Tag Archives: Pronunciation

The Glorious Chaos of English

Primative Spelling BeesEnglish, in many ways, is one of the simplest languages to learn quickly and in which to converse fluently; but scratching below the surface one rapidly finds incongruities.  As a teacher for English as a foreign language for adults (TEFLA), I was frequently confronted with the challenges of teaching students to spell and pronounce words correctly, but I was also comforted by the fact that English nouns only come with four possible preceding cases, or articles (a, an, the, and none), rather than, say, German, in which each noun has a nominative, genative, dative or accusative, singular or plural form of their case; or Finnish, which has a whopping 15 cases.

The Chaos, a poem written by the Dutch traveller & teacher,  Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870–1946), gives ~800 examples of irregular spelling.  In general one can say that there are spelling “rules”, but English, in all its historic complexities of absorbing, digesting and recycling influences from conquerors, enemies, travelling companions and allies, seems designed to say “rules can and will be broken”.  I would never give his last advice to anyone – but after reading this poem, you’ll understand that English needs tenacity and constant practice to use well!

The Chaos

by G. Nolst Trenite’ a.k.a. “Charivarius” 1870 – 1946

Dearest creature in creation

Studying English pronunciation,

I will teach you in my verse

Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse

I will keep you, Susy, busy,

Make your head with heat grow dizzy.

Tear in eye your dress you’ll tear,

So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,

Pray, console your loving poet,

Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

Just compare heart, beard and heard,

Dies and diet, lord and word,

Sword and sward, retain and Britain.

(Mind the latter, how it’s written).

Made has not the sound of bade,

Say said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you

With such words as vague and ague,

But be careful how you speak,

Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,

Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,

Cloven, oven, how and low,

Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery:

Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,

Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles.

Exiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing.

Thames, examining, combining

Scholar, vicar, and cigar,

Solar, mica, war, and far.

From “desire”: desirable–admirable from “admire.”

Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier.

Chatham, brougham, renown, but known.

Knowledge, done, but gone and tone,

One, anemone. Balmoral.

Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel,

Gertrude, German, wind, and mind.

Scene, Melpomene, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,

Reading, reading, heathen, heather.

This phonetic labyrinth

Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Billet does not end like ballet;

Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;

Blood and flood are not like food,

Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,

Which is said to rime with “darky.”

Viscous, Viscount, load, and broad.

Toward, to forward, to reward.

And your pronunciation’s O.K.,

When you say correctly: croquet.

Rounded, wounded, grieve, and sieve,

Friend and fiend, alive, and live,

Liberty, library, heave, and heaven,

Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,

We say hallowed, but allowed,

People, leopard, towed, but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,

Between mover, plover, Dover,

Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,

Chalice, but police, and lice.

Camel, constable, unstable,

Principle, disciple, label,

Petal, penal, and canal,

Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.

Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit,

Rime with “shirk it” and “beyond it.”

But it is not hard to tell,

Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,

Timber, climber, bullion, lion,

Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, and chair,

Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous, clamour

And enamour rime with hammer.

Pussy, hussy, and possess,

Desert, but dessert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants.

Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.

River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,

Doll and roll and some and home.

Stranger does not rime with anger.

Neither does devour with clangour.

Soul, but foul and gaunt but aunt.

Font, front, won’t, want, grand, and grant.

Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger.

And then: singer, ginger, linger,

Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, and gauge,

Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.

Query does not rime with very,

Nor does fury sound like bury.

Dost, lost, post; and doth, cloth, loth;

Job, Job; blossom, bosom, oath.

Though the difference seems little,

We say actual, but victual.

Seat, sweat; chaste, caste.; Leigh, eight, height;

Put, nut; granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rime with deafer,

Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.

Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,

Hint, pint, Senate, but sedate.

Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,

Science, conscience, scientific,

Tour, but our and succour, four,

Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,

Psalm, Maria, but malaria,

Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,

Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,

Dandelion with battalion.

Sally with ally, yea, ye,

Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.

Say aver, but ever, fever.

Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.

Never guess–it is not safe:

We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.

Heron, granary, canary,

Crevice and device, and eyrie,

Face but preface, but efface,

Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Large, but target, gin, give, verging,

Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging,

Ear but earn, and wear and bear

Do not rime with here, but ere.

Seven is right, but so is even,

Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,

Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk,

Asp, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation–think of psyche–!

Is a paling, stout and spikey,

Won’t it make you lose your wits,

Writing “groats” and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel,

Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,

Islington and Isle of Wight,

Housewife, verdict, and indict!

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,

Saying lather, bather, father?

Finally: which rimes with “enough”

Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?

Hiccough has the sound of “cup.”

My advice is–give it up!

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Simply English, not Simple English

No VowelsThe following poem has been floating around for years; it’s so popular because it’s a great encapsulated example of the weirdness of English as a language!  It’s also a great exercise in stretching your vocabulary, being more aware of how to say words that are often only seen written and never heard pronounced.  And if you come across a word you don’t know, or could swear it’s pronounced differently than the rhyme of the poem indicates, I challenge you to look it up (Wiktionary is an example of a good source which shows how various dialects of English pronounce words if there is more than one option); and if you feel completely overwhelmed, click on the cartoon above to watch someone else chew their way through it!

Simply English

Dearest creature in creation,

Study English pronunciation.

I will teach you in my verse

Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.

I will keep you, Suzy, busy,

Make your head with heat grow dizzy.

Tear in eye, your dress will tear.

So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,

Dies and diet, lord and word,

Sword and sward, retain and Britain.

(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)

Now I surely will not plague you

With such words as plaque and ague.

But be careful how you speak:

Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;

Cloven, oven, how and low,

Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,

Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,

Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,

Exiles, similes, and reviles;

Scholar, vicar, and cigar,

Solar, mica, war and far;

One, anemone, Balmoral,

Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;

Gertrude, German, wind and mind,

Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,

Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.

Blood and flood are not like food,

Nor is mould like should and would.

Viscous, viscount, load and broad,

Toward, to forward, to reward.

And your pronunciation’s OK

When you correctly say croquet,

Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,

Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour

And enamour rhymes with hammer.

River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,

Doll and roll and some and home.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,

Neither does devour with clangour.

Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,

Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,

Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,

And then singer, ginger, linger,

Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,

Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,

Nor does fury sound like bury.

Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.

Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.

Though the differences seem little,

We say actual but victual.

Refer does not rhyme with deafer.

Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.

Mint, pint, senate and sedate;

Dull, bull, and George ate late.

Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,

Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,

Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.

We say hallowed, but allowed,

People, leopard, towed, but vowed.

Mark the differences, moreover,

Between mover, cover, clover;

Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,

Chalice, but police and lice;

Camel, constable, unstable,

Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,

Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.

Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,

Senator, spectator, mayor.

Tour, but our and succour, four.

Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Sea, idea, Korea, area,

Psalm, Maria, but malaria.

Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.

Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,

Dandelion and battalion.

Sally with ally, yea, ye,

Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.

Say aver, but ever, fever,

Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.

Heron, granary, canary.

Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.

Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Large, but target, gin, give, verging,

Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.

Ear, but earn and wear and tear

Do not rhyme with here but ere.

Seven is right, but so is even,

Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,

Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,

Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation — think of Psyche!

Is a paling stout and spikey?

Won’t it make you lose your wits,

Writing groats and saying grits?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:

Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,

Islington and Isle of Wight,

Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough?

Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?

Hiccough has the sound of cup.

My advice is give it up!

 

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