When I came to the UK, I was overwhelmed not only by different customs (speaking especially of carpets everywhere and separate water taps),  but also by some linguistic ‘phenomena’. For example the use of ‘like’ like all the time, or that horrifying use of “there’s” instead of “there’re” for plural entities. However, what really struck me was when my teacher asked us students how to write “definitely” (or other (even easier) words). I mean, even I knew/know it, and I’m not a native speaker. English spelling and the pronunciation of words are rather unpredictable, i.e. if you know the one you don’t necessarily know the other. For example “ough” is the letter sequence with the most unpredictable pronunciations (over ten in BE; /o?/, /u?/, /?f/, /?p/, /?f/, /?:/, /a?/, /?/, /?k/, /?x/).

There are probably several English speakers (including my ex-teacher) who wish for some sort of orthography that really represents a word’s pronunciation. Using the IPA? That would give us a few more letters to learn but still, there’d be no “guessing” as to how to pronounce the word anymore. Nevertheless, then spelling itself would get trickier due to dialects and accents, i.e. the IPA-spelling would differ from person to person. So ‘no’ to the IPA.

Well then, what about just using abbreviations? If Arabic speaking people can “guess” those not-written vowels, and Chinese people can “read” arbitrary signs, maybe we could know whole words from, say, only the first (few) letter(s)? W, tbh, t m w f s wo b, a y c s, n f ot b th ar ma wo wh th sa fi l an al, wou y a ‘y’ w y o u? ‘s’ w s o c? ‘f’ w f o 4? (well, to be honest, that might work for some words but, as you can see, not for others because there are many words with the same first letter (s) and furthermore, would you abbreviate ‘you’ with y or u? ‘see’ with s or c? ‘for’ with f or 4?). Obviously, not the best solution either. Yet, I believe that some ‘sort-of-abbreviations’ (i.e. u, r, c…) might become established in English spelling – since they do not longer only occur in informal writings, but even in newspaper articles!

Many spelling reforms proposing more predictable combinations failed (they’re usually more successful in the US). An example for a new standard is “hiccup” (hiccough), a varying form is “donut” (doughnut), common informal forms are “thru” (through) or “tho” (though), and some uncommon forms are “laff” (laugh) and  “enuff” (enough).

As time goes by, changes will come as they always do and who knows, maybe we will end up back with pictograms in a few centuries, or not have any sort of writing system anymore due to ‘audiosation’ (= everything will be recorded and listened to with mini-I-Pods and mini-earphones… or some other futuristic stuff that I can’t think of now because it’s still too far ahead in the future)…

Ps: A pronunciation poem. My English teacher made me read it some years ago. What a tongue twister!

Here is some pronunciation.
Ration never rhymes with nation,
Say prefer, but preferable,
Comfortable and vegetable.
B must not be heard in doubt,
Debt and dumb both leave it out.
In the words psychology,
Psychic, and psychiatry,
You must never sound the P.
Psychiatrist you call the man
Who cures the complex, if he can.
In architect, CH is K.
In arch it is the other way.

Please remember to say iron
So that it’ll rhyme with lion.
Advertisers advertise,
Advertisements will put you wise.
Time when work is done is leisure,
Fill it up with useful pleasure.
Accidental, accident,
Sound the G in ignorant.
Relative, but a relation,
Then say creature, but creation.
Say the A in gas quite short,
Bought remember rhymes with thwart,
Drought must always rhyme with bout,
In daughter leave the GH out.

Wear a boot upon your foot.
Root can never rhyme with soot.
In muscle, SC is S,
In muscular, it’s SK, yes!
Choir must always rhyme with wire,
That again will rhyme with liar.
Then remember it’s address.
With an accent like posses.
G in sign must silent be,
In signature, pronounce the G.

Please remember, say towards
Just as if it rhymed with boards.
Weight’s like wait, but not like height.
Which should always rhyme with might.
Sew is just the same as so,
Tie a ribbon in a bow.
When You meet the queen you bow,
Which again must rhyme with how.
In perfect English make a start.
Learn this little rhyme by heart.


9 comments on “Definitely!

  1. Yasmin on said:

    Nice Gina, I like it 🙂 Also, we are often able to guess the rest of a word from only a few letters, the brain does a lot of top down/bottom up processing in reading using both letters and context 🙂 so it is possible, just giving you a psychological perspective 😉 might be interesting to look at it that way!

  2. Yeah, we did a similar thing, a “word jumbling” experiment in school; Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. ( I think the brain is pretty awesome XD

  3. Christopher on said:

    ‘Root’ certainly does rhyme with ‘soot’ in my pronunciation [su:t]. Saying it as ‘sutt’ sounds “sloppy” to my ears, almost as bad as saying ‘sure’ and ‘moor’ as ‘shore’ and ‘more’. Indeed here in Scotland ‘boot’ and ‘foot’ often rhyme, though the opposite can happen too: I remember a Scottish girl at school with me who got picked on for pronouncing ‘food’ as if it rhymed with ‘blood’.

    Sorry for this outburst of prescriptionism, but the poem’s talk of ‘perfect English’ is provocative!

  4. Manuela on said:

    Why is the use of “there’s” with plural NPs horrifying? Spanish, for one, doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural either (it’s ‘hay’ for both), and notice that it only seems to happen with the shortened form (i.e. I don’t think you ever hear “There is too many people here”), so it really looks like ‘there’s’ is in the process of being grammaticalised, and, who knows, in the future it might become the only form, a bit like in Spanish.

  5. I consider it as rather ‘not nice’ because it’s not consistent (yet)… 😉

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