Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'd Hate to Have to Learn English

People like Harmony who like linguistics and history can tell you about the history embedded in the pronunciation of the English language. That's not my area of expertise,; I'm just hear to illustrate a few examples on how arbitrary English pronunciation is. Consider the following sentences.

Example 1: The blood of my brood tastes good. (try to ignore the content and focus on the sounds)

Here we have the "oo" making three different sounds! The first "oo" makes a short "u," like "uh." The second one acts more like it's supposed to and makes an ooooooo sound. As for the "oo" in "good," I don't find any good way to spell out the pronunciation difference. As a mood lifting exercise, pronounce all oo's the exact same way.

Example 2: The second thesis was written unto thee.

I don't know how you're supposed to know which "th" sound to make, especially considering that "thesis" begins with "the," which by itself is pronounced quite differently than the first three letters of the former. But I suppose if you're learning English, you will quickly learn how to pronounce the stand-alone "the."

Also notice the different sounds that the e's make in the second example:

  • The - "uh", or sometimes "ee"

  • second - "eh"

  • thesis - "eee"

  • written - similar to the "oo" in good.

  • thee - same sound as in thesis.

Here are a few other words which might pose a problem to a learner of English:
  • Tuesday (toosday)

  • Wednesday (wensday, how are you supposed to know not to pronounce random letters in the middle of the word???)

  • Capernaum (cuh-per-nee-uhm is the pronunciation I hear frequently)

  • though - thorough - rough (th's, gh's pronounced differently)

I'm surprised more English learners don't sound like total fools when they're starting off, although maybe I just don't hear them in those stages. I'm glad I learned English before I recognized how convoluted and arbitrary it is.

Related Posts:

4 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Ron and Ginny

    Your last sentence applies to anyone. That is the way I learned it, too. I didn't learn the truth until I was in school trying to work all that stuff out. It was a pain in the neck and I never did get it. But, I speak the language, I am able to read, and I can even write a little. ;-) It is amazing.

  • Alan

    We need to abandon our current alphabet and go to a purely phonetic one.

    OTOH, think of all the material that would have to be converted. Maybe not.

  • Thehotrod5

    I imagine it would be harder for an adult who was already reading and writing in another language. When our daughter came home from Haiti (she spoke Kreyol) she had a hard time learning how to pronounce words. Things have actually gotten better since we have started to learn how to read with phonics. She has been home4.5 years now and is doinjg 2nd grade work but she reads on a 4th/5th grade level for pure fun :)


  • CappuccinoLife

    Josiah agrees with you. Actually, he's a little more blunt. He says the English language is *crazy*. :p
    I think I probably would have agreed with him way back when I was weeping over spelling lists and sentence diagramming.