Spelling – Concept, importance, changes and more

We explain what spelling is, why it varies over time and why it is important. Also, what is technical spelling.

Spelling indicates the correct way to write a language at a specific time.

What is spelling?

Spelling is the set of rules and regulations that govern the conventional writing of a language. Or, as we often say popularly, the “correct” way of writing it.

This name comes from the Greek voices orthos (“Straight” or “strict”) and graphein (“Writing”), but it began to be used in Spanish from the 18th century, when in 1727 the first orthographic norms of the language were established by the Royal Spanish Academy, shortly after its foundation.

Until that moment, Spanish was written in very different ways, sometimes attending to the phonics of the words, others to their etymological origins and to the Latin tradition.

Like other aspects of the language, spelling is a concept that is mutable over time, but fixed at a given moment. In other words, at a specific moment in history, there is a restrictive, normative and strict spelling, which determines how to write the words so that they are fully understood. But this way of writing will be different within one or several centuries, since languages ​​are living and changing organisms.

In fact, many languages ​​vary their spelling standards to adapt them to different needs: sometimes as a way to update the spelling of the language, and others with the purpose of making the spelling simpler, more competitive internationally and more accessible to foreigners.

In any case, the spelling consists of conventional norms, that is, agreed by convention. For example, in the case of Spanish, the 22 official academies that exist in the world collaborate to preserve a stable and universal set of spelling norms. Today, however, Spanish spelling has changed very little since the publication in 1854 of the Spelling of the Spanish language.

Importance of spelling

Spelling plays a vital role in the standardization of the spelling of a language, that is, in the normalization, unification and universalization of its modes of writing, so that guarantee the understanding of a writing by any speaker of the same: as long as the norms are stable, the readers will be able to recognize the sounds inscribed in the visual signs without major problem.

This becomes very evident if we consider that in eighteenth-century Spanish there were extremely high margins of ambiguity regarding the spelling of letters whose sounds are similar, such as b / v, c / s / z, and / ll og / j, as well as use of punctuation marks and spelling accents. Thus, several texts in the same language could have written forms very different from each other.

Technical spelling

It is known as technical spelling to the norms and writing standards that apply only to texts intended for specialized readers, that is, that they follow their own tendencies in the way of saying things, since they are not for the consumption of all audiences. These types of spellings deviate to a certain extent from the general spelling of the language, but are at the same time inscribed in it. This covers the following cases:

  • Specialized spelling. That which applies to all types of signs that are not precisely letters, such as scientific signs, technical characters, etc.
  • Advertising spelling. That which has to do with advertising and promotional texts, and which applies to the mass media, such as television, radio, written press, etc.
  • Typographic spelling. The one that deals with the combination of spelling and typography, that is, the way it is applied in printed works. In fact, it is often known as orthotypography: the set of rules that govern the “correct” way of printing the content of a book.