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Beneath the Surface of Words: What English Spelling Reveals & Why It Matters

RRP - $28.14   Our Price - $27.23  Paperback
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Sue Scibetta Hegland

  • Beneath the Surface of Words
  • Beneath the Surface of Words
    Take a journey below the surface of words to uncover the surprising coherence, depth and clarity of the English spelling system

208 pages
ISBN: 9780578326719

English spelling has an undeserved reputation as unreliable and riddled with frustrating quirks. In the pages of this book, you’ll find stories, examples, and explanations that will reorient your perspective and reveal the integrated system that makes sense of the spelling of English words.

This book will answer questions like these:

  • Why is there a W in answer and an L in talk?
  • What’s going on with words like move and comfortable?
  • Why isn’t hasten spelled like basin or mason?

These spellings make sense once we are aware of all that’s conveyed by a written word; information about so much more than just its pronunciation. This book will introduce the structural (morphological) framework that is present in every English word, reveal the signals of relationships that are embedded in our most interesting spellings, and provide enlightening evidence to support a re-evaluation of some traditional spelling rules.

Beneath the Surface of Words explains and illustrates three foundational concepts:

  1. the English language is structural
  2. written language has evolved to clarify the identity of words, using more than graphemes alone
  3. written and spoken language are distinct systems, parallel; with many connections between them; but not direct translations of one another.

The book includes discussions of morphology, the role of etymology in understanding spelling, the purpose of spelling conventions, and the ways in which spoken language is represented in writing.

Beneath the Surface of Words sets out to explain some of the lesser-known aspects of the spelling system to anyone who has a connection to literacy. The English spelling system is totally coherent and logical, but it is complex and cannot be explained in just a few pages. This book lays out the concepts that underlie the writing system one step at a time with carefully chosen examples and many stories of intriguing words.

Table of Contents

How Does Spelling Work?

Introduction: Perspectives

  1. How Do We Spell?

The Framework of Spelling

  1. Words Have Internal Structures
  2. Words Come in Families
  3. Where’s the Consistency?
  4. Morphology Can’t Wait!
  5. Things Aren’t Always as They Appear
  6. It Runs in the Family

Relationships Between Spoken and Written Words

  1. Writing Down Spoken Words
  2. Say What?
  3. English Is Morphophonemic and Alphabetic

Establishing the Identity of Words

  1. What’s That Letter Doing There?
  2. Are Rules Made To Be Broken?
  3. Form Follows Function
  4. What Else Can Etymology Teach Us?

Putting It All Together

  1. Reframe What You Know
  2. What Lies Beneath the Surface

Afterword: Learning More



  • Appendix A: Applying Suffixing Conventions
  • Appendix B: Using Etymological Resources
  • Appendix C: Working With Word Sums and Evidence Banks
  • Appendix D: More on Orthographic Phonology




  • Index of Figures and Matrices
  • Index of Selected Words

""Beneath the Surface of Words" is comprehensive and valuable resource. What Sue Scibetta Hegland does so well is to provide a clear and concise explanation of how the English spelling system works. Her book not only clarifies the reasonings behind many misunderstood English word spellings, but it also provides the foundational knowledge and blueprint for how to use tools such as etymology resources, word matrices, and word sums, so educators can guide students in learning the English spelling system too. This rich literacy resource is one that educators will return to over and over as they deepen their own understanding of written English."
- Kathy Hastings

"This book is a must have for every teacher and tutor who wants to help their students make sense of the English language spelling system. I hope it will become required reading in universities preparing their students to teach reading and spelling. Oh how different my reading instruction would have been if I had this book in my hands years ago!"
- First Grade Teacher

"What Sue Scibetta Hegland has done with "Beneath the Surface of Words" is phenomenal. Whoever you are, good speller, bad speller, literacy teacher or tutor, parent with school-aged kids, this book will capture you from the start. Sue's writing style is always engaging. She leads with fascinating examples and always weaves them into her argument with great care. She has a message to deliver about the coherence of the writing system and she lands it! You really don’t want to be without this book!"
- Alan Venable