Rules of English: That’s An Impossibility

Last Updated on: 30th November 2021, 09:17 pm

You know, I’ve been doing some work with a guy at the literacy centre. When I started, I was brought in to teach him JAWS. Within a couple of minutes, I realized that he didn’t know how to type! So we started typing drills…and learned that he had a lot of issues with spelling. And through this, I have done a lot more thinking about the English language, and how goddamn stupid it is.

How in Christ do you teach someone who needs hard, fast rules to follow, a language that follows no rules? It honestly does not. Even small words are not a guarantee of simplicity. Take “the” for instance. It is the simplest word ever, but it breaks all rules it could hope to stick to. The th doesn’t sound like th, and the e doesn’t sound like either the long e or the short one. What the hell is that? How can I teach the word “the” when it makes no sense?

People have told me that I’m better to just get him to memorize lists of words. But what do you do if he has poor memory-retention? My dream was if I gave him enough rule sets, eventually the procedural memory part of the brain would take over, and he would be able to reason out any word. That dream was swiftly shattered by the English language. Just look at this example:

Hints on pronunciation for foreigners  
George Bernard Shaw  
I take it you already know  
of tough and bough and cough and dough.  
Others may stumble, but not you,  
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.  
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,  
To learn of less familiar traps.  
Beware of heard, a dreadful word  
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.  
And dead-it’s said like bed, not bead.  
For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!  
Watch out for meat and great and threat.  
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.  
A moth is not a moth in mother,  
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,  
And here is not a match for there,  
Nor dear and fear for pear and bear.  
And then there’s dose and rose and lose  
Just look them up–and goose and choose.  
And cork and work and card and ward.  
And font and front and word and sword.  
And do and go, then thwart and cart.  
Come, come I’ve hardly made a start.  
A dreadful language? Man alive,  
I’d mastered it when I was five!

Or how about this set of sentences.

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.  
2) The farm was used to produce produce.  
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.  
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.  
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.  
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.  
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to  present the present.  
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.  
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.  
10) I did not object to the object.  
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.  
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.  
13) They were too close to the door to close it.  
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.  
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.  
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.  
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.  
18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.  
19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. How about no?

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