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

Introduction: society and orthography


Some questions about spelling

On a suburban bus shelter in Lancaster during 1997 the following graffiti could be seen (Figure 0.1):

The names CHRIS and KRIS are among the most prominent written there. Chris is the standard short form of a very common English name, either male or female. Kris, on the other hand, is unusual in England. It is not a usual spelling of the name Chris nor is it a distinct name in its own right. Passing this spot on a daily basis and seeing these names together, I would speculate: Who, or rather, why, is Kris? Are Chris and Kris the same person, or are they two people, both called Chris, who differentiate themselves by one of them adopting an idiosyncratic spelling for his/her name? Whatever the answer, there is an interesting issue: Kris, being a highly unconventional spelling, is much more striking than Chris. Both sets of letters represent the same sounds, approximately [khɹis], and apparently represent the same word, the name Chris; nevertheless, these representations are not equivalent. There is some symbolism that attaches itself to Kris but not to Chris; the K is significant, it is ‘other’. As it happens, in this book, we shall come across many examples of a symbolic significance attaching to this particular letter. So the first of many orthographic questions which this book will ask is this: how can we give an account for the apparently intentionally ‘deviant’ or unconventional spelling of this person's name?