Skip to comments.You write potato, I write ghoughpteighbteau
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 Englishs 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 governments 1996 Green Book on spelling (Groene Boekje) released a rival Witte Boekje. French reforms in the 1990s didnt 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 consonantsnow more or less bereft of logicwould 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.
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.
Anyone remember the decabet skit?
Yes. Some of the funniest stuff to ever air on TV.
The exact wrong thing to do!
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. *\;-)
u mean i can’t say
You know, it’s true...this whole English language thing just isn’t working out. Let’s try something else.
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.
www.hotforwords.com Marina will tell you all about where the words came from!
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.
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.
Speaking of spell check...
I thought that “akward” looked, well, awkward.