Tuesday, June 06, 2006


These letters in today's New York Times about the national spelling bee winner come from educators -- educators, for crissakes! Read on:

To the Editor:
Re "For New Jersey 8th Grader, 'Ursprache' Means Fame" (news article, June 3): We have come a long way in internationalizing languages. The winner of this year's national spelling bee won by correctly spelling the German word Ursprache, while the German word Weltschmerz eliminated the runner-up.
Granted that these words are listed in our dictionary, as are words from many other foreign languages, but to take those words that are pronounced with the language of origin is a bit inappropriate, as it requires the contestant to identify the language and then know the nuances of its pronunciation, as was the case with Weltschmerz. Future spelling bees should be limited to words in our dictionary that have been anglicized before being incorporated into our language. Would a German spelling bee include recently adopted English words? I doubt it. Given the richness of our language, why must we resort to words taken from modern foreign languages to challenge our best spellers? Maybe this is a wake-up call for a greater focus on teaching foreign languages to our youth.
Alfred S. Posamentier
New York, June 3, 2006
The writer is dean of the School of Education, City College, CUNY.

To the Editor:
Re "Spelling Champion Crowned" (news item, June 2):
Watching the finale of the Scripps National Spelling Bee was deeply depressing.
It was a sad spectacle to watch eager children reciting the correct spelling of words that are ridiculously arcane and utterly useless in the course of human events and often purloined from other languages far afield from English.
Much more edifying would be a contest to make up new words undreamed of by dictionaries and of real use. Look at what William Shakespeare, the champion neologist of all time, was able to accomplish. Just from the first three letters of the alphabet, he came up with the first known use of the following words: accused, arouse, assassination, bandit, barefaced, bedroom, besmirch, bloodstained, cater, champion, circumstantial, courtship, countless and critic — just to name some of his inventions. Shakespeare didn't care about his "Ursprache" — and more power to him.
Gary Schmidgall
New York, June 2, 2006
The writer is a professor of English at Hunter College, CUNY.