I hadn’t realised it, but when I was skeptical, I was wrong.
Instead of skeptical, I really wanted to be sceptical. Yeah, that’s right. As a Canadian who strives for Canadian English, I should have used C instead of K. But as far as I remember, I had never spelt the word this way before. But then again, maybe I did while in school.
Sometimes the greatest influence on our English language in Nova Scotia is from the United States. It doesn’t help that some English teachers are ignorant to our Canadian spellings. We grow up hearing one spelling or another or both and by the time we’re my age we’re totally confused by the way certain words are spelt.
Personally, discovering Canadian spellings has lifted a crippling burden from my editing process. All my life I had spelt words a certain way. With pen and pencil on paper, I had no computer device to underline my words in red if spelt incorrectly. So I wrote pages upon pages of stories and journals, never doubting my spelling ability.
Along came the computer with automatic correction and red highlights and all of a sudden I couldn’t spell words such as amongst, archaeology, armour, burnt, catalogue, jewellery, offence, plough, pyjamas, sulphur, towards, yogourt and a host of others. I began to think I was a terrible speller.
I asked myself, “How could anyone who doesn’t know how to spell be a writer?”
Doubt set in. If I had been this terrible at spelling without know it, was I equally horrible at writing and be oblivious to it?
Between the help of computers and friends pointing out spelling errors, I edited my writing. More and more I depended on the advice of both because I was obviously a terrible speller.
Then one day, a curtain was drawn and I looked in to find words spelt the way I had always spelt them. They used spelt instead of spelled (which I can’t wrap my tongue around to pronounce correctly anyway), travelling instead of traveling and skilful instead of skillful. I was happy to see T instead of ED on the end of words such as burnt, spoilt, spilt, smelt, learnt and dwelt. My heart leapt with joy because this was the way I pronounced the words, so it only made sense to spell them that way. This was the spelling world I had known when I was a student in school.
The burden of being a terrible speller lifted and I began editing out the spellings preferred by the United States and editing in my old Canadian spelling. Once again, my words had wings. Each time I saw a uniquely spelt Canadian word, I smiled. I pointed to it and said, “That’s Canadian.”
Language is always changing and I’ve come to realise it’s not so important of how words are spelt, just that their meanings are clearly understood.
Would it matter if all the words in this sentence were spelt correctly: “I luv Momy beecus she reeds to me.” As long as the message is clear, it really doesn’t matter because two hundred years ago, words were spelt differently and two hundred years from now, they’ll still be spelt differently than they are today.
Personally, I like to keep connected with my roots and that includes the spellings I used as a child and those my parents and grandparents may have used. My older family members also had unique words that can’t be found in current dictionaries. I add those to my stories, too, when I can. All of this makes my writing unique and clearly Canadian.
What do you think? Do you strive to use Canadian spelling? Or British? Or do you tend to spell the way American publishers prefer to prove to them you can spell their way? Or do you use a mixture such as colour (Canadian) and center (US)? Or do you spell the way you want to and ignore the standards of any given country?