English is weird. This is something that people have simply accepted and unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are that you’ve encountered at least a few of the inconsistencies that comprise one of the most widely used languages in the world today.
Spelling is one thing, but even when spoken, the language is full of rules, contradictions, and exemptions that can make a person’s head spin. Still not convinced? Here are three reasons why English is such a strange language:
- English is not a phonetic language.
Basically, this means that unlike many languages whose words are spelled the way they sound, when spoken, the English language contains 44 different sounds derived from only 26 letters when written. One letter can have many different sounds, which for people unfamiliar with the language, would be impossible to discern only from the spelling.
- English words are littered with silent letters.
Over, the past few hundred years, there has been a steady effort to standardize the spelling of English words. In the 16th century, the people who were in charge of putting together the dictionaries as we know them today, decided to pay tribute to the words’ Latin origins and reflected it through spellings. Thus, we now have “debt” from the word “debitum” and “receipt” from “recepta“. This is understandable for words with Latin origins, but what isn’t, is applying the same concept to words that don’t, such as changing the spelling of the Old English word “yland” or “iland” to “island“.
- Saying what you mean can be complicated.
Idioms can often be found in many different languages, with its numbers reaching to thousands in some cases and believe it or not, there is an estimate of at least twenty-five thousand idiomatic expressions in the English language. This is according to Wikipedia’s page on the subject. Most origins or derivations of these idioms have been lost to time and while using them to insert playfulness and creativity in our way of speaking and writing can be fun, it’s most likely that readers who are new to the language will be too confused and bewildered to understand them in the first place.
Why is English like this? What made it so strange? Well, it all boils down to history as English actually started as essentially German and throughout history developed into what it is today through the fusion of words and spellings from different languages. As such, English has thousands of derived words together with its native ones expressing the same things, just with different levels of formality. For example, Help is English, aid is French, and assist is Latin. Or, kingly is English, royal is French, regal is Latin.
None of these reasons stop people from acquiring English as their second language of course, but with all its structural oddness when compared to other languages, it’s a wonder we learned English at all!
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