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National Spelling Bee draws protesters calling for phonetic spelling

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A tiny group of activists for phonetic spelling gathered Friday outside the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the downtown Grand Hyatt. The protesters believe English spelling is mired by too many spellings for identical sounds and too many sounds for identical spellings.

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By Mike McPhate
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010; 2:07 PM

A tiny group of activists for phonetic spelling gathered again Friday outside the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the downtown Grand Hyatt.

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The protesters believe English is mired by too many spellings for identical sounds and too many sounds for identical spellings. If they got their way, "you" would become "yoo," "believe" would become "beleev" and "said" would become "sed."

The cost of clinging to traditional spellings, they say, is millions of illiterate English speakers who struggle to read signs or get good jobs, and billions of dollars in lost productivity.

The campaign for simple spelling, which activists say started more than 100 years ago, is experiencing a revival with kids who have taken wholeheartedly to phonetic spelling in electronic messages.

"I think right now the young people are sending us a text message," said protester Roberta Mahoney, a former Fairfax County school principal who was dressed in a yellow-and-black-striped bumble bee costume. "They're saying enough of this foolishness."

Statistics vary widely on U.S. illiteracy, but a 2003 federal study found that 11 million American adults lacked skills to read and write in English.


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