Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Bass-Base Fiasco

English is not my native language. I have had to learn it over the course of many years and I still haven't exactly mastered it. However, I absoluetly adore it. I can't help it, you could say that I'm somethig of a language geek, to the point of slight Grammar Nazism. I love the way it sounds and looks, and I appreciate that it has terms and phrases that my native language lacks, which makes it easier for me to discuss certain topics (mainly tropes). There is only one thing that I hate about English.

This is what I call The Bass-Base Fiasco, after a particularly bad case, but you probably know it better associated with the word "ghoti". For those of you who still don't know what I'm talking about, this post is about my frustration with the absolutely butt-fucked relationship between spelling and pronunciation of words in the English language.

What's my problem with it? It makes no goddamn sense is what! I could give you examples, but chances are that you can think of at least three cases all by yourself. Generally speaking, this problem mostly manifests in instances where either two words or parts of words are spelled the same but pronounced differently, or they're spelled differently and pronounced the same. The example that I like to give regarding this phenomenon are the words "bass" and "base", obviously. "Bass" (kind of ghoti- I mean fish) and "bass" (musical instrument) are spelled exactly the same but pronounced differently. On the other hand, "bass" (aforementioned instrument) and "base" (foundation) are spelled differently, but pronounced the same. That's what my name for the phenomenon stands for - you can never be sure how it's pronounced if you see it written down, and you won't know how it's spelled if you hear it spoken out loud.

I like to compare the English spelling-pronunciation system to the German one. I studied German for a few years back in primary school; I can't speak it all that well, but I do know the basics. This particular comparison concerns the letter groups "ie" and "ei", which exist in both languages, but their rules are radically different. In German, their pronunciation is fixed, so (barring compound words) all "ei" are pronounced [eye] and all "ie" are pronounced [ee]. In English? Anything goes. Because I've never seen An American Tail, this has caused extreme grief when I encountered the protagonist's name for the first time. And the second. And the fourth. In fact, I still have problems with it.

I'd liken the two languages to chairs. German is a normal kitchen chair. It has rough edges and doesn't look all that well, but it does the job and that's what's important. English, on the other hand, is an art deco monstrosity that may look good, but you need someone to explain how exactly to sit on it, and even after that it's not at all comfortable, because you still constantly fidget around, trying to find a position in which you are jabbed by various bumps and edges the least. Meanwhile, Russian is a weird thing that you can never quite figure out, but its constructor will swear it's even better than German once you learn how to use it.

I have mentioned the word "ghoti" in this post. I will not waste time explain it here, just say that it's an alternate spelling of the word "fish". For a better explanation, please use Google. I would, however, like to point out this page. I just love how the guy explains how the ghoti phenomenon makes no sense while absolutely missing the point. Let me ask you a question, asswipe: What do you think is better - a language in which the pronunciation of written letters or letter groups is dependent on their position in the word, both absolute and relative to other letters or letter groups, the time of day and the position of the Moon in relation to the Orion constellation, or a language in which the pronunciation of written letters or letter groups is dependent on what those letters or letter groups actually are? Think about it.

In conclusion, I would like to propose that any time someone answers the question "How is that spelled?" with "Exactly what it sounds like", they shall be replied with a hearty "Fuck you" and a kick to the face.

Edit: In a fit of synchronicity that is not really too unusual for me, Cracked.com's Chris Bucholz has released a frankly superior article on the same topic. I swear I only read it after hitting the "Publish" button here, but I would not forgive myself for not pointing this out.

Link: 4 Reasons to Forgive Yourself for Being a Bad Speller

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