Throughout history, stories have been told but sometimes preserving them for future generations has proven difficult. We examine the ways stories have been passed down, and the role the written word has played in shaping our civilizations.
Martin Puchner, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Harvard University, and author, The Written Word: The power of stories to shape people, history, and civilization
We all know the rule: “I before E, except after C,” but it’s not applicable in “weird” or “science” or many other words. The English language has many exceptions to its rules, and these irregularities make it a difficult language to spell. Vivian Cook, Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University and author of Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary: Or Why Can’t Anybody Spell, andNiall McLeod Waldman, author of Spelling Dearest: The Down and Dirty, Nitty-Gritty History of English Spelling, explain more about where these complex spelling rules come from and what can be done about it.
The English language is a melting pot of several languages all jumbled together over its long history. Combining the spelling and pronunciation of old English, French, Latin, Dutch, and others has produced a language with silent letters, varied spellings, and many exceptions to its rules. Some of the influences on the formation of the English language were the conquerors infiltrating the country, the church writing the books, and the academics refining the language.
Many people have brought up ways to change this problem and fix one of the most inconsistent language systems in the world. When the English language came to America, it became even more complex, because Noah Webster, trying to simplify English spellings, gave us two ways to spell the same words, “labour” or “labor” for example. Some have proposed a phonetic spelling, but with all the different accents in the world, Cook says it would do more harm than good. Waldman proposes adjusting the exceptions to fit the rules, in order to make the language more consistent. In any case, they both suggest that in future we create a set of rules to add consistency to new words entering the English language.
To learn more about our guests and their thoughts on the English language, visit the links below.
Vivian Cook, Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University and author of Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary: Or Why Can’t Anybody Spell
Niall McLeod Waldman, author of Spelling Dearest: The Down and Dirty, Nitty-Gritty History of English Spelling
Although the English language is complex, irregular, and almost random, its various origins make it the perfect language for the United States: a melting pot of ethnicity, culture, and, yes, language. However, the structure of the language may prove daunting as there are many exceptions to the rules. Experts Vivian Cook, Professor Emeritus of Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University, describes the complexity of the English language and provides an explanation for its bizarre quality. Originating in England with German and Scandinavian dialects in about 500 C.E., the language received French, Latin, and Dutch influence throughout the next few centuries, culminating in an elaborate collection of words. Niall McLeod Waldman, author of Spelling Dearest: The down and dirty, nitty-gritty history of English spelling, tries to describe the mess that our language appears in today. He states, “So [words] come from the way we used to sound it, or from other languages, and we just have never thought it out. Fourteen-hundred years of spelling history, we’ve never had any rules for new words, coming into English or created in English…. And that’s why we have anarchy in our spelling system.” Waldman goes on to explain that the English language is a partial reason for high illiteracy rates among English-speakers, due to the sounds in our words and their inconsistent spelling. A solution to the complication has been identified as pronouncing words as they are spelled, but even this poses problems as there are many different accents in the English language. Proficiency of the English language is considered a necessary key to success in our globalized world, but mastery requires an understanding of all of the different aspects.
The Virtues of Being an Introvert: Introverts usually get a bad rap, but we talk to two experts who say introverts have a lot to offer. We discuss what introversion is and how introverts can be a lot of fun to be around.
The Complications of Spelling English: The rules of the English language always seem to have an exception or ten. The language’s irregularities make it difficult to learn and spell. We explored how the language got do complicated.
Synopsis: Slang is often thought of as a lower-class way of speaking, although we use it all the time and it does make our language more colorful and vibrant. But how does it come into being? We talk to a linguist and to an author about why slang and jargon are part of our speech, who brings them into our language and why some slang falls out of favor – but should come back.
Host: Marty Peterson. Guests: Robert Leonard, Professor of Linguistics, Director the Graduate Program in Forensic Linguistics and of the Institute for Forensic Linguistics, Threat Assessment and Strategic Analysis, Hofstra University; Lesley M. M. Blume, author of Let’s Bring Back: The lost language edition.