Musings are thoughts, the thoughtful kind. For the purpose of these articles, a-musings are thoughts that might amuse, entertain and even enlighten.
English spelling is bizarre. The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is said by many to have claimed that the word ‘fish’ could legitimately be spelled ‘ghoti,’ by using the ‘gh’ sound from ‘enough,’ the ‘o’ sound from ‘women’ and the ‘ti’ sound from ‘action.’ However, there’s not a shred of evidence that Shaw, a noted advocate for spelling reform, ever brought up ghoti. The true origins of ghoti go back to 1855, before Shaw was even born. In December of that year, the publisher Charles Ollier sent a letter to his good friend Leigh Hunt, a noted poet and literary critic., stating, “My son William has hit upon a new method of spelling ‘Fish.”
As a language fancier in mid-19thcentury England, William Ollier would surely have come into contact with the strong current of spelling reform — championed by the likes of Isaac Pitman, now vaguely remembered for inventing a popular system of phonetic shorthand: what Pitman called “phonography.” In 1845, Pitman’s Phonographic Institution published “A Plea for Phonotypy and Phonography,” by Alexander J. Ellis, a call to arms that laid the groundwork for ghoti and other mockeries of English spelling. To make the case for reform, Ellis presented a number of absurd respellings, like turning scissors into schiesourrhce by combining parts of SCHism, sIEve, aS, honOUr, myRRH and sacrifiCE. (If you’re wondering about the last part, the word sacrifice has historically had a variant pronunciation ending in the “z” sound.)
Ellis thought scissors was a downright preposterous spelling of sizerz, and he went about calculating how many other ways the word could be rendered. At first he worked out 1,745,226 spellings for scissors, then adjusted the number upward to 58,366,440, before finally settling on a whopping 81,997,920 possibilities. Isaac Pitman and his brothers liked to use the scissors example when proselytizing for phonetic spelling, and the 58 million number even worked its way into “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”
In English, all the letters for vowels have more than one, often several, different sounds: name, all, act, another, any, car, a. In St Lucian Creole, each letter represents one sound. This sound seldom changes: bab-la, bat-la, kat-la, tab-la, pat-la, wat-la, dat-la. In English, some are even silent: comb, name, wreck, sign, whistle, pneumatic, doubt, straight, know, write, receipt, mess, fasten, and even thinkin(g). I could go on forever. In fact many a small island state could probably balance its budget if it used the savings from unneccesary letters wisely.
In English a combinations of letters, can have many, many different sounds, take OU for example: cough, house, enough, through, course, although, and so on. The same spelling of a word can have different sounds. We call these heteronyms: sow - sow, bow - bow, row - row, lead – lead, invalid – invalid, insens – insens. In English, the same sound may be represented by many different letter combinations: I, buy, high, sky, my, thigh, tie, why, write, rite, right, playwright. And then of course there are horrors like: so, sew, sow and sough. Do you even know what sough means? The same sound can have different spellings in the same word: judge, heyday, high-wire, dismiss, byline, beseech. It really is quite a mess.
St Lucian does not use X and Q. Instead it uses the combinations ks and kw to make the sounds: taks, aksidan, èksèpté, siksé, kwapo, kwab, kwa, tikwas, kwavat, kwéyòl. Two letters, C& U, never appear alone in St Lucian Creole. Cal ways appears with H= ch: chat, chapo, chamou, chak, cho, dachin, and machin. In English, this ‘sh’ sound has many spellings: fish, ambitious, suspicious, luscious, caution, chateau, machine, and fissure. In Creole, U always appears with O = ou: kou, sou, nou, fou, asou, doudou, chouval. English, on the other hand, loves variety: you, flute, view, knew, who, yuletide, and cruel. In Creole, A sometimes appears with Y = ay: kay, chay, manmay, tibway, afalay, twavay, pay. But as usual, in English the same sound has varying spellings: sigh, try, buy, lie, surprise, I, deny.
English has two sounds which are very similar: bridge & fetch. In St Lucian, the dgesound is always written dj: fidjay, djab, djouk, djabal, djèp, djéwi, djòl, ladjé, ladjè, ladjablès and zandji. In English, what a surprise, this sound is written in different ways: giant, jingle, jug, grudge, dungeon, judge, plunge, join, gigolo, German, jet, badge, and ginger. In St Lucian, the tch-sound is always written tj: tjè, tjé, tjim, tjiwé, tjwit, tjwizin, and tjwiyè. In English this sound is written in different ways: church, fetch, wretch, etc. The problem is, of course, that the letters CH can be pronounced in different ways: architect, archbishop, choice, chemist, chess, machine, cherie and cherry.
For several years, I helped inmates at Bordelais on their path to literacy by teaching them to read and write Creole, which they all spoke, before going on to English. I could tell you more about that, but I think I shall rest my case.