My dad forwarded me this poem today written by Gerard Nolst Trenité which is aptly called, The Chaos. I will admit that I have a hard time with a few of these words, but if nothing else this really illustrates the (maddening) irregularities of the English language. I learned English pretty much through osmosis. I was still young enough when I moved to Canada that my brain functioned like a sponge and I learned the language without too much effort. Just being surrounded by it through school, TV, and every day life was enough. I can’t really imagine what it is like to learn this language when one is older and the brain is not as willing to learn new things.
From what I understand part of the reason that English is so “weird” is because it has been influenced by, and borrows heavily from, other languages, which is kind of neat when you think about it, but isn’t so “neat” for the many immigrants to Canada for example who struggle to understand, as this poem points out so well, why pronunciations of similar looking words can, in fact, be so different?
Below is just an excerpt of the full poem which you can find here.
Scroll down for a YouTube video of the correct pronunciation. And just for the hell of it, I highlighted the words that I second guessed as I read.
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 rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
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 to give up!!!
How did you do?