Phonetically consistent English

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/02/19/phonetically-consistent-englis.html

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A many headed dragon of a language.

Where if you cut one head off, two more sprout in its place.

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Welsh, of course, is consistent in its vowels.

I think Shakespeare de-stranges it in a way: We’re used to Shakespearean actors spreading out vowels, so breaking all the diphthongs doesn’t jump out as much. Also, and maybe it’s that passage, but it seemed like the majority of the vowels happened to fall in line with the phonemes selected.

Spelling is inconsistent; so to make things better, we’re going to force pronunciation to conform to spelling? It’s cute, granted, but I hope it’s not intended as an improvement.

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As always, any attempt to understand how English, that great purloiner of vocabulary, that odd amalgam of low German and even lower French, is pronounced simply invites the chaos:

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You mean Old High German, right?

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Well, that’s the only way phonetic spelling can work. English used to be consistent between spelling and pronunciation, but the pronunciations were very different and spelling also varied enormously. There’s always been that drift, even before it was English (see the Saxon runes, etc.*). Having standardized spelling is what screwed up English in the long term - pronunciations continued to differ and change, spelling didn’t.

*The Saxon runes were interesting because they were phonetic but the letters didn’t have names - each rune was named after a word that began with that letter. (And in fact the characters could also represent those words.) E.g. the rune with the “m” sound was “man,” and you could use the letter both as the “m” sound and to represent the word. (And also replace all instances of “man” within a word as well.) So the pronunciation of the letter equivalent to “a” would be locked to the pronunciation of one particular word, unlike the modern “a” that can represent many sounds. Inevitably, of course, the pronunciation of those particular words shifted, screwing up the letters - because now there wasn’t a letter that had the sound it used to represent, and if the language still had need of that old sound (as it usually did), the whole alphabet needed to be revised.

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You want me to ruin a terrible pun with accuracy?

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Most phonetic scripts are like this: exceptions are usually derived scripts (e.g. Phoenician -> Greek -> Roman -> English) where this relationship is lost.

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Exactly how Japanese kana were invented, and like our letters, they have been changed over the centuries until they are no longer recognizable.

Tolkein made a mistake in making Elvish writing logical. I don’t think there has ever been a logical system of writing.

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But that’s precisely what makes it unhuman.

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Hilariously, about half his lines fail when spoken in American.

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Isn’t it also bits of Celtic tongues as well? And Latin?

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It’s everything. To use the appropriate quote:

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
James Davis Nicoll

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If most languages are a donkey show, English is a barnyard.

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Hangul would like a word.

(King Sejong is bae.)

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“Farmyard”, darling, please.
Otherwise, bang on.

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This inconsistency thing the speakers of this language have - does it affect their way of thinking and acting? Is that, perhaps, a reason behind, erm, the havoc the UK politics is currently wreaking?

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Unlikely.
At least if we disregard certain types of upper class accents.
(The Fanshaw-Churnleighs of Berkshire come to mind.)

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Johnson’s? Farage’s?

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