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The Tudor Society

Fun with the English language

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:

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.

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Fun with the English language