Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

June 3, 2014

LION AND THE LAMB: Spellbound by a spelling bee

CROSSVILLE — A remarkable development took place on May 29 at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland. In the final round the two leading contestants, Sriram Hathwar, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Painted Post, New York, and Ansun Sujoe, a 13-year-old seventh-grader from Fort Worth, Texas, were tied.

The word list available for the final round was almost exhausted. Hathwar was given the word “stichomythia” (dialogue especially of altercation or dispute delivered in alternate lines, as in Greek drama) which he spelled correctly. Sujoe was given the word “feuilleton” (a part of a European newspaper or magazine devoted to material designed to entertain the general reader; a feature section) which he also spelled correctly. The bee was then declared a tie for the first time since 1962. Both expressed pleasure in sharing the co-championship title. As Hathwar summed it up, “I think we both know that the competition is against the dictionary, not against each other.” Each of the two will also take home $30,000 in prize money.

Hathwar is a student at Corning’s Alternative School for Math and Science. He likes swimming, skating, playing basketball and the oboe, and wants to be an ophthalmologist (both of his parents are doctors).

Sujoe is a student at Bethesda Christian School. He plays piano, guitar and bassoon, likes chess, programming robots and volunteering at nursing homes. He wants to be an engineer like his father.

Both young men are Indian American. Of this year’s 281 spellers almost a quarter had names pointing to South Asian origins. In fact, the past eight winners, and 12 of the last 16, have been of Indian descent. This is another indication of the many gifts and benefits that immigrants have brought to our country.

The idea of having spelling contests or “bees” originated in our nation’s schools back in the early 1800s, utilizing Noah Webster’s spelling books as a basic resource. The first National Spelling Bee was sponsored in 1925 by the Louisville Courier-Journal and held in Washington, D.C. The winner at that first event was eleven-year-old Frank Neuhauser.

Since then spelling bees have been organized in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Pacific Islands.

Many serious competitors who are planning to continue their love affair with words and enter next year’s national contest will be focusing on word derivation and development to help them spell challenging words: their history and use, their component parts, and common affixes and attachments. Many will find it helpful to increase their familiarity with those foreign languages from which English frequently draws.

Words are a creative and fluid part of a people’s culture, often changing in spelling, meaning, and use as time goes by. It’s always inspiring to come across members of the younger generation who are spellbound by words.

• • •

This column by local writers is dedicated to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world of peace and justice.  Opinions expressed in “Lion and Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff.  For more information, contact Ted Braun, column coordinator, at 277-5135.

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