Learned or learnt? Spelled or spelt? - A Google Ngram analysis

 Learned or learnt? Spelled or spelt? Burned or burnt? Which spelling do you use? If you speak American English, probably the ed version, if you speak British English, you probably just write what you feel like on the day. I know I use both, but I also know I need to be consistent in my forthcoming book, Teaching English Spelling. So time for some research and I found this extraordinary and very new tool from GoogleLabs (still in Beta) called Google Ngram. You write two or more (up to five) words or phrases into the Ngram search box and it searches a corpus of 500 billion words from 5.2 million books on Google Books. Then it turns out a graph of how often the word or phrase occurred in books in the years you have specified. You can search all English books, British English books, or American English books. Look, rather than explain, I'll show you what my Ngram results were:

British English 1800 - 2000: learnt (blue) vs learned (red)

We can see learned is more common but declining. The worrying thing is that we just seem to be talking about both of them less! Let's see if the same is happening in American English:

American English 1800 - 2000: learnt (blue) vs learned (red)

Ah, less of a decline there! And a very clear and consistent preference for the ed ending.

Now burnt and burned:

British English 1800 - 2000: burnt (blue) vs burned (red)

Oh, interesting! As the years have passed British English speakers have burned about the same but burnt a lot less. No idea why! And American English?

American English 1800 - 2000: burnt (blue) vs burned (red)

Oh, wow! Completely different. Preference swapped over mid-18th century. No coincidence I suppose that Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828.

What about my big question: spelt or spelled

British English 1800 - 2000: spelt (blue) vs spelled (red)

So traditionally spelt in British English but the American English has gained ground over the past 60 years and now spelled has taken over. But in American English:
American English 1800 - 2000: spelt (blue) vs spelled (red)

No competition!

So which should I use in my book? You may think spelled wins hands down, but I wonder if I should support the underdog? I'm planning to bring out a British version first, closely followed by an American version. Perhaps spelt needs a little boost from me in the British version, then spelled in the American one. But then again ...

Which will I do? There's only one way to find out ...send me your email address and I'll let you know when the book's out (soon)!

And which should you use? What do you think? Let me know in the comments. 
What do you think of Google Ngram?
How could you use it?


'i before e' rule - Stephen Fry and friends

Stephen Fry claims there are over 900 exceptions to the 'i before e' rule. You could argue with his figures. Some of his guests do, but ... well, watch for yourself:


The cat that spells its name

If only everything was naturally labelled like this cat, I wonder if we'd have less trouble with spelling!

Anyone seen any other pictures of things that accidentally spell their name?


Animated alphabets

I've written before about Bembo's Zoo and make no apologies for mentioning it again because I love it. Though to be honest, I'm not sure how I would ever use it for teaching spelling.
From Bembo's Zoo at http://www.bemboszoo.com/

But I've just discovered another site. It may not compete with the design and beauty of Bembo's Zoo, but it has some lovely surprises. In the Poisson Rouge animated alphabet you can hover over the letters to see a word and image for that letter.
From Poisson Rouge at http://www.poissonrouge.com/abc/index.htm

That's OK, but the fun starts when you click on an image. Sometimes there's just a little animation, sometimes there's a game. In this one you match the cake ingredients to their silhouettes and then they pour into the cake tin. Finally your cake gets baked. Mind you, I've always had a problem with virtual cake - it's only virtual!
From Poisson Rouge at http://www.poissonrouge.com/abc/index.htm

I guess they would make nice little starters or rewards in primary classes if your have an interactive whiteboard or computer and projector. But I do think interactive whiteboard activities need to stimulate learners to do a bit more than that. Perhaps it's just fun for kids to play with on their own - to develop a love of letters.

Any primary teachers or homeschoolers out there - tell us what you think. Useful or not for helping with spelling? How?


Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy

You may have seen this at some time:

    Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Did it indeed come from Cambridge University? Matt Davis of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit there has written a response at
http://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/people/matt.davis/Cmabrigde/ . It makes for very interesting reading and explores whether you can do the same thing in other languages.

If you haven't got time to read that, you might like to watch this video instead: