curious spelling of English

Kriton Kyrimis kyrimis at
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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