In response to another question I asked, I was told spelling is not a part of language because it is a part of writing. This statement confuses me. Writing is a form of communication and is therefore, a part of written languages. Writing is directly related to spoken forms of the same language and though written langugaes can exist without a spoken form, and spoken languages exist without written versions, I don't understand how that would mean writing isn't an aspect of langage.

Specifically in regard to spelling in English, we have standardized spelling. There are British Standards as well as US standards and the two are distinct despite more commonality than difference. What spelling is "correct" is dictated by where the writer is communicating. For example, realized vs. realised which are both phonetically correct, but which "standard" is chosen for use is largely dependent on where you learn your spelling, do your reading, get published etc.

If this is not a part of "language" than what is it? Can someone please explain this distinction or separation to me? The comment had up-votes which would indicate to me that others reading the comment were not also confused by it and even agreed. I would just like to understand this perspective that is brand new to me?

  • I don't believe I said spelling always did relate to pronunciation. I did say writing and spoken forms of the same language are directly related, but that includes the words actually used as well as the grammatical structure in using those words, not that all spelling is phonetic. What I am saying is that, spelling is related to writing - a form of communication AND therefore a form of language (as I understand it). Wouldn't spelling then be a PART of language - at least those that have a written form? Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 18:23
  • The original comment says more than just the bit you quoted. It goes on to explain exactly what it means just fine. Spoken language is primary. Orthography is always a compromise and an approximation. The actual language is created by everyone, you and me, native and non-native speakers alike. Orthography is decided upon by politicians. Linguistics is one thing, politics another. That being said, you are asking for clarification on a comment by a particular user. That is not really a question for the site. Probably not even for meta. It can be taken to chat, though.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 19:32
  • Oh, and it's also not English-specific, so possibly a good candidate for Linguistics. Putting on hold for these reasons.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 19:33
  • Thanks. Totally understand - John Lawler answered (more fully) anyway. The comment (by the same Lawler) makes a sweeping generalization about education in the US that obscures his meaning somewhat though. Education - especially in regard to how things are spelled is not purely locally autonomous. Sorry I can't just delete the question for you though. Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 20:23

1 Answer 1


No, spelling is not part of Language.
Language is spoken; that's the way it evolved over about 100,000 years,
and that's the way it is learned by every human.

Spelling, by contrast, is a word that does not have a meaning in all languages,
because it has to do with writing in English orthography.
Writing of any kind is technology, not language.

It's a visual representation of spoken language.
And there are a lot of ways to do that.
Writing is a pretty young technology; younger than agriculture or cities, for instance.

For various reasons, English spelling

(which, by the way, is not learned by all native English speakers,
though it is learned by at least as many non-native English speakers)

does not represent modern English pronunciation very well; and, since written language
is a representation of the oral language, there is an unnecessary disconnect between

  • "spelling", which has to do with ordering the letters in the alphabet
    (a technological problem, after all ),
  • the actual sounds of the words and phrases involved
    (which are produced and understood naturally and unconsciously by speakers).

The normal standard of English spelling is only one of many possible orthographies,
but we're stuck with it for the foreseeable future. Of the many other possible alphabets,
one that might be useful is the (American) English Phonemic Alphabet, from
Kenyon and Knott, A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English (Merriam-Webster 1953).
It actually does represent English pronunciation, and is very simple to learn.
Unlike English spelling.

  • Is that supposed to be phonetic alphabet or is a phonemic alphabet something different?
    – terdon
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 20:00
  • 2
    Thanks so much. That makes a lot of sense, kind of like how technological developments that come from science are not science even though they may arise from knowledge gained through science. Writing arises from language as a technology to represent it, but is separate from it. Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 20:15
  • 1
    @terdon, looking at the examples in the PDF file, it is quite clearly a phonemic alphabet. It writes down not the phonetic detail that is actually found in the sounds that come out of people’s mouths (these vary a lot anyway and would be hard to codify into a written standard without ending up in the same mess the current one puts us in), but the underlying phonemes that vary much, much less across the board and are therefore much easier to represent more or less unambiguously and yet accurately in writing. Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 20:17
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I am not disagreeing, I have just heard the term phoneTic alphabet but not the term phoneMic. I was just wondering if it was a typo or if both terms exist and describe different things.
    – terdon
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 20:20
  • @terdon, I didn’t mean to imply any disagreement. Both terms do exist, though the latter is quite rare, with good reason: normally we speak of phonemic notation (which is often done using a phonetic alphabet). Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 20:27

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.