Blog post written by Yonghou Liu and Ye Zhao based on an article in English Today
English spelling variation and change in the Greater China have been left inadequately explored. This study investigates the spelling preferences for Standard British English (BrE) or Standard American English (AmE) of China Daily (Mainland China), The Standard (Hong Kong) and Taipei Times (Taiwan) over a 10-year period, 2001 through 2010. Occurrences of six representative spelling pairs (-our/-or, -ise/-ize, -ll/-l -re/-er, en-/in- and -mme/-m) are calculated in a corpus of 1080 passages from the three newspapers. The findings are: (1) Inter-newspaper synchronic spelling variation once existed. BrE spellings were preferred in both China Daily and The Standard. Both of them witnessed a preference shift from BrE spelling to AmE spelling around the years 2005-2007, broadly speaking. In contrast, Taipei Times adhered to the American spelling system throughout the period. Its spelling scenario has been much simpler and more consistent than that of the other two papers; (2) Diachronically, the three newspapers all experienced kind of Americanization in their spelling preferences, esp. for China Daily and The Standard. (3) The history of spelling preferences of China Daily and The Standard resembled each other, but the former’s spelling change was characterized with a state of flux while the latter’s change was more smooth and gradual.
As for the overall variation in the usage of British and American conventions, the American ones were used at a higher rate of frequency over the decade for all the six pairs. The study also supports the claim that a region’s English spelling variation is correlated with its historical context, and the consequent English orthography change is perpetuated by social changes, not only local changes, but also global ones – the elevated status of AmE as the global ‘prestige’ variety of English in this study. This kind of change has potential benefits. If regional variations are eliminated by the most prestigious variety, this might serve to help ‘tidy up some of the anomalies [and] give greater consistency to the whole system’ (Carney, 1997: 67). This in turn may avoid possible confusion for learners of English as an additional language. In the meantime, it seems reasonable to conclude that the rising prestige of AmE will inevitably continue to erode the global status of BrE, and cause a concern of the shift of language loyalty in a growing number of regions.