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Spelling in English

  • Date Submitted: 08/18/2010 12:16 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 68.7 
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The Challenge of Spelling in English

The American spelling bee does not sting, though it makes many children cry, does not produce honey, though it holds other sweet rewards, and does not swarm, though millions of Americans crowd around it every year like worker bees around their queen bee. This bee is not an insect at all; it is a contest of orthography. The contest is simple: a word is spoken and the contestant has to spell it. The contest is hard: the word is from the English language. Spelling bees have been a part of American culture for hundreds of years. In his book American Bee, James Maguire (2006, 54) writes: “The spelling bee, whether fierce or flirtatious, congressional or genteel, is a genuine American folk tradition”.

To take part in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, participants must be younger than 14, in eighth grade or lower, and have won a local spelling bee representing a school that is registered with Scripps. Spellers need not be U.S. citizens and need not be from public schools. The action of the event entails a short walk to a microphone by a speller, the uttering of a word by the official pronouncer, and the subsequent spelling or (more likely) misspelling of that word. The rules listed on the official website demand “an effort to face the judges and pronounce the word for the judges before spelling it and after spelling it. The speller while facing the judges makes an effort to utter each letter distinctly and with sufficient volume to be understood by the judges. The speller may ask the pronouncer to say the word again, define it, use it in a sentence, provide the part of speech, provide the language(s) of origin, and/or provide an alternate pronunciation or pronunciations. The speller may also ask root word questions…” In short, the action that captivates us is a boy or girl uttering a series of letters that hopefully is a word.

Of course, the wonder felt at the spelling bee is not just for the contestants but for the English...

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