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You write potato, I write ghoughpteighbteau
The Economist ^ | Aug 14th 2008 | Staff

Posted on 08/21/2008 4:42:07 PM PDT by forkinsocket

GHOTI and tchoghs may not immediately strike readers as staples of the British diet; and even those most enamoured of written English’s idiosyncrasies may wince at this tendentious rendering of “fish and chips”. Yet the spelling, easily derived from other words*, highlights the shortcomings of English orthography. This has long bamboozled foreigners and natives alike, and may underlie the national test results released on August 12th which revealed that almost a third of English 14-year-olds cannot read properly.

One solution, suggested recently by Ken Smith of the Buckinghamshire New University, is to accept the most common misspellings as variants rather than correct them. Mr Smith is too tolerant, but he is right that something needs to change. Due partly to its mixed Germanic and Latin origins, English spelling is strikingly inconsistent.

Three things have exacerbated this confusion. The Great Vowel Shift in the 15th and 16th centuries altered the pronunciation of many words but left their spelling unchanged; and as Masha Bell, an independent literacy researcher, notes, the 15th-century advent of printing presses initially staffed by non-English speakers helped to magnify the muddle. Second, misguided attempts to align English spelling with (often imagined) Latin roots (debt and debitum; island and insula) led to the introduction of superfluous “silent” letters. Third, despite interest in spelling among figures as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, Prince Philip and the Mormons, English has never, unlike Spanish, Italian and French, had a central regulatory authority capable of overseeing standardisation.

Yet as various countries have found, identifying a problem and solving it are different matters: spelling arouses surprising passions. Residents in Cologne once called the police after a hairdresser put up a sign advertising Haarflege, rather than the correct Haarpflege (hair care). Measures to simplify German spelling were rejected by newspapers such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine, and defeated in a referendum in Schleswig-Holstein (though later endorsed by its legislature). A similar fate befell the Dutch, when opponents of the government’s 1996 Green Book on spelling (Groene Boekje) released a rival Witte Boekje. French reforms in the 1990s didn’t get off the runway, despite being presented as mere “rectifications”, and attempts this year to bring European and Brazilian Portuguese into line were denounced in Portugal as capitulation to its powerful ex-colony.

There are linguistic reasons too why spelling reform is tricky to undertake. Written language is more than a phonetic version of its spoken cousin: it contains etymological and morphological clues to meaning too. So although spelling English more phonetically might make it easier to read, it might also make it harder to understand. Moreover, as Mari Jones of Cambridge University points out, differences in regional pronunciation mean that introducing a “phonetic” spelling of English would benefit only people from the region whose pronunciation was chosen as the accepted norm. And, she adds, it would need continual updating to accommodate any subsequent changes in pronunciation.

Yes despite these concerns, some changes are worth considering; it takes more than twice as long to learn to read English as it does to read most other west European languages, according to a 2003 study led by Philip Seymour of Dundee University. Standardising rules on doubled consonants—now more or less bereft of logic—would be a start. Removing erroneous silent letters would also help. And as George Bernard Shaw observed, suppressing superfluous letters will in time reduce the waste of resources and trees. In an era of global warming, that is not to be sniffed at.

*Fish: gh as in tough, o as in women, ti as in nation (courtesy of GB Shaw). Chips: tch as in match, o as in women, gh as in hiccough.


TOPICS: Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: chat; english; epigraphyandlanguage; godsgravesglyphs; spelling
.
1 posted on 08/21/2008 4:42:07 PM PDT by forkinsocket
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To: forkinsocket
Written language is more than a phonetic version of its spoken cousin: it contains etymological and morphological clues to meaning too.

Bingo!

2 posted on 08/21/2008 4:44:49 PM PDT by sionnsar (Impeach Obama |Iran Azadi| 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0ur5 (SONY) | UN: Useless Nations)
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To: forkinsocket
and may underlie the national test results released on August 12th which revealed that almost a third of English 14-year-olds cannot read properly.

It would be interesting to learn whether that figure was consistent historically or whether the author is evading the possibility that the skewls mai bi to blaim.

3 posted on 08/21/2008 4:49:43 PM PDT by sionnsar (Impeach Obama |Iran Azadi| 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0ur5 (SONY) | UN: Useless Nations)
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To: sionnsar
You write potato, I write ghoughpteighbteau
That happens to me, too!
Then I turn off the Dvorak keyboard...

In all seriousness, very interesting. Thanks for posting.
4 posted on 08/21/2008 4:53:58 PM PDT by astyanax (Support your local veterans. Napalm a hippie.)
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To: TR Jeffersonian

ping


5 posted on 08/21/2008 4:56:00 PM PDT by kalee
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To: forkinsocket

Anyone remember the decabet skit?


6 posted on 08/21/2008 4:56:24 PM PDT by NonValueAdded (Rest In Peace, Capt. Ed "Too Tall" Freeman (1928-2008))
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To: NonValueAdded

Yes. Some of the funniest stuff to ever air on TV.


7 posted on 08/21/2008 5:00:21 PM PDT by Army Air Corps (Four fried chickens and a coke)
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To: forkinsocket
One solution... is to accept the most common misspellings ...rather than correct them.

The exact wrong thing to do!

8 posted on 08/21/2008 5:00:46 PM PDT by BenLurkin
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To: forkinsocket; LibreOuMort
I've learned from my Anglophone/Francophone wife that we have it much easier than the French. Their written language is so far from accurately phonetic that correct spelling is achieved only by a few.

And before everyone jumps me or the French, I have found the French people even in Paris to be polite, helpful and friendly to this non-French-speaking obvious American (I think obvious: in Vienna and in Germany I sometimes get asked directions by native German speakers -- and if French folk are being friendly to Germans now... *\;-).

Scottish Gaelic, on the other hand, is nearly perfectly phonetic. "Smaoineachadh" (thinking) is pronounced exactly as written -- once you know the rules. *\;-)

9 posted on 08/21/2008 5:00:48 PM PDT by sionnsar (Impeach Obama |Iran Azadi| 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0ur5 (SONY) | UN: Useless Nations)
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To: BenLurkin

u mean i can’t say

u sux?


10 posted on 08/21/2008 5:19:36 PM PDT by ken21 (people die and you never hear from them again.)
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To: forkinsocket

You know, it’s true...this whole English language thing just isn’t working out. Let’s try something else.


11 posted on 08/21/2008 5:20:38 PM PDT by AndrewB
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To: forkinsocket
a central regulatory authority capable of overseeing standardisation.

Shouldn't that be "standardiZation"?

Don't have one; don't want one; don't need one. Our language is just fine the way it is.

12 posted on 08/21/2008 5:21:39 PM PDT by IronJack (=)
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To: forkinsocket
Orthographic reform is like the Norwegian Blue Parrot. An idea whose time will never come.
13 posted on 08/21/2008 5:28:42 PM PDT by Lonesome in Massachussets (His Negritude has made his negritude the central theme of this campaign)
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To: forkinsocket

www.hotforwords.com Marina will tell you all about where the words came from!


14 posted on 08/21/2008 5:32:37 PM PDT by WellyP
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To: forkinsocket

Perhaps one reason why large numbers of 14 year olds in England do not read English properly is that they are spending most of their time memorizing the Koran rather than reading the King’s English.


15 posted on 08/21/2008 5:51:02 PM PDT by The Great RJ ("Mir we bleiwen wat mir sin" or "We want to remain what we are." ..Luxembourg motto)
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To: forkinsocket; All
For anyone interested, I highly recommend The Mother Tongue.
Sorry, can't remember the author, it was probably 20(?) years ago,
but it was a fascinating (and humorous) account of the development of the English language, including grammar and spelling.
I don't suppose anyone remembers it?
...cue crickets...
16 posted on 08/21/2008 6:02:25 PM PDT by astyanax (Support your local veterans. Napalm a hippie.)
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To: forkinsocket
"Written language is more than a phonetic version of its spoken cousin: it contains etymological and morphological clues to meaning too"

Ok.

Huh?

17 posted on 08/21/2008 6:48:57 PM PDT by lowbridge ("I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it" - Van Den Boogaard)
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To: astyanax

That was by American author (and Anglophile) Bill Bryson. Bryson loves the English language and used to work as a sub-editor for the Times of London, he is very defensive of the “Americanisations” which were frequently derided by English snobs but which he proved are very often the proper old English usage.

He also wrote a very useful book for anyone who needs to write properly (or just likes to write properly) “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words”. It’s amazing how many simple errors you’ll discover that you make and had no idea they were wrong (eg no such words as “alright” or “alot”), mind you installing a spell checker in your computer will probably do that job for you anyway.


18 posted on 08/21/2008 7:14:26 PM PDT by PotatoHeadMick
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To: PotatoHeadMick
Thanks!
I usually just avoid 'alot' and 'alright' because they "look" akward, if that makes any sense.
It's not that I 'need' to write properly, but I'd prefer to.
Is his dictionary as entertaining as his history of English was? (i.e. is The Mother Tongue his typical writing style?)
19 posted on 08/21/2008 7:39:15 PM PDT by astyanax (Support your local veterans. Napalm a hippie.)
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To: PotatoHeadMick

Speaking of spell check...
I thought that “akward” looked, well, awkward.


20 posted on 08/21/2008 7:48:42 PM PDT by astyanax (Support your local veterans. Napalm a hippie.)
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To: astyanax

‘The Mother Tongue’ is his usual writing style, he has a very dry understated sense of humour which is quite amusing, he has written quite a lot of stuff, mostly travel writing, which I have enjoyed.

His politics would be a little to the left of most people here but that shouldn’t put you off, check him out at Amazon.

The dictionary is a slim volume but quite helpful if you’re into writing correctly.


21 posted on 08/21/2008 8:03:07 PM PDT by PotatoHeadMick
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To: PotatoHeadMick
sense of humour
Is that your local colour showing through?
;o)
I detect a touch of the Queen's English... (more power to you!)
Mind if I ask where you are (or have been)?
22 posted on 08/21/2008 8:22:53 PM PDT by astyanax (Support your local veterans. Napalm a hippie.)
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To: astyanax

Originally from Ireland (Northern Ireland) currently living in Jakarta, Indonesia.


23 posted on 08/21/2008 8:44:46 PM PDT by PotatoHeadMick
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To: PotatoHeadMick

Wow! So how did you come across Free Republic?
Ever spend any time in the states?
(Feel free to tell me to ‘MYOB’ at anytime...)


24 posted on 08/21/2008 8:56:52 PM PDT by astyanax (Support your local veterans. Napalm a hippie.)
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To: astyanax

I’ve always been fascinated by politics and I love following US politics, I find it a lot more interesting and vigorous than politics back home (well actually politics in Northern Ireland when I was growing up in the 1980’s was a little bit too “interesting” but we’ll let that pass). I came across this site way back in 2004 when I was watching that year’s election and the whole Dan Rather thing came up, finding this site and LGF was a breath of fresh air.

Like most people here I was pretty much disgusted by the whole MSM slant on politics and I was delighted to find out that there were actually other people around the world who thought like me. I like to dip in every so often and I like to post articles from the British and Irish press that Freepers might find interesting but wouldn’t otherwise have read.

I spent two summers as a student in the 1980’s working in the New Jersey Cape (for some reason there were an awful lot of students from Ireland working there for the summer back then). I loved the States then and still do and I have been back to visit a couple of times, but now I’m married and settled down in Indonesia (long story) and through the fantastic medium of the internet I’m not completely out of touch with the rest of the civilised world (actually Indonesia is fairly civilised too, I am very fond of the place).

So what about you?


25 posted on 08/21/2008 9:36:16 PM PDT by PotatoHeadMick
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To: forkinsocket
O-U-G-H

by Charles Battell Loomis

I'm taught p-l-o-u-g-h
Shall be pronounced “plow.”
“Zat’s easy w’en you know,” I say,
“Mon Anglais, I'll get through!”

My teacher say zat in zat case,
O-u-g-h is “oo.”
And zen I laugh and say to him,
“Zees Anglais make me cough.”

He say “Not ‘coo’ but in zat word,
O-u-g-h is ‘off,’’”
“Oh, ______! Such varied sounds
Of words make me hiccough!”

He say, “Again mon frien’ ees wrong;
O-u-g-h is ‘up’
In hiccough.” Zen I cry, “No more,
You make my t’roat feel rough.”

“Non, non!” he cry, “You are not right;
O-u-g-h is ‘uff.’”
I say, “I try to spik your words,
I cannot spik zem though.”

“In time you'll learn, but now you're wrong!
O-u-g-h is ‘owe’”
“I'll try no more, I s’all go mad,
I'll drown me in ze lough!”

“But ere you drown yourself,” said he,
“O-u-g-h is ‘ock.’”
He taught no more, I held him fast
And killed him wiz a rough.

26 posted on 08/21/2008 9:44:08 PM PDT by decal ("You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk dancing.")
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To: IronJack
Shouldn't that be "standardiZation"?

No. The English pronunciation is with the "s", not a "z". Lack of enunciation led to the change across the pond.


27 posted on 08/21/2008 9:57:22 PM PDT by brityank (The more I learn about the Constitution, the more I realise this Government is UNconstitutional !!)
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To: PotatoHeadMick

I’m an info junkie. I’ll read anything and everything.
It was during the 2000 election that I started paying close attention to politics. I too was disgusted by the media but was ignorant as to other options available. Fresh air, indeed! LGF is great, I also like Gateway Pundit, Conservative Grapevine, NRO, Spectator, powerlineblog, american thinker... well, you get the picture!

I’m off to bed (just turned midnight here) but it was/is a pleasure to meet you! Best wishes to you and yours, and I’m sure our paths(threads) will cross again. Take care!


28 posted on 08/21/2008 10:10:58 PM PDT by astyanax (Support your local veterans. Napalm a hippie.)
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To: astyanax

Good night (good morning here). It’s been great chatting to you too, it’s always nice to meet new people, don’t forget to check up on Bryson’s other stuff, just don’t take his politics too seriously.

All the best.


29 posted on 08/21/2008 10:18:45 PM PDT by PotatoHeadMick
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To: PotatoHeadMick

Will do (check up)!
And won’t (take too seriously)!
Thanks...


30 posted on 08/21/2008 10:29:22 PM PDT by astyanax (Support your local veterans. Napalm a hippie.)
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To: brityank
Lack of enunciation led to the change across the pond.

Not even the most priggish Brit pronounces it "standardiSSation."

And what's with "coloUr"? I know, I know, the Norman influence. But so little else about Britain reflects its unfortunate French heritage, why condemn your language to forever pay for that sin?

31 posted on 08/22/2008 4:16:22 AM PDT by IronJack (=)
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 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Note: this topic is from 8/21/2008.

Thanks forkinsocket.

Blast from the Past.

Just adding to the catalog, not sending a general distribution.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.


32 posted on 08/03/2012 5:05:03 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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