Computers, however, might have a harder time. Search engines would struggle to retrieve the right links, although phonological spelling might make it easier to provide relevant results when a Southerner is looking for somewhere to eat in Worcester, Mass. On the plus side, though, we’d have no more problems with the Cupertino effect — spellcheck software’s tendency to suggest inappropriate words to replace misspellings and words not in its dictionary, such as suggesting “Cupertino” for “co-operation.” We’d have near-perfect dictation software, and no one would complain about weird words being added to their phone dictionaries through predictive texting. Meanwhile, dictionaries would become both easier to use and used less often.
But a world without spelling would also rob us of the pleasure we get from mastering the complicated, illogical English language. There’s a certain satisfaction to sticking the landing on a difficult word such as “silhouette” or “subpoena” or “surreptitious.” English spelling is messy and difficult. As this past week’s spelling bee competitors understand, that’s what we like about it.