Teach English in Jinghe Zhen - Yangzhou Shi

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22. Peculiarities of the English Language For someone learning English as a second language, it must be easy to get discouraged once they stumble upon its various peculiarities. As a native speaker, we go about our day not giving a thought to the many ways in which we navigate our way through its peculiarities without so much as skipping a beat. English has a number of these that must make even the most cunning linguist question their desire to learn English. One of the most prominent linguistic crimes in English is spelling. It’s the difference between what we say and what is written that provides the headache. With everything from silent letters to heteronyms and homophones, it is a veritable minefield awash with exceptions and ambiguities. All of which leads to a plethora of commonly confused, misused and misspelled words. As mentioned, the homophone; words that are spelt differently, have different meanings, but have the same pronunciation. Common examples are; assent/ascent, bow/bough, cite/sight, and of course, to/two/too. Sadly, even many native speakers still struggle to apply ‘to’ and ‘too’ correctly. Another source of confusion is the heteronym; words that have the same spelling but have a different pronunciation and meaning. A few examples are bow, live, read, tear, wind and wound. The only way to gather understanding is to consider the context as a whole. If the above wasn’t confusing enough, English has contranyms; a word with two opposite meanings. For example, sanction. It can mean ‘a penalty for disobeying the law’ or, ‘official permission or approval for an action’. The silent letter also deserves a mention, as English has many of these additions placed in words that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever. For centuries, ‘debt’, was spelt ‘dette’, from Old French. That itself derived from the Latin ‘debitum’, meaning ‘what is owed’. It was around circa 1400 when the silent ‘b’ was inserted into the word to create ‘debt’. Perhaps this ‘re’ insertion was a quest to reflect the Latin roots of the word. Due to the aforementioned minefields, there have been many concerted efforts over time toward spelling reform. A strong proponent of such was American Noah Webster who believed phonetic orthography would make learning easier, and that it would also distinguish themselves from the British. His American Spelling Book (1783) and American Dictionary of the English Language (1828; 2nd ed., 1840) reflected his principle that spelling, grammar and usage should be based upon the living, spoken language, rather than on artificial rules. Some of his suggestions were taken and remain in place today: defence to defense; humour to humor; and musick to music. Although he had some success, some of his other suggestions that did not take are: dawter for daughter; soop for soup; tung for tongue; and wimmin for women. Despite the arguments put forward for spelling reform having some plausible claims, due to the many countries and geographical spread of the language itself, together with conflict between orthography and phonology, radical and ongoing reform seems unlikely. Perhaps the only way to get a handle on spelling is to read widely, practice, and (perhaps most importantly in this technological age) do not trust spell checkers. Use them, yes, but do not rely wholly upon them. They cannot read context and you may be the victim of misplaced homophone and your meaning will well and truly be misconstrued. Even though English is riddled with mystery, it seems less complex than many other languages. After all, if it was that difficult to master, surely it would not have gained the current foothold it has across the globe.