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English Pronunciation - Easy as Pi

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Ah, English. Where we take unsuspecting words from every other language in the world, hustle them into an alley at gunpoint, then proceed to beat the living tar out of them until they submit and agree to become our own, no matter the source, and despite that fact their grammar and pronounciation just doesn't fit with the rest of the words around 'em. Shoe-horn 'em in there anyway! What the hell, why not? It's English dammit!

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Ah, English. Where we take unsuspecting words from every other language in the world, hustle them into an alley at gunpoint, then proceed to beat the living tar out of them until they submit and agree to become our own, no matter the source, and despite that fact their grammar and pronounciation just doesn't fit with the rest of the words around 'em. Shoe-horn 'em in there anyway! What the hell, why not? It's English dammit!

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All's fair in love and vocabulary. I'll bet for every word we steal from other languages, they steal two from us.

I could only get about halfway through that list. The point was made by then and I was getting bored. If anything, I think the main thing that list would do is discourage foreigners from even trying to learn our langauge, and that would be too bad. It isn't really as bad as the list makes it seem. There are many words there they'd never need to use, and the rest they'd learn to say correctly over time without even noticing.

It's easy to think of pairs he missed. At least most of us aren't all the fussy when we hear someone mispronounce something. We know the language encourages mistakes. We're writers.

C

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Well, the Japanese love to borrow words and shoehorn them into Japanese too. So I'm told, and any brief exposure to the language shows it.

Why not, if the word is useful, I suppose?

English spelling versus pronunciation? Our spelling is mostly, mostly, like it was in the time of Shakespeare and King James from the early 1600's, only regularized in the 1800's. It reflects pronunciation from far earlier, even the Middle English period of Chaucer. And why was Middle English spelling strange? It was because the Norman French, who had conquered England, spelled according to how Saxon English words sounded to a Norman French ear at the time. That's why English has OU versus U/EU, and GH instead of just H from Old English, and WH instead of HW. Also TH instead of two old runes, thorn and edh, which Icelandic still uses. (Just be glad QUH didn't stick, for WH. Except for "Farquhar" as a name.) English always has exceptions, and sometimes they don't make sense, even to explain from a textbook grammar point of view.

In the late 1700's and early 1800's, people began to standardize English spelling. That's when the US/UK spelling split occurred too, because the US wanted to differentiate its language, to simplify spelling. But spelling reforms only partly took hold.

Here it is, over 200 years later, and we have an even bigger mess. One of the problems holding us back is dialectal pronunciation. How do you agree to spell phonetically if two people with different standard, accepted pronunciations differ so much? (British versus American, then throw in all the other countries.) The other problem is literacy and force of habit itself, the very process of having a standard means we're reluctant to change it. There's no one to force a change throughout the English-speaking world.

Except it will happen over time, gradually, as people change and simply refuse to spell things the old way.

The two biggest culprits for English? GH and OU.

Despite that I'm a proofreader and editor, and have to correct for spelling (both US and UK) I'd still like to see a few become the standard spelling: Top on my list: "thru". I'd also like to see American punctuation put the closing punctuation outside the quote, unless it actually was in the quote, but that's more grammatical.

There was one common word I always tripped over as a kid, despite being a very good speller: tomorrow. I still have to watch myself, or I'm liable to misspell it as tommorow. Why? I don't know. I know morrow.

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