Thank you to Tim for letting me know about this video by Aaron Alon, "What If English Were Phonetically Consistent?". It's a fun video to watch on a Monday morning, and it's also very interesting.
English really is a crazy language, as is demonstrated by the poem "Chaos" by Gerard Nolst Trenité. The following video isn't perfect, but she does a wonderful job of reading it. I have added the unabridged version of the poem at the bottom of this post:
I have done a few Claire Chats video talks on the English language and members can view them by clicking on the links below:
- Names – How do you pronounce them?
- Place names – how do you pronounce them?
- The History of English Part 1 – Old English
- The History of English Part 2 – Middle English
- The History of English Part 3 – Early Modern English, the language of the Tudors
Here is the poem "Chaos":
Dearest creature in Creation,
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
It will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye your dress you'll tear.
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it?
Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain,
(Mind the latter, how it's written!)
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say—said, pay—paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak,
Previous, precious; fuchsia, via;
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven; how and low;
Script, receipt; shoe, poem, toe,
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid; measles, topsails, aisles;
Exiles, similes, reviles;
Wholly, holly; signal, signing;
Thames; examining, combining;
Scholar, vicar and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.
From "desire": desirable—admirable from "admire";
Lumber, plumber; bier but brier;
Chatham, brougham; renown but known,
Knowledge; done, but gone and tone,
One, anemone; Balmoral;
Kitchen, lichen; laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German; wind and mind;
Scene, Melpomene, mankind;
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which is said to rime with "darky".
Viscous, viscount; load and broad;
Toward, to forward, to reward,
And your pronunciation's O.K.
When you say correctly croquet;
Rounded, wounded; grieve and sieve;
Friend and fiend; alive and live;
Liberty, library; heave and heaven;
Rachel, ache, moustache; eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed;
People, leopard; towed, but vowed
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover,
Leeches, breeches; wise, precise;
Chalice but police and lice.
Camel; constable, unstable;
Principle, disciple; label;
Petal, penal and canal;
Wait, surmise, plait, promise; pal.
Suit, suite, run, circuit, conduit
Rime with "shirk it" and "beyond it",
But it is not hard to tell,
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular; gaol; iron;
Timber, climber; bullion, lion,
Worm and storm; chaise, chaos, chair;
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Ivy, privy; famous, clamour
And enamour rime with "hammer."
Pussy, hussy and possess.
Desert, but dessert, address.
Golf, wolf; countenance; lieutenants
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
River, rival; tomb, bomb, comb;
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rime with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Soul, but foul and gaunt, but aunt;
Font, front, wont; want, grand, and, grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger,
And then: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal; mauve, gauze and gauge;
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rime with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth;
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste; Leigh, eight, height;
Put, nut; granite, but unite.
Reefer does not rime with "deafer,"
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull; Geoffrey, George; ate, late;
Hint, pint; senate, but sedate;
Scenic, Arabic, pacific;
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, and succour, four;
Gas, alas and Arkansas!
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm; Maria, but malaria;
Youth, south, southern; cleanse and clean;
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Sally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess—it is not safe;
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf!
Heron; granary, canary;
Crevice, and device, and eyrie;
Face but preface, but efface,
Phlegm, phlegmatic; ass, glass, bass;
Large, but target, gin, give, verging;
Ought, out, joust and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and wear and tear
Do not rime with "here", but "ere".
Seven is right, but so is even;
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen;
Monkey, donkey; clerk and jerk;
Asp, grasp, wasp; and cork and work.
Pronunciation—think of psyche!—
Is a paling, stout and spikey;
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing "groats" and saying groats?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict!
Don't you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally: which rimes with "enough,"
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of "cup"......
My advice is—give it up!
(From Wikisource, First published in Drop Your Foreign Accent: Engelsche uitspraakoefeningen (4th ed., H. D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1920).)
You can see the poem written phonetically at http://www.madore.org/~david/misc/english-pronunciation.html.