curious spelling of English
kyrimis at alumni.princeton.edu
Fri Jun 17 13:40:43 CEST 2005
> Sorry, slightly off topic but in response to L. Schulte's comment about
> working out the curious spelling of English is English really that
> different to other languages ? As a soley English speaker, most other
> languages seem to appear very curious
*Completely* off-topic answer:
I, too, find that other languages, including English, appear strange to me!
More seriously, other languages don't appear strange, they appear *different*,
and that's only because they are!
As for English spelling, it does, indeed, look weird to an outsider. Why on
earth should "through" be pronounced "thru", e.g.? And if that's the correct
way to pronounce the word, why is "trough" pronounced "trof", instead of
"tru"? And why is the word that is pronounced "tru" spelled "true"? It is only
familiarity that makes native speakers unaware of this strangeness. (You are
probably aware of the remark, attributed to Bernard Shaw, that "fish" should
be spelled "ghoti", combining the "f" from lauGH, the "o" from wOmen, and the
"sh" from ambiTIon!)
Lest you think I am biased against English, I'd better comment on my own
language, which would be all Greek to you. Things there are better in some
cases, and worse in others. One the one hand, there are words that are
pronounced differently from how they are written, but these differences are
not as pronounced as in in English, as they are merely phonetic variations. If
you read exactly what you see, you'll be speaking with a foreign accent, not
incomprehensibly. I mean, it's one thing to pronounce "Kyriaki" (the Greek
name for "Sunday"), as ki-ri-a-ki, instead of kir-ya-ki, which is the correct
way, slurring the r, i, and a together, and another thing to pronounce, say,
"knight" as k-nig-h-t! On the other hand, we have umpteen ways of writing the
"i" sound, and two ways of writing the "e" sound, so that it is well-nigh
impossible to spell modern Greek correctly!
I once read that a very consistent language, in terms of spelling vs.
pronunciation, is Hungarian, where, if you can speak the language and know the
alphabet, you can also write correctly. I'm sure that such a language would
appear bizarre to English speakers!
An interesting thing to note is that the difficulty of learning several
languages that belong to the same family, decreases each time you learn a new
language, beacause of the many similarities among these languages. For
example, I had to struggle with English, which was my first foreign language
and I had to learn a new vocabulary and a new syntax. Learning French was
comparatively easier, as many words were similar or obviously related to their
English equivalents, and the syntax is similar to that of modern Greek. When I
got hold of a copy of Don's "War of the Wendigo" in Italian, back when the
story had not been widely published, I was surprised to discover that with a
little bit of effort, and armed only with my knowlege of English, French, and
a smattering of Latin that I had learned at school, I could read and enjoy the
story. In a way, I can now read a fourth foreign language, even though I've
had no tutoring in it!
If my comment about having to learn a different syntax sounds strange, just
listen to how non-native speakers of your language speak it. (Better still,
read some of their writings, so that you are not distracted by the foreign
accent.) You may notice that they occasionally say a few strange things, even
though they may be using the right words in the right context. This is because
they're using the syntax of their own language, instead of that of yours. I've
probably made a few such mistakes in this message, e.g., so it should be
pretty obvious to native English speakers that I am not one, myself!
"Just remember what curiosity did to the cat."
"Why do you think they have nine lives? And why do you think Time Lords have
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