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False friends are a favourite topic for linguists and translators and something this blog has covered previously, describing them as lexical con artists. In this week’s blog, we immerse ourselves in the world of fashion, where false friends… Read More
I love English! It’s so versatile and rich in synonyms, turns of phrase and idiomatic expressions. In fact, I like nothing more than expressing something in the written word. When I was younger my mum used to bring out a poem after dinner on occasion, and if we had a guest we’d ask them to read it. If the guest were not a native speaker it was amusing, and interesting to see how they coped with the pronunciations of the words. The poem is attributed to a few authors but here I will share it with you:
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead –
For goodness sake don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up – and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart –
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five!
Try reciting that after a few glasses of wine! It’s true that the English language is a minefield in terms of pronunciation. Whereas native speakers will know more or less instinctively how to pronounce words in the context in which they appear. You have a tear in your jumper, but you have a tear (rhymes with beer) in your eye. You would play the violin with a bow, but would bow (rhymes with cow) to the Queen. If you’re a learner of English you can’t rely all the time on the way things are spelt, for example comb, bomb and tomb all have different sounds despite having the ‘omb’ suffix.
English also has many homophones which could cause a few hiccoughs. Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but have a different meaning e.g. rose (the flower) and rose (past tense of rise). More often than not homophones are spelt differently such as stake and steak (you wouldn’t want to skewer a vampire with the latter). Words may also be spelt the same but with different intonation the meaning differs for example, ‘I am content to be here’ is different from ‘the content of this book’. Or ‘refuse’ (as in waste/rubbish) and ‘refuse’ (as in to decline or reject).
In writing this and looking for the full poem above I also found other similar poems to demonstrate the complexities and intricacies of the English language. Each one makes me smile! With our silent ‘gh’ and ‘k’, ‘ph’ pronounced as ‘f’… it’s amazing we manage to get our heads around it at such an early age.
It’s really not logical… and to highlight this fact:
If GH stands for P as in Hiccough
If OUGH stands for O as in Dough
If PHTH stands for T as in Phthisis
If EIGH stands for A as in Neighbour
If TTE stands for T as in Gazette
If EAU stands for O as in Plateau
The right way to spell POTATO should be GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAU!
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