Tuesday, January 8, 2013

So glad I am a native English speaker.

If you think I am about to bash those outsourced customer service agents that "don't speak English properly", think again. If anything I applaud anyone that attempts to learn this horribly confusing language. As far as I can tell English has only one rule that has no exceptions: all rules have exceptions!

As a native speaker I take many things for granted about English. As children we learn the proper way the language flows.  Unless you are "hyperlexic" like my son. Even though I gave birth to him in an English speaking country and he has only lived in an English speaking household and the only other language he has heard is a smattering of Spanish from children's programs, English is not his first language. At least not spoken English. His first language is written English.

He read Hop on Pop at three - not memorized recitation - but actually read. He started spelling words shortly thereafter and had an uncanny sense of phonics. Ok, maybe "Chrisms" is not the correct way to spell Christmas, but now that you look at it you can see what he was thinking. And listening to him speak is like hearing someone that is learning English as a second language. At four and a half he is still baffled by You and Me. Prepositions are often omitted or he puts them in odd places in his sentence. Etc, etc. We are working on it with him. Hence, I have become "hyper-aware" of many of the English language's idiosyncrasies.

Let's start with some simple numbers (another fascination with hyperlexic kids):

one eleven first
two twelve second
three thirteen third
four fourteen fourth
five fifteen fifth

Try to explain that logically. He was right it should be "fiveteen". It should be oneteen and oneth! Luckily he has sickeningly awesome powers of memorization, so I gave up trying to explain it, had him memorize the exceptions and then showed him the pattern that continues after that.

Let's talk a bit about pronunciation shall we?



And then you have things like:
  • motorcycle
  • tricycle
  • bicycle
  • unicycle
  • cycle
I guess once you start ditching the wheels you change the pronunciation.

Only in English can you pronounce ghoti as "fish":
  • gh, pronounced /f/ as in tough /tʌf/;
  • o, pronounced /ɪ/ as in women /ˈwɪmɪn/; and
  • ti, pronounced /ʃ/ as in nation /ˈneɪʃən/.

  • (side note: the above example is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but has yet to be found in his writing.)





    And don't forget "to, too, two" and "your, you're" and "its, it's".

    Thanks to watching Electric Company with my son I have learned a few pronunciation rules that I don't remember ever learning, or simply don't remember:

    • "c" is soft when followed by "e", "i" or "y" and hard when followed by any other letter
    • "r" is a "bossy letter" that changes the pronunciation of vowels before it. (that episode made me chuckle)
    And let's not even get started on the difference between British English and American English. Why we in the US dropped the u in colour and humour I'll never know. And liter verses litre. And chips, football and biscuits are all different things depending upon which side of the ocean you reside.

    Slang is always fun to decipher too. Try explaining to a 4 year old that "cool" and "hot" can actually mean the same thing, "great".  And my personal pet peeve that makes me cringe every single time I hear it, the insistence of every football player, coach and announcer except Troy Aikman to say "break contain". Contain is a VERB! You do not "break run" or "break cook". You break containMENT! Right, Troy? C'mon, help me out here.

    Those "Mad Men" of Madison Avenue also do their level best to screw with the language too:
    • crunchewy
    • grainalicious
    • crispity crunchety
    • drinkability
    • hungerectomy

    We haven't gotten to punctuation and capitalization with J yet, but you can bet your bottom dollar when we do I will make sure he knows there is a difference between:

    I was helping my uncle, Jack, off a horse.
    and
    I was helping my uncle jack off a horse. 

    I only have one theory as to why English is now and always be a crazy conglomeration of odd pronunciations and exceptions to every rule:




    Maybe the next time you are tempted to insult "one of those foreigners that can't bother to learn the language" you will remember how difficult this language really is.

    9 comments:

    1. I never insult the foreigner. I do get frustrated with myself. I once had to cover sales in Quebec. Where they speak French. Something every school child in Canada has ample opportunity to learn. Something almost every school child in Canada says "what do I need that for". Thankfully there is Google Translate, and enough French grammar rules in my head - I got through.

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    2. English is one confusing language sometimes. I had a friend learning English ask me a question. If the plural for Goose is Geese, why isn't the plural for Moose, Meese? I had to stop and smile and say, 'BEATS ME..", because she was saying Meese, or Mooses until corrected. I am in awe of anyone who can speak more than one language. English keeps me busy and it is my native tongue. Enjoyed your post.

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    3. English is so confusing and to make matters worse there are different ways of being correct - Australian, American, English all have their own takes. My girls are learning to read and are both amazingly good, but they often ask why when it comes to spellings. Sometimes the only answer is that's just how it is! Who knows!

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    4. English is so frustrating, when it comes to grammar and spelling I am still working it out. Whilst my eldest son tell me spelling is just not logical, he is right I tell him you just have to learn it and remember it. Really interesting post.

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    5. That is very funny. How about "I don't want to read a book I've already read." My oldest son was reading at 3 too and has an amazing memory. Before he could talk he walked around pointing at things I would tell him about them. When he started talking he went from saying one word here and there one week, 2 word sentences the next week and then putting 3 or more words the next week. I had "what to expect..." and that is not what they said! Anyway, he was always asking questions about why certain words were used and I never knew what to tell him. Like "why is more than one goose called geese but more than one moose is still moose?" and why is higher not spelled like fire... he hungered for information about words and just after he turned 2 I was reading a paper and he pointed at the long word "dilapidated". I told him what it meant and told him about the story about the house that was going to be torn down because it was leaning. He loved saying that word and then his grandmother came over and when she went to get up off the couch she said, "oh my old bones". Jared told her she was dilapidated and she was shocked! She said, "do you even know what that means?" and he said, "I means you're old and fallin' apart". No one will ever forget that story as many times as it has been told.

      This is Donna at http://mygardenble.wordpress.com It is stuck saying I'm anonymous.

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    6. This was an awesome post. I never tried to learn another language. English is enough to comprehend and master for me! LOL

      Kathy
      http://gigglingtruckerswife.blogspot.com

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    7. Fantastic post! A bunch of us are sitting here doing work and everyone stopped to read it over my shoulder. Thanks for giving us a humor and perspective break.

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    8. I have a COMMS class this semester that's just about English and its craziness. Let me tell you, so many university kids have trouble with these things that we take for granted... it's just too hard to keep them all in the noggin! I've accompanied my parent's journey to learning English and am so glad I learned it at five.. Don't know where I'd be learning it now! I too admire all who learn English as a second language!

      Thanks for linking up! Excellent post! (:

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    9. I do not have the gift of language, and I marvel at others who can learn other languages and speak them fluently. My son had problems with idiomatic speech but nothing like the challenges your son faces, but then was able to take two years of German in high school. He marveled at how much easier German was than English. (I loved the Peanuts Grammar Nazi poster, too.)

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