17-24 Segment 2: The Complications of Spelling English

17-24B The Complications of Spelling English

 

Although the English language is complex, irregular, and almost random, its various origins make it the perfect language for the United States: a melting pot of ethnicity, culture, and, yes, language. However, the structure of the language may prove daunting as there are many exceptions to the rules. Experts Vivian Cook, Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University, describes the complexity of the English language and provides an explanation for its bizarre quality. Originating in England with German and Scandinavian dialects in about 500 C.E., the language received French, Latin, and Dutch influence throughout the next few centuries, culminating in an elaborate collection of words. Niall McLeod Waldman, author of Spelling Dearest: The down and dirty, nitty-gritty history of English spelling, tries to describe the mess that our language appears in today. He states, “So [words] come from the way we used to sound it, or from other languages, and we just have never thought it out. Fourteen-hundred years of spelling history, we’ve never had any rules for new words, coming into English or created in English…. And that’s why we have anarchy in our spelling system.” Waldman goes on to explain that the English language is a partial reason for high illiteracy rates among English-speakers, due to the sounds in our words and their inconsistent spelling. A solution to the complication has been identified as pronouncing words as they are spelled, but even this poses problems as there are many different accents in the English language. Proficiency of the English language is considered a necessary key to success in our globalized world, but mastery requires an understanding of all of the different aspects.

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Guests:

Vivian Cook, Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University and author of Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary or Why Can’t Anybody Spell?

Niall McLeod Waldman, author of Spelling Dearest: The down and dirty, nitty-gritty history of English spelling

Links for more information:

Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary or Why Can’t Anybody Spell?

Spelling Dearest: The down and dirty, nitty-gritty history of English spelling

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