Friday, June 02, 2006

Watching the National Spelling Bee

I really enjoyed watching the National Spelling Bee on ABC last night, and the network deserves congratulations for broadcasting something educational in prime time. It was humbling to realize that a grown person--yours truly--could never compete in the contest with brilliant 10-14 year olds...

However, I have a concern about some of the words contestants were required to spell--ones with more than one acceptable spelling.

For example, the person with whom I watched the broadcast--who studied both Greek and Latin--pointed out to me that endings of Greek words put into English sometimes differ depending on the preferred style of transliteration. Britishers like AEUM, Americans prefer EUM. Or, another example, Encyclopaedia v Encyclopedia.

And then, there is the question of transliteration from living foreign languages, such as Persian and Hebrew. The judges said the word for Persian New Year is spelled: N-a-u-r-u-z. But when I looked it up online, there appear to be a wide variation of acceptable transliterations--including Nowruz, Nourus, Norouz, Noruz, Novrus, Nawrus, Nowrus, Navrus, Navrus, et al. In fact when I looked up "Nauruz" online in the American Heritage dictionary, there was no listing at all. So, what is really the right answer?

The whole world could see this problem in the case of the Hebrew H-e-c-h-s-c-h-er. In the end, judges accepted a variant, Hechsher, on the broadcast. It seems that including transliterated foreign words that have more than one acceptable English variant might spell future trouble for the Bee's judges...

Just a quibble. I guess it doesn't matter in the case of German words like ursprache.

Anyhow, it was a lot of fun. So, here's a link to the official study guides, for those out there who know a child who might compete: