By Promod Puri
With the English language, I always have an issue that relates to the spelling of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of words in its vast vocabulary.
There are letters lodged in these words that have no function, completely soundless, and almost defunct.
But they take up their space by squeezing in with other functioning letters, perhaps to give some complexion and distinctiveness to the word.
Take, for example, the word ‘through.’ Is there a need for letters o, g and h. Americans are wise (!); they write it ‘thru.’ Another one, ‘knowledge.’ If we delete or ignore k, w, d, the word still will sound the same.
A separate dictionary of the English language with the words carrying useless letters would reveal their superfluity.
I am not the only complainant in the world about inoperative letters interweaved in the construction of English words.
The English Spelling Society, founded in 1908 and counted playwright George Bernard Shaw as an early supporter, joined forces with the American Literacy Council two years ago and asked linguists to come up with viable alternative spelling schemes.
According to a study quoted by society, English-speaking children may take twice as long to learn to read and write as speakers of more familiar languages because the spellings are so variable.
English is a very irregular language, partly because of the way it evolved – from Anglo-Saxon, via the Norman invasion, which introduced French words and spellings.
Here is an interesting fact as well to note. Early printers, who were paid by the letter, sometimes added extra letters to boost their earnings.
If the society’s over-a-century campaign to clean up words from useless letters succeeds, it will result in their easy to spell and better pronunciation.
Minor changes have already happened in North America. For example, from colour to ‘color.’ Its pronunciation on both sides of the Atlantic, however, is ‘culur.’
The word ‘behaviour’ or ‘behavior’ behaves the same way no matter how one spells it.
The big revolution in spelling change is happening thru tech communication. Text messaging or SMS is breaking all the spelling protocols or niceties to spell words as they sound, very short and crisp, still understandable, and meaningful.
If the SMS trend spills over to regular writing, then one day, Tsawwassen, a suburb of Vancouver, would be spelled ‘Tvasan,’ a saving of four letters, clear, and confusion-free.