Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Spelling some Troubling Implications

It is the end of the semester, the Final Exams have been administered, and now, I have a little more than a week to get the final grades submitted to the University Registrar.  I will be grading exams and term papers for the next few days.

While incorrectly spelling the name of the professor does not constitute an automatic failure, or even an automatic grade reduction in the courses I teach (yet), neither am I favorably impressed by students who misspell my name.

Even more perplexing are those students who spell their own names incorrectly.

My grandparents emigrated to America from the former Soviet Union, where the Cyrillic alphabet is used instead of the Roman alphabet; my grandparents, whose primary language was Yiddish, were conversant in the Hebrew alphabet no less than in the Cyrillic.  Accordingly, what with the transliterations from the Cyrillic and Hebrew alphabets to Roman alphabet, there are variants in how my surname is spelled in America by various branches of the family (and in Israel, the transition from Cyrillic to Hebrew has yielded at least two different Hebrew versions).  So yes, approximately 90 or 100 years ago there were some confusions by some members of my extended family as to how their names are spelled (which is just as well, because the bad branch of the family, who spelled it differently from mine in America, are not so easily conflated with the rest of us).

Given my family's experience, I can sort of understand a student misspelling his or her name if they come from a place where the Roman alphabet is not the standard.  I have a student from China who has been in America for less than a year; she has spelled her name a number of different ways (though she did learn English quite well before she came here).  But at least she has something resembling a plausibly good reason.

Not so for the student whose family has been here for over 100 years, and who has used at least three spelling variants of his own surname (which is not all that uncommon).

I am convinced that the texting culture has caused a deterioration in the integrity of the English language.  I don't know what to read into it, but my gut hunch is that it is more likely to do harm than good.  If people are spelling their own names incorrectly, then we have probably gotten ourselves beyond Stage One of whatever long slide down the slippery slope we have embarked upon.

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