to spell

Dymn

Senior Member
Catalan
#1
In English, the verb "to spell" can have two meanings, letting aside those related to magical enchantments and so on:

1. Using a combination of characters to form a word, e.g. She spelled "ghost" without the h.
2. Sounding out the characters used to form a word, e.g. Can you spell "ghost"? Yes, it's "G-O-S-T".

It might seem a trivial difference but in Spanish, the verb for "to spell" (deletrear) can only be used in the second case, in the first we'd simply use escribir "to write", and using deletrear would be confusing because it would be interpreted as in 2. Same applies in Catalan for lletrejar and escriure.

What about your languages?
 

Yendred

Senior Member
Français - France
#2
As in Spanish, French uses different words:
1. Using a combination of characters to form a word: écrire, orthographier
2. Sounding out the characters used to form a word: épeler (conjugated j'épelle, il épelle, ... which makes it close to spell)
 

merquiades

Senior Member
English (US Northeast)
#3
Sorry. I really don't understand what sounding out a word means and when you could ever do it.
Can you spell the word " ghost "? There's only one way to spell it and it's G.H.O.S.T. The correct spelling. If you spell G.O.S.T. you spell it wrong.
 

Yendred

Senior Member
Français - France
#4
Sorry. I really don't understand what sounding out a word means and when you could every do it.
(1. Using a combination of characters to form a word) -> écrire (French) or escribir (Spanish) a word means to write the word down on paper or to type the word on a computer.
(2. Sounding out the characters used to form a word) -> épeler (French) or deletrear (Spanish) a word means to pronounce one by one every letter that form the word.

When on the phone for example, and you are requested to say your name, you say it and the person tells you: how do you spell it? In French, this would be: Comment l'épelez-vous ?
 
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merquiades

Senior Member
English (US Northeast)
#5
(1. Using a combination of characters to form a word) -> écrire (French) or escribir (Spanish) a word means to write the word down on paper or to type the word on a computer.
(2. Sounding out the characters used to form a word) -> épeler (French) or deletrear (Spanish) a word means to pronounce one by one every letter that form the word.
Okay, I thought it had to do with correctness. "Spell" can be used in the first case but I normally wouldn't use it to replace "write down". What is the spelling on that? = How is it written? Write the word on the computer. Put it down on paper. Write down the spelling. "Orthography" is a very learnèd word in English reserved for linguists. However, if someone were to ask me to spell a word, I'd do it orally, I'd never think to write it down. How do you spell your name? Can you spell "ghost"? = say out loud the correct letters for me.

There is another meaning of "spell" though: "to cause something to happen".
Humidity and cold temperatures spelled snow for the weekend.
 
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Yendred

Senior Member
Français - France
#6
What is the spelling on that? = How is it written?
Can you spell "ghost"? = say out loud the letters.
Yes, you use the same word (spell) for both cases.
But during a spelling test on paper in school, if the teacher tells the pupil he used the wrong spelling, in French he would say "Tu as mal écrit ce mot" (and not "Tu as mal épelé ce mot"), then "Je vais te l'épeler correctement", and the teacher says out loud the letters, so that the pupil knows the correct spelling.
 
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merquiades

Senior Member
English (US Northeast)
#7
Yes, you use the same word (spell) for both cases.
But during a spelling test on paper in school, if the teacher tells the pupil he used the wrong spelling, in French he would say "Tu as mal écrit ce mot" (and not "Tu as mal épelé ce mot"), then "Je vais te l'épeler correctement", and the teacher says out loud the letters, so that the pupil knows the correct spelling.
Spelling test sounds like it would be oral to me. It actually was always oral in school. Some kind of dictation could check spelling and grammar. We never did them though.
If I'm looking over your shoulder onto the computer or the paragraph you've handwritten and I'm proofreading it, I could say "That word is spelled wrong", maybe "You spelled that word wrong, and that word right" or "The spelling is wrong on that word." But if someone asks me point blank to spell something, it will always be oral. So "spell" can always be number two, but not always number one, especially in active situations. "Write down" François on your sheet.
 
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Yendred

Senior Member
Français - France
#8
Spelling test sounds like it would be oral to me. It actually was always oral in school.
I didn't know. In France, the tradition in school is to have a lot of written spelling tests (dictation).
I guess in Spain, the practice is different too, as Spanish is spelled just like it sounds.

So "spell" can always be number two, but not always number one, especially in active situations. "Write down" François on your sheet.
Okay, in that particular case, it's in French (and in Spanish too I think) that there is only one word, and two in English:
- Écris le mot "GHOST" sur ton cahier (Write down the word "GHOST" in your notebook)
- Tu l'as bien/mal écrit (You spelled it right/wrong)
 
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merquiades

Senior Member
English (US Northeast)
#9
I didn't know. In France, the tradition in school is to have written spelling tests (dictation).
I guess in Spain, the practice is different too, as Spanish is spelled just like it sounds.
Not surprising. Everything is written down in France. It has to start early. :)
In Spain they have lists of words to memorize like in the US. They've got lots of problems with b/v, y/ll, c/z, h, and s in regions where that is not pronounced.
Dymn's number 2 is what we called phonics, guessing the way a word is written, and it was a subject in school.
 

Dymn

Senior Member
Catalan
#10
"Spell" can be used in the first case but I normally wouldn't use it to replace "write down".
I think there's a difference. "Write (down)" refers to the act of conveying information through written language. "Spell" on the other hand focuses on the letters used. That's why if you say "spell a word" you're referring to stating letters one by one. I guess it's usually orally, but if the teacher told a student to write a word on the blackboard to check if they know the correct spelling, wouldn't it be possible to say: "Spell the word 'ghost'"? On the other hand "spelling a word some way" (with a "k", or without it, or whatever) is the same as writing down but you're talking about orthography. Would it be possible to say in English "He wrote 'ghost' without the 'h'"? I think "spelled" is more common. And "wrote" is the only possible option in Catalan, Spanish, and French.

This difference also appears when it comes to nouns, "spelling" in Spanish is either ortografía (spelling error = falta de ortografía) or deletreo (spelling bee = concurso de deletreo).

or to type the word on a computer.
I was going to include "to type" in this or another thread too. In Spanish, "to type" is mecanografiar or escribir a máquina, but this would only be used to contrast it with handwriting. Most times, "to type" would be translated as simply escribir. For example when someone else is typing on a chat, it reads "typing..." in English but "escribiendo..." in Spanish.

I guess in Spain, the practice is different too, as Spanish is spelled just like it sounds.
Actually Spanish sounds as it is spelled, but is not spelled as it sounds. It's not bidirectional, so spelling mistakes are common. And yes, we had dictations in school, both for Catalan and Spanish. Catalan spelling is a bit more difficult than Spanish's.
 

Armas

Senior Member
Finnish
#11
Finnish:

1. kirjoittaa (to write)
We don't have a word for 2. but I've seen it loosely translated as tavata which means to read syllable by syllable (from tavu "syllable")

Finnish is pretty much spelled as it sounds so there's barely any need to spell words.
 

symposium

Senior Member
Italian - Italy
#13
In Italy also we say: "Come si scrive?" "How do you write it?" if we want to know how to spell a word. And the correct spelling of a word is "l'ortografia". So "a spelling mistake" would be "un errore di ortografia". Unfortunately, it is becoming less and less unusual to hear someone ask: "Mi può fare lo spelling?"...
 

TheCrociato91

Senior Member
Italian - Northern Italy
#14
I agree with my fellow countryman above but I'm not sure why he says "unfortunately". Since we don't have an Italian word for "spelling", we have had recourse to a foreign word to fill this void.
 

merquiades

Senior Member
English (US Northeast)
#15
I agree with my fellow countryman above but I'm not sure why he says "unfortunately". Since we don't have an Italian word for "spelling", we have had recourse to a foreign word to fill this void.
No. This Italian habit of taking words from English and inserting them into Italian should stop. If a word for spelling does not exist, it's high time to look at your Latin roots and invent one.
 

TheCrociato91

Senior Member
Italian - Northern Italy
#16
No. This Italian habit of taking words from English and inserting them into Italian should stop. If a word for spelling does not exist, it's high time to look at your Latin roots and invent one.
Every language uses loanwords or foreign words to fill voids.

I personally don't like when Italians use English words to express concepts that can be expressed by means of already-existing Italian words or phrases, but I'm absolutely not against incorporating foreign words to express concepts for which there are no Italian words. Inventing a new word has a smaller chance to become established than introducing a word from a modern foreign language.
 

elroy

Imperfect Mod
US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
#17
My experience with English usage runs counter to what merquiades describes. Of course you can spell something in writing, and of course there are written spelling tests. As far as I can tell, Dymn and Yendred are 100% correct about English usage.
 

Mahaodeh

Senior Member
Arabic, PA and IA.
#18
It actually was always oral in school. Some kind of dictation could check spelling and grammar. We never did them though.
In the UK spelling tests were always written - at least they were when I was at school then. I don't recall ever being asked to spell it out in words.
 
Polish
#19
In Polish it’s similar to what you said about Spanish. The 1st usage would be simply ‘write’: pisać/napisać (imperfective/perfective).
For the second, there is literować/przeliterować: dictate letter by letter.
 
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