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What makes spelling correct?

The English spelling system is the result of a process of development that has been going on for over 1,000 years. The complications we deal with today are the consequences of major and minor linguistic, social, etc. events which have taken place over this period. Lexicographers look at actual usage - in print, in speech - for the data that makes up dictionary entries. Spelling is one of those pieces of data. The spellings given in dictionaries - and the order of entries which have spelling variants - are based on the study of how words are spelled in print. The role of the lexicographer is clearly descriptive, not prescriptive. Learning to spell requires learning the peculiarities and irregularities of many, many words. Knowledge of the history of English spelling can provide the framework needed to retain much of this information. The strongest reasons for learning the history of English spelling are: 1) that it enriches our understanding of the past, 2) makes us more adept at reasoning, and 3) sensitizes us to the richness of English orthography.

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