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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Shapes of Sounds, part three

Often English words don’t seem to follow any logic in their spelling and pronunciation. There is a good explanation for this. Many words in English come from other languages (it’s the most welcoming language in the world), and many of those bring their own rules with them.

George Bernard Shaw was one writer who argued for a more rational system of spelling. To make his point, he asked: How would we pronounce this word, ghoti?

His answer was fish.
the gh = f as in rouGH
the o = i as in wOmen
the ti = sh as in naTIon

This poem, which I used when teaching English as a Second Language classes to foreign university students, is a playful way to demonstrate this problem with English.

Try reading it out loud, quickly.


I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of these familiar traps.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead – it’s said like bed, not bead.
For goodness’s sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat:
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up: and goose and choose,

And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart –
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five!

~ Anon.

1 comment:

Barbara Mangogna said...

That's wonderful. I have many friends who speak English as a second language, and I admire them immensely. Barbara