How should our written language evolve?

Language purists and evolutionists clash on which rules should stay or go. The author offers guidelines for resolving such passionate conflicts.

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On the other, we have people such as Anne Trubek, who recently agitated many readers in Wired magazine, by insisting: “Consistent spelling was a great way to ensure clarity in the print era. But with new technologies, the way that we write and read (and search and data-mine) is changing, and so must spelling.”

Readers are familiar with the heated debates ignited by posts on spelling, grammar, and punctuation. But instead of arguing for one side or the other, let’s try to establish some common ground.

Instead of quibbling about what’s right and what’s wrong, we ought to develop principles that should guide the evolution of our written language. Let me propose two: (1) We should defend the rules that help us understand each other, but allow those that don’t to fade into extinction. (2) It’s all about the readers.

Before you shake, scramble, and stomp my proposals, let me share some of my thinking.

Conventions that clarify

Although spelling consistency supports understanding, some flexibility seems to work. When Americans write “program” and Brits use “programme,” we know they mean the same thing.

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