Mean-
while, the existing generation must have its literature in the form to which it is accustomed, reading and spelling by visual memory, not by ear.
That is George Bernard Shaw—by the way, I object to Mr. Shaw's objecting to the use of the Christian name "George," and I insist upon calling him George Bernard Shaw. He adds:
I should strenuously object to have to read, much less write, my own works in a strange script, though I know I should get accustomed to it in a few weeks if I took that trouble.
Proposals for the reform of English spelling are not new, everybody knows that they have a long history. I understand that the first scheme put forward was devised by a monk in the 13th century. Several other schemes were proposed in the 16th century, and at this precise moment I am told that there are at least five different systems with their own advocates. Over a long period of years, numerous people have been expending much time and effort in an attempt to convince public opinion that our spelling needed reform. Some people have said that it wanted simplifying, some that it wanted rationalising. So far as I am aware, none of these private individuals have produced any substantial public support for the idea of a new system of spelling.
I do not know what the experience of other hon. Members is, but I have had more letters from the hon. Member for Loughborough on this subject than from the rest of the community in the British Isles. It seems to me that if the hundreds of thousands of people clamouring for simplified spelling were really anxious about it, they would at least have let me know. True, two representatives in my own constituency who are, I believe, students of Pitman's College or some other college at which they are learning shorthand, have written to me suggesting that I should support this Bill. They did not give me any reasons, but they sent on to me the reasons which they have been given for sending that suggestion to me, and I acknowledged it.
These people who imagine that this simplification is going to provide all the advantages and benefits which have been described to us this afternoon should be reminded that there is an advantage in that which is of value having to be worked for and having. to be kept up. I do not think there is any easy way to learning, and I want to be able to speak for the schoolmaster who convinced me—although I admit it took him some time—that there was a reason for using the spelling "their" and who taught me the difference between that word and "there." Because I learned that difference at school, I have known it all my life, and I am not dependent on the context of what comes before or goes after for the possessive. Again, I spent some time in trying to learn shorthand. The only contribution which I think I could make in competition with my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough would be to give the House the phonetic shorthand alphabet. I learned it when young, and I can still repeat it, but I cannot write a word of shorthand.
If this simplification is going to bring about all the delightful things which we have heard about, I wonder whether it will be worth while when we have got it. The fact that the hon. Member for Loughborough can teach me or any other hon. Member something that is of real value in 10 minutes, and is going to turn English into a universal English that can be acquired in 10 minutes, reminds me of the story about the man who once rang up Henry Ford. He said, "I hear that you once made a motor car in half an hour. Is that true?" Henry Ford replied, "Yes, it is perfectly true." The man then said, "I thought so; I have got it."
There is another aspect of this question of prevalence which must also be mentioned. Though we may choose to regard ourselves in these islands as the centre of the English-speaking world, Great Britain does, in fact, contain less than 50 million out of the 200-odd million of human beings who use English as their main language, and we have not heard nearly enough about that this afternoon. It seems to me to be quite obvious that it would be out of the question for this Parliament to decide upon a legislative scheme for reforming English spelling, because not only are the people in this country apathetic, to say the least. but we have no evidence, either in the Commonwealth countries or in the United States, that there is a powerful body of opinion which is likely to follow in our footsteps. In these circumstances, if we were to pass this Bill, we may be cutting ourselves adrift from the greater part of the English speaking people in the outside world.
Before I leave this point of the impracticability of dealing with the matter by legislation, I should like to remind the House that the Simplified Spelling Society itself is not in favour of legislation. We have heard a good deal about the possibility of a strong case being made out to Ministers of Education. Among others, I have suggested that there was a possibility that there might be a comparatively strong case for spelling reform. I believe that Lord Halifax gave the Simplified Spelling Society an assurance that he would look into it, but what the advocates of this Bill appear to have overlooked is that in 1933 the chairman of the Simplified Spelling Society wrote to Lord Irwin, as Lord Halifax then was, in these terms:
Any assumption that the improvement of our spelling would require, or be a fit subject for, statutory legislation is I believe erroneous. So far as I am aware … advocates of spelling reform do not ask for or suggest any legislative, compulsory or precipitate changes, but we ask for the optional and gradual adoption of improvements in simplification.
Would my right hon. Friend give way for a moment on that point and perhaps expand it? In view of the fact that he has stated that he is opposed to legislation on this matter, would he consider the creation of an academy of philologists which would be in frequent session and which would from time to time revise the language, decide on pronunciation and spelling and decide on words that were to be admitted to the language?
One problem at a time is enough for me. I am not arguing in order that I might dispose of this conception of a committee set up on a legislative basis; I am not arguing that I should be put in the dilemma of having to act as a sort of overseer of a modern Tower of Babel, in which the people concerned about this matter are capable of arguing at interminable lengths. When it comes to the question whether I would be prepared to set up a committee to deal with pronunciation, I think there is only one committee which could deal with that matter, and that is a committee of one, and he only decides for himself.
Another important consideration about the reform of our spelling by legislation
seems to me to be that, in matters of this kind, progress is made by evolution rather than by revolution or formal legalistic measures. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough makes this point in a leaflet which he was good enough to send me:
There is absolutely no tradition behind English spelling; it has been in constant change and variation over the last 400 years. You have only to read any old theatre programme of 100 years ago to see the differences that have taken place in that short time.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend realises the fact that there is certainly a difference in the spelling, also that, in the theatre bills of a century ago, there always appeared a tariff in which beer was described as costing a penny a pint. Whether it was the price of beer or the spelling to which my attention was being called, I could not say. English spelling certainly has changed by evolution since the 16th century, and it has changed in the United States even more than it has in this country. So far as I know, the United States have not found it necessary to legislate for the changes which they have generally adopted. I know it was not legislation, and that a committee was set up and agreement reached whereby they introduced a certain number of changes in the words. They introduced a certain number, but the outcry was such that they got cold feet and left the remainder still to be thought of. They will probably bring in the new simplified spelling in somebody's day, but not, I believe, as a result of legislation.
I wish to turn for a minute to this other aspect of the Bill, although I realise that its promoters have now suggested that anything related to compulsion would be left out of it if it received a Second Reading. The idea of compelling changes of this kind is foreign to our ways and methods. It would be quite unacceptable to the great body of educational opinion in this country if we were to attempt, by compulsion, to impose that which has not been generally agreed.
Let us now consider whether the Bill before us would, in fact, be likely to achieve the objects which its promoters have at heart—for instance, English as an international language. One of these objects, if not the principal object, they state, is to make it an international language. This point has been eloquently made more than once in the Debate. Speaking as one who has no knowledge of any foreign language, I may say that I am entirely in favour of English being adopted as a universal language throughout the word, but I very much doubt whether the intricacies of our spelling are, in fact, preventing English from becoming the universal language or whether the rationalised spelling would make it easier for foreigners to learn it. In the first place, I believe that, whether or not it comes to be used more widely or internationally, will depend much more on the economic, geographical and numerical influence of the English-speaking people in the world than on the form of spelling they use.
In the second place, I do not feel that legislation and regulation will, in the long run, lead to the assimilation of our language by other people. I have already pointed out that this country is only part of the English-speaking world, and any movement to put English forward on an international basis as a universal language would have to receive the support of all other English-speaking countries, and probably of the United Nations, and must receive that support before that can be done. But an even more fundamental objection is the fact that spelling is one aspect of language, and language is one aspect of culture, and culture is an organic thing which one restricts and regulates at one's peril.
Dr. Bodet, the new Director-General of U.N.E.S.C.O., said in Brussels only last month:
The intellectual path to peace and human brotherhood does not lie through any doctrinaire simplification of historic cultures.
I believe he is right. That seems to me an important idea well expressed, and I ask the House seriously to consider whether the worthy aim of propagating English as a universal language is, in fact, likely to be achieved by some adademic scheme of regulation and rationalisation.
I wanted to say a few words about etymology, but I am not as learned as many people in the House who are capable of dealing with it. However, looking at this same point from a slightly different angle, I again question whether some more or less phonetic method of spelling would, in fact, make it easier for foreigners to learn English. Take, for example, the Frenchman whose story
I told at the beginning of my speech. Would he have found it easier to learn English if, for example, "nation" were spelt "nashun"? I believe that the advocates of phonetic spelling have overlooked the important point that foreigners have to learn the language itself and not only the pronunciation of the language. I am aware that this argument is not regarded as very substantial by some scholars. There was an article in one of the Sunday newspapers last weekend, to which reference has already been made, in which the author said:
With the argument that phonetic spelling would obscure derivation of words, I have little sympathy.
But with all respect, I find it very difficult to believe that by obscuring the derivations of words even more effectively than our present spelling does, we shall make it easier for the foreigner to learn English. Take, for instance, the word "alliance," which in its present English spelling can be immediately understood by a Frenchman. Would we be making English easier for him to understand if we spelt it "alaiuns"?
It is very good of the Minister to give way to me, but the point which he is making seems to me to be very important. He is assuming particular spellings, and I think he is always assuming the particular system which best suits his argument. He cannot have it both ways. He must take one particular system. It is possible to work out a system under which a particular form of letters will be associated with the word in the foreigner's language. But the real purpose of the whole idea is that people will be able to read the spoken language from the printed page and not be misled. I think the right hon. Gentleman is missing that point completely.
I was not missing that point at all. I was certainly taking the example that suited my argument best. I never knew a politician who did not—at least, not a politician who remained one for any length of time. The hon. Member for Loughborough issued a warning. Perhaps he will take that as a warning. Let me take another example. If by phonetic spelling the word "man" is spelt "mun," what will happen to the word "postman"? Shall we spell it "postmun," and if we do, will it be easier for the foreigner to understand?
I presume the Minister is asking for information. The whole question of the unstressed vowel is fully covered in all the books which have gone into the subject. It is perfectly true that, depending on the context, one varies the pronunciation. I may say, "Mr. Speaker, cun I speak?" and he may reply, "Yes, you can." The word is completely different in those two contexts. Therefore, the basis of any sensible system of giving symbols for sounds is to take the stressed rather than the unstressed form. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman would be that the correct spelling would be the one which kept the same form for "man" and "postman."
I am obliged for that detailed information. I admit that I had not read all the books on this subject, but if it takes the individual who can learn this simplified spelling overnight, so long to explain to the Minister of Education how to spell "postman," how in the world this miracle is to be worked in so short a time beats me.
Then there has been reference to the question of the child who goes through this untold drudgery at school. I may be wrong but I do not believe it. The methods of teaching spelling have changed over the years. Actually they have even changed while I have been Minister of Education. In some places I found it difficult to understand how the alphabet was taught to little children, but I have discovered how it is worked out and they arrive at the ordinary pronunciation of the letters of the alphabet. This is not something that is stationary but that is changing all the time. I do not believe that children go through untold hours of drudgery in trying to learn how to spell. It is true that some of them fail to learn to spell, but they would fail under any system. If this is supposed to be a method of preventing mistakes and is going to make everything so simple that nobody can make a mistake, then again I put the question—it is worth anything when one has done it?
If the hon. Member for Loughborough had been present when the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) was speaking he would have found that arithmetic causes more heartaches and headaches to the child than does the idea of learning to read. Maybe it is a mere waste of time, but the question of the waste of time is always dependent on what one is seeking to get from the child. I claim that, having mastered the intricacies of "there" and "their" and knowing it for the rest of my life, I have gained something that simplified spelling would take from me. Children know how to pronounce when they first of all learn how to spell, and they do not learn to spell by sound.
One question I would ask in order to bring this matter to the notice of the House is—how is it, if children do not learn to recognise words as a result of frequently seeing them written down, that a child from Yorkshire when it sees the word "Slaithwaite" knows that the place is called "Slowit."? He knows that because of the way in which the word is written. Thousands of similar cases could be given. When we speak about phonetics and the making of phonetic spelling, it is a question of whose phonetics, because the phonetics of one county are entirely different from those of another. Perhaps the House would bear with me if I quote from a pamphlet by one of the most distinguished students of the spoken language, the late Professor Lloyd James. He said:
No system of symbols, then, can represent a system of sound without a series of conventions; and it follows, therefore, that the ideally phonetic language does not exist. This truth must have been realised very early, for although written language starts as an avowed attempt to reproduce the spoken language, it soon abandons the effort, and tends more and more as time goes on to persist unchanged, ceasing to register the very considerable ravages made by time upon the spoken idiom.
He demonstrates conclusively to me that it is not a question of whether or not the thing is phonetic. He concludes by saying:
Any alteration of the existing visual language will disturb the smooth working of two processes, reading and writing, that have taken years to bring to perfection.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not intervene again. There are many hon. Members who desire to speak, and time is already so short that some of them will not be able to do so.
I am not going into all the details which have been brought forward, but I do say that I do not think we can legislate on a subject of this kind. When the members of the Simplified Spelling Society came to see me, I not only received them but encouraged them in what they desired at that time to do, and that was to carry out an experiment to demonstrate that this thing was worth while. I gave them permission to do so, in conjunction with a local education authority—if they could find one willing to co-operate with them—with the director and the members of that authority, and provided that the parents of the children gave their consent to children being taught this new form of spelling. I laid down conditions, as I think any Minister of Education should have done, to safeguard the rights of the parents and the rights of the children. That was on 21st July, 1947. We are now in 1949. I am given to understand that the details of that experiment have not yet been worked out, much less applied.
I would suggest, as somebody has already suggested today, that before the exponents of simplified spelling ask for it to be incorporated in our language by a Bill, or ask that the Minister should be given authority to set up a commission to introduce what, in effect, is a revolutionary change in our language, before a Minister of Education is called upon to do that, the Minister is, at least, entitled to know that the vast majority of the people who are interested in the language are in favour of the change, or satisfied that there is something in it that is worth while, and that the people upon whom the experiment is to be made, and who will of necessity be subject to its influence for ever afterwards, approve of it.
It must not be forgotten, as an hon. Member has pointed out already today, that if, by some means, this simplified spelling were accepted, it would mean that the whole of the literature of this country would have to be re-written. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Anybody who thinks we should not need to re-write all the classics—at any rate, all the books that are used in the teaching of English —is labouring under a misapprehension. Therefore, I hope the House will reject the Bill, believing, as I do, that it is the duty of the Simplified Spelling Society and of the similar associations to convince the people of this country that this change is reasonable before they seek legislation in order to impose it.
I cannot tell you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, how deeply I regret the decision of the Minister of Education. The very strong case put forward by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) was supported by the overwhelming arguments of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman)—a very chip of the old block; and what a great name when one thinks of his grandfather and what he conferred upon this country—one of the greatest benefactors that Great Britain has ever seen.
When I heard the Minister of Education put forward arguments which had been answered again and again, I could not help regretting that he had lost a golden opportunity of carrying out a really great reform. The young Spaniard who is learning his mother tongue, once he knows the signfication of each letter and what sound each letter indicates, can read and write the language with the utmost facility, and I strongly believe the calculations that have been made that the Spanish child has a gain over the unfortunate English child condemned to the torture of this illogical spelling of at least two years.
Take, for instance, German. In my own life time, I have had to learn three German spellings. As a boy I had to learn "thun," "that" "gethan"; now I have to write "tun," "tat" "getan" so that the spelling has been reformed and simplified, and the German child has an enormous advantage over the poor English child.
The right hon. Gentleman has used the argument of etymology. I want to be perfectly fair and frank with the House, and I admit that when we write the word "would" with the letter "1" it is etymologically connected with the word "will." Except for that very slight benefit, is it right to say to every poor child, "You have to write the word 'would' with an '1,' otherwise you will be punished." The child does not understand it, and his whole intelligence is dulled by the imposition of this unfortunate system. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about using compulsion and issuing decrees, has he forgotten this fact, that we are today suffering from the compulsion imposed upon us by Dr. Johnson in his dictionary of 1755. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be living in "Miss Pinkerton's Academy" and to be a "Becky Sharp." He has admiration for Dr. Johnson and his dictionary, but Dr. Johnson was totally ignorant of the history of the language. He had no phonetic training, and he was not able to carry out any scientific reform.
What he did was simply this. He saw that various printers were adopting different spellings, and he adopted the one which he thought the most logical. In many cases he was entirely mistaken with regard to his choice, because he had not studied, what is absolutely essential for this purpose, the history of the language. The hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley) suggested a very moderate reform in writing the past participle in such words as "dipped" and "dressed" with a "t" instead of "ed." I think that it is only fair to recall that that was the spelling adopted by Tennyson. Tennyson wrote "dropped" as "dropt" and in doing that Tennyson was carrying on the noble tradition of Shakespeare and of Dryden, who wrote "confessed" as "confest." Why should we not spell "surprised" with a "z," as we do "prize"? What harm would there be?
What harm would there be in spelling "rise" and "wise" with a "z," in the same way as we do in "size"? This supposedly etymological spelling of Dr. Johnson is false in many cases. Why did he insist upon our writing "allow" with two "ls," when we know that the word "allow" comes from the Old French "alouer," which has only one "1"? To insist on that spelling is to insist on what is false. We spell the word "buttress" with two "is" and two "ss" because we are ignorant of the etymology; we do not realise that it comes from the French "bouter," which has only one "t." That is a word very well known to us, because it occurs in the famous phrase used by Joan of Arc when she said:
Il faut bouter les Anglais hors de France.
The very word "etymology" simply means "a true account." It is therefore obvious that in our spelling we must give a true account if we are to be strictly etymological. Why should we write the word "aisle"? Simply because people thought it came from the Latin word "insula," and had to do with "isle." Nothing of the kind. It comes through the French from the Latin "ala." Therefore, I say that this spelling is absolutely false.
Is it not absurd to go on writing "delight" with the "gh"? Out with that "gh" I say; it is absolutely unhistorical. It is due to confusion with the word "light," whereas the correct spelling is given us by the Authorised Version of the Bible of 1611—"delite." It comes from the old French word "déliter," and has nothing whatever to do with the word "light." Again, why write "foreign," with a "g"? The "g" is out of place. To impose that "g" on the unfortunate child is to teach something untrue, and something representing what is false, because the word "foreign" comes from the old French "forain," derived from the Low Latin "foranius." which had no "g" at all. The "g" has come in with this false spelling, which unfortunately the autocratic Dr. Johnson adopted.
Then I object also to the spelling, imposed by the Minister of Education, of the word "haughty." What is the "gh" doing there? Cut it out. The word "haughty" comes from the French "haut" and the "gh" suggests a Germanic origin, which really does not exist. I could give any number of examples. Take the word "sovereign." Dr. Johnson thought that word had something to do with "reign" and he put in the "g." He was totally ignorant of the fact that there should be no "g" in the word at all, because it comes from the old French "soverain." Chaucer wrote it correctly —"soverain "—and Milton wrote it "sovran."
I do not wish to weary the House with these examples, but I am appalled at the spelling which the Minister of Education is imposing on our children. Take the word "victuals." What an extraordinary spelling. It suggests that it came from the Latin "victualia," whereas it came from the French "vitaille." The pronunciation of "victuals" records the real history, whereas the abominable orthography is a deception and a fraud. Why should we defend these howlers in our own language? As scholars—and the Minister of Education is a great scholar—we should do our best to discard them from the spelling of English. I feel that in rejecting this extremely moderate proposal the Minister is making a very great mistake.
I cannot help casting my mind forward to the time when, perhaps years hence, a grateful nation—and I am sorry that my hon. Friend the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) is not here at the moment—has consigned to a suitable resting place the mortal remains of our greatest living satirist, perhaps near the benevolent neighbourhood of Chaucer, perchance near to the mighty shades of Dryden or perhaps in the gayer vicinity of Sheridan. This great contemporary of ours, whose pen, foreign events or the handling of our nation's affairs have at times inspired with the biting incisiveness and the deadly rapier thrusts of Pope, prefers that future generations should read his noble poem on Poland—which one cannot recite to a large audience without bringing them to tears—in its present spelling. We remember his vivid sketches from "The Water Gypsies" his pungent rhymes, his stinging satire on some contemporaries who merit the lash, all done with the exact music of the vowel and the consonant which his muse has sung to him.
But if we do not reform English spelling then, in 50 or 100 year's time, neither Churchill nor Herbert will sound as they do today. Live they will, but to those who come after us sounds will differ more and more with the passage of time from those conceived by these great masters of English prose and verse. What a tragedy for those who wish to enjoy the English literature of our time, or to value, against the background of Eternity, the weight or lightness of our doings.
I begin by expressing sympathy for the position of a good number of hon. Members who are here this afternoon and who, I know, wished to get on to another Bill. So far as I and my colleagues who are associated with this Bill are concerned, we should have been very glad indeed to have seen things work out differently. I understand that it must have been trying for those Members who wanted to get on to another Bill to have seen this Bill occupying practically the whole day.
While we have been talking all day the Official Reporters in the Press Gallery have taken a record of every word that has been said, and by 9 o'clock tomorrow morning, by one of those technical miracles of the modern age, we shall see in HANSARD a full record of what has been said here today. But the production of that full record would be quite impossible were it not for the fact that when we are dealing with the reporting of Parliament, we apply precisely the principle which this Bill is seeking to have applied in a wider sphere. In the writing of shorthand the rule is invariably that the same symbol always carries the same meaning. If it did not do so, the writing of shorthand would in all human probability be no quicker than longhand. If it is reasonable to apply that principle when dealing with shorthand, it seems utterly unreasonable to refuse to contemplate it when we are looking at the spelling of English.
Bernard Shaw has been referred to a good deal today. I wish to quote a letter from him because I think that his position has, not intentionally I am sure, been misrepresented by the Minister of Education. I do not know what Shaw wrote to him at an earlier stage, but what he has recently written makes it perfectly plain that he wants—and appeals to the Government as a Labour Government to do—is the appointment, either directly or through the British Council or some cognate body—a committee of economists and statisticians to provide a new British alphabet sufficiently phonetic to enable native speakers of English to be as intelligible to one another, on paper, as Somerset and Yorkshire, Dublin and Glasgow, are in conversation, without writing more than one sign for each sound.
That makes Shaw's position perfectly clear, but in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) he makes his position still more plain. He writes:
The point about the children has been worked to death and has not made the slightest real headway, and a universal language which can only make itself felt through the survival of the fittest distracts attention from the main issue of labour saving. My labour saving argument, which is new, makes the mechanical cost of this change seem a negligible trifle, and does not involve reprinting or discarding any old book in Johnson's English.
He goes on to say, and this is in a letter written in February of this year:
Now is the golden moment for labour saving and the conversion of Cripps if he is not already impressed.
So far from the Minister being entitled to claim Shaw as an ally on this particular matter, it is those who are bringing in the Bill who have the right to claim his support in this matter.
But we may go back to another and much older writer to find support which is equally emphatic. Quintilian, in the First Book, Chapter 7, line 30, writes:
For my own part I think that within the limits of usuage words should be spelled as they are pronounced, for the use of letters is to preserve the sound of words, and to deliver them to writers as a sacred trust. Consequently, they ought to represent the pronunciation which we are to use.
If we take the combination of an ancient Roman writer and perhaps the greatest living writer of the English language, we may claim that the world of writers is with the claim made in this Bill.
We have heard many arguments directed against the Bill today, particularly by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) and by the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert). It seemed to me that the hon. Member for Devizes proved far too much. He began by saying that the thing that stood out a mile was that the supporters of rational spelling were not agreed among themselves. I was surprised to hear that argument coming from a Catholic. If there is one thing that the Catholics have done it is to dispute in detail, and often with vehemence, almost every article of their faith before it became crystallised in its present form. If that privilege is allowed to religious enthusiasts I do not see why it should be denied to those of us who have some enthusiasm for the achievement of rational spelling. When he argued, as he went on to argue, that we should do nothing until we could define reason, I thought that that was a plea for instantaneous suicide by the whole House of Commons. If we are never to do anything about any matter, whether action is required or not, until we can produce a definition of reason which satisfies the hon. Member for Devizes, it is not likely that we shall be overburdened with activity for a long time to come.
Then he made the point that copyright would be adversely affected. I suppose it is true, if one takes the literal wording of the Copyright Acts as they stand, that writings in the proposed new rational spelling might be held to come out with the scope of existing copyright law. That is a point for the lawyers, but it would not surprise me to learn that the hon. Member for Devizes was right about that point. But suppose he were right. If this House decided on the adoption of a new system of rational spelling, there would be no difficulty about introducing a simple Amendment to the Copyright Acts which would make the position plain —although the legal mind would. I fear, get to work and the matter might become extremely complicated. It would be possible so to amend the Copyright Acts as to make it plain that the reproduction of books originally written in the English with which we are now familiar, and reprinted in the new rational spelling, should not of itself constitute a breach of copyright.
The junior Burgess for Oxford University began by confessing that he had a personal interest in this matter because, under Clause 14, in some nine to 14 years or so his books, written in current English, would cease to be sold. I think he rated his anxieties much too highly. Long before that 14 years were up, his charming and attractive books would be reprinted in modern spelling I am sure, and would continue to delight readers for a long time to come. Then he went on to say that we were not the only country whose spelling presented anomalies. He put in humorous examples of French children, Spanish children and others, in whose languages there were anomalies not altogether dissimilar from those of our own. That may be true. Like that of the Minister of Education, my own knowledge does not go much beyond my mother tongue. It may well be that foreign languages have anomalies of that kind. If they have, we can do nothing about them. But is there any reason why we should allow existing anomalies to go on in our own language, which is within our control, when we have the means and the power to get rid of them?
The speech of the Minister of Education disappointed me very much. I can understand that he may have reservations on the subject of rationalised spelling, and I think that any Minister of Education is bound to be cautious in his approach to the problem. I make no complaint about that at all. All ideas, in their progression from the circumference to the centre, have to undergo a certain process of modification, and I am not at all surprised that he does not rush in with great enthusiasm.
However, consider the case he has made. He said that the Bill was no good because here in England we were only 50 million of the English out of some 200 million with whom we are associated in the Commonwealth and Empire. If he had said that and then added, "Therefore, the Government propose to get into touch with the Dominion Governments with a view to securing action on a Commonwealth scale to deal with this matter," that would have been the logical thing to do. But to say that we could do nothing because there are only 50 million of us while he proposes to do nothing in relation to the other 150 million, seems an approach so negative as to be entirely destructive.
Similarly, with regard to America. It is true that the Americans use a form of English, and it may be that there would be repercussions between changes we made and changes they made, but is that any reason why we should never make a start on anything? Before now I have heard Ministers on the Government Front Bench, when urged by the Opposition to consult somebody, say that the necessity for consultation cannot exempt the Government from the responsibility of taking the initiative when occasion calls for it. Why cannot the Government take the initiative now?
The Minister made the point that the adoption of rational English spelling would mean the reprinting of all our textbooks and our classics and poets. They have all got to be reprinted any way, because no book lasts for ever. The Minister must have his school textbooks re-printed sooner or later, because they fall to bits with use. The issue is therefore not whether these things have to be reprinted, but whether, when we are reprinting them, we should reprint them in the archaic spelling which we now use, or whether we should take the opportunity to have them reprinted in a more rational system of spelling.
Let us make no mistake about it, the present form of spelling does present difficulties to all kinds of people. I have had many letters on the subject, as no doubt other hon. Members have, and there are many aspects of spelling difficulties which the present form produces. I have here a letter from a teacher who says:
As a teacher, I entirely agree with you as to spelling on a phonetic basis. There is no need to tell you how invaluable such a change would be for pupil and teacher, especially when one considers the education of sub-normal children.
Do not let us pretend that there are no difficulties for children in the learning of our present spelling. I have seen case after case where a child has gone first to a school which has taught spelling on phonetic lines—which is the easiest way of learning spelling rapidly—and has then gone to another school where, for four or five years thereafter, the child has been deliberately taught to write English as English is not spoken, quite deliberately taught to write symbols which bear no relation to the sound uttered. If anybody tells me that that is good for the child, for spelling or for the logical work of its brain, which is a more important thing, I find myself utterly at issue with them.
Then there is the foreigner's point of view. I have here a letter from an Hungarian doctor who has been in this country six months. He says:
I am so far all right to reading news right, but I have a lot of difficulty of speech because of the pronounciation.
Then he goes on to express support for the Bill.
There are even deeper aspects of this matter, as Shaw recognises. There is a good deal of the class element in this
business. Shaw has spent a great deal of his life complaining that we shall not get the free marriage of equals until we get equal income—a thing we may dispute about. But I am quite sure he is right in saying that we shall never get freedom of marriage, or even of social intercourse, when the pronunciation and the vocabulary of people is different as between different strata of society. As Shaw says:
I cannot sit down to dinner with a man who describes me as Mr. Boynard Shore in broad New York.
It is the fact that differing pronunciations impose and add to existing social differentiations in a way which is completely unnecessary. I have here a letter from the son of a workman in Leeds who complains bitterly of the shame and the difficulty he has had in acquiring an adequate education by private study after school hours—which is how must of us of working class origin get such education as we have—because of the initial difficulties of this chaotic and crazy system of spelling that makes any piece of study more difficult than it would otherwise be.
Finally, from the workmanlike point of view, here is a brief letter which brings home the point:
I wish you success in your attempt to induce Parliament to deal with phonetic or simplified spelling. People do not seem to understand that what is written is not the language. Writing is an instrument, as a spade is. and no one would think of digging with a spade which has a turned-up edge, a cracked shaft, and a loose handle. Yet our spelling, which is only an instrument, is in much worse plight than the spade just described.
This does not affect only the teaching profession or the children. There is a sense in which words are the tools of every trade and profession in Britain. There is not a commercial or industrial transaction undertaken in this country which is not carried on through the medium of written communication, and in every one of those writings we inherit the chaotic spellings of an earlier age.
The request made to the Minister today is a modest one. If we had asked him to lend his approval to any suggested system, he would have been justified in turning it down—things cannot be done with that kind of sweeping rapidity—but we have not asked him for that; we have merely asked that this House should take the initiative in getting a committee appointed which can begin to look at the problem.
Reference has been made to the compulsory powers in Parts II and III of the Bill, but earlier speakers from amongst those who support the Bill have made it perfectly plain that, while we felt it necessary, from a drafting point of view, to put those Clauses in, what we seek from the Debate, and what I hope we shall get, is a declaration by the House that this House wants this matter inquired into. Once it has been inquired into, and a report is forthcoming, then the House is perfectly at liberty to reject or endorse it as it pleases. And it will be free at that stage to consider by what machinery, over what period of time, and with what degrees of compulsion, if any, the thing should ultimately be given effect to.
The Minister says that we have to wait until public opinion is on our side. Well, all sorts of movements throughout my lifetime have been making public opinion, and why we should suddenly become utterly negative on a problem which perhaps the leading Socialist of our day regards as of extreme urgency and importance I do not know. Are we losing the old fire—[Interruption.] I am urging that action should be taken. The effect of the Minister's speech was one long, lugubrious, depressing and discouraging attempt to prevent any kind of action being taken on this matter. And I think that is an inadequate response to what I conceive to be an issue of very great importance.
I wish to conclude by appealing to the House to let us have the Second Reading. The effect of giving the Bill a Second Reading would be that we might hope to get a committee appointed to do a job which obviously cannot be done by a Parliament of 640 people sitting here in Westminster. There must be some small body appointed to get to grips with the problem, and, when it produces its report, the House will have the opportunity of judging whether it has done a workmanlike job, and, if it has, an opportunity of accepting the recommendations which it has made. I ask that the back benchers on either side of the House should not be affected by appeals from the Front Benches as to how to vote, but that they will go into the Lobby with us to vote for the Second Reading.
|Division No. 80.]||AYES||[3.57 p.m.|
|Albu, A. H.||Herbert, Sir A. P.||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hicks, G.||Reeves, J.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Ranton, D.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Hobson, C. R.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Hollis, M. C.||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Benson, G||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Rogers, G. H. R.|
|Berry, H.||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Bing, G. H C||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Binns, J.||Jenkins, R. H.||Segal, Dr. S|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Bramall, E. A.||Kirby, B, V.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Carson, E.||Lindsay, K. M. (Comb'd Eng. Univ.)||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Champion, A. J.||McAdam, W.||Sorensen, R. W|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||McAllister, G.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||McEntee, V. La T.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Daines, p.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Symonds, A. L.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Marsden, Capt. A.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Teeling, William|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mellish, R. J.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Dodds, N. N.||Mikardo, Ian||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R||Turton, R. H.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Mitchison, G. R.||Viant, S. P.|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Morley, R.||Wadsworth, G.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Fairhurst, F.||Naylor, T. E.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Follick, M.||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Odey, G. W.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.>|
|Gage, C.||Paget, R. T.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Gammans, L. D.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Granville, E. (Eye)||Parker, J||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Parkin, B. T.||Wyatt, W.|
|Guy. W. H.||Peart, T. F.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hale, Leslie||Piratin, P.|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Pitman, I. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||Poole, O. B. S, (Oswestry)||Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore|
|Haughton, S. G.||Proctor, W. T,||and Mr. W. J. Brown.|
|Head, Brig. A. H.||Rankin, J.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G||Grimston, R. V.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Bower, N.||Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Headlam, Lieut.-Cot. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Challen, C.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Channon, H.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Studholme, H. G|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Low, A. R. W||Thorneycroft, G E P. (Monmouth)|
|Cave, W. G.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Mackeson, Brig, H. R.||Touche, G. C.|
|De la Bere, R||Manningham-Buller, R. E||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Digby, S. W.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Maude, J. C.|
|Donner, P. W.||Mellor, Sir J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Colonel Lancaster and|
|Duthie, W. S.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Mr. Marlowe.|
|Galbraith, Cmdr T. D. (Pollok)||Mullan, Lt. C. H.|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.)||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Savory, Prot. D. L.|
|Daines, P.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Sagal, Dr. S|
|Delargy, H. J.||Marsden, Capt. A.||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Mellish, R. J.||Silverman, S. S (Nelson)|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Mikardo, Ian||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Millington, Wing-Comdr. E. R||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Fairhurst, F.||Morley, R.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Follick, M.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M|
|Granville, E (Eye)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Stubbs, A. E.|
|Hale, Leslie||Odey, G. W.||Symonds, A. L.|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Paget, R. T.||Teeling, William|
|Haughton, S. G.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Head, Brig. A. H.||Parker, J||Touche, G. C.|
|Hicks, G.||Peart, T. F.||Turton, R. H.|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Piratin, P.||Viant, S. P.|
|Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Pitman, I. J.||Wadsworth, G.|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Proctor, W. T.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Rankin, J.||Young Sir R. (Newton)|
|Kirby, B. V.||Reeves, J.|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Renton, D.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lindsay, K. M. (Comb'd Eng. Univ.)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)||and Mr. W. J. Brown.|
|McAllister, G.||Rogers, G. H. R,|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Albu, A. H.||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Gammans, L. D.||Mullan, Lt. C. H.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Naylor, T. E.|
|Berry, H.||Grimston, R. V||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Binns, J||Guy. W. H.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Boothby, R.||Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||Ramsay, Maj. S|
|Bower, N||Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.||Reed, Sir S (Aylesbury)|
|Braithwaite, Lt -Comdr,. J. G||Headlam, Lieut,-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Bramall, E. A.||Herbert, Sir A. P.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Carson, E.||Hobson, C. R.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Castle, Mrs. B A.||Hollis, M. C.||Spearman, A. C. M|
|Challen, C.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J (Moray)|
|Channon, H.||Jenkins, R. H.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W H.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Thorneycroft, G. E P. (Monmouth)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Cove, W. G.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E A. H.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Ward, Hon G. R.|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Low, A. R. W.||Wigg, George|
|De la Bere, R||McAdam, W.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Digby, S. W.||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Williams,W. R. (Heston)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||wise, Major F. J|
|Donner, P. W.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Wyatt, W.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Maude, J. C.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Duthie, W. S.||Mellor, Sir J.||Mr. Henry Strauss and Mr. Gage.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Mitchison, G. R|