News Archive - 2012 (7)
Why is English spelling so messed up? We get the same sounds spelled different ways (two, to, too), the same spellings pronounced different ways (chrome, machine, attach), and extra letters all over the place that don't even do anything (knee, gnu, pneumatic). There aren't always good reasons for these inconsistencies, but there are reasons. Here's a brief look at the history of English spelling told through 11 words.
Last week’s “gleanings” were devoted to spelling and ended with the promise to address the other questions in the next installment. But, since the previous part inspired some comments, I will briefly return to Spelling Reform. One of the questions was: “Who needs the reform?” Everybody does.
I wanna look at some 'non-standard' spellings. I'm gonna surprise ya wiv some information about dem. I dunno about u but I thought these spellings were sorta new, from the sixties maybe. But I gotta tell ya, they've been around a long, long time. Ya might not believe me, but it must be true cos I read in it David Crystal's book, which I luv by the way, called The Story of English in 100 Words.
It cannot but come as a surprise that against the background of countless important words whose origin has never been discovered some totally insignificant verbs and nouns have been traced successfully and convincingly to the very beginning of Indo-European. Fart (“not in delicate use”) looks like a product of our time, but it has existed since time immemorial. Even the nuances have not been lost: one thing is to break wind loudly (farting); quite a different thing is to do it quietly (the now obscure “fisting”). (This fist has nothing to do with fist “clenched fingers” and consequently isn’t related to fisting, a sexual activity requiring, as we are warned, great caution and a lot of tender experience. This reminds me of the instruction Sergei Prokofiev gave to his First Piano Concerto: “Col pugno,” that is ‘with a fist’.)
Standards are what make communication possible—as any network engineer will tell you
Trubek isn’t proposing that we reform English orthography—as so many others have suggested, so fruitlessly, over the centuries. Rather, she says we should do away with spelling rules altogether. On the face of it, that’s an odd sort of logic.
A misspelled tweet describing a crush as adorable is changed to say she is “affordable.” The text message “I like himm” is changed to “I like Himmler.” Damn you, autocorrect! By now most of us have had unfortunate experiences with autocorrection software—innocuous messages turned anatomical or lunch plans morphed into love notes.
There are many, many evolving regional British and American accents, so the terms “British accent” and “American accent” are gross oversimplifications. What a lot of Americans think of as the typical "British accent” is what's called standardized Received Pronunciation (RP), also known as Public School English or BBC English. What most people think of as an "American accent," or most Americans think of as "no accent," is the General American (GenAm) accent, sometimes called a "newscaster accent" or "Network English." Because this is a blog post and not a book, we'll focus on these two general sounds for now and leave the regional accents for another time.