The English Spelling Society is an international organisation, based in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1908 as the Simplified Spelling Society. Its aims are to raise awareness of the problems caused by the irregularity of English spelling, and to seek remedies to improve literacy, including spelling reform. The Society publishes leaflets, newsletters, journals, books and bulletins. Its spokespersons feature regularly on TV, radio and in print.
The Society considers that the fundamental justification for any changes to traditional English spelling is that it will improve literacy and reduce learning costs. In addition to being faster for children and foreign students to learn, reform must not place unnecessary obstacles in the way of those already familiar with traditional spelling.
The Society's main priority at present is to draw attention to the economic and social costs of traditional spelling, with the object of opening up minds to the possibility and desirability of some change. On this matter, the Society believes that recent research, together with the continuing concern of governments in the English-speaking world (ESW) about literacy rates, strengthens its position. In particular it points to evidence that children throughout the ESW take significantly longer than children who speak other major Indo-European languages to learn the basic aspects of reading and writing their native tongue. It quotes evidence that dyslexia is less of a problem in countries such as Italy, which have a highly phonemic spelling system compared with English. (English spelling has the unique disadvantage among Indo-European systems of having letter patterns that represent more than one sound and sounds that can be represented by more than one letter pattern – the so-called "spelling double whammy".) Finally, it points to a recent study by the KPMG Foundation that estimates the total costs to the public purse to age 37 arising from failure to read in the primary school years at £1.73 billion to £2.05 billion a year.
Since 1960, the Society has not endorsed any specific alternative English spelling system. However, through its "Personal View" series, it provides a forum for authors of alternative systems to publish their works and submit them to peer review. These schemes vary from regularising a few words to a nearly 100% phonemic dictionary key spelling. Most schemes fall between these two extremes. The attitude of the Society to this and other aspects of English spelling is set out in a Position Paper that is accessible on the Society's web site. Subjects covered include: the objects of the Society, its attitude to alternative systems, the principles to be followed by alternative systems, a response to the attitude that the obstacles to reform are insurmountable, the responsibilities of Government, the question of an International Spelling Commission, how to deal with regional differences in pronunciation, texting, free spelling, synthetic phonics and other teaching aids, the need for further research and the merits of British versus American spellings.
In the November 1983 edition of the Society's newsletter, it printed a five-part reform proposal called Stage 1. One of these was Harry Lindgren's SR1 proposal. In April 1984 they were adopted as the 'house style' of the Society at its yearly meeting. The Society said that the reforms could be used either together or individually (as a step-by-step change). For a description of Stage 1 see here.
Protesters from the Society have regularly taken good-humoured action against orthodox English spelling and its promotion (e.g. by demonstrating, most conspicuously in the form of 'BeeMan,' at the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.).
The Society is based in the United Kingdom, but has a worldwide membership, including Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is governed by a Committee elected at its Annual General Meeting. The Society maintains links with the American Literacy Council, which has similar objectives.