Spelling proficiency

The weekly editorial for the 100 Mile Free Press.

I’m not sure if it’s worse than anywhere else but it’s not good.

The fact that we struggle with spelling is pretty obvious. From our region being spelled “Cariboo” as opposed to “Caribou” to the city to the north of us being spelled “Williams Lake” as opposed to “William’s Lake,” our spelling and grammatical prowess are embedded with our history.

Though, to say that Canadians are bad spellers fails to take into consideration the sociohistorical factors at play; we’re set up for failure.

Historically, we use British English, meaning we spell colour with a “u” and spell defence with a “c.” However, much of the text we consume is in American English, not British English; Much of the TV we watch is American, certainly, much of the internet leans towards American English and I bet there’s hardly a Canadian home without American spelled books (the copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale we have at home is).

Consequently, our proximity to the U.S. is obvious; in some cases the correct Canadian spelling is the American spelling, i.e. “aluminum” not “aluminium” and “realize” not “realise.”

Furthermore, its application is not just a matter of education. The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences with a University of Alberta editor, is published in American English, while the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology with a University of Calgary editor-in-chief, is published in Canadian English.

If even at the academic level, they’re (sometimes) choosing to publish in American English over Canadian English (which makes sense since as a Canadian academic you may well publish your research in the U.S. and a U.S. researcher may well publish in Canada), is it really fair to ask regular Canadians to get it right?

Without a doubt, our current solution is not the most practical and likely the reason for having the South Cariboo Rec Centre and the Interlakes Community Center spelled the way they are.

Furthermore, there’s a cost to sticking with Canadian English. Books are often translated between the different English versions. One of the most famous examples is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone turning into Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S. The cost of translation has two consequences; if authors write in Canadian English, they will have smaller audiences unless they or the publisher pay for translation, such as for the American market. Secondly, many of the books Canadians read by foreign authors are in American or British English or Canadian readers are paying for the cost of translating into Canadian English.

The practical solution here is clear; pick either British or American spelling and stick with it. Obviously, after removing all the spelling impracticalities, we would keep all the Canadianisms such as “eh,” “postal code” and “drop the gloves” that make our language instantly recognizable as Canadian.