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SIMPLIFIED SPELLING SOCIETY Short form SSS. An association founded in Britain in 1908 with the aim of bringing about ‘a reform of the spelling of English in the interests of ease of learning and economy of writing’. Its presidents have been predominantly philologists and linguists: W. W. Skeat (1908–11), Gilbert Murray (1911–46), Daniel Jones (1946–68), and Donald Scragg (from 1988). Others were the publisher and Member of Parliament Sir James Pitman (1968–72) and the psychologist John Downing (1972–87).

A phonetic orthography

Between about 1915 and 1924, the SSS issued reading books in a phonetic orthography for learners in schools, such as Nerseri Rymz and Simpel Poëmz: A Ferst Reeder in Simplifyd Speling. Considerable success was claimed for them as a means of teaching literacy quickly and effectively. In 1923, the SSS sought to persuade the Board of Education to set up a committee to examine the possibilities of reform, but without success. A second approach was made in 1933, supported by over 900 university figures from vice-chancellors to lecturers, 250 MPs, 20 bishops, and ten teachers' organizations, but it also had no success.

New Spelling

This failure led the SSS to concentrate on preparing a fully researched and revised version of the system it had previously advocated, a task undertaken by William Archer and Walter Ripman. The result was issued as New Spelling, a final edition (further revised by Daniel Jones and Harold Orton) appearing in 1948. Campaigning was renewed in Parliament by Mont Follick, an MP who twice promoted a Private Member's Bill (1949, 1953). Official opposition, however, led to a compromise in which the government undertook no more than to facilitate research into the use of simplified spelling in schools. By way of research, the U. of London Institute of Education, the National Foundation for Educational Research, and the Association of Education Committees were, at first tentatively, concerned with school experiments in the early 1950s.

The initial teaching alphabet

By the end of the 1950s Sir James PITMAN had evolved the INITIAL TEACHING ALPHABET (i.t.a), based on the Society's New Spelling system, but with new characters in place of digraphs. On his initiative and at his expense, i.t.a. was introduced in many hundreds of schools in the UK, US, Australia, and elsewhere. Its effects were researched by John Downing, who published his findings in Evaluating the Initial Teaching Alphabet (1967). Reformers argue that these findings confirmed previous experience: literacy skills were more successfully acquired in a phonographically regular system than in traditional orthography (t.o.). Organizational problems, however, led to rapid decline in the use of i.t.a in the 1980s. The i.t.a. was controversial within the SSS, partly because of its unpopular new characters, and partly because it was a teaching medium and not the system for general use that the Society advocated.

Recent developments

In the 1970s–90s, the SSS broadened its interests and its worldwide links, initiating a series of international conferences and launching the Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society. In view of the non-acceptance of earlier reform proposals, the Society began to take up the ideas of Harry Lindgren in Australia and consider partial or staged reforms of t.o. as more practical and likely to overcome entrenched resistance. Three kinds of staged reform have so far been proposed: (1) The spelling of a single phoneme could be regularized, as with e in eny, breth, frend. (2) Problem graphemes such as gh could be regularized, producing forms such as weit, dauter, tho, thru, cof. (3) Redundant letters could be removed, as in dout, principl, acomodate, achieving far-reaching regularization with little disruption. See SPELLING REFORM.