(Just some of) The Problems With English: A Fretful Whine

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  1. Full disclosure: I do not love me some English.

    English should, however, not take this personally. At least not entirely. I won't lie, it never had a chance with me, because I am so not a fan of languages with silent letters.

    To begin with, silent letters are stupid.

    They serve no purpose beyond making life harder for people who are trying, for whatever reason, to learn to write and read the language, kind of like those sorority initiations where people have to do things like swallow raw eggs, not wash their hair for a week, and then wearing unflattering clothing and no makeup, walk up to some cute boy and kiss him - all just to get into a sorority whose principal reason for existence is saying catty things about people who are in other sororities - or none at all.

    I should make it clear that I am not talking about languages who, in the course of their evolution, have picked up a silent letter or two here and there. Just as a line or scar or two on a face or a hand can be a little badge of history and identity, so can the occasional silent letter become an endearing little feature without which we cannot imagine something - or someone - a "flaw" that actually enhances beauty.

    No, I'm talking about languages that are deliberately dedicated to being positively lousy with silent letters all over the place.

    All they do is advertise that:

    A) The offending language should be pictographic, but the people in charge of that sort of thing either have a shamefully dim view of the intellect of their fellow language speakers,


    B) No one is in charge of that sort of thing because - hello! - it is not now has it ever been a real language, just a sort of ill-planned salad composed of little cubes and julienned snippets of other languages, that, like Ms Beecher Stowe's Topsy, "just growed."

    As if the pain in the brain's language center that are silent letters were not injurious enough, English adds the even-more preposterous additional insult of invisible letters.

    You sure don't have to count high - or look very far - to find these rotten Easter Eggs - Where, please tell me, is letter "w" found in the word "one?" The "h" in "sure?"

    Shall I continue? Or shall you have the goodness to point out just where the "y" is located in "continue?"

    After all, my eyes are Authentic Vintage. Maybe I have just been missing it all these years.

    That's OK. Don't bother.

    Instead, contemplate this gem from some long-suffering victim over at the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts, of all places:
    The bewildering tendency of so many "native" English speakers to set such a great store by being monolingual, considering it a virtue and a blessing right up there with having perfect pitch or a natural talent for break-dancing, has long been attributed by the less-linguistically impaired world to rank (and woefully misplaced) snobbery.

    It's an honest and reasonable assumption, stoutly buttressed by the popularity of the "English Only" movement, based on the premise that not only will its devotees speak no other language, but neither should anyone else - at least, not in their presence - as if other languages were some sort of excretory function appropriate only in the rest room.

    But I have a different theory. I see it as the proverbial healthy reaction to an unhealthy situation.

    Native English speakers, having most understandably acquired an extremely foul taste in their mouths from that initial mandatory taste of linguistics, want nothing more to do with the nasty stuff.

    Having been obliged to learn at least one language (everybody has to speak something), if that one language was English, they would rather have a root canal without novocaine than learn another one, and view protecting other people - especially their own dear children - from such a fate as a matter of common decency.

    This is why people who, as infants, learned any language other than - and/or in addition to - English - are much more likely to welcome acquring more, and go through life scampering delightedly up to any and all of them, eager to pet their soft little ears and have a game of romps, embracing languages for the cute and friendly little puppies they are.

    Although it may not be a real language (English had no standardized spelling or orthography at all until the 18th century or so, and whether it has any today is debatable - and frequently (and heatedly) debated***, there is a place in this world for pretty much everything, and English is no exception.

    It has long been a preferred language for business discussions, and since the inception of the Internet, has established itself virtually overnight as the default universal language for talking about computers and programming.

    If, however, one wishes to have a conversation about anything other than computers or money (and many speakers of other languages not only do this frequently but actually enjoy it) - for example, if one wishes to speak of love or philosophy, of beauty or poetry** - even linguistics - Ethnologue offers a sumptuous and staggering smorgasbord of excellent choices!

    ***If you like stirring up the pot to watch it boil over, next time you are in the presence of two or more English nerds, just toss out a casual question about whether apostrophes can/should ever/must be/absolutely never should be used in plurals:

    Example: Choose the correct sentence from each of the following pairs:

    Feel free to debate this among yourselves, but please remember - violence is never the answer! :devil:
  2. I can comiserate as someone who teaches "the very quiet e" to five year olds learning to read!
  3. Reasons Why the English Language is Hard to Learn

    The bandage was wound around the wound.

    The farm was used to produce produce.

    The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

    He could lead if he would get the lead out.

    The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

    Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

    A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

    When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

    I did not object to the object.

    There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

    They were too close to the door to close it.

    The buck does funny things when the does are present.

    A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

    To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

    The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

    After a number of injections my jaw got number.

    Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

    I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

    How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
  4. Really, most silent letters once were pronounced. I would look into the Great Vowel Shift and the shift from Old to Middle and Middle to Modern English to learn more about it. It is very interested and dispells the misunderstanding that the English language has letters randomly stuck in. They actually were once pronounced more like they look, but their spelling has remained the same :smile:

    Like you said, there are exceptions in every language. I am a Spanish (and certified English) teacher, and there are rules in Spanish just as well that one must learn. The "hue" spelling in Spanish makes the sound [w] in English. However, it may once have been pronounced as it looks. Which is strange, right? Who says symbols have to make a specific sound with all of our darned symbols for things? ;) Interesting stuff. I imagine French would be very hard to learn for the same reason.
  5. I remember in undergrad having to read The Canterbury Tales. My prof was quite happy to read passages aloud in class, complete with the correct pronunciation of words. 'Til this day, 10 years later, I can still remember the way she pronounced the word "knight."

    I think with Spanish, the joy--for me, anyway--in learning to pronounce words is that the vowels sounds don't change the way that they do in English; there's no long vowel v. short vowel dilemma. Once you get the proper pronunciation of the vowels in Spanish, it should be simple to read most, if not all, words in the language. The exception, of course, is the umlaut over the "u" in some words, but they're exceptions, like I said.

    This scene from I Love Lucy is one that I love. It gets to matter of learning English as a second language--Ricky has problems with English.
  6. OMFG, no! People do this with everything at my work. What a way to present yourself in your place of business. NOT plurals:


    I have to go wash my eyeballs and cut my fingers off now that I've typed that.
  7. ^ Ack! I hate that, too!

  8. Me too!

    I do love me some English. But it IS very confusing. I can tell I'm going to like this thread.
  9. Those are some of the best examples I have seen. I remember when I mentored a new Russian family and trying to explain some of those words.
  10. :roflmfao: OK I am so going to be sending out one of those annoying emails that people forward to everybody in their address book!

    Tow two tow-headed tots to those two toes too.
  11. I think some people no longer know how to make plurals out of any word that starts with a capital letter or ends in a Y.


    *runs to wash the cooties off*
  12. LOL funny how a language fraught with so many.... uh......shall we say inconveniences has become the global language.

    Have you considered the "ough" sound as in
    bough (bow as in bending at the waist, not the little tie on your purse)
    cough (cawf)
    rough (ruff)
    though (thoe)
    through (throo)

    I believe all other words ending in ough have these initial sounds - very difficult for non-native speakers. Actually downright bizarre!
  13. ^ Very good examples, BoldGirl!
  14. I love the English language and all it's anomalies - it's all in the context. It's a very playful language I find, but then I'm a native speaker. Unfortunately I've never learnt another language, apart from a smattering of basic French, but I'd like to imagine that different languages have their own nuances and quirks?
  15. Our modern English is the bastard child of Norman French and Old English. Old English is the bastardization of the Slavic and Celtic languages.

    It started as a peasant language - a way for the conquered people to communicate with their conquerers. A trader's polygot, if you will. But eventually, the conquerers became the conquered - and language developed new extensions and forms.

    Then, the Americans grabbed hold of that language, and they just started to play. If we don't have a word for something - we'll mangle it's original name until it sounds right enough. Don't like something? Well, just make up an alternative. If you say it often enough, it will become part of the "real" English.