Sunday, May 8, 2011

Deficiencies of the English language

Now that I've spent three months in foreign countries, I've come across many flaws in this strange tongue we call English.  (I'm often asked to read over papers and emails written by fellow students who are non-native English speakers. This is mainly how I've become distinctly aware of these flaws which have tripped up many an ESL student, I'm sure.)

1. Silent letters, and letter combinations which imply a different pronunciation
  • Example: psammophile (which is a sand-loving organism), pronounced "sammofile."  The first p is silent, but then the second p before an h makes the f sound.  It's a wonder how we keep track of such inconsistencies.
Picture for fun - here, I am a psammophile :D
(I was sandboarding in Wadi Rum...)

2. Irregular verbs
  • Example: The verb "be," which has the forms am, are, is, was, were, being, and been. A few too many, don't you think?
3. Homonyms
  • Example: My roommate and I were asked how old we were.  My roommate said "I'm 20."  I said, "I'm 20, too."  Which sounded like "I'm 22." :P

I could go on, but I'll stop here before I lose any more of you.  This is not to say that other languages are much better, for instance, I am glad that English has an alphabet.  And I do have to give it credit for not having masculine and feminine forms of everything (as in Hebrew and Arabic).  Maybe these flaws are really just the foibles which make English what it is - of course, nothing's perfect.

In any case, it's refreshing to see things from the other side.  I do wish I knew other languages better, especially since everyone here seems to know at least three.  But I've realized how fortunate I am to know the language which has (for better or worse) become the international standard.

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