Friday, March 8, 2013

Spelling is Bogus

In school I am learning how to teach phonics and reading skills to elementary age kids, and this quote came to mind. "I before e except after c and when sounding like a as in neighbor and weigh, and on weekends and holidays and all throughout May, and you'll always be wrong no matter what you say!"
Let's face it - English is a crazy language. Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

Part of the problem-English spelling is extremely counter-intuitive! Why is it that words like “through”, “trough”, and “though” sound so different? It seems like for virtually every “rule” a prescriptivist writes down to try and model English spelling, exceptions can be found.
The fact is, although it’s possible to make rough guesses at English spellings using phonetics, in order to really know English spelling, you have to memorize the spelling of every word. Even words whose spelling seems straightforward and simple, you still memorize (maybe subconsciously without even trying) just because otherwise when you wanted to spell it, you’d have no way to know it was simple and straightforward.
For example, the words bones, gone, and done, are spelled exactly the same but they are each pronounced differently. Why? Why doesn't "buick" rhyme with "quick"?

In English, there are subtle ordering requirements which even English native speakers aren’t consciously aware of. We get them right every time, because we subconsciously know about them through practice, but that just makes it all the harder for foreigners, since these rules are so subtle and hidden.
The best example is adjective ordering. Compare, “a cute little puppy” to “a little cute puppy.” The first is fine, while the second sounds wrong. How is a foreigner to know which order to use? Can you explain it to them? Apparently there is a rule and method to the madness, but I don’t know it.

Because of its diverse, promiscuous etymological origins, English has lots of synonyms which, just from a dictionary definition, seem very similar if not identical in meaning. Part of becoming a master English speaker, is knowing which words to use when. Although synonyms are grouped up in a thesaurus, that doesn’t mean the words are identical. Even if their official meanings are identical, different synonyms convey subtly different moods and ideas.
You can watch a movie or see a movie, but you can only watch TV, never see it. You can’t view either of them, even though when you watch either of them, you become a viewer (and never a watcher, much less a seer!)

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which you can truthfully say when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. 

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