Thursday, September 17, 2009

Standard vs. Trendy Spellings

Should a writer follow trendy spellings of words, even if those spellings aren't necessarily recognized by dictionaries that the writer consults on a regular basis? Or, should a writer stick to standardized spellings, spellings presented as proper in most of the standard English dictionaries? To stay current, must a writer follow the flow of popular trends regarding spellings, or should a writer remain on a more traditional course for the sake of clarity? Might non-standard spellings muddy the waters, or do they merely add a contemporary bend to the story stream? (Yes, this is more of the "fae versus fay" discussion, or at least an extension of it.)

Personally, I prefer tradition over trend. For clarity's sake, I'm reluctant to use non-standard spellings. I may use obscure and archaic words on occasion, but always ones found in one of the standard English dictionaries (Webster's or the OED). And I usually try to make sure the words can be deciphered through context. On occasion, I will use technical terms not found in the dictionaries, usually in discussions of arms and armor (and always terms already recognized by academics and scholars in the field). Sci-fi and fantasy names, completely made-up terms in imaginary settings, are a different kettle of fish altogether, but in that instance writers should have free rein to let their imaginations soar. However, I don't like to use different spellings of recognized English words just because that is what others are doing at the moment. I don't trust that all popular trends will stand the test of time.

To me, writing is a form of communication. To be as clear as it can be, there must be some sort of standardization to that communication. And one way of achieving this standardization is through the use of standardized spellings. I know about the mutability of the English language, and I understand that language is ever-changing, growing and adapting to new circumstances. However, I don't think writers should use the fact that language changes as an excuse to follow non-standard spellings when standard spellings already exist. Maybe a writer can be a force of change, but must a writer be a force of change of the very language they use as a tool of communication? Taken too far, wouldn't this idea of following non-standard spellings ultimately lead to a lack of clarity? (For instance: reading Middle English isn't always easy for all; you have to adapt to different spellings, often sounding out certain words that are spelled differently than their modern equivalents. I'm sure that at least some of those who attempt to read Middle English don't necessarily understand it.)

That's why I tend to follow a traditional path.

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