Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

> At least the English tolerate all kinds of foreign mangling pretty well.

That's because they mangle their own language awfully enough.

I'm not a native English speaker but I've heard quite a few native Englishmen and their accents are horrible. Received Pronunciation is obviously nice to hear and quite clear, but those local accents... oh my!

I'm not saying that my accent is any better, but at least I try to make my sounds be as close as possible to the actual letters used in the word! :)




There's no letter-to-sound correspondence in English. English probably - at least compared with other European language - is one of the most irregular languages in terms of pronunciation:

http://www.wordsmith.org/awad/english1.html

This is simply due to the language having been heavily influenced by a host of other - quite different - languages over the centuries, Old Norse and French in particular.

There's also the interesting fact that as the first human language in history English is spoken by more non-native speakers than native speakers. Some linguists say we might very well see some sort of International English that's highly influenced by foreign accents.

In fact there already is such a variety although it's only used by a rather small group of people: The kind of English used by the European Union, its officials and bureaucrats. EU English is littered with bureaucratic expressions, loan words and false friends (particularly from French).


When ever the English language and its appropriation of other words come up I cannot help but think of this quote from James Nicoll:

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."


This is simply due to the language having been heavily influenced by a host of other - quite different - languages over the centuries, Old Norse and French in particular.

It's actually worse than that. I see that the Great Vowel Shift[1] has been linked to, but it's probably not immediately clear why that was significant.

What happened was that "between 1350 and 1600.... all Middle English long vowels changed their pronunciation". Unfortunately this occurred just as spelling was being standardised, so some spelling was standardised using the old pronunciation (which then shifted) and some with the new.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift


> There's no letter-to-sound correspondence in English.

There is, it's just very complicated (hundreds of rules), as well as accent-dependent, and there are lots of exceptions.


With only 56 somewhat complex rules, you can pronounce things correctly 85% of the time!

http://zompist.com/spell.html


Remember phonics for kids learning to read? And "just sound it out"? I try that from time to time on ESL friends, and the looks I get... I think that is the difference between years of passive intelligible input vs. starting from scratch.



It's backwards to say the pronunciation is irregular. Spoken language is more fundamental than written language. The pronunciation is fine; it's completely arbitrary, like that of any language, and no way is inherently better than any other.

It's the spelling that is irregular.


There's pidgin English in Nigeria.

When you first hear it you think it's a different language.


There's all kinds of pidgin Englishes (and Frenches and cetera...)

In fact, it's almost impossible NOT to spontaneously invent a pidgin when there's a language barrier between two people or peoples. When I was in Vietnam, my friends and I adapted our English ad-hoc depending on who we were speaking to. With merchants with very little English, we'd speak only in numbers and yes/no, and maybe say please/thanks in each others' languages. With our tour guides who were much more fluent, we could speak in complete sentences, but still tried to keep things in present tense, and tended to ask questions by using a declarative word order with a rising tone ("we go to the hotel now?").

And we did this all instinctively--it's easy to see how well-defined pidgin languages can arise from this sort of linguistic adaptation between two or more populations.


The pidgin ("business") English that has official status in New Guinea is a different language, recognizably derived from English but different.


Which kind talk be dat?

Na craze talk be dat


English was not "influenced" by Old Norse, rather, they are siblings


Actually, its both. Old English is related to Old Norse as modern German is to modern Swedish: They're similar but not as close as German and Dutch or English and Frisian, for instance.

However, in the Early Middle Ages English was also heavily and directly influenced by Old Norse because Vikings at that time not only more or less continually invaded the English east coast but also settled and established their own jurisdiction (The Danelaw) there.


And it gets another dose after 1066 because the Normans were really former Vikings who adopted a Romance language and the Norman language contains a lot of Norse words in addition to Latinate ones.


Also practically the same alphabet (Futhorc rather than Futhark)


International English does exist. It's basically American English. Every international school around the world and English Cram school is Asia uses it.


Oh heaven forbid someone speaks to you in a regional accent, how awful it must have been for you. I'm so sorry we don't all speak like the queen, you must be lucky to come from a country where there are no regional accents or dialects of your native language.


> sounds be as close as possible to the actual letters used in the word

So you'd pronounce "ghoti" as "fish" then?


Well, this got downvoted into the ground by people who aren't familiar with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghoti

The point is that the "letters used in the word" are a really bad guide to pronunciation of English. They're not consistent across words or the place of the letter within the word. It's just consistent enough to make people think that might be the case.

Then you get placenames like "Loughborough", "Worcester", "Bicester", "Cholmondeley", and "Slough".


Where the letters ARE in the word does have meaning and makes them a better guide to the pronunciation of English than you're letting on, in my opinion. The wikipedia article agrees:

> However, linguists have pointed out that the location of the letters in the constructed word is inconsistent with how those letters would be pronounced in those placements, and that the expected pronunciation in English would sound like "goaty"; [ˈɡəʊti].


See, for example, Mark Rosenfelder's attempt to algorithmically describe the pronunciation of English [0]. In his introduction, he takes ghoti to task:

> Whenever the subject comes up, someone is sure to bring up all the words in -ough, or George Bernard Shaw's ghoti-- a word which illustrates only Shaw's wiseacre ignorance. English spelling may be a nightmare, but it does have rules, and by those rules, ghoti can only be pronounced like goatee.

[0] http://zompist.com/spell.html


ghoti actually can't be pronounced like "goatee", since the only way to pronounce the former is by stressing the initial syllable.


Well, start like "ghost". And end like "veni, vedi, vici". So I'd say more like "goati" than "goatee".


Maybe "goaty" would be better.


"Worcester" makes more sense if you split it up and pronounce it as "Worce ster". And remember that RP is non-rhotic; that'll help too (so "Worce" ends up being pronounced like "wuss").


I recently had to put up with a satellite navigation system mispronouncing around 90% of place names. The (mis)pronunciations were clearly based on spelling, but the system developers weren't trying very hard, or didn't know the spelling-sound correspondences or how to encode them. A rule-based approach would get it right most of the time, and exceptions can be handled by table look-up. (Obviously you check whether it's an exception first before applying rules.) I've done this before, for words rather than place names.


Google maps giving turn by turn and trying to say Maori words is downright hilarious. Personal favourite was Oratia (pronounced Oratee a)which got an Orwellian sounding Orasia.


> The point is that the "letters used in the word" are a really bad guide to pronunciation of English.

But it's the only available clue, so people will use it!


Accent preference is subjective. There's nothing intrinsically pleasant about RP - it's just more likely to be heard on broadcast media than other accents. In Great Britain and Ireland, there are many different accents, some of which might make it difficult for someone not used to them to understand the speaker.


"Whenever any Englishman opens his mouth, he makes some other Englishman despise him" – Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.


Some of those "horrible" accents are some of the oldest accents in the UK.


And as we all know, backwards compatibility is a bitch!


Gan canny woer Geordie!


Why aye man! Ya dinae what yet torkin aboot!


What the fuck? I don't come on a message board in your language and tell them people from the town they're from speak their language wrong. Delete this comment.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: