Sunday, May 24, 2015


It is the best of languages; it is the worst of languages. Is English the Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde of all languages? Consider this! No other language holds the dubious distinction of being used by an estimated 1.8 billion speakers (about 1/3 of the world's population), of having official status in 53 countries, spread across six inhabited continents, and of being the language that has the WORST letter-to-sound and sound-to-letter ratios (phonemicity) of all Western languages. Using Masha Bell's research, it is logical to infer that half of the purported 1 million words that make up the English lexicon (1) (or 500,000 words, but probably more) are misspelled in all English dictionaries (phonetically misspelled, that is), as, for one, the following table* highlights. (Original source)


Some will claim historical events for this dire state (the Great Vowel Shift, for one), but they will never mention that the architects had evil motives or characters. Take Mr. Johnson, the architect of the English spelling system. He was a doctor (not a linguist) and wanted to belong to the class of the intellectuals who had rejected him, according to Masha Bell's book on the subject. They liked Latin and Greek. He knew this. When they saw so many learned words, rooted in Latin and Greek in his dictionary, he became instantly worth it and his dictionary got promoted. How lame! And take one of the French "acad√©miciens", in France, in 1673, who was even more forthright about it, writing in his notebook:

"" The Academy declares that it desires to follow the old way of spelling words which distinguishes the educated people from the ignorant people and simple women." (Liberation)

One must justify one's entitlement somehow! There was (and still is) a general attitude to use the complexity of the writing system to keep the commoners from reading and allow them to rise up, or to read to unmask the travesti. Yes, true, "commoners" (the estimated 1.8 billion speakers) seems to manage to "speak" it, but how long does it take to learn to read (decode) and pronounce English words and learn how to write (spell) them (and at what level)? Finnish kids start school at age 7 and they ace PISA tests. How much money does it take to make it look like there is NOT a problem? A LOT! In the USA alone, there could be savings of up to $ 24 billions a year if the spelling system was regularized, as 1.5 years of schooling is expensive. But, instead of saving money, we could, teach ethics or financial literacy, in lieu of spending time learning a disabled spelling system or labelling kids disabled with extra teachers or we could have universal daycare. Making a workforce more educated, more competitive has real benefits. Creating FREE programs to transcode between English spelling systems would be easy and effective. Another solution would be to enforce the teaching of Esperanto (or Ido) as a 2nd language in ALL countries in the world, but that would be hard to implement. The Chinese might decide to choose for us, but it might not be any of the two choices: Chinese to rise as a global language. Don't say I did not warn you! Why are our leaders looking the other way? Aren't citizens aware that there is a problem? Are they calling them? Is it because English is one of those rare languages that does NOT have a regulating body? (It might soon.)  In any case, if it has any chance, reforms must take place in schools only and first, and must be phased in over 10 to 15 years. (All links open in a separate window!)  MANY countries have had reforms and most worked, although all of them would be more effective if they had been better implemented. In any case, there is something very rotten in the state ... of the English language! The data on the next page proves it. 

(1) There are many numbers given as to how big is the English lexicon. Whatever the number is, about 1/3 or 1/2 of it is misspelled. No matter how small that number (say 30,000 words that are used and are known by normal speakers), 10 to 15 000 words that are misspelled and that need to be memorized cause a lot of harm.