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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2009

1 - Approaching orthography


Orthography and spelling

Spelling, says Gunther Kress in his book Early Spelling, ‘is knowing how to write words correctly’ (2000: 1) and few would disagree. The idea that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to write words, although by no means a logical necessity, is one which is very deeply ingrained in many cultures. Indeed ‘writing correctly’ is exactly what is implied by the term used for spelling in many languages, – for example, German (Rechtschreibung, ‘correct writing’), Greek (Orthographia, ‘correct writing’), and the French, German and Spanish terms which derive from the Greek. The notion of ‘correctness’ implies a norm, hence we might define spelling as ‘writing of words of a language according to the norms or conventions of that language’. We would have to add ‘usually’, however, since it is not a contradiction in terms to talk of ‘deviant’ or ‘unusual’ spellings – in fact such terms will be used many times in this book.

Then what exactly is ‘orthography’ or ‘an orthography’ and how does it differ from ‘writing systems,’ ‘scripts’ and ‘spelling’? Philip Baker (1997: 93) makes a useful distinction between writing system and orthography by describing a writing system as ‘any means of representing graphically any language or group of languages’, whereas ‘orthography is employed more narrowly to mean a writing system specifically intended for a particular language and which is either already in regular use among a significant proportion of that language's native speakers, or which is or was proposed for such use’.

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