On the spelling of English compounds

Christina Sanchez-Stockhammer

Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

A question many language users are frequently faced with when spelling English compounds is whether to use open spelling (drinking fountain), hyphenation (far-off) or solid spelling (airport). The view that the spelling of English compounds is completely unsystematic is frequently expressed in the literature. However, it is challenged by a large-scale empirical study using various types of linguistic evidence, which tested over 60 hypotheses concerning the spelling of English compounds. Following the analysis of a large number of potential determinants of British English compound spelling, spelling algorithms with different degrees of complexity were derived from the significant variables and the predictive accuracy of the algorithms was subjected to various tests. The results suggest that even a very simple algorithm performs as well as educated English native speakers in a decision test on the spelling of biconstituent English compounds. This shows that it is possible to recognise principles underlying the present-day spelling of English compounds, even if these may not be immediately obvious to language users.

Publisert 8. mars 2016 12:08