English, and How She is Spokenby
Maggie Van Ostrand
economy just can't be ignored any longer, no matter how hard I try. To keep up
with the times and learn at least one more language while still keeping things
simple, Spanish seemed a good choice because our alphabets are the same. Besides,
each Spanish word is pronounced phonetically. What you see is what you say. |
the other hand, how does anybody ever learn English? It's mostly a combination
of European languages, and it certainly is not logical.
Shaw pretty much nailed it when he wanted to reform English spelling so that it
was more logical. He joked that the word "ghoti" was a logical spelling of "fish."
What? How can "ghoti" and "fish" sound the same? Shaw explained:
= f as in rough
* o = i as in women
* ti = sh as in nation
Sure he invented the word "ghoti" but he made the point. How can
anybody easily learn a language that uses words that look the same but are pronounced
differently? Take these five words that all end in "ough."
* bough rhymes
* cough rhymes with off
* rough rhymes with puff
rhymes with slow
* through rhymes with boo
That's not bad enough?
What about the words that have the same spelling but are pronounced differently
if the meaning is different? (These words are called homographs.)
(noun: front of ship) rhymes with cow
* bow (noun: fancy knot) rhymes with
* lead (verb: to guide) rhymes with feed
* lead (noun: metal) rhymes
* wind (noun: airflow) rhymes with pinned
* wind (verb: to
turn) rhymes with find
* slough (noun: cast-off skin) rhymes with fluff
* slough (noun: swamp-like) rhymes with slew
Then we have words spelled
differently, but sound the same:
(These words are called homophones.)
* right, write
* buy, bye, by
* so, sew, sow
* for, four
* hear, here
* feet, feat
* one, won
* ate, eight
* him, hymn
* to, too, two
And that isn't
the half of it. What about heard/beard, road/broad, break/weak, low/how, or paid/said/plaid?
I'm not even talking about English letters which are silent: lamb, debt,
calm, listen, know, yacht, or my favorite, the unsung letter "g" in phlegm.
there's the "ea" thing: meat, head, heart, heard, theatre, and the infamous double-o:
pool, foot, blood, door, and cooperate, not to mention the plain old a: cake,
mat, call, any, sofa.
It's enough to drive a person crazy. ("Short trip,"
as my mom would say.)
I can't even figure out why we call someone up and
say, "This is Maggie." Why do we say "this is" when we're human. Why don't we
say "I am," as in "I'm Maggie." What if Descartes had said "I think, therefore
this is." Who would've quoted that?
Maybe I'm on the wrong track in trying
to learn another language. I don't want to be like the Frenchman visiting the
U.S. who stops to ask directions of two Americans:
The Americans just stare at him.
koennen Sie Deutsch sprechen?"
The Americans continue to stare.
"¿Hablan ustedes Espanol?"
nothing. The Frenchman walks away, disappointed, discouraged and disillusioned.
The first American turns to the second and says "Maybe we should learn
a foreign language."
"Why? That guy knew four languages, and it didn't
do him any good."
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
Balloon In Cactus" September
3, 2008 column