The English Writing System
Vivian Cook, ECLS, Spring Term 2014

[no longer offered]

Twice a week for 5 weeks from 3rd February
10-12 Mondays & Wednesdays
Note: This is a course about the Writing System, not the writing skill or writing in a general sense - like a course about Phonology rather than Speaking
Taught by Vivian Cook (


to introduce students to the main features of the English writing system, in the context of the written signs of the street


to enable them to analyse the properties of current written English


all the information for the course is online in this website (i.e. not on Blackboard), where you will find a large collection of writing system materials, data, reading lists etc, and is vital to the course

Syllabus: (more or less 
in teaching 
order but
not week by

The links in blue are to relevant parts of the web-site Writing System Topics


MONDAYS: English Writing System lectures

1. Different types of writing system for language (the two routes); writing direction Direction; alphabets Different Scripts for Writing; Definitions

2. Rules of English spelling; adult English spelling; spelling mistakes in the street
The I before E rule in English Spelling

English Consonant Doubling
Common Patterns of English Spelling
Rule for spelling English Surnames

3. Linguistic accounts of English spelling: 
(i) Venezky. Venezky's English Spelling 
Albrow. Albrow's 3 spelling systems.
(iii) Chomskys. Chomskys' Near-Optimal Spelling

4. Acquisition of English spelling by children and L2 learners. Children learning English spelling L2 learning of the English writing system. L2 learning of English; L2 Spelling; Summaries of L2 articles etc

5.Computer Mediated Communication - emails, texts, SMS etc

History of English. Letters. Samples from different periods. Olde Tyme Spelling


WEDNESDAYS: the Language of the Street: talks and activities

These apply the theoretical background to the specific area of street signs, getting the students to contribute and analyse their own data in a more interactive way.

1. The spelling of the street

2. Indexicality and the punctuation of the street signs

3. Language systems and roles of street signs

4. The letters of the street (fonts, typefaces, material etc)

5. Linguistic landscapes and multilingualism



 a 3,500 word assignment, choosing one of the following:

i) why do people have problems learning the English writing system? Discuss the general issues and those specific to L2 students with a particular L1 writing system, using actual examples of spelling and other mistakes.

ii) how is computer mediated communication changing the English spelling system? Discuss the general issues, using actual examples such as emails, text messages etc.

iii) describe the language of a specific street or other location in Newcastle or elsewhere in terms of its functions, roles, fonts, punctuation, indexicality and so on.

To be handed in before 1 pm Monday 28th April 2014: electronic submission via Blackboard. NB: be careful if you use non-Roman fonts, even IPA!

Some examples of past assignment titles can be found on EWS past assignments



Baron, N.S. (2000), Alphabet to E-mail. London: Routledge

Carney, E. (1994), A Survey of English Spelling, London: Routledge

Clayton, E. (2013) The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing, London: Atlantic Books

Cook, V.J. (2004), The English Writing System, Arnold  

Cook, V.J. (2004), Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary, Profile Books

Cook, V. J. (2013), 'The language of the street', Applied Linguistics Review, 4(1): 43 – 81

Cook, V.J. (2013), 'Standard punctuation and the punctuation of the street', in M. Pawlak and L. Aronin (eds.), Essential Topics in Applied Linguistics and Multilingualism, Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 267-290

Coulmas, F. (1996), The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Writing Systems, Blackwell

Coulmas, F. (2013) Writing and Society: An Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Gorter, D. (ed.) (2006), Linguistic Landscape: a New Approach to Multilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Jaworski, A. & Thurlow, C. (eds.) (2010a), Semiotic Landscapes: Language, Image, Space. London: Continuum

Hill, W.  (2010), The Complete Typographer. London: Thames and Hudson

Scollon, R. & Scollon, S. 2003. Discourses in Place: Language in the Material World. London: Routledge

Reference Lists on Writing Systems