Quotations on Spelling and Writing

 Spelling Topics
Vivian Cook

sources and accuracy not guaranteed

A. Rimbaud, Poèsies 1870-1871

'A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,
Je dira quelque jour vos naissances latentes.'   

Tom Lehrer, Be Prepared

'Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell.'

A. Duranti (1997) Linguistic Anthropology,
CUP, 126

'Although many formal linguists recognise that what they might be studying is the  grammatical competence of a idealized group of speakers (viz. the tacit knowledge of language by an average university professor), they do not  readily admit that their culture, including the culture of literacy and the importance that  reading and writing have in their daily life, might in fact have an impact on the type of analysis they propose.'

Robert Bringhurst 1996, 84

'punctuation is cold notation; it is not frustrated speech; it is typographic code.'

Love's Labours Lost
V, i, Holofernes

'I abhor such fanatical phantasms, such insociable and point-device companions; such rackers of orthography, as to speak dout, fine, when he should say doubt; det, when he should pronounce debt - d, e, b, t, not d, e, t; he clepeth a calf, cauf; half, hauf; neighbour vocatur nebour, neigh abbreviated ne. This is abhominable - which he would call abbominable; it insinuateth me of insanie ...'

A. Duranti 1997 Linguistic Anthropology,
CUP, 125-126

'...It is therefore crucial that we critically appraise the use of orthographic representation in linguistic analysis, so that we can exploit writing as an analytical tool while stretching the analytical boundaries established by its past uses.'

 Richard Feynman 1963

'If the professors of English will complain to me that the students who come to the universities, after all those years of study, still cannot spell "friend", I say to them that something's the matter with the way you spell "friend".'

Eric Gill 1931

'Writing is not written talk; it is a translation of talk into a clumsy and difficult medium which has no relation whatever to the time factor of speech and very little relation to the sound.'

G.B. Shaw, Pygmalion,

'The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like. It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him. German and Spanish are accessible to foreigners: English is not accessible even to Englishmen.'

     E.E. Cummings 1991, 319

& z
= an infrafairy of floating
ultrawrists who

Dave Barry

'Our language is a rich verbal tapestry woven together from the tongues of the Greeks, the Latins, the Angles, the Klaxtons, the Celtics, the 76'ers and many other people, all of whom had severe drinking problems.'

V. Mayakovsky

'... I learnt my alphabet from signboards
leafing through pages of iron and tin.'


'If you take hyphens seriously you will surely go mad.'

Oscar Wilde

'All morning I worked on the proof of one of my poems, and took out a comma; in the afternoon I put it back.'

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on a Bummel, 1900

'English spelling would seem to have been designed chiefly as a disguise to pronunciation. It is a clever idea, calculated to check presumption on the part of the foreigner; but for that he would learn it in a year.'

F. Scott Fitzgerald

'Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.'

Egyptian scribe 11th century BC, cited in Barron 2000

'Put writing in your heart that you may protect yourself from hard labour of any kind.'

W. Ong

'Writing is a technology that changes thought'.

Andrew Jackson

'It is a damn poor mind that cannot think of more than one way to spell a word.'  

Speech and Writing

El Lissitzky

'The words on a printed page are seen and not heard.'

Bloomfield, 1933, 21

'Writing is not language, but merely a way of recording language by means of visible marks.'

Smith, 1985, 57

' ...meaning and print are related in the same manner as meaning and speech, and neither language form is dependent on the other.'

Lyons, 1968, 38

'… the spoken language is primary and … writing is essentially a means of representing speech in another medium.'

Jan Tschichold
'On the printed page words are seen, not heard.'


'L'ecriture est la peinture de la voix, plus elle est ressemblante, meillure elle est.'

Lado, 1964

‘Speech before writing.’ 

article 1 of the International Phonetics Association, 1880s, cited in Stern, 1983

'Foreign language study should begin with the spoken language of everyday life.'

Comte de Buffon, Discours sur le style, 1753

'Those who write as they speak, even though they speak well, write badly.'

T.S. Eliot

' ... an identical spoken and written language would be practically intolerable; if we spoke as we write, we should find no one to listen; and if we wrote as we speak, we should find no one to read. The spoken and written language must not be too near together, as they must not be too far apart. '

William Diconson (1644)

The Tongue and Heart th’intention oft divide: The Hand and Meaning ever are ally’de.

Dwight Bolinger, 1946, 333

Visual morphemes 'exist at their own level, independently of vocal-auditory morphemes.'

Hockett, 1958, 4

'... speech and writing are merely two different manifestations of something fundamentally the same.'

Hjelmslev, 1948

'... the real units of language are not sounds, or written characters, or meanings: the real units of language are the relata which these sounds, characters and meanings represent.'

J.J. Rousseau, cited by Derrida 1962

'Les langues sont faites pour être parlees, l'écriture ne sert que de supplément à la parole … L'écriture n'est que la représentation de la parole, il est bizarre qu'on donne plus du soin à déterminer l'image que l'objet.'

de Saussure trans Harris 1983 24

'A language and its written form constitute two separate systems of signs. The sole reason for the existence of the latter is to represent the former.'

ibid. 29

 'Writing is not a garment but a disguise.'

Language, 1973 XLIX, 193

'As Pragueans would put it, both writing and speech are signaling systems of the first order; in other words, one cannot dismiss writing as being the signaling system of the second order, a signal of a signal.'

Minkoff, 1975

Language is basically speech and writing is of no theoretical interest.' 

Diringer, 1962, 13

'Literally and closely defined, writing is the graphic counterpart of speech, the "fixing" of spoken language in a permanent or semi-permanent form or in the words of a French scholar, "une représentation visuelle et durable du langage, qui le rend transportable et conservable"

Hjelmslev, 1948

'... the real units of language are not sounds, or written characters, or meanings: the real units of language are the relata which these sounds, characters and meanings represent.'

Samuel Butler, Essays on Life and Science 1908, cited in Harris 2000

'The spoken symbol is formed by means of various organs in or about the mouth, appeals to the ear, not the eye, perishes instantly without material trace, and if it lives at all does so only in the minds of those who heard it. The range of its action is no wider than that within which a voice can be heard; and every time a fresh impression is wanted the type must be set up anew.
    The written symbol extends infinitely, as regards time and space, the range within which one mind can communicate with another; it gives the writer's mind a life limited by the duration of ink, paper, and readers, as against that of his flesh, and blood body.'

Aristotle, De Interpetatione, 16 A. Cited in Harris 2000.

'Sounds produced by the voice are symbols of affections of the soul, and writing is a symbol of vocal sounds.'

Egyptian Scribe circa 2000 BC

'A man has perished and his body has become earth. All his relatives have crumbled to dust. It is writing that makes him remembered.'

James J. Kilpatrick

'Spelling counts. Spelling is not merely a tedious exercise in a fourth-grade classroom. Spelling is one of the outward and visible marks of a disciplined mind.'

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

'The wonderful thing about language is that it promotes its own oblivion ... My eyes follow the line on the paper, and from the moment I am caught up in their meaning, I lose sight of them. the paper, the letters on it, my eye and the body are there only as the minimal setting of some invisible operation. Expression fades before what is expressed, and this is why its mediating role may pass unnoticed.'

Vachek 1949, 93

'Writing cannot be flatly dismissed as an imperfect, conservative quasi-transcription, as has often been done up to the present day'

Levy 2001, 34

'For most of the five thousand years of writing history, all our techniques and technologies have been aimed at making visible marks stick to surfaces.'

Bringhurst 1992, 10

typography: 'the craft of endowing human language with a durable visible form.'

Kress 2000, 18

'One could nearly say that in a "literate culture" speech is the spelling of writing.'