Friday, February 19, 2010


Today Miss Snark's First Victim, an excellent blog lost from my link list along with all thirty of the others into internet Heaven, and I haven't yet learned how to retreive them or to start up a new list... Google time!

She raises the point that there are two extra vowels, Y and W. You will have to go there to find out what she says in her post of today (Friday 20th Feb). And this was my answer:

English is mashed potato. The rules we know today are tampered with, and made as one size fits all. They are wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all I became aware of sounds when I studied Pitman Shorthand. Without realising it I was learning to use symbols rather than letting the printed word block my linguistic sensibilities.

Basically consonants and vowels are floating entities. Consonents are hard sounds. The ‘l’ in look is a hard sound. The ‘l’ in could is a soft sound. Of course this sound is lost on us today. But once it was a vowel sound. A crude attempt at capturing a sound it was meant to convey.

Firstly may I recommend you go directly to Amazon and order yourself a copy of THE ADVENTURE OF ENGLISH. A BIOGRAPHY OF LANGUAGE by MelvYn Bragg. He talks of English in a section on which he describes as GVS which means Great Vowel Shift. He says that printing largely fixed spelling pre GVS but that took place after the setting of words. Thus a language which is in turbulence with its printed equivalent ends in the two being out of sync.


“When properly read aloud, the fourteenth century English of Chaucer sounds strange to modern ears in a way that, on the whole, the late sixteenth century English of Shakespear does not. For example, Chaucer’s way of saying “name” would have rhymed with the modern “calm”, his “fine” with our “seen”; he would have pronounced “meet more or less as we would pronounce “mate,” “do” as “doe” and “cow” as “coo” (as it is prounced in parts of Scotland).
“In the years between Chaucer’s birth and Shakespeare’s death, English went through a process now known as the Great Vowel Shift. People in the Midlands and south of England changed the way they pronounce long vowels… (held in mouth long time) (meet, street) rather than short vowels (met, mat). Unquote.

He goes on to say on this subject that the invention of printing had an impact on language and the written word. Gutenberg in Mainz invented printing (press) in Mainz in 1453. And Caxton started printing English in 1453. The first dated book printed in England in English was Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres 1477. Caxton also printed romances, books of conduct and philosophy, history and morality and the first illustrated printed book in English was “The Myrrour of the Worlde 1481. Caxton worried about how to achieve a common standard. Caxton wrote “Certaynly it is harde to playse every man by cause of dyuersite & chaunge of langage. For in these dayes euery man that is in ony reputacyon in his counter, wyll vtter his commynycacyon and maters in suche maners and termes that few men shall vnderstonde theym.”

So really the vowels and consonants are loose translations for modern logics of today. They crude. Logically a consonant should be a hard sound. And a vowel a soft sound. I learned Hebrew and I find that – apart from being a neater language – its written word illustrates the vowel sounds apart from the hard sounds. Almost the way Pitman symbols do. Of course to a native Hebrew speaker they would read words out of familiarity much the same way we English speakers read and are not disturbed by words such as could, would, wrong, write etc. And understand how one mouse turns into two mice, while one house turns into two houses, but that’s another whole chapter isn’t it. Sheesh who’d want to learn English!

But basically, your suspicions on lurking vowels is very very logical and we are all heading up the garden path where the sign says THIS IS HOW YOU MUST GO AND DON’T ARGUE WITH ME. But you know better.

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