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The English Language--very interesting!



Most WAISers were amused by the satire of the inconsistences of Engish. Gordon Kackson writes: "These gems remind me of wonderful saying in German--"Why simple when it can be so beautifully complex?" Here are a couple more examples from one of my undergraduate Spanish professors:
He cut the tree down and then he cut it up.
The truck ran him down, and the blood ran down him.
We can of course protest against such craziness, but such protests are likely to be in vain. However, I would not contest the right of anyone to engage in such a contest. And we can double or triple such fun by becoming bi- or trilingual!"

Aldo, da Rosa from Brazil has dug up some examples in Portuguese: "I agree that (next to Mandarin) English has evolved into amazing simplicity, having lost most of its inflections. This, combined with with the ambiguity of so many English sentences, makes it the ideal diplomatic and commercial language and the most useful lingua franca. Being "crazy", i.e., being full of homographs and homophones, however, is not an exclusive honor of English. I can, in a few seconds, come up with a long list of homographs in Portuguese:

"Ou casa ou fica em casa".
"Passa a passa".
"Muda a muda".
"Cobra a cobra".
"Cedo cedo".

which I translate below for the few who are not fluent in Lusitanean:

"Either get married or stay at home".
"Pass me the raisin".
"Change the transplant".
"Charge (money) for the snake".
"Soon, I'll yield".

Note that the very definition of homograph differs from English to Portuguese. In the latter, it suffices that the similarly spelled words have different meaning, while in the former, they must have different roots. "

I am sure that WAISers will find these phrases useful if ever they visit Brazil or Portugal. Steve Torok comments: "You must all know that time flies like an arrow". Well we have no time flies around our house, thank goodness. George Sassoon is a slave to slavic languages: "In Serbian you might say: gore gore gore gore, meaning: higher up the mountains are burning still worse. There are slight differences of tone". This comes from Greece: "A tough critique of English, though not through an unwarranted use of the linguistic plough" (Harry Papasotiriou).

Ron Bracewell defends English spelling, which he says "is not crazy; it is a product of evolution of verbal communication between people, followed in more recent times by written communication. It is doubtful if any of the ludicrous artificial sentences 1 to 21 could come from the mouths of communicating people. They are not samples of English as she is spoke. Presumably one could compose equally laughable jokes in other languages that evolved as English did.

Here is some material to work with. Take the following words, all different, from French: tan, tans, tant, taon, t'en, tend, tends, temps. They are all pronounced the same! A contributor to Le Canard Enchainé could make up a funny sentence containing these words; when spoken it would sound very odd and we would all laugh at it. It would not be an example of French as it is spoken. Just a joke".

My comment Fie on you, John! As a scientist you should demand clarity! The phases (frases) were deliberately funny, not an attempt to reproduce real life conversations. The fact remains that English spelling/pronunciation is the main obstacle to foreigners learning the language. French is a poor second. Of the languages I know, Spanish has by far the most logical spelling. Gordon Jackson teaches at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, where almost every language in the world is represented. Could he ask its research division if any language beats Spanish? Turkish, perhaps? We must narrow the search, excluding homographs, which do not present a pronunciation problem to the learner. The Institute teaches foreign languages to Americans, who face the problem.

Ronald Hilton - 2/9/02


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