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On timing, technology and the weirdness of the English language

I kinda cracked up at these examples of some of the things that make it so hard for non-natives to learn English, assembled by linguist and author Aria Okrent.

The opening pages of The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke, an instructional book of table manners dating from around 1480 and written in Middle English.
The opening pages of The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke, an instructional book of table manners dating from around 1480 and written in Middle English.
Courtesy the Trustees of the British Library

Although I learned a smattering of a couple of other languages during my student days, I’m pretty nearly monolingual, and the language is English. I’m so used to it that I would almost say English “makes sense” to me.

But it doesn’t. Make sense that is. I’m just used to it.

And I’ve long been aware that it was one of the tougher languages to adjust to for the non-native speaker. Still, I kinda cracked up at this collection of  examples of some of the things that make it so hard for non-natives to learn, assembled by linguist and author Aria Okrent in a piece for Aeon titled “Typos, Tips and Misprints” and subtitled: “Why is English spelling so weird and unpredictable? Don’t blame the mix of languages; look to quirks of timing and technology.”

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Oh yeah, I was gonna give you list of what you might call words-that-should-rhyme-but-don’t, from the top of Okrent’s piece:

English spelling is ridiculous. Sew and new don’t rhyme. Kernel and colonel do. When you see an ough, you might need to read it out as “aw” (thought), “ow” (drought), “uff”  (tough), “off” (cough), “oo” (through), or “oh” (though). The ea vowel is usually pronounced “ee” (weakpleasesealbeam) but can also be “eh” (breadheadwealthfeather). Those two options cover most of it – except for a handful of cases, where it’s “ay”’ (breaksteakgreat). Oh wait, one more … there’s earth. No wait, there’s also heart.

The English spelling system, if you can even call it a system, is full of this kind of thing.

The full (and no, “full” doesn’t rhyme with “lull” or “mull” or “cull” or “hull,” but those last four don’t rhyme with “pull” and you get the idea by now). The  funny/smart piece can be accessed via this link.