I was scornful of SpellCheck at the outset. I was a good speller: why would I trust a computer? Early experiences seemed to confirm my suspicions: technical and academic terms were rejected, and the bundled-in grammar checkers choked on compound complex sentences. Their vocabulary grew rapidly and the suggestions improved. I came to depend on them to find my typos and, yes, even to correct a word I thought I had spelled correctly. I even graded down student writing for errors that the spell-checker would have found: sure evidence they hadn’t used an available tool. Even mindless auto-correct seemed right more often than not. Until recently.
The Multicultural Multilingual Brand-Name Universe
The errors introduced by the early spell-checkers were few and easy to catch: the occasional student whose name has an unusual spelling or a technical term that the SpellCheck dictionary wanted to replace with something more conventional. I didn’t notice that I was rejecting more and more suggested changes, but I gradually began to ignore the wavy red lines in my documents. “Its dictionary must not know that term,” I would sigh.
Auto-correct became assertive, even pushy, in recent upgrades: changing first and asking later. I wrestled to control the name of a hospital we sponsor (“Essentia” not “essential”) or other names designed to remind us of a word without using it. Programs were aggressive in “correcting” names and terms from other languages, relentlessly imposing English phonemes on other cultures. Last week, a Hmong student’s traditional name, Sun Ny, mysteriously appeared as “Sunny” in the school paper through the hegemony of the electronic dictionary.
Perhaps spell-check will outlive its utility, grounded in the assumption of a monolingual culture in which names and terms follow a single linguistic path. We might have to learn to spell again.