Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Absurdly Simple


The move for simplified spelling of the English language has been there for the past seven hundred years or so. The first move was made way back in the thirteenth century when a monk by name Orm initiated the move by dropping the unsounded vowel in some words. But nobody paid any attention with the result that it died a natural death. Later the famous English poet John Milton [1608-1674] spelled ‘sovereign’ as ‘savran’ and ‘their’ as ‘ ther’. This also did not find favour in the literary circles and whatever Milton wrote as an abridged word was accepted as ‘a poetic license’ for his great erudition and scholarship. The thread was subsequently picked up by the famous American Lexicographer, Noah Webster [of Webster Dictionary fame]. He proposed to omit silent letters, spelling ‘head’ as ‘hed’, ‘tough’ as ‘tuf’, ‘thumb’ as ‘thum’. He was successful to some extent at least in the United States, in striking the ‘k’ from ‘frolick’ and’ physick’, but he could not persuade the public to accept ‘ wimmen’ for ‘women’ and ‘aker’ for ‘acre’.

After Webster, no systematic attempt appears to have been made to simplify the English language, even though some literary figures tried their hand here and there with a limited amount of success, as the public would not accept a change just for the sake of a change. With the passage of time, the American accepted only a few simplifications;
gaol became jail, kerb became curb, gramme became gram, draught became draft, tyre became tire, waggon became wagon, programme became program, fuze became fuse, barque became bark, defence became defense, encyclopaedia became encyclopedia, storey became story, harbour became harbor etc.

While simplification of the language looked after the spelling part of the word, the meaning of the word also got changed with passage of time, as it happens in all languages over a period of time. What grammarians like H.H.Fowler, Treble and Vallins wrote about the usage of words and their meanings, pertained to the language and meaning then in use. Shakespeare used the word ‘err’ in the sense of ‘wonder’ and that meaning no longer prevails today. When King James 11 called St. Peter’s Cathedral in London, ‘amusing, awful and artificial’, Sir Christopher Wren, the Architect of the Cathedral, was highly pleased. In those days, amusing meant amazing, awful meant awe-inspiring and artificial meant artistic. Moreover, when the same language is used in different geographical locations, the meaning of the word also gets changed. The case of English, as spoken in England and in America is a classic example for this change of meaning. That is why when an Englishman told a group of his British and American friends “I am mad about my flat”, his British friend understood him to mean “I am much excited about the accommodation I am living” whereas his American friend thought that his friend meant “I am very angry about my punctured tyre”.

About a decade back, some serious attempt was again revived to simplify the English spelling by the European Union who chose English as the preferred language, particularly for trade, commerce and correspondence in government establishments.
A commission was set up to study the feasibility of improving the efficiency of the English language in communication between government departments and make the language as simple as possible. The Committee members correctly assessed that the English spelling is confusing and unnecessarily difficult. For example, a combination of the four letters ‘O.U.G.H.’ is used to signify at least seven distinctly and even widely different sounds, as is evident from the sentence ‘though the tough cough and hiccough ploughs me through, my thought remains clear’ After lot of deliberations, the Commission considered the following suggestions to be implemented phase-wise in a Five Year Plan:

In the first year, for example, the committee suggested using‘s’ instead of the soft ‘c’. Sertainly, sivil servants in all sites would resieve this news with joy. Then the hard ‘c’ could be replaced by ‘k’ since both letters are pronounced alike. Not only would this klear up konfusion in the minds of klerical workers but typewriters kould be made with one letter less.

There would be growing enthusiasm when in the second year it would be announced that the troublesome ‘ph’ would henceforth be written as ‘f’. This would make words like ‘fotograf’ twenty percent shorter in print.

In the third year, public akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated shanges are possible. Governments would enkourage the removal of double leters which have always been a deterent to akurate speling .Also al wil agre that the horible mes of silent ‘e’s in the language are disgrasful and they would go.

By the fourth year, people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replacing ‘th’ with’z’ and’w’ by ‘v’.

During ze fifz yer, ve vil hav a reli sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no more trubls or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech ozer.

Ze drem vil finali kum tru.

Oh! Simplicity, Thy Name is Absurdity!


ARTICLE NO. 432---Simplified English Language
Created: Friday, February 15, 2008 8:58 PM


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