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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Spelling Reform or Grammar Reform?

AP reported recently on a new push for phonetic spelling. Of course, people are up in arms about this, and that's understandable. Without redoing the English language from scratch, you really need some of that archaic spelling. For one thing, it helps to distinguish between homonyms (yes, I grew up in the '70s, and I insist on using the term "homonym" instead of the current "homophone"). For another, the word "park" can be pronounced "parrk", "pahk", "pack", and maybe other ways, depending on where you're from. As dumb as our spelling looks right now, it at least makes it possible for someone in Boston to write things that someone in Los Angeles will understand.

Some spelling changes make sense. Hiccups and donuts are a lot easier to type than hiccoughs and doughnuts. And in fact, doughnuts were changed from the original doughnaughts ("naught" being the shape of the pastry).

But these spellings, like "thru" for "through", are outlaw spellings. They aren't acceptable to the folks who make the rules, and your English teacher will stab you with a red pen if you dare use them.

And that's really the issue. It isn't a matter of making official changes in the language. It's a matter of standing in the way of natural adaptation of the language. The spread of the written word has resulted in a uniformity that is blocking the natural propensity of the English language to adapt and become more sane. English teachers are the main police in this particular police action.

Is language about communication, or is it about rules? Why is "ain't" unacceptable? I can say "you aren't" or "you're not", but I can only say "I'm not". I can't say "I ain't". Why?

The past tense of "bring" is "brought".
The past tense of "teach" is "taught".
The past tense of "fight" is "fought".
The past tense of "think" is "thought".
The past tense of "catch" is "caught".
The past tense of "seek" is "sought".
The past tense of "buy" is "bought".

And for pity's sake, the past tense of "go" is "went".

If you hear someone say, "I bringed a book to the meeting" or "I buyed a car" or "the armies fighted", the normal reaction is to assume that the person is either a toddler or retarded. Because we've all been pummeled into knowing that the correct forms of the verb. But why? Is "bringed" difficult to understand? Is "brang" difficult to understand? When I was a kid, I remember arguing with my father that "brang" was correct. The past tense of "ring" was "rang", so it made sense that the past tense of "bring" would be "brang"? Why are we so insistent on requiring illogical grammatical forms?

The spelling reform folks are wasting their time. It's never going to happen. The battle that should be fought (or fighted) is against forcing weird spelling and grammar on kids. Yes, they should understand that "brought" means the past tense of "bring", so that if they read it in a book, they'll know what it is. But if they want to use a logical form like "bringed" or "brang", let them. It's easy to understand, and inside of a generation, the old form will go the way of "yclept" and "lief". It'll be used literarily and poetically, and the rest of us can go ahead and communicate sanely.