Commenting on my post about the spelling “thru” for through, a reader writes:
And, I faintly remember that there are some 52 ways of spelling the syllable -shun. Can you please, in one of your articles, or series of them, [list] them? As far as I can remember there are only two words that end with the spelling -shion for shun. Fashion and cushion. -tion, cion, sion, ssion, and how many more can be listed this way? It should be an interesting exercise.
I think it would take considerable effort to come up with “52 ways of spelling the syllable -shun,” but I have seen lists of as many as thirteen.
Critics of English spelling delight in cataloging as many different ways of spelling a sound as possible in an attempt to prove that English spelling is impossible to master. I tend to agree with Romalda Spalding that the problem isn’t English spelling; it’s the way that spelling is taught:
It is the failure to combine the sounds with the spelling of English which makes it seem so difficult to learn and makes so many common words seem to be exceptions to the general rules of spelling. —The Writing Road to Reading.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a great many English words that defy all phonetic explanation, but when the beginner is taught the sound/symbol correspondences as thoroughly as they can be taught, fewer exceptions remain to be memorized.
Building on the work of Anna Gillingham and Dr. Samuel Orton, Spalding presents the sounds of English in terms of phonograms, not letters or syllables. Most of the spelling permutations of “shun” are covered as the beginning reader learns the four phonograms that can represent the “sh” [ʃ] sound: sh, ti, si, ci.
English spelling isn’t easy, but it is not the arcane science that it’s made out to be. If schools would adopt some version of the Gillingham-Orton Multisensory Method of reading instruction beginning with kindergarten, the appalling reading failure rate in U.S. schools could be significantly reduced. As things are now, this efficient method for teaching reading, writing, and spelling is kept in reserve for children who fail to learn to read by grade three or four. In some school districts, that can be as many as half the children in the fourth grade.
Here are some “shun” spellings from Page Four of the student-kept notebook at the center of Spalding instruction:
Words like fashion, and coercion are covered by different rules. The example “ssion” is not a valid spelling of “shun.” In a word like succession, for example, the first s belongs to the second syllable: suc-ces-sion.
It’s easy to ridicule English spelling. It’s a little harder to master the rules and patterns.