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An independent survey of spelling released on February 9 shows that more than half of the adult population in the United States had problems with one or more spellings in a test of 10 everyday words. One in three admitted being reliant on spell checkers for tasks such as completing job application forms or writing important letters and men performed less well than women.
An independent survey conducted by Ipsos MORI in January 2009, on behalf of the Spelling Society, shows that adults in the U.S. consistently performed badly in a spelling test using ten everyday words.
Results were compared with a similar survey undertaken in the United Kingdom in 2008 by ID Factor. “Embarrassed” topped the incorrect list, with 62 percent miss-spelling this word in the USA compared to 54 percent in the U.K. Adults in the U.S. consistently performed poorer on all the 10 words tested. Interestingly, in both surveys, men performed poorer than women. Women may celebrate here, but should also know that the only word that men spelled better than women in the U.S. was “liaison”.
Spelling Society chairman Jack Bovill said: "When asked, only a quarter of adults thought they had a problem with spelling. The results show that this is far from the case. This lack of awareness is pertinent to the Spelling Society whose aim is to raise awareness of the problems caused by the irregularity of English spelling."
Professor Edward Baranowski of California State University pointed to the “fossilized system” in place as part of the problem. "We have different spellings for the same sound (especially for vowels), silent letters, missing letters, and a system which reflects how English was spoken in the 13th-15th centuries, not how it is spoken today. So many sound changes have occurred in the language, which are not reflected in modern spelling, that we are left with a 'fossilized' system. Perhaps if English had had an effective language academy, such as those in France or Spain, this would have been mitigated over time."
The Spelling Society is calling for greater awareness of the problem, including looking at modernizing a system which affects people across all social grades.
Graphs and surveys are available at www.spellingsociety.org.