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English, as she’s spoken and written

There isn’t another language like English that lends itself so deliciously to mis-spelling and faulty pronunciation, writes Karan Thapar.

india Updated: Aug 19, 2007 15:47 IST

Sixty years after independence, when we snapped our links with the British Raj, spare a thought for the complexities of the language we’ve continued with and steadily, if not proudly, mangled and mispronounced. But, to be honest, the blame is not ours. It lies squarely with the English language. There isn’t another that lends itself so deliciously to mis-spelling and faulty pronunciation.

First, consider this email I received last week from my friend Vishakh Rathi. The point it makes should be obvious:

“The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would become known as ‘Euro-English’.

In the first year, ‘s’ will replace the soft ‘c’. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard ‘c’ will then be dropped in favour of ‘k’. This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome ‘ph’ will be replaced with ‘f’. This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent ‘e’ in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing ‘th’ with ‘z’ and ‘w’ with ‘v’.

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary ‘o’ kan be dropd from vords kontaining ‘ou’ and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.”

If Vishakh’s email is about spelling, the following poem from Kris Srinivasan, which also arrived last week, is about the horrors of pronunciation, particularly when the spelling seems to suggest otherwise. Incidentally, this is one way of discovering whether you really know how to speak the language or only to read and write it. But first, a word of advice — read this poem slowly and carefully because otherwise you’re bound to trip up. And mind your tongue!

Brush Up Your English

I take it you already know/Of tough and bough and cough and dough.

Others may stumble but not you,/On hiccough, through, lough and though.

Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,/To learn of less 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.

Finally, in case you’re interested, this poem was written by a certain Gerald Nolst Treniti, a Dutch observer of the English language who lived from 1870 to 1946 and wrote under the pseudonym Charivarius. Perhaps that’s also the origin of the phrase ‘it’s double Dutch’!

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary 'o' kan be dropd from vords kontaining 'ou' and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.