Obviously, the way to pronounce “gh” sounds like “f” — examples; rough, enough, tough.
Obviously, the way to pronounce “o” sounds like “i” — example: women.
Obviously, the way to pronounce “ti” sounds like “sh” — examples: nation, emotion
Put them all together and you have — FISH.
Tracing the reasons why “ghoti” does not spell “fish” would require quite a detailed investigation into historical changes in the English language, and the choice of phonemes in English. Why does “enough” use the “f” sound, but “bought” does not? For some reason or reasons, many centuries ago we rejected the Germanic “ch” sound, as in the word “knight.” We preferred the softer sound of English. All a linguist can do is to tell you that this happened, but none of us knows why. Language often develops as a result of a popular song or political movement, or some other random historical quirk.
I sometimes ask my students what a “yellow submarine” is. They all know it comes from a Beatles song, and have some sense that it is a symbol for the crazy place where we all cohabit, but there is no logic to it. It just stuck for reasons which we will never be able to analyze.
That is what we mean by a “soft science,” when we refer to Linguistics, Sociology, Psychology, etc. In soft sciences, absolute proof is often lacking. This makes the soft sciences both more fascinating and more nerve-wracking.
Jila Ghomeshi writes about many aspects of language from a social and historical point of view. We have a tendency, for example, to judge as unintelligent those people who don’t use language in the same way we do. Ghomeshi helps us understand why this is an unproductive way to evaluate others. She writes of the frustrating irregularity of many language habits (sometimes I wonder how anyone can learn English!) and relieves us of the compulsion to necessarily find logic in language. Just because patterns are familiar does not mean they make sense (see: ghoti–the “correct” spelling of fish. I’ll write about that in my next post.)
Ghomeshi writes that: ”the relationship between a prescriptive grammarian and a linguist is like the relationship between an etiquette expert and an anthropologist, ” and she takes the part of the linguist.
It costs $12.95 on amazon.com, or even better, at your local bookstore.
Jila Ghomeshi, author. Grammar Matters: The Social Significance of How We Use Language. Published by Arbeiter Ring Publishing (ARP), 2010
Spellcheck is only human, after all. It can’t catch everything. Here are some errors that Spellcheck will not catch, and, by the way, one more reason why writers should read their work aloud.
You are all welcome at the Christmas concert. The choir is not rehearsing. (instead of now rehearsing)
Pubic relations director instead of public relations on one person’s business card
The driver made a last minute decision not to exist instead of exit. In that particular story, both words led to the same result.
God is now here was printed as God is nowhere.
Ongoing exercise: As students make these flubs, you can share them (anonymously, of course) with the class, and students themselves can contribute to an ongoing list.
When groups speaking different languages gathered to accomplish something (for example, trading in ports, or running a plantation when slave and owner speak different languages), they had to communicate. Either they agreed to speak a common language (French, Russian, Chinese, Latin, English and many others have historically been that common language), or they scrambled together a mutually comprehensible language based on all the language groups involved, which is called a pidgin. Pidgins usually become just sophisticated enough to accomplish the task at hand, but occasionally develop into a full-blown language. An example is Tok Pisin, the trading pidgin which now is one of the official languages of New Guinea.
Pidgins are miracles of inventiveness, often using the vocabulary of the more powerful language group and the syntax of the less powerful group. They often do not have an extensive vocabulary, so lexical items can bear a heavy burden. For example, Australian aboriginal pidgin calls whiskers grass along face. Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, was referred to by pidgin speakers in New Guinea as fella belong Mrs. Queen.
Creoles are more highly developed languages. They develop in the same way as pidgins, using syntax, phonology, morphology, and semantics from various languages, but they progress to be a society’s native tongue. Some well-known creoles are Haitian Creole (based on French and African languages), Gullah (an English-based, African influenced creole spoken on islands off of Georgia and South Carolina), and Krio (partly based on English, it is the de facto national language of Sierra Leone, though English is the official language).
While pidgins and creoles are based on parent languages, an English, French, Chinese, or African language speaker cannot necessarily understand the pidgins and creoles based on their language. I have found that I think I am understanding, because the vocabulary is familiar, but at some point, I get lost.
Watching Creoles and pidgins develop has taught linguists many things about how all language was created, and how the human brain works.
Exercise: Here are some links to sound files of English-based creoles:
1) Gullah: http://www.knowitall.org/gullahtales/tales/elephant/flash/index.html2)
2) Jamaican Creole:http://www.jamaicans.com/speakja/patoischildstory/LambWhoLovedLaughPatoisJamaican-
The Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are relying on dictionaries to define the terms in their legal opinions. Read about it here.
A good exercise would be to give students the definitions of three words the Justices have looked up recently, and ask them to compare the definitions. The exercise would be best presented to them without comment, so that they could do the analysis themselves.
When the class reviews their comments, they will undoubtedly pick up on the variations in definitions. Which one would/should the U.S. Supreme Court Justices rely upon? Is there another source for meaning besides dictionaries? If so, what is it? Is there any definition or nuance missing in any of the definitions?
Oxford English Dictionary (online, June, 2011): The unwritten law of England, administered by the King’s courts, which purports to be derived from ancient and universal usage, and is embodied in the older commentaries and the reports of adjudged cases. The unwritten law of England, administered by the King’s courts, which purports to be derived from ancient and universal usage, and is embodied in the older commentaries and the reports of adjudged cases.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969): The system of laws originated and developed in England, based on court decisions, on the doctrines implicit in those decisions, and on customs and usages, rather than on codified written laws.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary unabridged (1976): 1. (the first definition is the English one). 2. (This definition applies to the U.S.) The common law as it existed in England at the time of the American Revolution or at some other time fixed by state statute with whatever modifications may have been made by the inclusion at that time of doctrines from other systems of law (as equity or civil law) together with such important English statutes of general application as were suitable to the needs and conditions of the state provided no such statute contravened any local statute. 3. Unwritten law as opposed to statute law. …and there are more definitions.
OED: The quality of being (morally) just or righteous; the principle of just dealing; the exhibition of this quality or principle in action; just conduct; integrity, rectitude. (One of the four cardinal virtues.)
American Heritage: 1. Moral rightness; equity. 2. Honor; fairness. 3. Good reason. 4. Fair handling; due reward or treatment. 5. The administration and procedure of law. Etc.
Webster’s: 1. the maintenance or administration of what is just: impartial djustment of conflicting laims: the assignment of merited rewards or punicshments: <the natural aspiration for justice in the human heart> … and more.
Oxford: (The English have quite a different system of qualifying lawyers to practice, and this reflects the English system) A professional and properly-qualified legal agent practising in the courts of Common Law (as a solicitor practised in the courts of Equity); one who conducted litigation in these courts, preparing the case for the barristers, or counsel, whose duty and privilege it is to plead and argue in open court.
American Heritage: A person legally appointed or empowered to act for another; especially an attorney at law.
Webster’s: one who is legally appointed by another to transact business for him; a legal agent qualified to act for suitors and defendants in legal proceedings.
Excuse me for writing about sex, but I think I have found a sentence in which the singular they is necessary.
A good friend has written several popular books on senior sex, and on her blog she attached the answer a newspaper advisor gave to a reader whose wife had Alzheimer’s Disease and no longer wanted sex.
The advisor wrote back at length, explaining that he didn’t want to guess any of the reader’s beliefs or habits, then gave him a lengthy list of possibilities, including, in the last paragraph, using a “sex worker.” He didn’t want to assume the sort of sex worker the reader might desire, including the gender, so he wrote the following sentence: ”You need to find a good sex worker, one who is professional and cares about their work.”
If he says “his or her,” he may grievously offend his reader for even suggesting he might desire a same-sex worker; on the other hand, if the reader DOES want a same-sex worker, the reader would toss away the advisor’s answer as useless. The advisor cannot use “one’s.” I cannot think of any other word he could use, other than “they,” but may be suffering from a lack of imagination.
Spend a few minutes in class making a list of all the new words which have entered the language recently. Examples are: bff, twitter, bushism, 9/11, Duchess of Cambridge.
You might also review some words which have come and gone within the last few years, which are soooo yesterday. They’ll know these words better than you do.
There are also slang words which have lasted for decades, like cool, and hip.
These words are evidence of the pervasiveness, speed, and inventiveness of, well, of everybody. Syntax changes more slowly, though it does change. We now say “There is lots of reasons” and nobody bats an eyelid.
(I have been in California visiting my son and his family, including a three-year-old and a five-year-old — I’m sure that many of you will understand why I haven’t been posting for the past few days. They are a constant delight, and profoundly exhausting.)
There have been several recent discussions about the lack of a plural you and a formal you in English. There used to be (thou, you), but it faded away. Americans use “you” for all people, young and old, friends and complete strangers, people in authority and people who render services to them. They also use “you” in a way that appears to include the reader or interlocutor, but is actually a generalized statement about nobody in particular. The sentence “If you want to learn English, you have to study.” may not be advice aimed at a particular person. British English might use the word “one” instead of “you,” which is the third person singular instead of the second person. French speakers use “on,” and Spanish use the reflexive, “Para comer, se debe abrir la boca.” (In English, “To eat, you have to open your mouth.”)
The egalitarian, American sensibility does not welcome a formal “you” which places one person above another.
Visitors to this blog have come from 88 different countries, where many languages are spoken. An interesting exercise would be to analyze the use of pronouns, especially “you,” in various languages known to your classes. Is there a formal “you” of both singular and plural? Is gender indicated? What number and person is used for generalized statements? Is there ever an inflexion of the first person pronoun, “I?” A quick review of the uses of pronouns would be interesting, but the further point would be even more interesting — that language is arbitrary, and societies make linguistic decisions that conform with their ethics and their governance. What ethics and what forms of governance has each society agreed upon?
A further exercise, at some other time, might be to assign a two-paragraph essay making an assigned point (an example of such a point would be “The modern practice of families no longer eating together is eroding the social fabric.”) to be written in the second person, and then in the third person.
This is another of a perhaps infinite number of posts differentiating grammar from syntax, this time focusing on the definition of Syntax.
Syntax is more interactive than grammar — grammar being a set of static rules in its traditional definition. Syntax studies the interrelationships between elements in a sentence, how a sentence is constructed, and the relationships between sentences.
How to these sentences relate to each other?
“John opened the store at 3:00.”
“The store was opened at 3:00 [by John].”
“Did John open the store at 3:00?”
“Would that John had opened the store at 3:00.”
The elements in the sentences are the same, but they are placed differently, there is an optional element in the second sentence, and there is movement of the “-ed” in sentence three to “did” to make the sentence a question. The last sentence is just there to blow your mind. Syntax studies how this works.
A child first speaks in single words, then in two-word phrases, and finally, he or she masters syntax — how to put together words into grammatical sentences. Considering how complex syntax is, it’s amazing that all humans master it, except those who were raised by wolves, or sequestered silent in a closet, or those with catastrophic mental challenges.