O h how English is always at the end of our ire. A brave language it is, really, with its now dead ‘k’s in knights and combs, bombs, tombs, and inconsistent rules and exceptions that make no sense.
English is the language everyone loves to hate, perhaps not without reason. Say the following sentence out loud:
Learning English is rough, but it can be understood through tough thorough thought though.
Or, if you’re feeling rather ambitious, try reading this poem written by Dutch writer Dr. Gerard Nolst Trenité in the 1920s, entitled quite aptly “The Chaos”.
Chances are, even if you’re familiar with the language, you agree that limiting tongue gymnastics when speaking is an excellent idea. To be fair, many of these irregularities arise from the fact that English, as spoken today, is a kaleidoscope of French and Latin words, and even Greek and Old Norse thrown in for good measure. Trying to manage words derived from different languages and fit them into our sound and grammar patterns was (and is) alone is a hefty job, so spelling is regretfully left to the wayside.
The problem here is a high ratio of sounds to letters and letter combinations — ‘ough’ alone produces ten different pronunciations, give or take a few depending on the specific accent or dialect. While there are patterns in spelling, English lacks one-to-one correspondence, meaning one letter does not correspond to one and only one sound. In other words, the alphabet has 26 letters, but there are 44 distinct sounds in spoken language, of which 19 are vowels! The lexicon does make use of digraphs (two letters to represent one sound), like ‘ai’ in ‘fail’ or ‘ei’ in ‘heist’, in an attempt to specify sounds that don’t have individual symbols. Other rules like “Silent E makes the vowel say its name”, turning ‘spit’ to ‘spite’, or the letter ‘c’ almost always being pronounced as a soft c (‘s’ sound) when preceding an ‘i’ or ‘e’ like ‘citrus’ or ‘cent’, can give us clues to guide us to the correct pronunciation. Yet these contextual clues don’t always hold true, and due to different origins of different words, may not contain them at all.
The Latin script thatEnglish uses, with a dash of Greek, Latin, and French spelling, is simply not efficient as it could be. Rapidly changing phonemes and phonology yet relatively unaltered spelling has also contributed to an ever-increasing chasm between sounds and writing. English…