Friday, July 17, 2015

The English Language

If you have ever tried to teach a child to read, or are coaching a young speller, you will soon come to realize how amazing it is that you absorbed this language as a child and are able to cope with it at all! English is a melting pot of words and influences. Phonics are great to teach reading, but you also need to memorize a lot of exceptions to the rules.

Through the years of teaching children to read, my students and I have been through many baffling moments. The silent e's have rules that are easy to learn, so they aren't so bad, but try all those other silent combinations. Knight and Gnat and Sign? Try explaining that pesky "-ough" that can make a sound every-which-a-way it wants. Bough? Trough? Thought? Through? Though? Enough?

(The poets decided they'd had enough, and went to thru and tho instead)

Then of course, if you take one of those words, like Enough, you also have to point out that other words that rhyme may not be spelled the same, like Stuff.
Bough and Bow and Thou.
Through and Blue and Blew, Too.

I recently started to listen to the Wycliffe Bible, English made a lot more sense back then in the 1380's. After listening to several of these, I have to say that I like Middle English.

I don't know how accurate the pronunciation is, though I have read that there is evidence that most silent e's were pronounced. Certainly the ghostly "ght" and "igh" letter groups make more sense spoken out loud. The letters K and G in Knight, for instance, were all sounded out in the video above. How we since managed to swallow them into silence I do not know.

I know some people are wanting to simplify the English language, but I wonder who might be for going back and making it the way it was?

Knowing how English was spoken in history helps me understand a lot of our words and their spelling. Now my students can be assured that those extra silent letters are not put into our words just to make first grade harder!
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