English is a crazy language!

English is a crazy language!
“Friend and fiend, alive and live” – examples of how crazy the pronunciation of english is.
Some of my Spanish speaking friends think english is a confusing language full of arbitrary rules. Although I did not agree at first… I saw the error of my ways. Here’s my side of an email upon realizing that english is indeed “crazy”. There’s some great examples of the insanity of english towards the end! Suddenly I’m relieved that spanish is my second language!

P.s don’t mind the old-english phrases I was using… I was in a strange mood and found it fitting.


———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Amanda Williamson
Date: Sun, Aug 26, 2012 at 5:00 PM
Subject: Chip, ship and sheep

Lords Pedro and Álvaro 

Ye a good morrow. I do beseech you….

Once upon a time, about ten months ago, in a riveting conversation where the three of us were discussing the particularities of English, you both let the words “english is so arbitrary” escape from your mouths – a statement I have been privy to both of you making before.

If you can think back to this November day, you’ll recall that I was not in accordance with the assertions being made. I didn’t agree that one could easily confuse the pronunciation of words “chip, ship and sheep”:
  • Chip –  rhymes with wip, and makes a short sharp “ch” sound like when saying checkers
  • Ship – like when people say “shhhh” in the movie theatre then adding “ip” like when people say “yip!” in english
  • Sheep – again “shhhh” then eep, just like when saying the word “jeep”.
Although I do not entirely concede on that point, I have come to recognize the many irregularities in the spelling and pronunciation of english, and may one day have to say that you….both… are…. right.

In  spanish, it is said…

that one can read a word for the first time and pronounce it correctly if applying the correct rules:
  • To know where the stress goes on a word: If the word ends in a consonant the last syllable has the stress (i.e encontrar, usted), if it ends in: a-vowel/s/n , then second to last syllable is stressed (dibujo, planeta, origen, entonces). If these rules do not apply then an accent is utilized (corazón).
  • Vowels and constants can vary with how they are pronounced or modify the pronunciation of other letters in a word – but there are known rules for when this is the case: “g” (gato, ingles) the soft g (agua), the english “h” sounding “g” (gente, Argentina), etc etc etc.
There are rules!

Some words in english however are the same but have different meanings…

An obvious example are the homophones (words that are spelt differently but sound the same) here, hair and hare or piece and peace. Likewise there are homographs (words spelt the same, but with different pronunciations). Are there rules to help someone reading a homograph for the first time understand how to pronounce it? I don’t believe so!

For example, “When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes”
  • The dove (a noun: a bird) rhymes with “love”.
  • The second dove (a verb: to jump/plunge) is the simple past participle of the word dive, and can be used interchangeably with dived. It rhymes with “loathe” or “cove”.
“There was a row amongst the oarsmen about how to row”
  • The first word “row” rhymes with “cow” (a noun: to quarrel or to have a boisterous disturbance).
  • The second instance of “row” here rhymes with “toe” (a verb: to propel a boat with or as if with oars).
A final example, “the farm was used to produce produce”
  • The first “produce” (a verb, meaning to make or manufacture) is said like “pro – duce”.
  • The second use of the word produce (a noun, referring to agricultural products) is said like “prod – uce” (but with a stretched “o” sound” in the first syllable – although this maybe accentuated because of my kiwi accent).

Therefore, I think you may be onto something!! English is completely full of inconsistencies and I’m really starting to realise this more now that I have a second-language-learner’s perspective.  Why does heard rhyme with bird (instead of beard) for example? 
I’ll leave you with a few poems which show just how strange english really is.
And for the record, I said it alright….. you’re both right – I was wrong. Enjoy it.

Fare thee well. All of God’s greetings upon you,

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?
You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes off by going on. English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn’t a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

Now if mouse in the plural should be, and is, mice,
Then house in the plural, of course, should be hice,
And grouse should be grice and spouse should be spice
And by the same token should blouse become blice.
And consider the goose with its plural of geese;
Then a double caboose should be called a cabeese,
And noose should be neese and moose should be meese
And if mama’s papoose should be twins, it’s papeese.
Then if one thing is that, while some more is called those,
Then more than one hat, I assume, would be hose,
And gnat would be gnose and pat would be pose,
And likewise the plural of rat would be rose….

“We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
but the plural of ox became oxen not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
yet the plural of moose should never be meese
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice;
yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I spoke of my foot and show you my feet,
and I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?
Then one may be that, and three would be those,
yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
and the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
but though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
but imagine the feminine, she, shis and shim.
If Dad is Pop, how’s come Mom isn’t Mop?…”

This final quote sums it all up perfectly:

“…English was invented by people, not by computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, is not really a race at all). That is why, when stars are out they are visible, but when the lights are out they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up this essay I end it.”

© Richard Lederer

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